Political Selectivity

I am not sure why I am going back here, but something in me will not let me move on:

I have recently written on those within the Quaker blogging world who have endorsed Obama, and they have done so with good reason. And often, in the world of politics, the (relatively) new Christian voice is bemoaning the single-issue approach that often endorses the candidates who place abortion and homosexual marriage near the center of their platform. The new voices I am hearing are beseeching others to look past those single issues and focus on a broader understanding of life. In this vein, the most vocal are asking why war should not be as or even more important than abortion. There are lives being lost in war, just as there are lives being lost in abortion. The emphasis, then, is placed on a candidate who will in turn have a more holistic view of justice, environmentalism, and certain family values. Hear me here: these are good things, things I am too passionate about.

But it seems to me that one issue is being traded for another, and what ends up being critiqued as single-issue voting is traded for, in essence, single-issue voting. If one is truly pro-life, you have to be against both abortion and war. This is where the difficulty lies for me: if I endorse Obama because of his stance on issues like war, poverty, health care, and the environment, I am choosing to neglect others issues on which he stands opposed to my moral belief.

For instance: John Caputo, in What Would Jesus Deconstruct, believes that if one truly follows Jesus, pacifism is the only way to go. But in the current state of life, it is impossible. So he advocates an approach to war (and I assume to other ethical dilemmas) that he calls the “lesser evil.” But if I pursue political issues as one being a lesser evil than the other, I am fragmenting what I truly believe about life. For instance, if I say that at this moment in our nations history war and abortion are both stealing lives unfairly, and I view both of them as equal evils, which it seems to me they are, then how can I support someone who views one as a greater evil than the other? Are they not both related to saving lives? To upholding a healthy, Christ-centered view of humanity?

This is what I mean by political selectivity. Can we as Christian focus on issues to the exclusion of others, especially when they have to do with the same fundamental issue? I can see my friends commenting again on how issues like these are the reasons they do not vote any longer, but since I am not at that point, how can I pursue political issues as a Christian without exhibiting some type of political selectivity, whether it be the selectivity of the right or the selectivity of the left? Because both sides are, in the end, selective.

Does it really come down to selecting the lesser evil? I hope not, but I am, at this point, unsure.


7 comments so far

  1. cath on

    I’ve never heard of a political candidate whose views coincided with everything I believe. I doubt if such a person exists–because that person would have to be all things to all people.

    The best we can do, IMO, is pay close attention to what a cadidate says, how s/he acts, which issues are supported–and generally go with our gut on the “I can trust this person” factor.

    The two-party system in the US is messed up anyway. It assumes a polarized view of how to run government, and then the whole election process falls into the trap.

    Life is rarely this vs. that–there is a lot between the ends of the spectrum.

    I guess the question for me is: How well does a given candidate do in the gray areas?


  2. c. wess daniels on

    great questions. I agree with your feelings on a ‘total-life’ approach and obama. I hope that becuase of his other policies (which do have their direct and indirect links to the causes of abortion) will encourage a more systemic pro-life approach even if he keeps abortion legal. I stress the word ‘hope,’ but probably should say ‘pray’ as I know there is no one man or woman who will usher in the kingdom with their politics.

    Intersting you would bring up Caputo as well. I just lectured on that book this past Wednesday in our Mission in Contemporary cultue class. I find deconstruction useful up to a point, but the problem is that Caputo, with all his fancy footwork and well thought out philosophical critiques ends up being a mainline (realist) liberal just like Reinhold Niebuhr. I found his arguments on the weakness of God, the kingdom, Jesus deconstructing this and that binary all wonderful arguments for the kind of theology we both subscribe to, yet he then say “but there’s no one-to-one correlation between Jesus’ time and ours so sometimes we have to kill, etc.” That’s a total cop-out in my opinion. At least come up with a more nuanced position, at least try to be somewhat creative with your view on war, and abortion, etc. I found this part of the book a real let down. And this is why I think John Howard Yoder, Hauerwas, McClendon and others are actually far more ahead on the ‘coming up with something new, fresh and actually useful,’ I feel like their views actually are “hyper-realist” where caputo turns out to just be a wanna-be.

  3. Bill Samuel on

    It’s really a dilemma what to do about voting, particularly from a consistent life ethic perspective since there are rarely major party candidates coming from this perspective. Obviously McCain is about as bad as you can get on war, although he is fairly good on abortion.

    Some people make a distinction with Obama on war, but if look at his voting record, his campaign positions and the history of his public statements, you’ll see a strong hostility to the peace position. Whether he’d be better or worse in practice isn’t really all that clear. Even on Iraq, he’s talking about long-term U.S. military involvement. And of course Obama is very extreme on abortion.

    For candidates for Federal office, I will usually not vote for anyone who is really bad on militarism and/or abortion. That usually means I vote for a 3rd party candidate, and independent or even a write-in. I will vote for a protest candidate (defined as someone with apparently no chance of being elected, which can include Republicans in my area) who represents a real change in one area even if they’re bad in another, but I won’t normally do that for someone with a real chance of being elected. I don’t want that on my conscience.

    A friend of mine with similar views to mine said she might vote for Nader because he represents a real change in direction although he’s generally not been good on abortion, because he is a protest candidate not someone who can be elected. I’ll probably vote for Joe Schriuner – http://www.voteforjoe.com/

  4. jrjohnson on

    These are great points, friends. Thanks for the input.

    Wess, thanks for the thoughts on Caputo. I am currently in the chapter where he begins to “cop-out” as you rightly notice. I would have loved to be sitting in class with you talking about this. I can’t find anyone around here who is reading it to talk about it with.

    Bill, I am glad to finally here something on Obama that is not all rosy. =) The problem I have with voting for a protest candidate is that it seems like I should just not vote at all. There are some who have visited this site who are saying, “AMEN” as they read those words.

    Cath, I think the problem for me (a self-professed gray lover) is that I have hard time finding gray in ethical dilemmas. Maybe that is more if a problem than I realize!

  5. Martin Kelley on

    For a long time I didn’t vote. I don’t think I’ve ever been genuinely excited about a candidate. My current semi-excitement for Obama is less for the candidate himself than it is for the movement that’s built around his candidacy. I’m excited that a younger generation is getting involved and I like some of his approach (i.e., talking with world leaders we don’t like). Politically there’s a lot I don’t agree with. The abortion question is especially vexing for me as I don’t agree with the absolutism that dominates both political positions (I think start-of-life is still too religious a call for the state to be involved but I think the state can and should be doing a lot more to take away the causes of abortion and that the practice could be greatly reduced in a non-coercive way).

    I’m not sure there’s any good answer to the voting question. We’ll probably never see a viable candidate with authentic and all-round Christian values (like pacifism). Supporting candidates of some evil is still supporting some evil of course. Ultimately voting is Caesar’s realm and not necessarily the in-but-not-of-the-world realm that Christians should be focused on; if so maybe the answer is to not take voting (or not voting) so seriously that it distracts from the task of making ourselves available to the Spirit to be used for God’s Kingdom.

  6. […] as I stated on JR Johnson’s recent blog post, for all the fancy philosophical footwork Caputo ends up right where Reinhold Neibuhr modern […]

  7. Marshall Massey on

    I think I’m essentially in agreement with Martin’s final sentence. Christ’s call in the Sermon on the Mount was to be perfect, which to me (at least) means something very different from supporting a political figure whose policies do grave harm to living beings.

    I’m reminded again of the words of the early Quaker leader Edward Burrough: “…We are not for Names, nor Men, nor Titles of Government, nor are we for this Party, nor against the other … but we are for Justice and Mercy, and Truth and Peace, and true Freedom, that these may be exalted in our Nation; and that Goodness, Righteousness, Meekness, Temperance, Peace and Unity with God, and one with another, that these things may abound….” That, I think, is why Friends have historically focused their political efforts on lobbying for good policies, and on inviting political leaders of every sort to meet with God in their own conscience, rather than on working for this candidate or that one.

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