For my entire adult life, the standard line from Christian conservatives has been for people to vote their conscience. Groups like the American Family Association, Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family have put out voter guides each year for as long as I can remember, encouraging people to vote for the candidate who best reflected where the morals of a Christian politician should be. They have always decried the accusations of partisanship, but rather strictly about voting for the candidate who lined up with what they believed were Christian values about abortion, marriage equality, and inexplicably to me at least, gun rights and tax breaks. Vote your conscience has been in every election I've seen since I was old enough to vote in 1992, always amped up every four years when it's time to elect a president. The subtext has always been that Christians should vote Republican, but it has been a standard line.
I watched last week's Republican National Convention through the lens of late night talk show hosts and my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I did the same this week for much of the Democratic National Convention. I did watch Michelle Obama's powerful speech, as well as the uplifting words from Senator Cory Booker, but for the most part political rah-rah'ing isn't my idea of a good time. Catching up with America Ninja Warrior on Hulu after an evening hunting for Pokémon is far more my speed. Anger and dissension just wear me out.
There was a lot to take in at the RNC, but the one that rattled around in my mind the most was when Senator Ted Cruz was booed off of the stage as it became apparent he would not endorse Donald Trump, but rather said to the crowd, "Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution." This was met with roars of disapproval from the crowd in attendance.
I do understand that part of the job of the convention is to rally around the party's nominee. To come together and present a united front, and the lack of an official, strong endorsement from a prime time speaker is surprising (though the speech was available to the RNC ahead of time). So I can see that some at the convention would be upset that a speaker would neglect that aspect. But barring the lack of an endorsement, the content of Cruz's speech was lifted straight from the Republican platform. Close the borders. Beware of ISIS. States' rights. Gun rights. Small government.
I may disagree with most of the policies presented in Cruz's speech, but there is nothing in them that should cause a group of Republicans to boo. Only the mention that they should vote their conscience incited that reaction. Only the idea that voting your conscience might not lead you to vote in the way that stays within party lines.
The truth is, I'm a single issue voter. When I vote my conscience, it looks like one thing.
Voting for a candidate with a strong pro-life ethic. Which has, for most of my adult life, looked like voting for a Democrat rather than a Republican.
Yes, in the area of abortion, the Democrats often fail. In order to prove the value of the woman who is pregnant, the value of the life inside of her is devalued. Too often we see life only if it is desired - if not, it becomes an embryo, fetal tissue, a parasite. Abortion is a complex issue, but when we speak of a potential human without respect, we cheapen the cry of equality, especially in the eyes of those who call themselves pro-life.
But a pro-life ethic has to mean more than just where a candidate stands on abortion (though Donald Trump's stand on abortion is fairly unclear).
A pro-life ethic must respect women. Donald Trump's views of women are abhorrent. If you're unable to see women as people deserving even a modicum of respect, you can't be pro-life.
A pro-life ethic must listen to the voices of black men and women. The chants of All Lives Matter when confronted with the assertion that Black Lives Matter must end. Of course all lives matter. But black men and women matter as well, and much of our country's history has belied that. Even Michelle Obama's statement that she lives in a home built by slaves was met with a statement from conservative Bill O'Reilly saying, Sure, they were slaves, but it wasn't that bad. A pro-life ethic can affirm that all lives matter while also saying that yes, black lives matter. Not with comments about "black on black crime" or "more white people are in jail" or "just listen to the police." Instead, those of use who are not black need to shut up and listen. And then see how we can begin to change the system to make things more equal for our black brothers and sisters.
A pro-life ethic must respect those with disabilities. Donald Trump has openly mocked a journalist with disabilities. I mother several children on the autism spectrum. My heart would be broken if a public leader were to deride them publicly. We cannot offer lip service to a pro-life ethic and sit by while the Republican nominee has shown contempt in his actions for those with disabilities.
A pro-life ethic must encourage adoption. One of the ways that we encourage a pro-life ethic is to encourage people to adopt. The GOP platform reaffirms opposition to gay and lesbian couples adopting. My friend Sean and his husband have adopted two gorgeous boys (Sean has written about it in his best-selling book, Which One of You is the Mother?). They adopted children who were older. Children from difficult birth families. They adopted them, they love them, they parent them. Children who, if left in foster care, would have had a 45% chance of ending up homeless. Children who, if left in foster care, would have had a 75% chance of ending up in prison. Children who, because of their adoption by a gay couple, now have the chance to experience family.
A pro-life ethic must look at the ways life is cut short beyond abortion. Yes, I'm talking about guns. I am not a gun owner and I didn't grow up in a house with guns, so I tend to speak very little on this issue, because I don't know much about gun laws or the way that guns even work. But when Republicans block even research about gun violence, it is difficult for me to see that as caring about life. When a group covers their ears, refusing to even have a conversation about ways we can make life safer in a world with guns, I cannot call that group pro-life.
A pro-life ethic must see people, even our enemies, as people first. During his campaign, Donald Trump advocated war crimes when he suggested that the United States not only hunt down terrorists, but also "take out their families." He has lumped all Muslims into the category of radical, calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. He has painted with the broad brush that Mexican immigrants are rapists and murderers. Donald Trump has called vast swaths of non-white ethnicities our enemies, and then challenged their humanity. If an unborn child is a person, surely even those who seek to do us harm is are people as well.
In November, I will be voting my conscience, and it will be based on a pro-life ethic.
I hope you will do the same.