by Owen Strachan
April 6, 2022
When it comes to politics in general and voting in particular, evangelicals have gotten very confused. In years past, conservative evangelicals emphasized what they called “single-issue voting” to counter abortion. Practically, this meant that abortion is so evil, so diabolical, such a slashing wound to a thriving society, that a candidate’s stance on abortion—this single issue—should determine whether one voted for them or not. In recent years, however, numerous self-professed evangelicals have argued strenuously and untiringly against “single-issue voting.” Their contention: evangelicals should not vote by just one ethical category but by what they call an “all of life” approach to politics.
This new rubric sounds good. What sane person would not want people to flourish in all of life? The framing of the new voting methodology has caught traction among some evangelicals, especially the younger crowd. At the same time, this framing has effectively backed many good-hearted evangelicals into a corner. Those who would continue to support “single-issue voting” now look stereotypically unthoughtful and uncritical. (Evangelicals often fear nothing more than the hot branding iron of a bad stereotype.)
In truth, what sounds so bright and beautiful—an “all of life” ethic—does not live up to its promise. Strangely, being an “all of life” voter has ended up meaning that a given person often votes left, quite straightforwardly. (“All of life,” in truth, dovetails nicely with the “neither left nor right” ideology—I’ve critiqued that here and here.) “All of life ethic” evangelicals have in many cases expressed support for pro-abortion candidates. They have stood against those who argue that America needs a coherent immigration policy beyond unbordered chaos and unlimited inflow.
Instead of speaking the truth in love to sinners who feel pulled to an “LGBTQ” identity, numerous “all of life” proponents have quieted their counter-cultural witness and failed to call sinners to repent. On governance issues and lockdowns, they have argued that love of neighbor—a glorious biblical imperative—means doing whatever authoritarian officials say we need to do, including closing churches down for the purpose of “public health.” (No such qualification is found in the Word of God, we note.) They have allowed the mainstreaming of wokeness and Marxism in classrooms across America, making invisible yet somehow omnipresent “white supremacy” our greatest problem.
Evangelical ethics and politics are a mess right now. As a result, countless evangelicals have no idea what to think about politics and elections anymore. In truth, they care greatly about their neighbor (per Matthew 22:34-39). They want good for them in all of life (as well they should). But they have been told, over and over again, that “single-issue voting” is a real evil. Similarly, they have heard that when you boil it down, conservatism basically reduces to the demand that women in desperate circumstances keep their babies. This is what being conservative gets you, we are told: opposition to abortion and nothing else. No further compassion; no further help. All justice, no mercy.
To a much greater degree than I can spell out here, this is all a pleasant fiction. In reality, evangelicals have been a tremendous historical source of philanthropy and common-good investment. We have our failings and flaws, definitely, in both the past and the present. But as a diverse group of born-again people who commonly love the Lord Jesus Christ and submit to his inerrant and sufficient Scripture, we have a strong track record of charity and neighbor-love. How many hospitals have we founded? How much education have we provided? How many trips do Christians take to serve needy people across the world? How much money do we give sacrificially to promote the gospel and the dignity of the human person? How much faithful witness have we offered in the public square?
Do not misunderstand: any good we have done owes to God, and God alone. Yet historically, it is simply untrue that evangelical public-square activity reduces neatly and exclusively to one action item alone. We have been concerned with a holistic ethic for decades, even centuries. (See this book, for example, and also this one.) What we could call “biblical conservatism”—a political ethic that derives squarely from special revelation—is not the problem; biblical conservatism is the solution.
Given this reality, I suggest a modest proposal: perhaps we should not use the phrase “single-issue voting.” I honor much of the work behind this phrase, please note. But going forward, to avoid an unfair and untrue trap, we might adopt a phrase like “pinnacle-issue ethics” to describe our approach. (I could have proposed “pyramid-issue voting,” but that might sound like I wish to sell you muscle-growth supplements.) With this framing, “pinnacle-issue ethics” and “pinnacle-issue voting,” we confess quite simply this: abortion is a curse, a living curse unto death, upon us. Yet it is not isolated from a serious body of principles and convictions. Instead, abortion represents what people commonly do when they comprehensively turn from the Lord. When you abandon God, you sacrifice your children.
“Pinnacle-issue voting” is truly and rightly “all of life voting.” Christians who push back against the darkness in public, like John the Baptist before his beheading, bring an entire ethic to the public square (Matthew 14:1-12). This ethic does not owe to a Bible-free “natural law”; this ethic owes squarely to divine revelation. “Pinnacle-issue voting” leads Christians to see that those who support the culture of death almost certainly support the erosion of liberty and the common good in many other areas as well. Abortion is not an isolated issue, we thus understand; abortion is a tell. It reveals a tremendous amount about where a person or a party stands. It shows that a given political philosophy, for any number of reasons, has become deeply anti-human.
This little article is not about advocating for a certain candidate or group. It is in truth about putting biblical ethics into practice. This means, with great seriousness of purpose, that we must never abandon a focus on abortion. To put this more humanely still, we must never abandon the unborn. They cannot speak for themselves, after all. Only we can. Let us do just that. As “pinnacle-issue voters,” let us give our great God much glory as we stand for truth, speak in love, and act in courage. Let us do justice and love mercy, no matter what slogans and stereotypes come our way in response (Micah 6:8). May we not fear the hot brand of those who would malign us. Worldly opposition, after all, is nothing; God’s truth is everything.