Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When Politics Are Black and White

"I don't know how anybody could call themselves 'born-again' and vote for any Democrat."

"As long as you're pro-life, that's the only issue that counts."

I've heard both of these claims from people at my evangelical church in Dallas.   But how true are they?  Maybe more to the point, I should ask:  how "white" are they?

After all, I know pro-life evangelicals who vote for Democrats, and most of them are black believers.  None of these brothers and sisters in Christ are any less "saved" than I am.  In fact, if we're talking sanctification, some of them are probably further along down that road than I am.

So how can they admire somebody like Barak Obama?  Somebody many white evangelicals loathe?

After all, Obama is decidedly pro-choice, since anybody who does not advocate for the overturn of Roe v. Wade is not considered pro-life.  But is abortion the single issue upon which conservatives should center their political ideologies?  How can people who claim the name of Christ vote for political candidates who are pro-choice?

I've been pro-life for many years now, but I've never been comfortable with making abortion the deal-breaker or deal-maker for my politics.  Yes, it's been a significant factor in how I view political candidates, since abortion is a form of murder.  But frankly, most people who view abortion as murder also hold other views which closely align with my own.  I suspect that's how it is for many conservative voters.  So we tend to vote for people who also happen to share our belief that abortion is murder.

But what about my black evangelical friends who vote for candidates whose platform includes a pro-choice position?  Does the legitimate faith of my black evangelical friends suddenly evaporate when they step inside the voting booth?

I've mused before on this blog about the answer that I suspect exists.  And while I always invite your feedback, I'm particularly curious to hear from those of you who might have a particular insight on this question.

But first, let me try to figure this out myself.  Abortion is murder, right?  Yes.

Is there something else that God tells us is murder?  How about hatred?  Hate is a sin, but what else is it?

Murder, right?  1 John 3:15 says, "anyone who hates his brother is a murderer."

Now, obviously, America's system of jurisprudence does not equate hatred with murder, but does that mean God doesn't either?  To Him, sin is sin, right?  So might evangelicals who vote for pro-choice candidates do so with both a fundamental disagreement on abortion, but an understanding that the various other sin issues pro-life candidates have in their lives makes morality a wash?

When you boil politics down, other than abortion, conservatives of faith have precious little Biblical ground upon which to accurately vilify liberal political policies.  This helps explain why abortion has become the main issue white conservatives use to attack liberals.  However, might our insistence on making abortion the Christian voter's litmus test also hold arbitrary legitimacy?

Remember, I doubt any liberal evangelical would say that abortion is OK.  Or that it's not an important issue.  It's just not the determining factor that many conservatives (who are white) claim it to be.

You'll have noticed that I seem to be making this some sort of racial issue.  And you'd be correct, because I wonder the extent to which we whites in the United States ignore the pain of hatred that has been seared upon the black consciousness from our country's history of race relations.  Perhaps our brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to be black don't blame us directly for whatever discrepancies they perceive in our society, but perhaps we whites have not appreciated how advances in civil rights have yet to bridge the gap between our perceptions and the realities of our racially diverse society.

And yes, maybe there are threads of hatred - or even vast swaths of bigotry - which remain in the fabric of our increasingly pluralistic society that remind blacks there's still work to be done before old misgivings are buried for good.

If this is indeed the case, then it could help explain why black evangelicals can vote for pro-choicers like President Obama with a clear conscience - or, at least as clear a conscience as white conservatives have when we vote for pro-lifers.  After all, let's admit it:  whether they're black or white, the slate of candidates our society is producing these days is hardly virtuous, is it?  In this election, neither liberals nor conservatives seem particularly excited about their choices.

When Obama was sworn into the Oval Office, I won't deny that I felt a warm surge of pride and accomplishment, that after all our country has been through, we'd been able to elect a black person as President of the United States.  No matter your political affiliation, you must admit that Obama's presidency has been a profoundly historical milestone.

Evangelical blacks who voted for Obama then, and will be voting for him again, may be wanting to savor this milestone in race relations, since in many ways, it still represents a sort of validation of African American history, and a repudiation of the hatred that has been such a plague on our nation.

It could even serve to remind the rest of us that the very hatred lying at the root of bigotry is even more evil in God's eyes than the evil we mortals see in abortion.

And shouldn't that unsettle us even more than the political policies Obama hopes to carry into a second term as President?


  1. What's interesting about this discussion is the amount of people who do not vote, and yet have strong opinions on political issues. The U.S. Elections Project reported that only 60% of Americans voted in the 2008 presidential elections (http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2008G.html). Texas had about 55% voter turnout, one of the lowest in the country. In terms of the black vote, I read a report that said over 8 million African Americans are not even registered to vote. This translates into at least 32% of the African American population that doesn't vote at all (http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_5168.shtml).

    So what's my point? Many black and white Americans who argue with one another over the abortion issue haven't even voted. Blacks who vote Democrat think about issues of poverty, economics, and education. Whites who vote republican think about cultural and social issues first and then issues of economics, poverty, education etc. And so it seems to me a matter of priorities. But what's puzzling is that Republicans are stereotyped as richer and better educated than Democrats. And Democrats are stereotyped as culturally liberal and fiscally irresponsible. Why is it that Republicans typically hold more tightly to abortion and not care as strongly about other cultural issues such as poverty, racism, crime, etc. What is most important?

  2. What is most important?

    I'd say that "doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God" ranks pretty high on the importance list.

    To the extent that the flaws in our economic system tend to be blamed on the opposing party, I think that's why abortion stands out as a pivotal issue. So might it be in the best interest of conservatives to work harder on justice & mercy for all, so that the options liberals provide black evangelicals (who'd probably prefer voting for a pro-lifer) pale in comparison?

    In other words, if white Christians stopped stereotyping and listened better when it comes to socioeconomic inequities that can be addressed through public policy, we'd have stronger credibility on other issues?

    Thanks for the feedback!


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