Abortion, the Christian Conscience, and the Stewardship of Voting

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In the runup to the 2022 midterms, polls indicated that crime was a leading concern among voters. In this context, columnist Mona Charen offered the astonishing argument, complete with a graph from the Pew Research Center, that “[o]ther than murder, violent crime is not up.” The exemption of murder—the worst form of violent crime—from that statistic carries with it the same ambience as the question, “But how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” In the manner of an awful caricature of a misguided friend to the bereaved widow of President Lincoln in the aftermath of his assassination at Ford’s Theatre, the question represents an intentional effort to ignore the one most important matter at hand to seek comfort in that which is miniscule by comparison.

The Problem in Voting

For too long, Christians have tolerated a similar mindset in their approach to the stewardship of voting. While many Christian leaders have rightly upheld a concern to avoid subordinating the church to the agenda of any political party, it seems we are now well past the point when the moral witness of the church demands a complete break from the Democratic party, if for no other reason than that party’s staunch, enduring commitment to the legal murder of unborn children. Many Christians continue to vote for Democrats, possibly because they still cling to the hope that Democratic policies will lift up the working class; or because they believe that Democrats offer the best solutions to the problems of poverty, civil rights, healthcare, and the environment; or perhaps because their parents and grandparents were Democrats.

Without probing the actual merits of any of these or other pertinent claims, let us ask how these issues, considered one-by-one or in combination, measure up against the moral significance of the Democratic party’s allegiance to the cause of abortion. Any Christian believer who appreciates the moral weight of the legal murder of innocent, vulnerable human life cannot honestly allow any other political issue within the current field of American political discourse to sway his or her vote toward Democrat candidates, anymore than we should take comfort from a crime statistic that exempts murder from its calculations. “But how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” is not an ethically sound approach to voting.

The Democratic Party’s Evolution on Abortion

One can understand how the lines on this issue used to be perceived as more blurred than they are now. In the early 1990’s, President Bill Clinton promoted a vision “of an America where abortion is safe and legal, but rare.” This turn of phrase represented the Clintonian Democrat strategy of maintaining the legal status quo of post-Roe America while at least giving lip service to the noble goal of minimizing the practice of abortion. It is debatable whether or not President Clinton actually achieved, or even really intended to achieve, that goal. It is clear that this talking point has provided some level of cover for ostensibly pro-life voters to continue casting ballots for Democrats in the intervening decades on the theory that the fight against abortion must be waged primarily in the realm of economic policy, not law. Since, as left-leaning evangelicals long argued prior to Dobbs, neither major party actually intends to make significant progress on the legal question of abortion, pro-life voters should give up their dream of making abortion illegal and instead rely on Democratic welfare policies to make it less necessary, and thus less frequent, in the future. For example, the late Rachel Held Evans made this argument in part to justify her pro-life credentials while giving open support to Barack Obama in the 2008 election.

The Clintonian strategy died in the Democratic party during the Obama era. By the year 2020, the Democratic Party Platform expressed open support for universal access to “safe and legal abortion,” restored federal funding to Planned Parenthood, and the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds from paying for abortions directly. Gone are the days of “safe and legal, but rare” abortion rhetoric. Democrats now regard “reproductive health care services” as a matter of justice, a human right entitled to direct taxpayer funding, and legally permissible through all nine months of pregnancy.

Now that Roe has been overturned, the issue of abortion has been taken out of the realm of supposed constitutional protection and placed in the hands of legislative bodies across the country, including that of the federal government. It was no surprise to see President Biden, in a move to energize the Democrat voting base for 2022, pledge to codify the framework of Roe v. Wade into federal law if his party were to win sufficient seats to accomplish it. Thankfully, they didn’t, but the lackluster performance of Republicans may have been due in part to Democrat messaging on abortion in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.

What’s Needed Today

Confronting this stark political reality, Christian leaders must immediately cease all moral equivalence rhetoric that downgrades Christian moral conviction regarding our society’s ethical responsibility to enshrine legal protection for the unborn into our laws. Fairly conservative evangelical leaders, such as Tim Keller, typically do not publicly endorse any political party or candidate, but they do provide some level of cover to the consciences of pro-life voters who might choose to continue handing power to Democrats by arguing that, while the moral issue of abortion is not in doubt, the question of legal policy with respect to abortion is. This “third way” approach holds out the appearance of moral clarity on the question of whether or not unborn human beings should be protected from murder. Simultaneously, this third way approach professes that the implementation of a clear, pro-life moral vision through the act of voting remains an impenetrable mystery on which Scripture cannot provide guidance. The argument suggests this manner of reasoning:

As long as we remain pro-life in our hearts, it seems the choice of which politicians we entrust with power to impose consequences in the real world remains morally indifferent.

It is difficult to imagine the same kind of reasoning ever being applied to slavery or segregation, for obvious reasons. The thought of giving even tacit permission to Christian voters to steward their votes in such a way that would likely advance openly racist policies is well outside the “Overton Window” of acceptable Christian opinion. And yet, stewarding one’s vote in such a way that would likely advance the continued murder of the unborn remains a live option for Christian voters. At what point should we conclude that the salt has lost its savor (Matt. 5:13)? If advancing the legal murder of the weakest members of our society cannot call forth a clear, unified voice of rejection from Christian voters, then is there any depth of culturally approved wickedness that ever will?

It is long past time for Christians to repent of the moral downgrade that has left us unable to speak with clarity about the clear, plain, God-defying wickedness of one of the major political parties in our system on the question of abortion. Now that we have moved out of the post-Roe world and into the post-Dobbs world, the pro-life excuses for voting Democrat, as flimsy as they were before, have become completely implausible. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is a fundamental moral imperative, for our neighbors are made in the image of God. If we continue to form Christian consciences to allow legal murder as the political price we are willing to accept to achieve other political goals (whatever those goals may be), are we not implicitly asking the same question that the lawyer, in an attempt to justify himself, asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Are we not implicitly hoping against hope, in spite of all biblical and natural evidence to the contrary, that the tiny body in the womb is not, in fact, our neighbor?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author

  • Aaron O'Kelley

    Aaron grew up in northeast Texas, graduated from East Texas Baptist University, and then went on to earn a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy in Systematic Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Aaron serves as the director of Southern Seminary's Jackson extension center, and he is also a vocational elder at Cornerstone Community Church in Jackson (TN). He and his wife Joni have three children: Benjamin, Ethan, and Anna.

Aaron O'Kelley

Aaron O'Kelley

Aaron grew up in northeast Texas, graduated from East Texas Baptist University, and then went on to earn a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy in Systematic Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Aaron serves as the director of Southern Seminary's Jackson extension center, and he is also a vocational elder at Cornerstone Community Church in Jackson (TN). He and his wife Joni have three children: Benjamin, Ethan, and Anna.