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Is Single Issue Voting Wrong? (from John Piper)

June 17, 2008

I’m going to write more on this in the next few days, but I’ve recently felt the conviction to become stronger in my political knowledge. I was once a die-hard politics guy, but grew fairly apathetic because of the politicization of the religiousright as well as cable news channels (see CNN, Fox News) encouraging political screaming matches between republicans and democrats more than encouraging a pursuit of truth and progress. I don’t think I’ll ever feel really passionate about politics again other than with major issues like abortion, but I do recognize the responsibility to be informed and to vote well.

Christians are often criticized for being single-issue voters, that is, that their vote can be swayed by issues like whether or not a candidate is pro-life or pro-choice. Below is an excellent paragraph from John Piper addressing this issue:

“No endorsement of any single issue qualifies a person to hold public office. Being pro-life does not make a person a good governor, mayor, or president. But there are numerous single issues that disqualify a person from public office. For example, any candidate who endorsed bribery as a form of government efficiency would be disqualified, no matter what his party or platform was. Or a person who endorsed corporate fraud (say under $50 million) would be disqualified no matter what else he endorsed. Or a person who said that no black people could hold office—on that single issue alone he would be unfit for office. Or a person who said that rape is only a misdemeanor—that single issue would end his political career. These examples could go on and on. Everybody knows a single issue that for them would disqualify a candidate for office […]

It’s the same with marriage. No one quality makes a good wife or husband, but some qualities would make a person unacceptable. For example, back when I was thinking about getting married, not liking cats would not have disqualified a woman as my wife, but not liking people would. Drinking coffee would not, but drinking whiskey would. Kissing dogs wouldn’t, but kissing the mailman would. And so on. Being a single-issue fiancé does not mean that only one issue matters. It means that some issues may matter enough to break off the relationship.So it is with politics. You have to decide what those issues are for you. What do you think disqualifies a person from holding public office? I believe that the endorsement of the right to kill unborn children disqualifies a person from any position of public office. It’s simply the same as saying that the endorsement of racism, fraud, or bribery would disqualify him—except that child-killing is more serious than those.”

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew permalink
    June 18, 2008 4:38 am

    yep

  2. Brian R. Mahon permalink
    June 18, 2008 12:31 pm

    I’ve been seeking clarity on voting issues as I think through this election year. Like you, I have felt the conviction to be more informed politically – and that with biblical discernment. I appreciate your contribution here. One question – what do you do if the two candidates are both pro-choice? If that is a thing that would serve to disqualify a person in your own conscience, what do we do if our options are hedged in between two people who hold no such biblical conviction as we in fact do? Do we vote for the lesser of two evils, etc.?

  3. Bryan Barley permalink
    June 18, 2008 9:36 pm

    Brian,

    Great question, and I’ve been thinking about it all day since I saw your comment this morning. I still don’t feel like I’ve come to a place where I feel great about my conclusion, but here’s what I would say:

    I haven’t done a ton of research on McCain, but it seems that he isn’t exactly a champion for the pro-life cause (http://www.ontheissues.org/Senate/John_McCain_Abortion.htm). So I think this election is a good example of having to choose the lesser of two evils. Right now, I would vote for McCain because I know that, whether the right to life is a conviction of his or not, he will at least stand firm for the pro-life cause because he is a republican and he knows who he has to answer to. He has already tried to court more conservative votes once he got the GOP nomination.

    I guess the way I see it is that McCain is going to be much more pro-life than Obama (http://www.ontheissues.org/Social/Barack_Obama_Abortion.htm) since McCain answers to the usually pro-life republicans while Obama has very little to hold him accountable on this issue.

    I know that some would say that if I feel like this I should vote for an independent candidate, and I recognize the logic behind that, but I just don’t know if I can get over that being anything more than wasting my vote when a candidate is out there who will at least someone support the pro-life position.

    If, hypothetically, two candidates ran who were equally and strongly pro-choice in their position (i.e. two Obamas) I would probably not vote. I know I could be criticized on that for a number of different reasons but when it comes to the issue of abortion I could not vote for anyone who holds a pro-choice position like Obama. Like Piper writes, that’s a deal breaker. In respect to the illustration he gave about marriage, I would stay single.

    With all that said, I still don’t feel entirely good about that position – maybe you can help me out. What do you think?

  4. Brian R. Mahon permalink
    June 19, 2008 4:00 pm

    To be honest with you, I remain uncertain. I like your reasoning behind McCain in contrast with Obama. That makes sense to me. I know that McCain is a Republican, but he seems to me to be the least conservative Republican that I can remember. Is him being a Republican enough for me to vote for him? No. I do not think that party is ultimately determinative, but as you have made clear, conviction; but as it is quite often, what are the politicians “true” convictions? For what he says in one place to one people group, he recants before another. He wants office, plain and simple; and the greater reality is that they want it for themselves, and not solely for the good will of the nation or nations; hence, they politic rather than remain authentic (unless they are authentically political – and in that case – too bad so sad for those who follow them). As I said in an earlier blog – thank goodness for our perfect representative Head, Jesus Christ!

    But to return to the issue, and not to be overly simplistic, but it seems to me that the safest route is much prayer – a discipline that in all honesty I haven’t given over to things like the presidency. But God has used your blog to awaken me to the reality that perhaps I should!

    As for an answer: Currently, I would “settle” on McCain, only because his “disqualifiers” are foggier to me than Obama’s. Either way, whomever the people elect, whomever God ordains in this time and place in history, I am certain that I will be consigned to much prayer for them – even now.

  5. Matthew permalink
    June 20, 2008 1:05 pm

    Great thoughts guys. Ravi Zacharias has said (with others) that you can’t legislate morality. How much should Christians just let some things be, and just focus their time and energy on changing the hearts and minds of people and not the legality of their desires. This is a really hard question for me. any thoughts?

  6. Brian R. Mahon permalink
    June 20, 2008 8:17 pm

    The Christian pursuit is not to moralize men but to be certain that they hear the word of Christ through which faith comes. For what does it profit a man to be temporally moral when on that Day, he stands before God Christ-less. His human morality, and legality will be likened to that of wretched worms in view of that which God will require of him; a Divine look into the heart of a moral man without Christ will prove sufficient to reveal that his morality is self-centered and actuated for the approval of men (politics) and not of God which renders love and obedience to God grounded in the propositional truths of the Gospel of Christ.

    Our endeavor is to kill men with the law of God, and to take great pains in spreading that Gospel seed in hopes of the vivifying work and effects of God’s Spirit. This above all is the area of concentration for believers, for it is the ultimate obedience to Christ’s summarization of the law – to love God supremely, and our neighbors.

    Politically speaking, we ought not to be satisfied, in my course of thought, to remain idle. Christ speaks of our submission to and involvement in government in relation to our submission to and identification with our Father in heaven. Paul mentioned as much, and also sought to advance the Gospel in capitol areas first as a matter of priority – in the hopes of its quickly spreading.

    Nevertheless, it is not our main endeavor – the union between the souls of men and the Gospel of Christ to the glory of God the Father is. Conversely, our lives are open to all within our area of influence at any given time, and therefore our political involvement and affirmations and qualifiers and disqualifiers must be in accordance with the doctrine of Christ, that by such public view Christ may be honored even if we are scrutinized.

    So for the sake of the law of Christ, the realization of which is the advance of the Gospel and of God’s kingdom, let us be involved in all spheres of influence so long as our witness is not tainted and, therefore, lost. Again, Matthew, you are right – we ought not legislate morality; but we ought to preach the Gospel and live lives that honor Jesus Christ – and this involves our attendance with much prayer to the things of national government.

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