Tuesday, October 21, 2008

abortion and voting

Scot McKnight and Mart DeHaan had recent helpful postings on abortion and politics, respectively (here's Scot's new post on this, today). I am wrestling over the issue of how to vote in the general presidential election. I am rather decided, yet trying to remain open. I'm not a registered Independent in Michigan for no reason.

This is a difficult issue, because I’m troubled that for many Christians all other considerations have to be cast aside in considering who to vote for- that this one issue, as weighty as it is, trumps all else, and in such a way that is constricted to overturning Roe v Wade. This is for me a weighty matter on the scale of consideration, but not the only matter.

We do see through a glass darkly here. We need much humility in the way we view our politics, as well as that of others.

Biblically I think it’s pretty clear for me. I don’t hesitate to affirm life beginning at conception. Abortion has been the paramount evil to me for years, right or wrong.

But I don’t know how we can read the same Book, without being deeply troubled over other issues as well. For me to think the Republican Party is pro-life is unthinkable. How can we say “pro-life” is about abortion only? From my perspective neither major party here really has shown either in its platform/policy and practice that it is really pro-life. Actually there are good measures passed by the influence of both parties, as well as sins of omission and sins of commission.

We also need to appreciate the different takes we have towards solving the common concerns, and we need to appreciate the different traditions within Christian orthodoxy from which we view them. My paradigm which is to a significant extent Anabaptist will cause me to look at issues differently than another Christian whose faith is also in Jesus, yet sees through another theological paradigm. Sometimes we therefore do disagree, or we don't see eye to eye on how to handle the problem. Appreciating our different takes so that we can hash them out together, can be beneficial. We can learn from each other. Then I can bless how you vote, even if I don’t vote the same come November 4.

Much more to say and do on all this, and not merely to vote for someone who holds the promise of appointing judges who may (or may not) vote to overturn Roe v Wade.

I'll probably post some more on politics before election day here in the United States. But I probably won't disclose who I end up voting for, as this can be divisive in ways that are not helpful.

What would you like to add to these scattered thoughts?


Emily said...

THANK you for mentioning that there's more to focus on besides abortion. Being pro-Obama does NOT mean being pro-abortion, despite what MANY people seem to say when bugging me about it.

The way I look at it, I know I won't have an abortion...and if someone else will, that's between them and God. For me, there are other VERY important issues to look at when voting!

Anonymous said...

by the time it comes to voting in oregon, the election is pretty much alredy decided.

i do not fully understand choice.

i understand the choice of who to follow and what can happen because of that choice. but, i do not see clearly many of the other choices.

is it just my choice that i choose for...or am i to choose for others as well?

L.L. Barkat said...

I tend to think one must vote for Life in all its manifestations... and that goes far beyond the womb. Which has big implications.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your good comment. I agree. I am troubled over Obama's voting record on abortion, but I don't believe he's pro-abortion either, as that unfairly represents his position, mistaken though I think it is. People do need to hear all he says on it; he certainly advocates working towards reducing their number, which of course is good.

I think while women are accountable for their choices, and ultimately so to God, society ought to both help them make good choices from a moral standpoint. We as Christians need to encourage this and take the stance that we are our sister's/brother's keeper.

And yes, we have to look at everything, I agree.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good question. We should choose not only with ourselves in mind, that's for sure. I think women have made a choice to abort not just with self in mind, but believing the child wouldn't have a good life. That does not justify their choice, as it is still mistaken and wrong. Of course for others, it may be an easy way out of responsibility. Women are in a tough place if the man abandons them, and we aren't there to help them.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, and me, too. We have to try to look at the big picture on Life, and that even includes looking at abortion itself in terms much wider than Roe v Wade. But yes, Life is more than just the one issue, as important as it is.

Susan said...

Some people think that concern for a candidate's position on Life is merely focused on a singleminded demand that Roe v Wade be overturned. That may be the case for some. But if one is coming at this from a whole-Life position, I see a candidtate's courage when it comes to being candid about where they stand on abortion as a commentary on their overall world-view.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Another great post! Thanks!

I am in agreement: being pro-life means more than being against abortion, but it cannot exclude abortion.

I am in agreement with the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church on this one. Abortion is not one issue among others, it is a lynch-pin matter. It cannot simply be a matter between a woman and God, because that view ignores the integrity of the life that is in the womb.

At the same time, I am not at all pleased with those who are against abortion, and yet who seem to treat life elsewhere in such a trivial way.

What this means for me is that I cannot vote for a presidential candidate who supports Roe-v-Wade (which means I will not vote for Obama), but neither does that mean I will vote for someone who is against it, but casually dismisses the importance of life, especially the lives of the vulnerable, elsewhere.

What to do...???

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, and a good point.

I think one has to weigh this in the balance with everything else. For me, from my theological paradigm, which is to a significant extent, Anabaptist, Obama is so much better on life on balance, in some ways, than the Republicans have been, especially of late. On the abortion issue, he's wrong, but I try to see what he's saying on that, and in my view he's not pro-abortion. And even less pro-abortion, I think, are many Christians who will vote for him in this election.

At best those of us who do see no viable alternative. I won't cast everything else aside, just to try to be sure Roe v Wade is overturned. And I myself am not 100% enthusiastic or in line with the more "right" leaning judges on the Supreme Court, sometimes on other issues.

I say all this, still seeing abortion as a huge issue, one which needs to be addressed.

It's not enough for Christians to simply vote for a "pro-life" candidate every time (casting all other issues aside), give some money here and there, maybe, to a "Right to Life" organization, and forget about it most of the time, which is my guess of what most Christians do.

It is true that one's position on this can reflect their worldview, and those on the pro-choice side can have a worldview in some ways inferior. Is there a pure worldview, other than what we plainly find from the kingdom of God in Jesus? The president from Grand Rapids where I live, Gerald Ford, was a great president for his time, and a great leader for then, a good man, I believe. He had a better worldview I think, than many "pro-life" politicians of today, but he was pro-choice.

Thanks for the good comment, and you may be right on all this, but that's my take at this time.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your good comment.

I agree that a pro-choice stance does ignore the integrity of life outside the womb. But common American morality does not hold as high a regard for life outside of the womb, either, when it comes to certain times and places. This can be argued about ethically and morally, but dropping bombs the way we have with all the human devastation including the death of innocents, that inevitably follows, does not speak to me of a high view of the integrity of human life.

I have a hard time tracking with the Catholics and Orthodox on this one as well as on many other issues. They're definitely not closer to being "the church" and infallible.

But just my thoughts for now.

I imagine you're familiar with the "95-10 Initiative." I want to study it out further. C. Everett Koop did something of the same when he was Surgeon General under President Reagan- I mean in regard to the AIDS epidemic, at that time.

Thanks again.

Ted M. Gossard said...

To both Susan and Allan,
I try to just say what I'm thinking, and hope I'm not coming across disrespectfully to you, or to anyone else. I respect and admire both of you in your thinking.


Ted M. Gossard said...

One other thing I fell into here, Allan, so please forgive me: To say I have a problem much of the time with the Orthodox and Roman Catholics should not have been entered into this thread at all. It may make my case sound stronger, but it actually weakens it, since that has nothing directly to do with the point at hand. And it makes you look bad, which is not good at all, because what you're saying there is perfectly legitimate.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your clarification, but you need not apologize where no apology is necessary. You said nothing offensive and I took no offense. I appreciate your response.

And, yes, of course, there are places as well where I am not in agreement with the Catholic nor the Orthodox Churches, but what has always struck me about the moral reflection from both, is the rigor with which they argue their positions.

Moreover, their moral positions are intrinsically theological; this is not something that Protetants can always claim in reference to how they arrive at their moral points of view. Just think of how Protestants generally frame the abortion argument in a non-theological way by pitting the right to life against the right to choose. This is not the framework in which a Catholic nor an Orthodox theologian would discuss the subject.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks. I could see the weakness of my argument as I remember at the time, and felt like to use it was off base, even though I meant well at the time. Thanks.

Good point about the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. I too appreciate their vigor and coherence. And we ought to attempt to do as well, ourselves. But I've seen nothing from them which would be convincing to me that abortion is a linchpin issue on the subject of life. And as we have seen on certain issues, neither is right in their official church stance, in everything. The church as the pillar and foundation of the truth I take to mean that it is a channel of God's truth to the world, and an agent as well- in Jesus. But the church is certainly not infallible, while God's word, Scripture is, since God is infallible.

But we would do well to read their arguments. And abortion is certainly an important (an understatement) issue. Though I prefer at this point to simply put it on the scale of everything else pertaining to life. And I prefer to put abortion itself on another scale- call it the abortion scale, to compare all that is being said by the candidates on it with reference to what might really be done about it. And I'm not sure that weighs all that well for either of the candidates or parties- while we at least find an expressed desire to cut down on the number of abortions, and an agreement that it is a moral issue, and that each is a tragedy. (see the Democrats for Life, 95/10 initiative)

I know you already know these things, Allan, but just spell out my views here, and some corresponding thoughts.

Sorry for the repetitive nature of what I may have said here, as I didn't glance back at the preceding comments. And thanks much, Allan, for your good response.

wicraw4d said...

Hi Ted,

Thanks for the post. A question and a comment: Question: Having been exposed to claims that Senator Obama has never voted in a way that would reduce the numbers of abortion, I need to know that his being anti-abortion is more than election year rhetoric (perhaps aimed at evangelicals). Can you cite actual actions he has taken or legislation he has supported that reflects being anti-abortion?

Comment: The discussion easily moves from anti-abortion to pro-life when these are two separate (albeit not unrelated issues). For me, someone who claims to be pro-life (broadly speaking, that is, meaning they act to help the poor, aid the starving, to create responsible environmental policies) but does not act in opposition to abortion is much more seriously wrong than someone who claims to be pro-life (narrowly envisioned as actively anti-abortion) and believes non-governmental ways of helping the poor, aiding the starving and creating a sustainable environment is better. (I doubt the most dogmatic anti-abortion activist would ever claim to be in favor of starvation, poverty, or pollution just as even the most vociferous pro-choice activist would never claim to be in favor of abortion.)

Bill Crawford
Rochester, NY

ChrisB said...

"to think the Republican Party is pro-life is unthinkable"

I think that's rather unfair.

Obviously, regarding abortion they are the only pro-life party. The other one has taken pro-choice almost to the point of pro-abortion.

On war, neither party is pacifist. Both believe in just wars; they have different ideas about what constitutes one. That they disagree with you about this war does not make them not pro-life.

On poverty, the two parties have very different approaches, but they both have approaches. One believes the best way to help the poor is to cut them a check; the other believes the best way is to find them a job -- which is done via tax policy, not transfer payments.

On capital punishment, the right's philosophy is that life is so precious that sometimes the only just response to taking a life is to forfeit your own. You may disagree with them, but theirs is an attempt at a pro-life approach.

Though they work it out differently, both parties are pro-life on every issue but one. One wants to stop abortion. The other removed any language about even making abortion "rare" from their platform; that is not pro-life.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your good comment.

Even though Obama has said some hopeful things in regard to abortion- like it is a moral matter, along with some other things, including the statement that he may be wrong and that involves sin- just the same, what I am saying on this post, and what you do address, is that it's not the linchpin issue for considering life, but a quite weighty matter to be considered on the scale concerning the sanctity of life.

Unlike you I've heard those on the religious right consistently pooh pooh concern for the environment, and having a nationalistic (in the name of "one country, under God") militaristic stance which is of this world and not of the kingdom of God in Jesus.

I believe the Republican Party has used evangelicals and are not that serious about the abortion holocaust going on in this country, not at all. Of course there are exceptions to that rule.

I think something more may honestly be done from the Democratic side on this issue (note comments above) than on the Republican side.

There is a serious theology out there, as N.T. Wright points out in his book, "Surprised by Hope", which has little regard for creation and actions of justice, except in narrow ways- because Jesus is coming soon and Armageddon is after all, just around the corner (don't mean to be speaking for what he says, and I don't yet have my own copy of that book).

So I'm not impressed either by Obama and the Democrats as a whole on this issue, but neither am I impressed by the Republicans except for some.

In the end, I believe there must be a bipartisan solution, and in the end there must be a moral, spiritual revolution, so that people find abortion as simply unacceptable.

I tend to think that simply voting for "pro-life" candidates is not enough and mostly a trap and dead end.

Just my take, though.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Chris B.,
Thanks for your good comment, also.

I believe that both sides are plastic in not addressing the issue in a way that's going to move into any real alleviation of the number of abortions performed. It's a moral tragedy.

Both parties, and America in general is far too militaristic in my eyes, but after all, I see them as part and parcel of world government/ the kingdoms of this world. But Bush's presidency and the war in Iraq I think was nothing short of a disaster, in the displacing of so many from that country and worse, the killing of so many innocents there- and in the United States so acting, in the first place. So I have some hope for a change in Washington, but with reservations all the way around (reflecting my largely Anabaptist theological paradigm, I suppose).

I think your thoughts on poverty make the differences between the parties less nuanced than it is (but such is the nature of blogging). I'm much less sanguine in seeing the Republicans as having any care translating into needed help for people like I know personally, who though working two jobs, cannot get affordable health care- so they pay out of pocket, last time I heard. The church either can't or won't take care of all the problem that is present.

I just don't see the Republican Party as fundamentally pro-life, but neither do I see the Democratic Party that way.

When I vote November 4, should I vote for either McCain or Obama, I can assure you that I will do so with reservations and trepidation, and hopefully in prayer- with more prayer to come, and support of lasting solutions against the tragedy of abortion.

JKG said...


Thank you for being willing to share your doubts and concerns with both of the major parties.

I, too, have tremendous reservations with the stance taken by both candidates and their parties. I am even more saddened by the rhetoric and hardness of heart displayed by their supporters. It has become very difficult to have a conversation about any issue without being labeled or dismissed by one or both sides!

I feel very disenfranchised by this election. I cannot with a good heart support the platform or rhetoric of either party, and I cannot settle for the lesser of two evils.

I do not feel good about it, but have decided that I cannot vote for either candidate. I will vote in state and local contests, but am going to be content with dealing with the consequences of everyone else's choice for the presidency.

Lord, have mercy on us all!

Ted M. Gossard said...

I empathize with you and have thought similar. Won't know for sure, in my case, until after I've voted- or maybe on the day I vote- though I do know what I would do now.

We have to remember who our trust is in, and who and what it is not in. We have to pray and make our best judgment and go on.

To give this a bit different slant, I think I see good as well as bad in both candidates and parties. And that's to be expected in this world. And hopefully there is a change in the working for good in regard to the abortion issue. There are some signs of that on the Democratic Party side- of course they started from rock bottom, in their platform and in allowing "pro-life" candidates, as well as in words we've heard (which hopefully will turn into actions) from Obama, as well as from (Hillary) Clinton. And some willingness for bipartisan effort seems to be out there to help prevent abortions.


ChrisB said...


I'm not sure what you're looking for, but reducing the number of abortions 21% since 1990 seems like a real improvement, even if it's not enough.

I also wonder if you're looking for the wrong thing regarding poverty. I think the Repub fiscal policies are far better for the poor than the alternative, but that's only half of the story. Conservatives give (income adjusted) 4 times as much to charity as liberals. They believe the community is supposed to take care of the poor, and they put their money where their mouths are.

Specifically on health care, only one proposed plan is at all likely to bring down health insurance and health care costs, and it isn't the statist one; that option, like what has been tried in Canada and Europe, always ends up with higher costs and less service.

Neither party is perfect, and I dislike voting "against" someone -- I want vote for the better candidate -- but I think a lot of people's reservations toward McCain is based more on liberal slogans than real facts.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Chris B.,
I don't think you can just attribute reduction on abortions to one law or one Party, and Europe pays less into their health care and get more out of it. And they pay for a woman to take the child to full term. We need laws like that.

Glad conservatives give more. I wonder what that giving entails, though. How much of it is directed right back to churches into some kind of self-perpetuating thing- though with that there are good works for the poor, I'm sure.

If I thought the Republicans could or really would fix the problems we see, I'd be more inclined their direction, but I remain sceptical.

But one thing is sure: the mess the economy is in here in the States and in the world does not bode well for the next president and congress. It will be an uphill battle all the way.

We need good people on every side in this, and some bipartisan solutions, I believe.

Thanks again.

ChrisB said...

Europe pays less into their health care and get more out of it.

Well, technically they pay 60% of their income into it and get long waits, government boards like NICE in Britain that restrict treatments, and a trip to the US when their ill funded medical research isn't up to their disease.

they pay for a woman to take the child to full term.

Like welfare? I thought we had that.

How much of it is directed right back to churches

I'm sure a lot does go to churches, but churches do a lot of good in the community, even if some goes to silly things like buildings and salaries that other charities never worry about.

They also give to private charities or parachurch organizations (e.g., World Vision).

The same stats say that conservatives donate more time and blood than liberals, so it's not just a church thing.

We need good people on every side in this, and some bipartisan solutions


Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your thoughts and opinions on this, Chris.

david said...

well, the election is over, so the following is a bit outdated but nevertheless important. what exactly is wrong with one issue voters? it is not like we have two parties that disagree wildly over every single issue. In my judgment genuine pro-lifers (here I am using the term with its normal intended meaning; not hijacking the term to refer to non-abortion issues) view the abortion issue as the single most important moral/social issue facing our nation. no other issue, in the minds of these kinds of pro-lifers, comes even close (at present) to the gravity of the abortion issue. Indeed, in the minds of these kinds of pro-lifers the moral sum of all non-abortion issues (granting that such a sum makes sense) does not come close to the significance of the abortion issue. Suppose just for a second that these kinds of pro-lifers are correct. Then it is easy to understand how one could be a perfectly rational one-issue voter (and indeed a less than perfectly rational non-one-issue voter). So lets here from genuine pro-lifers how exactly it is that the other non-abortion issues taken individually or collectlively outweigh the abortion issue (and do so assuming the tuth of the kind of pro-lifer that typically is a one-issue voter--or if you dont want to assume this explain where this kind of pro-lifer is wrong)

david said...

Hi Emily,

One quick point; While you are correct to say that being pro-Obama does not mean being pro-abortion I hope you can see why pro-lifers think that this distinction is not really worth making.

Suppose for the sake of argument that a guy named shobama was running for president and you agreed with his tax plan, welfare, plan, etc. Now suppose that shobama was in favor of allowing infanticide for pretty much whatever reason (exept when the infant is nearing toddler age and then infanticide is only permissible in cases where the life or health (whatever that ultimately means) of the mother is at stake. Further suppose that shobama's opponent shmccain differs here and there with shobama's tax plan, welfare plan, etc but that the differences here are ultimately not that great. However, shmccain is opposed to infanticide full stop.

Okay now you favor shobama. Given that the differences in the other areas exist but are not huge it seems perfectly reasonable to suppose that a vote for shobama really is nearly equivalent to a vote for infanticide (this is not to say that by voting for shobama you desire or want or intend infanticide). I submit that this is how pro-lifers saw things and that there position is perfectly reasonable.

The difference in the other areas are just not significant enough to outweigh the differences vis-a-vis the abortion issue. If you think they are, then in the minds of pro-lifers you are not really pro-life. If you think they are not, then you should not have voted for obama.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your comment.

I see in your comment a weighing of all the issues so that strictly speaking such a vote of a "pro-life" person just sees the abortion issue as the criteria by which one votes. But like you say, there's not all that much difference in many ways between the two major parties, and overall I tend to agree.

Like I said in the post and/or comments (and I've reread now, neither, so I'm going on memory) I really am not impressed with what Republican candidates and officials have done in regard to abortion while in office. Some good has been done, but it's arguably negligible. On top of that a reversal of Roe v Wade, which I'm all for, will not guarantee even minimizing the number of abortions given the abortion pill and the fact that some states are likely to keep it legal. As far as that goes a majority of Americans, and this includes even "red" states like Texas, believe in keeping abortion legal, even while they themselves oppose it. So if the Democrats really follow through on a 95/10 Initiative, that is to reduce abortions 95% in 10 years, if they follow through with that (and overall I like what I read of it), then isn't that better than Republicans who keep waving the flag of overturning Roe v Wade, yet in my book do nothing about it, or little? I think so, myself. So even weighing just the abortion issue, I'm not sure we're better off with the Republicans in office.

Add to that the at least tens of thousands of Iraqis we killed I believe needlessly, plus the concern I have over some of the conservative judges in the Supreme Court over some of their rulings, plus what I believe should be more of a concern for the poor and health care- and I see this in regard to a paradigm I have of what the world will be judged by in the kingdom of God come in Jesus, and I may not be on the same page exactly as you and other Christians. That's okay, I think.

One think pro-choice is not with Obama, is pro-abortion. Obama is all for cutting down on the number of abortions and thinks it's a moral issue and that each one is a tragedy. If Democrats like him actually work at doing something about it, and the initiative I referred to comes from the Democratic party, then isn't that better than what the Republicans are doing? I think so. You may think not, and you may be right, but we just disagree, and again that's okay, of course.

I certainly disagree with Obama on pro-choice, and to vote for such is not easy for me, if even possible every time. But we need a moral, spiritual revolution in this country. We don't need more Republicans doing the same they've done while in office over the past decades. That hasn't gotten the job done. And overturning Roe v Wade won't get it done either, I'm afraid.

Just my thoughts for now, and thanks again.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Here's an organization that if I were a Democrat, I'd want to be a part of, or at least be supportive of. And you can find the 95/10 Initiative on that site.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thinking just a bit more on this, David, in some respects from my significantly Anabaptist theological worldview, there's not much difference between the positions of the major parties. But in another way, there significantly is. Style can become substantial and therefore substantive.

This all weighs in my mind when considering a candidate. I think Christians can have well thought out reasons for voting for either major party candidate in the last election.

And I very much hold back on expressing my real, complete opinions in politics, because they're not all pretty, and this gets very divisive very quickly. And besides, I put a grain of salt on what I and others think on it. Thinking through this is an ongoing project, surely.

Ted M. Gossard said...

It's more than style, as well. But I'm thinking of how we go about foreign policy. Do we do it like we're in charge in world affairs, or do we do it with humility and reticence for war, and a consistent view of the value of life?