Tag Archives: voting

The myth of conscience voting

To what extent should we prioritize our individual discomfort, our “duty” to follow our own moral code, above concern for the consequences that our choices may have on others?

Many, both religious and those whoa re simply passionate about their political views, have argued in conversations about the 2016 election and its aftermath about “voting your conscience” against “voting pragmatically.”

The argument seems to boil down to this: some folks, faced with a Trump vs Hillary choice, elected to vote in support of a 3rd party candidate in order to avoid giving direct support to a candidate whose positions imply (or directly require) contradicting one’s moral code.  Others, faced with the prospect of two candidates they abhorred, may have filtered their “lesser of two evil” choice through a singular moral lens: for the typical Evangelical, this seemed to revolve around abortion or holding onto a SCOTUS seat for the sake of overturning Roe v Wade. For Bernie supporters, their vote for Hillary perhaps stemmed only from a desire to preserve some particular progressive value like access to abortion or Obamacare.

Either way, on both sides of the spectrum, people were defending a vote for a flawed candidate on moral grounds. In my newsfeed, at least, the more religious the voter, the more the defenses dragged in the name of Jesus in ways I find — at best — uncomfortable.  I think I reached peak “Oh for pete’s sake!” when Evangelical leaders tried to argue that Trump had found Jesus and was a baby Christian. *rolls eyes*

Those who advocate a more practical approach to voting in American elections point out two things: voting 3rd party in a national election will always be a throwaway vote, until those outside parties can break into the system. Second, if one of the two mainline candidates is truly atrocious, failing to vote against that person or splitting the vote of the opposing candidate (as happens when libertarians abandon the GOP or the greens/socialists walk away from the Dems) ends up being a de facto vote for the candidate you hate.

Further, running your candidate through a singular moral lens forces you to ignore a critical element: the aftermath of the policies a candidate espouses.  Put simply, I find it appalling (galling?) that Christians voted for Trump in order to  “prevent” abortion while ignoring (and continuing to ignore) horrific abuses against many currently living humans who are being negatively affected by the decisions he and the Republicans have made over the past 18 months.

I long who gave up the one-issue voting stance as unhelpful and short-sighted. No decisions that involve humans can be truly 100% good or totally horrible. I’ve never met anybody (intelligent or educated or even just basically informed) who could wholly endorse one party’s entire platform.

It’s time to drop the euphemism “voting your conscience” and call it what it is: voting your priorities.

Because that’s what voting is here in America.

Most of us have too little money (and therefore no power) to influence any given election. It’s true that state and local races can come down to a handful of votes. So this discussion targets larger races where my one vote in a SC district genuinely matters only a feather in the whole situation. If at all.

The polls and data continue to confirm strong Evangelical support for Trump as a candidate in 2016 and as a President now.

I heard a lot of FB timeline voices offering their reasons either for a 3rd party vote (understandable) or voting for Trump.  But labeling one’s reasons for voting a certain way as “conscience” or “pragmatic” gives us too easy of an excuse for the fallout of any given election. Acknowledging that a vote is, instead, a statement of ranked priorities forces us to be honest about what matters to us.

When we allow ourselves to detach from the visible and real human consequences of the entire gamut of a party’s political platform, we can pretend it’s ok because WE did the only right thing we could. WE “voted our conscience.”

No. You voted your highest priority, the single thing (or three) you can’t live with (or without). That’s it. Plain and simple.

When we make a particular vote about individual holiness, it takes our attention away from the collective and institutional outcomes of various policy positions.

Here’s the issue: your individual “conscience” isn’t more important than the trade-offs your vote will empower.

I’m not suggesting a paralyzing level of fear that my vote somehow has outsized effect on any given political system. It doesn’t. But if I run the decision regarding what candidates I will support through only an individualistic filter, I may miss critical elements of the moral and social calculus that drives our voting decisions.

It seems to be a weakness of the American mindset to prioritize the individual too much over the collective / society / community.  By recognizing that my vote indicates my priorities and preferences, rather than some moral statement about the universe, I might be able to see the consequences of public policy more fairly.

I think that would be a win for all of us.

Not just believing. Acting.

For a variety of personal reasons, I find myself musing these questions lately:

1. Can we make any real progress against poverty, sickness, hatred, abuse?
The sin is in us, in our hearts from the beginning. Yet I believe the Gospel is bigger than our collective and individual sin, and God’s redemption of our hearts will affect  human lives and systems.

2. Must all progress be made individually?
It seems like attempts to reform systems end in failure, mismanagement, or a return to a bad status quo. Is there no “economy of scale” to social work?

3. What is the biblical response to injustice?
If it were clear, wouldn’t everybody be responding?

*****

Ran across this controversial and somewhat jumbled essay (memoir? call to action? position paper?) by Bob Zellner, a man who emerged from his Southern roots to become a Civil Rights activist.  It’s not always easy to follow his point; many of his conclusions do not seem to follow from any stated premises or evidence. His support of unionized labor will anger some; his blunt criticism of Southern mores will offend many.

But I recommend the essay as a thought-provoking weekend read:

Thoughts on Port Huron (written in 2012)

From his introduction:

It’s important what a person believes, so tell me what you think, but more importantly, tell me what you do and have done. In Alabama I saw folks chanting affirmations of faith, knowing they did not mean it. My quest became why people’s actions and beliefs were so far apart. I was fascinated with why so few white Southerners risked life and limb or even ostracism and poverty in the struggle against segregation and racial oppression.

Searching for authenticity, commitment and risk, as well as harmony between belief and action, I sought people doing things challenging and exciting to me. The second of five boys with a schoolteacher mother and preacher father, it was unlikely I would meet Dr. Martin Luther King and Ms Rosa Parks as a college student in Montgomery and become part of America’s most exciting History — the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps it was providential that my Methodist College, Huntingdon, was located in Montgomery, the cradle of the modern civil rights struggle.

My odyssey from KKK to MLK was a stretch. Dad, James Abraham Zellner, a Methodist minister was once a Klan organizer, a Kleagle. He and Mom, Ruby Hardy Zellner, graduated from Bob Jones College now located in Greenville, SC Even though it is now called a “university,” it is not widely known as a hot bed of Southern Liberalism. What’s worse, I was named for Dr. Bob Jones after he performed the marriage of Mom and Dad. In 2012-speak, that means I come from a line of Fundamentalist Terrorist. I must have been a disappointment to Godfather Dr. Bob. Have you ever noticed how fundamentalism and terrorism go together?

The nexus is ubiquitous throughout history. A fundamentalist, Muslim, Christian, or any other can be peace loving and protect those inside his circle. As a fundamentalist, however, his ability and willingness to harm those outside his circle, i.e. infidels, is altered. Not only is the fundamentalist allowed to harm others, his creed may even require him to do so. Presently a fundamentalist, then, depending on circumstances, voila, a terrorist is born. My father, grandfather and uncles in Birmingham were Klan activists. A more ruthless gaggle of terrorist is hard to imagine. Was their Klavern responsible for killing four little girls guilty of nothing more than going to Sunday school at the 16th Avenue Church one September morning in1963?

The last paragraph rings true:

Once, when trapped in a Montgomery church, Ms. [Rosa] Parks helped five students escape arrest, but not before saying to me, “Bob, when you see something wrong you have to do something about it. You must take action — you can’t study injustice forever.

 

You can read more about Bob and his continuing crusade to protect voting rights here:

Activist Issues New Awakening for Voting Rights