Who Am I Voting For? Justice and Life

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).

There has been a great deal of discussion about what, and who, to vote for as an evangelical in this political season.  I’ve written already on both candidates for Christianity Today and have outlined my general take on President Obama’s theology and Mitt Romney’s Mormonism.

Evangelicals are heatedly debating so-called “single-issue” voting.  This is an unfortunate phrase, in my view.  Though its users often don’t intend this consequence, it can sound to some like only one issue–abortion–matters.  Speaking personally, that’s just not true.  Lots of issues matter.  It can sound unreasonable that I would stop my ears at all but one issue.  Again, that’s not what many advocates of “single-issue” voting mean.  But that’s how they can be heard.

I don’t know what the exact term could be, but there should be some way to describe this hierarchical approach to political engagement.  “Pinnacle voting?”  I don’t know if that works either.  I do know this: Scripture often seems to boil all its concerns to a single idea upon which believers are called to act.  You see that in the two texts I quoted above.  The Yahweh-followers of Micah’s day were called to “do justice” and “love kindness” just as James called pilgrims of the dispersion to care for “widows and orphans in their affliction” and pursue holiness.

Whatever you call it, this is “pinnacle” or “hierarchical” ethics.  In other words, all your theology, all your love of the gospel, should in this particular moment bear down on your actions in this particular way.  Justice must be done; the weak and marginalized must be cared for.  Your Trinitarian theology, your Christic worship, your love of God’s providential care, all of it is comes crashing down to bear on your ethical life here.  Do justice.  Love orphans.  Care for widows.

You could miss the import of that, I think.  It could sound like Scripture is saying, “Merely perform this certain act, and God will be pleased with you.”  In reality, this injunction is much richer and fuller, comprehending–I would argue–all your theological and spiritual convictions.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  If you love God, if you worship Christ, if you are truly interested in advancing the reign and rule of the Lord over all the earth, then you will show this belief by contending for the weak.

What does all this mean for this election?  It means that evangelicals are called to love justice and care for orphans.  How do we carry this out in a uniquely political moment?  Vote for pro-life candidates, whether on the federal or local level.  Do we act in this way because only one issue matters?  No.  We act in this way because this is the issue that comprehends our entire program.  In the care of the weakest, the voiceless, we display the heart of our entire theological and political program.  We so care for life that we will prioritize the area where it is most threatened.

Abortion is not an isolated issue.  It is the outworking of a worldview that is oppositionally grounded from the Bible.  It is anti-God.  It speaks a lie to the world, that God does not love life, and does not want to create life.  It lies about the image of God, teaching that God does not imbue every life with dignity.  It lies about the gospel, because its philosophical grounding is that there is no hope for this particular infant, this baby.  In reality, the gospel is the hope of every person.

Abortion is not simply a position, then.  It is a whole worldview in summary form.  It is the irrational love of death of sinful man.  God creates; man destroys.  God gives dignity; man denies it.  God gives hope; man snatches it away, insisting there is no such thing.  Abortion is nihilism in political form, theology disguised as a view.  Accordingly, to be pro-life–and to vote based on a holistic love for God and for life–is to act upon an entire worldview, whether we are fully conscious of it or not.

This is why I practice “single-issue” voting but don’t like the term.  Holistic-issue voting, perhaps; pinnacle voting, maybe.  I don’t know.  Whatever the term one uses, Christians vote along pro-life grounds because we see abortion as the terminus ad quem of a theology of death.  Loving life, caring for orphans from the most profound sense of gospel love, is not a possible option, then, but is the end-point of a theology of life.

This conviction cannot only mean that we act in pro-life ways on behalf of babies in the womb, though.  It means that we must be holistically pro-life.  We must support traditional families, encourage couples to marry and stay married, and to work hard.  We should seek to create an economic climate that allows families to find work, knowing that abortion rates can in many cases be connected to financial hardship.  We should support a very healthy sector for social organizations like churches and non-profits that come alongside the suffering and aid them, in much the way that Christians did in the nineteenth century.  This century is not called the “benevolent empire” for nothing, right?

I will be voting in this election for candidates that best adhere to the kind of philosophy I’ve sketched out here–not because only one issue matters.  Because in one issue, we see a whole social philosophy encapsulated.  I oppose the theology of death that has found a major foothold in America.  I want to promote a theology of life, recognizing that others will be involved in the pro-life cause who do not hold my explicit convictions.

<strong><img title=”ElectionMonthatPatheos”src=”http://media.patheos.com/Images/PC/Election2012Vote_bio.jpg” alt=”” width=”126″ height=”126″ /><em>Content Director’s Note</em></strong><em>: This post is a part of our <a href=”http://www.patheos.com/Topics/Election-2012.html” target=”_blank”>Election Month at Patheos</a> feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conversations on life’s most important questions. Please join the <a href=”https://www.facebook.com/PatheosNewsAndPoliticsChannel” target=”_blank”>Facebook following</a> for our new <a href=”http://www.patheos.com/News-and-Politics.html” target=”_blank”>News and Politics Channel</a> — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.</em>


  • Craig

    Those on the far left see Marxism in the Bible; those on the far right see in the Bible a requirement to use government coercion to enforce the absolute sanctity of every fertilized human egg cell. Beware of the ideological lens.

    • http://chrome-on-the-range.blogspot.com Rob-bear

      The comment about seeing Marxism in the Bible is intriguing. Actually, it appears that Marx stole some of his best ideas straight out of the Bible. But I agree that it is important to “beware the ideological lens.”

  • http://www.justpeacemaking.org Glen Stassen

    Owen is right that the Bible is full of teachings about how deeply God cares for the kind of justice that delivers the poor, the victims of violence, the excluded, and the dominated. The four words for justice occur 1,060 times in the Bible. That is the clue for how to avoid or reduce abortions.
    The data are absolutely clear: women who cannot see how they can afford to raise a baby are four times as likely to have an abortion. That, along with pregnancies that were unintended, are the biggest factors in causing abortions. So the effective way to save a lot of babies is to support policies that deliver the poor. When Bill Clinton was president, the number of abortions per year dropped by 300,000 per year, because his policies gave some some support to women, and jobs for men so they married more. But when George W. Bush was president, and programs for the poor were cut, abortions reduced very little (and if medical abortions are counted, did not reduce at all). This is why Belgium and Holland, with much stronger support for mothers in their first year of giving birth, have an abortion rate only one-fourth what the U.S. has. But Latin American countries where abortion is illegal, but the poor lack support, have abortion rates about four times what they are in the U.S.
    I am a consistently pro-life Christian. Our son David is alive and thriving and living with us and we surely did not have an abortion despite serious pre-natal damage that we knew about. I care deeply, deeply, deeply about this. We won’t reduce abortions by cutting Pell Grants by 47% and by cancelling FEMA, so students who want to go to college and states devastated as New Jersey is will be told to fend for themselves.
    Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly, humbly with your God.

    • ostrachan


      I respect your pro-life convictions and am blessed by your story about David. Praise God for your decision. Furthermore, I’m honored to have you as a commenter here at ThoughtLife.

      I am no statistician, but it appears that your claim about Clinton has received very serious critique: http://www.nrlc.org/news/2005/NRL02/AbortionIncreaseMyth.html It appears that what you say about Clinton is technically true, though the decline in abortions began under Reagan and Bush 41.

      Furthermore, we cannot as Christians support policies that are directly counter to Scripture, and that even on their own terms horrify our conscience. It could be the case that certain policies, grounded in righteous ideals, cause people to seek their own solutions. But that is not a justifiable reason for disobeying the witness of Scripture on a given issue.

      The rise of abortion owes powerfully to two factors: 1) the passing of Roe v. Wade and 2) the dissolution of the traditional family beginning in the 1960s. These changes reflect a culture removing itself from biblical witness and wisdom. The church is called in the wake of these tragedies to preach the gospel, show how good biblical marriage is, and involve itself meaningfully in a holistic pro-life effort which surely includes helping “the least of these.” The ultimate economic remedy for hurting families is to restore traditional marriage, keep people married, and cut government bloat so that businesses will thrive and jobs will be created.

      • http://chrome-on-the-range.blogspot.com Rob-bear

        I agree that we need an economic remedy. I’m not sure that your suggestions are adequate.
        One of the economic (inexpensive) ways to cut out most abortions is through the effective implementation of birth/abortion control prior to pregnancy.

  • Geoff Robinson

    The belief that “Scripture often seems to boil all its concerns to a single idea upon which believers are called to act” I find too simplistic and reductionist. It can however be used as a basis for voting for the pro-life party – understood exclusively as infant life.
    I always vote – but never for either of the main contenders in a Presidential run-off. I cannot vote for a party that sanctions the taking of innocent human life. But neither can I vote for a party that, in my opinion, advocates policies that are contary to broad biblical principles in the areas of economic justice, foreign policy, the environment, energy, care for neighbor, etc, etc.

  • Frank

    How can you say with a straight face that the Scripture boils down to two verses?

  • Russell Whitaker


    Thank you for the well written article. I think you did an excellent job in stating that it’s not so much a “single issue” vote but a pinnacle vote, one that over-arches the other issues that we are also concerned about in the upcoming election.
    I agree that when we vote pro-life we are not only voting against abortion but in favor of issues such as the support of traditional families, due to their impact on the factors relating to abortion.
    I believe that we too often are labeled/pigeon-holed as anti-abortion when we should be pro-life, extending not only to the concern for the unborn but the growing pressure that will be felt on the elderly and the mentally and physically infirm members of our society as our society becomes concerned with the allocation of resources. We already have a number of voices that are speaking out about the “drain” on society that these individuals present. We even have seen this become the law of our land through the enactment of the Presidents health care law.
    Again, great article.
    Pastor Russ Whitaker
    Mission Evangelcial Free Church
    Wilton, ND

  • http://JohnLofton.com John Lofton

    Why doesn’t whether a candidate is a Christian, believes in Christ and has a Biblical view of civil government rate higher than the “pro-life” issue? To not so exalt the Christ throws Jesus under the bus as, alas, so many “Christians” did when they voted for Romney. “Politics,” however, will not save us. Our country is turning into Hell because the church in America has forgotten God (Psalm 9:17) and refuses to kiss His Son (Psalm 2.)

    John Lofton, Recovering Republican
    Editor, JohnLofton.com
    Also: Archive.TheAmericanView.com
    Active Facebook Wall