The special senatorial election in Alabama is over, and Doug Jones has eked out a victory over Roy Moore. This has been a painful election in many, many ways. The saddest part for me is that almost no conservatives paid any attention to Roy Moore until he was accused of sexual assault (and overall creepiness). His racism, misogyny, his anti-Islamic bigotry, his authoritarian tendencies, were just part of the package. Suddenly there was a great crisis of conscience: “I don’t want to vote for Roy Moore because of his sexual misconduct, but I can’t vote for Doug Jones because he supports abortion.” As one tweet I saw trenchantly put it:
Why is the moral burden of voting for a pro-choice politician greater than the moral burden of voting for a racist one?” https://t.co/LRRk0gCbUp
But recently I read a blog post that crystallized my thinking and said what I wanted to say but could not figure out how. Michael Wear, author of the above tweet, has a powerful blog post entitled Prolife Voters and Prochoice Politicians. He sets voting into its proper framework: it is “primarily social endeavor that ought to be directed toward the social welfare, not just one’s own personal good.” I want to quote extensively if somewhat indiscriminately from this post, but I urge all of you to go read the whole thing.
On the nature of voting:
First…politics is a forum for loving your neighbor. A Christian’s vote should not be motivated primarily by self-expression, but by love of God and neighbor. The question a Christian should be asking as they enter the voting booth is “how can I best use my vote for the peace and prosperity of the political community in which God has placed me?” When we vote, we do not think only of what we have at stake, but what our neighbors have at stake.Second, political choices are imperfect. Always. If the voter is morally responsible—in a way that is indistinguishable from the moral responsibility of direct action—for every vote a politician takes, how could one ever morally vote apart from making their intellect and conscience subservient to a political ideology? In what political election is there a perfect moral choice? So, you might respond, that is the answer: we should never vote! But this kind of moral reasoning reminds me of those who accused Jesus of sin because he broke the Sabbath in order to heal the sick. One can keep their hands clean while letting their heart rot.
Voting and the immorality of abortion versus other moral evils:
The way some invoke conscience in politics reflects an odd morality that puts one’s conscience at risk for supporting a candidate who opposes Roe v. Wade, but rationalizes away moral responsibility for a candidate who intentionally seeks to disenfranchise African-Americans or restrict the right of worship for Muslims or wantonly breaks up families through deportation or mass incarceration. Perhaps abortion as a political issue carries greater moral weight than these other issues—an idea some pro-lifers seem a bit too eager to accept, I have to say—but is there no confluence of evil that can affect the voting calculation of the pro-life person who believes their conscience requires them to vote for whoever the pro-life candidate happens to be? If there are only pro-choice candidates in an election, is voting itself then impermissible? As I have argued here already, to argue about which issue(s) carry enough moral weight to determine one’s vote is to misunderstand the purpose and meaning of voting. The idea is not to suggest that abortion is an unworthy issue of such an emphasis, but that that the act of voting does not demand that kind of emphasis. Voting in a representative democracy is a different kind of thing.