As we approach the November 6 election in the US, I again hear and read comments that people who vote for pro-choice candidates have the blood of millions of murdered babies on their hands. Sometimes the opinion includes the question of how such voters can call themselves Christian.
I’m one of the people those comments target. I am a Christian from the Anabaptist stream — a historic peace church that includes Mennonites and Amish — and I usually don’t vote for so-called pro-life candidates.
Why? Because the Anabaptist ideal, as I understand it, is that as followers of Jesus, we are to be as pro-life as possible in our complex world. (Some people use the term “completely pro-life,” which makes me wince a bit. Because humanly speaking, when are we consistently and completely anything?)
This means no killing. By abortion. Or the death penalty. Or of enemies, even in war.
You see where this leaves me? Given my faith perspective, to cast any vote is to have blood on my hands. I can find pro-birth candidates. But I have yet to find a completely pro-life politician in any party.
Historically, Anabaptist Christians have “solved” this dilemma by not voting at all. I grew up hearing that not voting is a witness to society that we belong to the Kingdom of God, not to the kingdoms of this world. I was taught that not voting is an expression that we are in the world but not of the world.
Some Anabaptists still follow this practice. Others, including me, believe that we have a responsibility to vote, that there are no pure enclaves under a bushel somewhere to hide in and be absolved of the whole bloody mess. As German theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Given the complexity, why don’t I just vote for pro-life candidates, as some of my fellow Anabaptists do, even if those politicians are more pro-birth than pro-life? At least I’d know I’m not supporting the murder of babies. Here are seven head-and-heart reasons:
- My convictions are shaped by my work as a counselor with left-behind children in public schools, some of whom wished they had never been born. I’m glad people care passionately about unborn children, but I find my heart breaking when that passion seems to dissipate once a baby is born and disappears altogether at our borders.
- I’ve done community trauma work on five continents and have witnessed the devastation and suffering of real people impacted by violence, migration, war, injustice, and dignity violations. The way our elected officials vote on war, immigration, and foreign aid have life and death consequences. I want the babies and children in those far-off places, created in the image of God just like my own, to live and thrive, too.
- Pro-life legislators are more likely than their pro-choice counterparts to vote against the very programs that research shows decrease abortion rates: access to affordable contraceptives, age-appropriate sex education, paid maternity leave, and access to affordable child care.
- Pro-life politicians are more likely to support the death penalty and increased defense spending, which includes bombs and drones that kill other people’s babies and children.
- Even if I don’t condone abortion, I know it’s going to happen. I don’t condone war either, but I know it’s going to happen. I don’t support defunding and closing veterans’ hospitals as an attempt to stop war. Rather, I put my effort into supporting policies that reduce the likelihood of war. Likewise, I believe the most effective anti-abortion work I can do is supporting policies that prevent abortion and decrease abortion rates rather than working to defund or close clinics or criminalize abortion. I value the lives of women having abortions and want them to be safe, just as I value the lives of our veterans who need care even while disagreeing with their choice to go to war.
- Being as pro-life as possible means we don’t kill through supporting policies that deprive those unaborted babies, once they get older, of healthcare or school lunches. We don’t kill by allowing assault weapons on our streets or supporting systems that pipeline young people to prison. We don’t kill this beautiful planet Creator God has given us through policies that increase our carbon footprint.
- If we’re one-issue pro-life voters, foxy politicians — as Jesus called Herod — play us. All they need to do is say they are pro-life, and voilà, they have a whole flock of Christian voters in their pocket, regardless of their character and even if they support policies that increase abortion rates and kill in other ways.
The way I vote comes from being deeply rooted in my 500-year-old faith tradition, yes. But it’s not just something I inherited. It’s based on what I have seen and heard and carefully considered. When another Christian disparages my lifetime calling and my faith, it saddens and sometimes angers me.
Amidst the clamor that deepens divisions, it’s easy to forget that Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God and each other. I wish we loved enough to stop demonizing: “Pro-life Christian voters are simplistic and end up harming women and children with their narrow focus;” “Pro-choice voters are disingenuous child murderers who can’t possibly be Christian.”
What if we stopped the othering rhetoric and started over with something we all agree is solidly Christian, a humble confession: We all have blood on our hands.
Maybe then we could work together, despite our differences, in the life-giving spirit of that greatest commandment. Love.
Carolyn Yoder is a psychotherapist, trauma specialist, and author of The Little Book of Trauma Healing: When Violence Strikes and Community Security is Threatened. www.PeaceAfterTrauma.com