One-Issue Voting: A Red Herring, Not a Real Objection

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When it comes to voting, conservative evangelicals are often criticized for being “single-issue” voters. Of course, the single-issue is our contention that a political candidate should only be endorsed if he or she affirms a pro-life position and opposes the practice of abortion.

Those who level such a criticism often identify as pro-life Christians and acknowledge that the practice of abortion is morally wrong, but they are concerned that approval of candidates and political parties only in terms of one issue is reductionistic. They acknowledge that we must stand for the sanctity of life and the protection of the unborn, but they maintain that voting should never be reduced to one issue since Christians should also be concerned about other crucial matters that single-issue voting often neglects. For example, they argue to be pro-life also means that we stand for racial justice, the protection of the environment, and various tax laws and economic policies that will protect the poor and the disadvantaged, etc. Since these other issues are “Christian” issues too, it’s possible to vote for political candidates that are wrong on the abortion issue but correct on these other matters. Since politics is complicated, Christians must make choices between the lesser of two evils, taking into consideration a whole range of significant issues.

Some evangelicals have also argued, at least prior to the Dobbs decision on June 24, 2022, that since Roe v. Wade will probably never get overturned, it’s morally legitimate for Christians to vote for pro-abortion candidates and the Democrat party even though their official platform strongly endorses abortion-on-demand and thus, the killing of human life. Why? For this reason: Roe will never get overturned; therefore, we must not focus on it alone, but instead focus on other significant issues that Christians ought to be concerned about and which we can see change.

What is our response to these arguments? At least two points must be made.

First, regarding the latter point, given the fact that the Dobbs decision did overturn Roe, the rationale for such an argument is now eviscerated. But even more: those who made such an argument were not only short-sighted in their assessment of whether Roe would ever be overturned, but also complicit in not fighting for political candidates and parties that would appoint Supreme Court Justices to overturn the immoral decision of Roe. Considering the hard-fought victory of the pro-life movement in the overturning of Roe, those who advocated for this kind of calculated political reasoning need to acknowledge their serious error of judgment and their almost unthinkable willingness to support candidates who willingly endorse the destruction of human life.

Second, and more significantly, only voting for pro-life candidates cannot be reduced to mere “single-issue” voting. Why? Because the pro-life issue isn’t comparable to other important matters; instead, it’s foundational to all other moral and political issues. This point is often forgotten by those who think that making the pro-life issue central is too narrow in scope. If the life issue were merely on par with such issues as racial injustice, various economic and tax policies, etc., then their criticism could be plausible. However, this is not the case. The life issue is not comparable to other political debates and disagreements over best policies and legislation agendas; rather, it is what determines how all these other policies and decisions will be made. For example, a political candidate may be rightly concerned about racial justice in the larger society. Yet, such a desire to see racial justice in the country hangs in mid-air if it is not grounded in a specific view of humans, and especially the truth that we are created in God’s image and that every human, regardless of ethnicity, has inherent dignity and value.

This truth raises a number of important questions. For instance, how does one even argue for racial justice without first grounding it in the dignity of all humans? What does “justice” even mean if one views humans from an evolutionary framework that reduces us to impersonal causes and robs us of any inherent dignity in relation to each other? Or, what determines the rightness or wrongness of various economic policies, environmental causes, etc., apart from a specific view of humans and their created value and worth?

All of our freedoms—our freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, our right to free speech, along with our right to worship—are all dependent on our view of God and his creation of humans in his image. For this reason, the life issue cannot be reduced to one issue on par with other issues; instead, it’s foundational to all other issues. Unless we get this right, the other issues—as significant as they may be—are without grounding and warrant.

Francis Schaeffer used to remind us that “ideas have consequences.” If we embrace false ideas about the nature of humans, sadly and inevitably, specific consequences follow. This is why it is not accidental that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, spearheaded the push for eugenics and had no concern for the protection of human life, regardless of one’s ethnicity. The truth is this: if one denies the Christian view of the sanctity of human life, this denial does not stand on its own; it affects every moral and political issue. There is nothing more foundational to all government policies and legislation than what we think about the nature of human beings.

This is why voting for political candidates and parties that stand for life and oppose abortion cannot be written off as a mere “single-issue” fixation. What is most basic to any political system, government, and nation is its view of humans and whether all human life must be valued and protected from the womb to the tomb. As Scripture reminds us and history has taught us, if we deny that God is the Creator of human life and that each life is to be valued and protected—regardless of being in the womb or not, or regardless of one’s ethnicity, sex, age, and abilities— then the devaluation of human life will inevitably follow, along with an idolization of the State as the one who determines who lives and does not.

One crucial criterion to determine whether a society is good, just, and humane is how it views and treats others, especially the unborn and the most vulnerable in society. For the most part, many in our society stand in direct opposition to biblical teaching and sadly celebrate the devaluation of human life and a culture of death. This is not only a denial of who we are as God’s image-bearers, but also a denial that will inevitably result in the judgment of God. How we view life and voting for candidates and political parties that support life is no minor issue.

The bottom line is this: the debate over the value of human life is not simply another issue; it’s a foundational one. We as Christians need to be absolutely clear on this point. All moral and political issues are dependent on it and flow from it. With the Dobbs decision, we have a renewed opportunity to make our voice known and to vote for what is most important: the upholding of the value of all human life and its societal protection from conception to death. Although our nation’s human life crisis is at root a spiritual crisis that only God can remedy by new birth, Christians must continue to stand on this one issue since there is no more foundational issue than what we say about the inherent, created value of human life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author

  • Stephen Wellum

    Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his MDiv and PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous essays, articles, and books. He is also the co-author with Peter Gentry of Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd edition (Crossway, 2012, 2018) and the author of God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (Crossway, 2016).

Stephen Wellum

Stephen Wellum

Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his MDiv and PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous essays, articles, and books. He is also the co-author with Peter Gentry of Kingdom through Covenant, 2nd edition (Crossway, 2012, 2018) and the author of God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (Crossway, 2016).