On the vanity of partisan politics

Today a friend shared this video on Facebook, in which a reporter from ReasonTV, a libertarian video channel, interviews delegates at the Democratic National Convention to find out just how pro-choice they really are.

For many, the video highlights a glaring inconsistency in the Democratic platform. Apparently, “it’s my body, my choice” applies when you’re terminating a pregnancy, but not when it comes to drinking excessive quantities of soda.

My guess is the libertarian producers of this video were more concerned with the regulation of sugary drinks and light bulbs than abortion. Though in fairness, many libertarians are pro-life, because in their view, one individual’s liberty ends where someone else’s personhood begins. Either way, the inconsistency highlighted by this video is real. And troubling.

But imagine if someone had turned the cameras on the other party during their convention and asked, “Just how pro-life are Republicans?” On the one hand, the Republican platform calls for a constitutional amendment to protect unborn children.

But how pro-life is it to oppose the EPA’s efforts to limit mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants — a rule designed to protect children born and unborn from the well-documented health effects of such pollutants?

How pro-life is it to lead the country into not one but two wars of questionable necessity (assuming you believe there’s ever such a thing as “justifiable necessity” when it comes to war)?

How pro-life is it to play politics with climate change when the risks of inaction far outweigh the risks of overreaction in the unlikely event the scientists are wrong? Many experts in the humanitarian sector (in which I used to work) will tell you that climate change is the single greatest threat to all the progress that’s been made combating poverty, hunger, and disease over the last few decades.

Now it’s not as if one party is more virtuous than the other. The truth is, hypocrisy runs deep on both sides of the political divide. Those of us who are Christians would do well to remember this as we engage in (or disengage from) the political process this year.
Politics is not just the art of governing; it’s also the pursuit of power. And in our increasingly polarized society, it seems to be more about the latter than the former. Hence our never-ending election cycle.

That’s why Christians should be wary of getting too cozy with either party. Because we are called to serve, not to become someone else’s pawn in their accumulation of power. We are called to speak truth to power but never to seek it for ourselves. Ever notice how the Old Testament prophets routinely confronted the kings of Israel without seeking their favor or patronage?

It’s not that there’s no place for Christian political engagement. I believe there is. But I also believe our role is to be a prophetic voice, and you can’t do that when you’re a mouthpiece for one party or the other.

So when Democrats talk about protecting the vulnerable in our midst, we can applaud while also pointing out the blind spot in their thinking when it comes to abortion. And when Republicans talk about the sanctity of life, we can say amen while also reminding them that life is just as sacred outside the womb as in it.

This may not be a strategy for electoral success, but as Christians, aren’t we called to believe in something bigger?

4 thoughts on “On the vanity of partisan politics

  1. Nicely put and a good analysis. Neither party is the “Christian” party and I find it disturbing that both parties are invoking God in some way. Brought to mind, for me, Deuteronomy 5:11 “You shall not use the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name”


  2. I would say that the abortion issue is perhaps *the* simplest issue in all of politics when it comes to seeing what is right. I’ve said before that in probably every other issue I can “see” how an intelligent person could hold the opinion of the “other side”, even if I disagree with it. But I cannot understand how anyone who has considered the issue could not be pro-life. At the DNC these last couple days, abortion rights were not only cheered, they received some of the loudest cheers of all, and that disturbs me greatly. It is not just mere human beings that we are contending with.

    But all these other issues are more complex. Though there are Republican hypocrites, I don’t think they’re (necessarily) hypocrites to take the positions given in your examples above. I certainly don’t think that the risks of inaction outweigh the risks of overreaction when it comes to climate change – in fact, I think the risks from climate change are very small indeed, and efforts to limit CO2 production hurt everyone, the poor especially. The pro-life position on that issue is to fight the environmentalists. How about – how pro-life is it to leave a dictator who has nerve-gassed his own citizens in power in Iraq? How pro-life is it to let Afghanistan remain a terrorists’ haven where they can safely plan their next attack against innocent civilians? I could go on – I’m actually more ambivalent about these things than I’m making out to be right now, but the point is that the issues are a lot more complex than abortion, or (if you ask me) soda consumption.

    All that said – I don’t disagree with your conclusion. We are citizens of another kingdom! We should be involved in the political process because that is one big way we can love other people. But if we find ourselves aligning with our party instead of with our God, something has gone seriously wrong. (But I also think that it’s possible to be in 90% agreement with a party and not be co-opted by it – and, not being me, I’m not sure you could ever really know where my heart was.)


    1. I think all the above issues have their areas of complexity, abortion included. (What do you do when the life and/or health of the mother is genuinely at stake? How do you handle cases of rape, which by some estimates result in as many as 20-30,000 pregnancies per year? How do you really go about reducing the abortion rate? Through punitive measures? By addressing the reasons some women choose abortion? Both?) I’m not trying to suggest answers; I’m pointing out that just because there’s an element of moral clarity to the abortion issue doesn’t mean there aren’t also areas of complexity. That said, I’m with you in that I don’t understand how a 7-inch journey down a birth canal endows someone with a right to life they don’t already have.

      Re. the other issues I mentioned…yes they are complex, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also have elements of moral clarity. For pacifists (who, let’s not forget, have a longstanding place in the Christian tradition), the killing of one person never justifies the killing of another. The way you framed the questions about Iraq and Afghanistan (acknowledging that you’re actually more ambivalent about these issues) presumes that full-scale invasion was the only way of dealing with Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, respectively. No one says we should have looked the other way, but many of us believe the rush to war preempted even the consideration of other possibilities. Besides, if you’re going to use Saddam’s crimes against humanity (which are not in dispute) as rationale for the invasion of Iraq, then the 100,000+ civilian deaths since we invaded (and that’s the conservative estimate) presents something of a moral credibility issue.

      Finally, climate change. The estimated cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is around 2% of global GDP. The risk posed by climate change to the poor is enormous. Increasing frequency and intensity of droughts in sub-Saharan Africa (already being observed) threatening food security. Ongoing deforestation (a contributing factor to greenhouse gas emissions) fueling desertification. Glacial retreat causing water insecurity in parts of Asia and Latin America. Tens of millions at risk of displacement along low-lying coastal areas of Southeast Asia and on small island states. The acidification of the oceans. These are not minor issues; nor is it alarmist to say that millions of lives hang in the balance.

      Re. your statement that “we should be involved in the political process because that is one big way we can love other people.” Amen. That should be the motivation for everything we do in the political sphere, even if that motivation leads us to different conclusions on certain issues.

      I also think your last statement (“not being me, I’m not sure you could ever really know where my heart was”) raises an important issue. We tend to stereotype people based on their political affiliations. Thus all Tea Partiers become bigoted hillbillies and all liberals become pot-smoking reprobates. If we really believe people are created in the image of God, we need to to better than that. To that end, I leave you with this clip from The Daily Show: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-september-5-2012/hope-and-change-2—the-party-of-inclusion


  3. I think the most glaringly obvious hypocrisies are surrounding the “life” issues with Republicans. How can a party argue so strongly against abortion while also arguing so strongly against ensuring quality health care for every child who is born. Are you really pro-life if you demand that every pregnancy goes full-term, but then expect the child and mother to fend for themselves medically? Republicans also tend to champion the death penalty. “Pro-life” doesn’t gel with the support of state sponsored killing. There is a great difference between pro-life and anti-abortion.


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