Friday, March 16, 2007

letter to the editor of World

in response to:

Dear Mr. Veith,

I appreciated your recent essay, "Single-issue politics", but also found it quite frustrating. On the one hand, you're right in much that you say. But on the other hand, your remarks are likely to encourage Christians to continue in some damaging political habits.

You said that "voting on the basis of a single issue is perfectly legitimate". The word "perfectly" in "perfectly legitimate" is troubling; a better phrase would be "reasonable and quite common". Public Choice economists describe voters as "rationally ignorant and apathetic". They do this because the costs of learning and taking (informed) action are not worth the benefits, given how little most people contribute to the political process (a vote and perhaps a modest contribution), As a result, many people rely on party labels, name recognition, and single issues to determine their vote. These methods are reasonable and common, but should not be applauded or endorsed-- in the world or especially among Christians.

That said, if one is going to pick a single issue, I agree that abortion is the best choice for Christians. (You hedge your bets a bit by adding in embryonic stem-cell research later!) But this line of thinking often leads people to reduce "pro-life" to overly simplistic barometers such as mere assertion of a pro-life position. (Marvin has written about this.) When we don't ask for specifics, we're less likely to end up with (specific) results. Beyond the more common political sins of omission, our failure to dig around results in sins of commission as well-- e.g., the Republican ("pro-life") Congress overwhelmingly voting to send taxpayer monies to Planned Parenthood for the last 12 years.

Finally, your point about "moral relativism" is applied properly in the context of abortion, but this argument is generally oversold by people in our circles. (Murder, rape, lap dances, not tipping enough, being a Jehovah's Witness, not being involved in a local church, and eating too much pie are all wrong, but which of those should be the subject of Christian political activism? Am I a moral relativist if I think some of these should not be legislated?) I know that you only have limited space in such an essay-- and might want to make a more nuanced case-- but your use of this argument will serve to perpetuate the unbiblical position that we should much more broadly seek to promote our views on social morality through the legislative process. As I argue in my book, we're on shaky biblical ground in such realms but on much more solid footing in our efforts to legislate in areas of social justice (e.g., abortion) and economic justice (if done properly).

This is an important topic-- for the Kingdom and for those we would try to impact through political activism. I appreciate your time and consideration and would be happy to talk further.

Grace and peace to you and yours, eric