The fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf chronicles the story of a young boy who, in his boredom, deceives his village into believing that the sheep have all been scattered by a wolf. After multiple cries, the villagers stop responding and calamity strikes, the moral: no one believes a liar, even when they are telling the truth ― he loses his credibility and everyone suffers.
The American church faces a similar issue of credibility ― in outspokenly crying out for anti-abortion policies, they reveal their lack of credibility in engaging in a more holistic pursuit of life for all. The American church is compromised by its single-issue martyrdom complex that asserts political moral superiority based on a commitment to “pro-life” politics, while being attached to a Republican party that espouses anti-life policy and rhetoric at every turn.
Single-issue voters are people who, in being passionate about a particular issue, are willing to cast their vote for a candidate based on that position alone. The problem for conservative Christians who do this is that Jesus didn’t espouse a single-issue politic and the commitment to anti-abortion policy is revealing both a fundamental misunderstanding of the holistic healing and the teachings of Jesus.
Conservative Christians are not pro-life, they are anti-abortion. There is a difference.
Jesus could have singularly focused on saving souls, but instead he adopted a multifaceted method of spreading the Word: by healing the bodies of people that would never follow him, challenging the power of religious institutions, inviting people from the margins to experience holistic life, and teaching his disciples to meet the practical needs of the community around him. Most American Christians hold no such complexity in their engagement with single-issue politics. Their cries, with an incomplete witness or care for issues impacting people outside of the womb, are like the boy who cries out over and over again, drawing the attention of the villagers who recognize that what he is saying doesn’t match up with reality.
One can, as a Christian, claim to be pro-life and use that stance to establish moral high ground in political conversations. It is acceptable for them to call those who don’t share their anti-abortion position “baby-killers,” while also supporting the use of drones, nuclear weapons, ignoring gun violence and continuing to support a criminal justice system that takes people’s lives with the death penalty, or prevents people from having access to resources that would ensure a quality of life that matches Jesus’ clear instructions to meet and care for people’s practical needs―the metric that Jesus used to test whether people actually know him.
In having an loudly spoken and politically charged value for anti-abortion policy, American Christians cry out this single value in such a way that not only maintains power in the religious right, but compromises the greater picture of Christian integrity as a whole. By siding with candidates that disregard life in every other facet (other than abortion) through their pro-war, pro-violence, pro-militarism and pro-death penalty policies, American Christians reveal not only their lack of care for holistic life politics but a fundamental misunderstanding of the way of Jesus. Conservative Christians are not pro-life, they are simply anti-abortion.
Single-issue voting, at its worst iterations, places people like President Donald Trump, in all of his functional violence, immorality and power mongering, at the center of the Christian consciousness. By elevating and blindly submitting to a single-issue politic, Christians endorse corrupt and immoral leaders and opt into ideological hypocrisy to uphold it. The risk for Christians is the loss of all ability to think in nuanced ways. It forces black-and-white thinking that moralizes some politicians based on a single belief.
Conservative Christians lose their political credibility with each vote cast on behalf of single-issue passion.
While some may believe that Democrats should abandon their stance on reproductive rights to attract these more conservative voters, it may be more prudent for those on the religious right to re-examine their devotion to this single issue. It is key that Christians embrace a more nuanced way of viewing politics that both takes responsibility for the ramifications of voting for and espousing single-issue politics (Trump’s election, the failure of abstinence-only education, sexual misconduct in the church, etc.) They should also adopt a posture that seeks not to derail but to learn, engage and dialogue.
Everyone has priorities in their ranking of issues and in choosing which candidates to support. However, the defense of a single political adage over a more well-rounded politics undermines the so-called pro-life movement that is typically politically pro-war, pro-violence, pro-militarization, pro-death penalty and anti-social services that maintain quality of life for those already born. Christians can cry in response to every left-leaning platform “but what about abortion?” but if they cannot back up that claimed value with a holistic engagement with other issues impacting people’s day-to-day experiences, their cries will fall on deaf ears.
It is becoming increasingly necessary (if they are to maintain any public integrity) for Christians to recognize the greater implications of how their selective politics wreak havoc on the greater good.
It is concerning that the defense of a single issue puts all other issues aside, especially for communities of Christians who claim that Jesus wants to transform the world. In attempting to publicly police people’s ideology while using Jesus’ name, Christians functionally shut down the very dialogue that might lend them credibility. At the end of the day, people have no incentive to respond and these folks, who, in their moral superiority, lose their political credibility with each vote cast on behalf of single-issue passion.
Brandi Miller is a campus minister and justice program director from the Pacific Northwest.