Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Courting Me, part 2

Alexander's comment on my last post got me thinking about the problems with issue-based appeals to the Christian electorate. I'd like to postulate at the outset that there are basically two types of Christian voters. There are some Christian voters who appear to be genuinely committed to political positions for religious reasons - no gay marriage, no abortion, etc. And then there are those who are committed to doctrine - to "religious reasons" themselves, you might say.

Here's an example: suppose a politician comes up to two Christian voters and says, "I believe that gay marriage should be recognized/legalized in this [electoral region]. I appeal to your religious values to determine whether you should vote for me." Christian 1 will say, "My religious values include gay marriage; I will vote for you" or "My religious values do not include gay marriage; I will not vote for you." Christian 2 will say, "Gay marriage is an application of my religious values and not one of my religious values itself; please give me an argument." Three guesses as to which I think is the better way to be.

This is the basic trouble with issues-based religious appeals to voters, I think. Because of course I can (as discussed in the last post) vote for something I think is immoral if I consider the alternative to be worse. As a Christian, I am not concerned with individual platform planks. Any hot-button "values" voter issue you can think of is, by itself, irrelevant to me when I vote as a Christian. What is relevant to me as a Christian voter is whether any individual platform plank is more likely to promote the Kingdom of God than not. This is a much broader inquiry than the issue itself. Let us say for the sake of argument that I consider gay marriage immoral. What I want to hear from a politician who appeals to me based on that issue is not "the Bible says gay marriage is immoral; c.f. passages X, Y, and Z." I want to hear, "I am committed to bringing American society into personal contact with Jesus Christ. I believe that outlawing gay marriage will, on the whole, advance that goal. Here is my analysis of the reasons why it will tend to do that, why it will not tend to do that, and why I think the one effect outweighs the other."

Of course any politician who tried to make an appeal like that would be crucified by his opponents, and perhaps rightly so. After all, voters (and politicians) would raise very serious issues about such a statement and the Establishment Clause (at least, the 20th century version of the Establishment Clause). But here's the thing: I feel like that's the only religiously legitimate issue-based appeal a politician can make. If oppressing a moral evil drives people further away from Christ, I fail to see how that oppression is supposed to appeal to me as a Christian. When Christ dined with prostitutes it wasn't to admonish them about getting a career change. But no politician ever talks about the effects of their political positions on the voters' spiritual lives. They can't. The best they can do is try to get at it sideways, from a sociological standpoint, by saying things like "X is bad for the American family." Those arguments are usually fairly sketchy to begin with, in my opinion, and they don't have anything directly to do with Christianity, either.

So there's the conundrum: the only religiously legitimate way to appeal to me on a given issue is politically illegitimate. My conclusion is that people should just stop trying.

That's not to say that I consider my Christianity separate from my franchise, or that I don't care about the spiritual lives of political candidates. It's just that I think I'd much rather have candidates appeal to me as a Christian voter not on the basis of individual issues but on the basis of what kind of person they are, how they make decisions, and what their spirituality means for them as professional politicos.

That might mean that candidates can't really appeal to me primarily as a Christian voter. That might not be such a bad thing.

1 comment:

Oswell55 said...

You have articulated how I feel about "Christian politics" very well (even better than I could have, big surprise). In fact, you'd think you grew up in my very own house!

We, however, are in the great minority. The majority of the electorate wants to be appealed to on a "me too" basis. As a result, politicians have become adept at making the simple appeal of "I'm one of you" or "I believe like you do". The pros and cons of particular issue stances need not be conveyed (and usually aren't).