#NeverTrump,  Christianity,  Politics

I’m a single-issue voter on multiple issues, and so are you.

Election 2016 has presented evangelical voters with a real conundrum. There is no clearly pro-life candidate in this race. We know where the presumptive Democratic nominee stands. And even though the presumptive GOP nominee professes to be pro-life, we have good reasons to doubt that claim. He praises Planned Parenthood, supports the “health” exception, and names his pro-abortion rights sister as the kind of judge that would make a good Supreme Court appointment.

Still, many evangelicals who met with Trump this week in New York are making a “single-issue” calculation, and it goes like this. We know what kind of justices we would get with a Clinton presidency. There’s a chance that we might get some good ones with Trump. Ergo, despite his questionable character and pro-life credentials, single-issue pro-life voters should support him.

But that argument is not persuasive if you understand what single-issue voting really is. Single-issue voting is not the idea that being right on any single issue qualifies a candidate for office. Single-issue voting is the idea that being wrong on a single issue may disqualify a candidate from office. In this latter sense, every voter is potentially a single-issue voter. Unless you have no moral or political principles at all, then you must be a single-issue voter in this sense. The question is simply what single issue rises to that level of importance to you.

For example, no one would say that a candidate is qualified for office simply because he opposes legal slavery. But of course everyone would say that a candidate would be disqualified if he supported legal slavery. No matter how attractive that candidate might otherwise be, if he wanted to resurrect chattel slavery in the United States he would be disqualified on that single issue alone. That is single-issue voting.

Pro-life voters have traditionally been single-issue voters in that sense. It’s not that being pro-life qualifies anyone for office. It’s that being wrong on the issue ought to disqualify a candidate. Evangelical Trump supporters are arguing that this single-issue certainly disqualifies the Democratic nominee but that there may be a chance it has not disqualified the GOP nominee. At first blush, it’s a compelling argument. What’s wrong with it?

This whole calculus is based on the premise that single-issue voting can only be about one single issue. This is simply a category mistake. I am a single-issue voter on the abortion issue. But I’m also a single-issue voter on wife-beating, slavery, war-crimes, and a host of other issues. Any candidate who supports wife-beating, slavery, war-crimes is barking up the wrong tree if they think they will have my support. They will never have it. Ever. Why? Because I’m a single-issue voter, and I’m willing to bet that every person reading these words is as well. Again, the question is simply what issues are that important to you.

So how does this reasoning appy to the choices before us in 2016? There is no question that the Democratic nominee is disqualified on the basis of the single issue of abortion. The GOP nominee may be as well. But even if we were to grant for the sake of argument that he were not disqualified on the basis of his abortion views, he is disqualified on a number of other single issues. His pledge to direct our miliatry to commmit war crimes, his fomenting of mob-violence at political rallies, his appeal to racism, and a host of other character flaws are all single issues, any one of which by themselves would be disqualifying.

That is why the most common argument in favor of Trump–at least the one I’m hearing from evangelicals–isn’t compelling to me. And it shouldn’t be to them either.


  • Michael King

    Any vote not for Trump is a vote for Clinton. If you vote or write in for someone not named Trump get ready for the coronation. Is it better to vote for someone that you don’t agree with on anything rather than someone you at least partially do? I think not. Anybody but Trump is a lame excuse!

    • Denny Burk

      Any vote for Trump makes a person complicit in whatever damage he inflicts upon the country. Moreover, not electing Clinton is not a moral standard or principle. The the franchise is a stewardship, and Christians must use it well.

      • Christiane Smith

        Hi DENNY,
        you wrote, this: “Any vote for Trump makes a person complicit in whatever damage he inflicts upon the country.”

        I cannot imagine Donald Trump being anywhere near the nuclear codes. For me, every other issue pales in comparison, because such a man is too destructive to be allowed that responsibility.

        One issue? Life, in all its forms on our planet would not survive a nuclear war. And I have it from members of my family that there is no such thing as a ‘limited’ use of nukes restricted to just one target . . . . the world cannot survive as we know it.

        I guess that one issue looms for me over this election season like a dark cloud and I try to take comfort in thinking that our electorate is wise enough to weight it also as a critical issue.

      • buddyglass

        I’m no fan of Trump. That said, I suspect Michael would argue that *not* voting for Trump makes a person complicit in whatever damage *Clinton* inflicts on the country. In other words, regardless of how you vote, you’re complicit in someone’s damage. Trump’s or Clinton’s.

        I’m not saying I agree with Michael, but I suspect that’s the argument he’d present. Many, you included, likely feel that voting for a suitable third-party candidate (or not voting at all) instead renders you *not* complicit in any damage done by Trump/Clinton should one of them become president.

        That’s the point of disagreement between you and Michael.

        You need to make the case that voting for someone *other* than Trump or Clinton, when the odds overwhelmingly predict either Trump or Clinton will win the election, makes one less culpable for the president’s actions than if one had voted for the lesser of two evils.

      • Jonathan McGuire

        “Not electing Clinton is not a moral standard or principle.” Really? Would “not electing Obama to a 2nd term” also not be a moral standard or principle? Given the damage done by President Obama and the clear damage that will be done by a President Clinton, I would argue that keeping her from office to be a very grave moral standard/principle.

    • Matt Martin

      No it’s not. We lose either way with Trump or Clinton. So stop giving in to this corrupt mindset of a two party system. Vote your conscience for a change. There’s lots of qualified independents or third party candidates that are much more deserving of your vote than these two ________.

  • John Onwuchekwa

    Great thoughts. So much good stuff here. I usually treat comments sections like public restrooms (attempt to avoid them at all costs); however, since I’m the first one I figured I could ask my question and get out before the comments section becomes what it’s known for.

    Do you really think that “Pro-life voters have traditionally been single-issue voters” in the sense that you described above? As I was reading your post (especially the 3rd & 4th paragraphs which were excellent) I was struck because, especially when it comes to the abortion issue, I’ve never heard of a single-issue voter talk that way. I’ve always heard it in terms of a candidates right stance on a single issue qualifying them for office. In the wake of all that’s going on with Trump, it seems like he has the support that he does primarily because people have viewed it (and continue to view it) that way.

    I think your blog is a helpful correction. I just wouldn’t assume that the majority has thought through single issue voting the way that you have.

    • Denny Burk

      Great question, John. I’ve been thinking about it this way for a long time. See for example, https://www.dennyburk.com/james-kushiner-on-single-issue-voting/. My thinking on this was shaped by something I got from John Piper nearly 20 years ago. See here: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/one-issue-politics-one-issue-marriage-and-the-humane-society. I can’t speak for every individual pro-life voter. But this idea goes back a long way, and I think it is the right way to think about it.

      • buddyglass

        Sometimes I’ve wished for a candidate with the right position on abortion and other “single issues” of similar importance but whose other positions were all chosen with an eye towards maximizing electability.

        So this hypothetical candidate might be a staunch environmentalist, believing in global warming and a carbon tax. He might oppose the death penalty and support drastically expanded (legal) immigration. He might support legalizing marijuana and cutting the defense budget. He might not be a fiscal conservative. He could be in favor of gun control and affirmative action. He might support common core and a $15/hr federal minimum wage. Etc.

        I’d like to see this guy run against a candidate who is the exact opposite. That is, who checks every conservative box *except* the ones conservative, evangelical Christians consider “single issues”. Abortion. Maybe same-sex marriage. I’m not sure what else rises to that level.

        Such a contest would force people to put their money where their mouths are, so to speak, with respect to the notion of “single issue voting”. Would you support the liberal guy who, nevertheless, steadfastly opposes abortion and same-sex marriage? Or do you support the conservative who endorses them?

  • Andrew Alladin

    Donald Trump has tainted Conservatism the same way that Barry Goldwater did in 1964. Likewise Joseph McCarthy did for Anti-Communism. I will never vote for Trump. The Republican Party will never recover from this – even if the delegates nominate Rick Perry and Susanna Martinez. It is too late.

    That being said, I fully understand the reasons why some Christians are supporting Trump. President Obama has absolutely no regard for the lives of the unborn, no regard for the religious liberty of people wishing to decline services for gay/lesbian marriages, and soon enough the liberties of religious schools to practice their beliefs will soon be tested – even in cases where federal funding is not an issue. These are actual facts – not blowhard proposals from a loudmouth carnival clown.

    Donald Trump will never be able to actually force the military to commit war crimes – the armed forces are too honorable for that. The Justice Department, Congress, and the Federal Judiciary will oppose any attempt to implement racist policies. He will be checked in ways that Clinton will not be.

    Had Obama announced in 2008 that Christian bakers, photographers, florists, etc. will be fined to the point of bankruptcy for merely declining to provide services to events he would not have received so much support from Evangelicals. And yet here we are in 2016 with Clinton desiring to take the next bold step.

    With the tax exemption for religious organizations being the next bold step for “equality” I fully understand way some Christians are taking a pragmatic choice for president. Trump is not campaigning for pastor. Perhaps he will merely impede the slide toward anarchy and oppression that will be hastened under Clinton.

  • David Shane

    But what do you want people to do Denny? I think Rod Dreher has a very good bead on this election. Clinton will be the devoted enemy of Christians and classical liberals, without question. With Trump, you haven’t a clue what you will get tomorrow… but there are plenty of hints that he might actually take a stand in defense of religious liberty, might (just by his being) weaken the forces of political correctness, might…. Feel free to vote for a 3rd party if you’d like, of course. But I think a lot of people recognize that politics is a game of the possible, and (speaking personally now) come election day if it’s pretty to clear to me that either Clinton or Trump will be our next president, I’m going to be voting for one of them – and unless something dramatic changes between now and then, the last name of that person will not be Clinton. I don’t plan to give a penny to Trump, or actively campaign for him – I reserve those actions for politicians I actually feel good about, not less-bad about. But I probably will end up voting for him.

    • Ian Shaw

      So it’s really 4 potential views to stand on-
      A) Not voting for Trump is a vote for Hillary
      B) Voting for Trump is like voting for a madman (not quite Nietzsche-but close)
      C) Finding a random 3rd party candidate that you are comfortable with (no single issue disqualifications) and you can be at peace with your conscience, regardless of their odds.
      D) refusing to cast a presidential vote at all because they’re all disqualified (to you) and being at peace about it.

    • Dan Czach

      there are also plenty of hints that trump might actually turn out too be the US version of Vladimir Putin–the leader who tramples on civil rights and bullies people to get his power. Oh wait, those aren’t hints, that’s actually reality. Good luck with that.

    • Tina Bowen

      Is religious liberty more important than respect for human dignity? Trump has said derogatory things about women, individuals with disabilities, Black Americans, Mexican Americans and Muslim Americans. Is our ability as Christians to do what we want more important than recognizing and defending the God-given dignity and worth of others? Is it Christ-like to desire my own comfort at the cost of others?

    • buddyglass

      This seems like a half measure. If Clinton would be as bad for you as you’ve indicated, then why wouldn’t you donate to Trump’s campaign and/or actively campaign for him? Saying “I’ll vote for him because the alternative is just too terrible to contemplate, but I’m not going to lift a finger in any other way to help him get elected” seems like a cop pout.

  • Kent McDonald

    God has shown us He deals with nations through their leadership. Can any leader rise to power WITHOUT God’s sovereignty being involved? EVERYTHING is under the Sovereign Will of God. My only lament is the fact we are being faced with a choice such as this in our national leadership. God is in control of history. This situation did not surprise God. I believe God is giving us the leadership we have been demanding. America is surely in rebellion and God is allowing our leadership to reflect our stance toward Him.

    We (the church) should ALL be on our face in repentance for failing to be salt and light instead of being “taken in” by a “selfie-obsessed” culture. I fear for the future of America, unless God allows the “scales to be removed from our eyes”, and we see our state of nakedness before Him. May God forgive us as we turn our eyes back toward HIM.

  • Rob Wells

    I actually got temp-banned from a conservative political/religious site of which I’ve been a member since 1998. And it was for a thoughtful diatribe against Trump. My concern is that we are being thrust into the arms of a “devil” by events and the horror of not only where we are going, but how much worse it could be if his opponent became president.

    The positive, for me, is that I’ve abandoned all hope in any human solutions to our dilemma. It is in God’s hands, and let’s be frank, those that study the bible know that Ezekiel 38-39, Matthew 24, Revelation, and a host of other bible prophesies speak of a coming time that will be challenging for those that dwell on the earth. I have believed for a couple of decades that we are on the cusp of such a world. Events of the last 12 years have confirmed it. Events of the last two years have proven the move in that direction is exponential.

    So, a year? Six months? Two weeks?

    How about that brexit thingee? 🙂

  • Ike Lentz

    Denny, a respectful challenge/question:

    Under normal circumstances, I’d agree that a single issue can disqualify a candidate, but is this election an exception? If one views Trump as a modern day Mussolini, or, as you’ve said, an “extinction level event”, wouldn’t a vote for Clinton be a moral imperative?

    I know you don’t endorse candidates, so I’m not expecting you to do that, but if you were to travel back in time and had to choose between Mussolini and Clinton, wouldn’t the decision be rather obvious?

  • Curt Parton

    Excellent post, Denny. I completely agree. Voting for Trump is not just voting against Clinton. It entails support of Trump himself and a shared culpability for his assumption of power. If Trump wins, I believe many will come to deeply regret their support. The church must not be even partially responsible for the election of such a reprehensible candidate. The moral decision before us must outweigh the political one.

  • Pedro Cheung

    The ethics of voting for our leaders is complicated. With a two party system, it appears foolish to vote for a candidate who is not the nominee of one of the two parties. I don’t have a lot of confidence that the average American voter can discern who often is the best candidate.

    It will be interesting to see how the election race unfolds in the weeks ahead. Thanks for this thought provoking post.

  • Terry Coy

    If a vote not for Trump is a vote for Clinton, then is a vote not for Clinton a vote for Trump? So, if I vote third party, am I giving my vote to Trump or Clinton? Now I’m really confused.

  • Ezra Thomas

    The sad part of what #nevertrump finds objectionable about Trump is it’s almost entirely due to him being too politically incorrect. There is very little policy disagreement. This is why establishment conservatives like Paul Ryan have expressed support for Trump. He’s just a little rough around the edges for their tastes but as long as he’s fit to sign a bill cutting taxes for the rich and rolling back regulations on Wall Street he’ll do just fine. That’s what its all about for them.

    I noticed Eric Metaxes has endorsed Trump. These principled social conservatives are covering themselves in glory. I look forward to his denunciation of Trump at some future prayer breakfast.

    • Christiane Smith

      Hi EZRA,
      I am surprised by Metaxis’ choice. Metaxis having written in celebration of the work and the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I do find Metaxis’ action to be puzzling.

  • Sheryl Doggett

    Wait a while longer. Trump has not yet decided where he really stands. Unfortunately, you might not know where he really stands until or if he gets into office. At that point, it might be a little late. Of course, there is always impeachment, really hard to do though.

    Most work gets done in congress, when any work gets done by them.

    It might be good to consider which is more likely to get along with congress and actually get congress to accomplish something. Both candidates will have some trying times in that regard, but I suspect there will be way too much drama and countless congressional hearings if Trump gets elected.

    We really need congress to get back to work. For me, I’m looking at the congressional elections.

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