Faith Politics

Untangling the Myth of the Single-Issue Vote

I wrote this essay before the election, but decided not to publish it until afterward for three reasons. (1) I did not want my intentions to be misconstrued as trying to influence anyone’s vote (2) my perspective on this topic is less about the vote and more about how we live after the election, and (3) being a part of the vitriolic internet conversation about politics would have been unproductive at best.

I had to be faithful to how God was leading me.

Thank you for reading.

On November 22, 2010, the cover of Newsweek magazine featured a photoshopped image of then President Barack Obama in the likeness of a Hindu deity, Lord Shiva. Obama is portrayed as having six arms and hands holding up various policy issues—economy, healthcare, military, etc.—while balancing on one leg. The headline plastered across the cover reads, “GOD OF ALL THINGS”.

Newsweek Magazine, Nov. 22, 2010.

This was not the first or last time that a politician—particularly Obama—was compared to a god by the media. But that’s neither here nor there. My point in leading with this anecdote is to highlight the irony. The irony of depicting a president as the person who is responsible for upholding all things, when so many people who vote are only concerned with him upholding one single thing.

These “single-issue voters” come in all colors, creeds, and castes. But, as a black Christian woman, I feel responsible to speak on my personal decision to not be a single-issue voter and why I believe the single-issue vote is a political myth that does unintended (but great) harm to our Christian witness.

For the Christian, there can be no such thing as a single-issue vote because we do not serve a single-issue God. Contrary to that Newsweek issue, He is the God of all things.

The scriptures are inundated with this truth. God created all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5), knows all things (John 16:30), rules over all things (1 Chronicles 29:12), upholds all things (Hebrews 1:3), and works all things for our good (Romans 8:28). “For from him and through him and for him are all things,” says Romans 11:36.

No president or political party can even approach the threshold of God’s power, love, and wisdom in all things. And though Newsweek’s Obama cover is sensational, it is sadly not far from the messianic view many people have of their political leaders.

America’s two-party system has perpetrated a tribalism that is now teetering on cultism. And the mixing of religion and politics—which is inevitable, necessary, and redemptive when done faithfully—has brewed a toxic potion. Many Christians have drank our fill and now find ourselves in a state of ideological inebriation. Too woozy to stand on our own two feet and make sober-minded decisions for the common good. Decisions about where to get our news, what to share (and not share) on social media, and of course, what bubbles to fill in on our ballots.

The Myth of the Single Issue

Historically, droves of Christians have flocked to the polls as single-issue voters. Casting their vote for whichever candidate is pro-life, or whoever will defend the 2nd Amendment, or the one who will uphold traditional family values (among other things).

This is a testament to the strength of our Christian convictions, right? That may be true to a degree. But isn’t it also true that allowing our civic engagement to be guided by one single thing is an unfaithful reflection of the God of all things?

Reducing our faith to a single political issue makes that issue about power, but God’s heart is about people. Many would argue against that statement, citing abortion (for example) as a moral issue, not a political one. I agree—abortion as an act is a moral violation of God’s law of love. But the moment we tether a moral issue to our support for a particular party or candidate, that issue becomes political. And politics is not about people.

Now before you label me leftist, or marxist, or socialist, or any other -ist, let me speak for myself.

I strive to be Spirit-led in word and in deed, which means that I am never able to fully agree with any one political party’s platform. God is too all things-y for that. He is too complex and compassionate for partisanship.

When we view things through a political lens, we will alway see “issues”. But when we allow those issues to refract through the lens of God’s loving, gracious Spirit, it illuminates the real people behind the “problems”.

Politics is a web of money, power, systems, and laws. And all of this bureaucratic entanglement operates at the expense of millions of people who live with little money, no power, broken systems, and unjust laws. Every “single issue” is simply a thread in the web. When one thread is plucked, its vibration shakes a thousand other threads around it. When one is cut out, a new one has to replace it, lest the entire web collapse on itself.

This is the myth of the single-issue vote. Every issue affects (and is affected by) so many other issues that believing in the idea of a single-issue vote is a virtue-signaling fantasy. Voting on a single-issue stance is an unproductive way to prove our moral character.

No political agenda is a straight line toward righteousness, and no single issue is America’s clear path toward becoming a “Christian nation”. That’s because (among other reasons) nations can’t be born again, only people can.

In my view, politicians don’t care about the threads, as long as the structure of the web remains in tact. As long as the money keeps flowing in the right direction. As long as the power works in their favor. As long as the systems and laws keep everything—and everyone—in their place. The threads—the issues—are just pawns. Opinions that can change according to whatever is politically expedient. That’s what they call “flip-flopping”.

In the AND Campaign’s book, Compassion (&) Conviction (which I highly recommend!), attorney and political strategist Justin Giboney says, “The civic space is full of hidden agendas and corrupt activity; it’s no place to timidly accept the assertions of others. It’s intellectually lazy to agree with the same political party on every single issue. That’s a clear indication that we’ve been indoctrinated, which should never be an option for Christians.”

As people who follow Jesus, we are responsible to be thoughtful enough to untangle the web and discover where the people are. Then care for them when we find them there, covered in the decomposed threads of false political promises.

This takes work. This takes research, and dialogue, and community service. This takes humility, and empathy, and compassion.

The Most Divisive Issue

Let’s use abortion as an example. It’s an issue I have strong convictions about that I have shared publicly on multiple occasions. But the facts bear witness to the counter-productivity of the single-issue vote based on abortion.

A pro-life president will not end abortion, and typically does not adequately address other issues that are proven to reduce abortion. Issues that are not often considered abortion-related, but are.

If you are concerned about abortion, you need also be concerned about healthcare options for low-income women, childcare options for working families, increasing the minimum wage, reducing racial inequities in education, abolishing the prison industrial complex, and increasing access to mental health services in low-income communities.

These (and many other things) are all strands in the aforementioned political web, and they have so many people tangled up in knots that the pressure of an unwanted pregnancy becomes a tragic survival tactic more than a flippant disregard for the unborn.

These things are the actual work that needs to be done to help reduce abortion rates. The vote is not the work. The law is not the work. The work is the work.

And, as difficult as it may be to accept, statistics show that the work works while the laws and the votes do not. We cannot cast a vote and wipe our hands clean, as if we’ve done the work of the Lord. God’s work is not fulfilled through the vote. God’s work is fulfilled through love. To vote with blinders on, without considering the undone work of love, would be what James calls “wisdom from below”.

To be clear, I am neither condoning abortion nor saying that Christians should be pro-choice. I believe a pro-life stance is the only one that reflects the heart of God. But it may be time for us to rethink what it means to be pro-life.

Does pro-life simply mean supporting a federal abortion ban in the voting booth? Or is pro-life engaging in the work on a community level that will contribute to the all-around respect of life, from the womb to the tomb?

How can we place moral laws on people without showing them the love and compassion of the moral lawgiver?

At the risk of oversimplifying, I contend that in order to reduce abortion rates, we must find the people trapped in the web and love them. Not emotionally love them, but practically love them with sacrificial acts of service and provision.

The God of Every Issue

Because we serve the God of all things, we must do our best to consider all things when deciding how we will wield our political influence. We must consider God, his Kingdom, and his heart for people, above our emotions, our party affiliation, or our desire to project piety.

On the surface, this is a conundrum. If faithfulness to God means to consider all things, how will we ever be faithful? We’ll never find a candidate whose platform meets our “all things” criteria. But that is precisely the point.

Even Newsweek had to admit it. The subheading of its Obama cover postulated, “Why the modern presidency may be too much for one person to handle.”

No political candidate, platform, or administration is whole enough, compassionate enough, or wise enough to represent the heart of God. The God of all things.

I am not here to tell anyone how to vote. The people and policies you see most fit for public service is your business.

But I am here to challenge us all to examine the motives behind our votes and the full impact they have on your communities and our Christian witness.

The Most Important Issue

In another Compassion (&) Conviction truth-bomb, Justin Giboney asserts, “We should participate in politics primarily to help others and to represent our Lord and Savior in the public square.”

Jesus’ last words on earth were a declaration to his disciples that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. This was not a command, it was a truth statement. If we are Christ-followers, we are his witnesses. The efficacy of our witness is up to each of us individually.

Will we demonstrate God’s love, power, and compassion in public? Will we reflect his heart as the God of all things? Will we commit to the work beyond the vote?

Our witness to the world is more important than anything happening in the oval office. Our love for our neighbor is more important than any supreme court decision. And our faithfulness to the God of all things is more important than our allegiance to a political party.

While voting is a private act, Christians should consider the very public consequences that our votes have on our neighbors, our communities, and our witness.

In the end, a spider will eat its own web and have nothing to show for all of the spinning in circles. But if the body of Christ can faithfully build the indestructible Kingdom of God in the public square, the gluttony of the spider doesn’t stand a chance.

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