If Jesus were a single-issue voter, what would his single issue be?
by Janet Frick
James 2:14-18 (NIV)
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
The 2016 presidential election is still 8 months away, and yet we are already seeing a baffling / disturbing electoral process that seems to be driven more by outrage and click-baity headlines than by serious substance and debate about the direction of our country. One of the principles that I am trying to teach my children is to treat our elected officials with respect, even if we don’t agree with all of their politics. Since my kids were old enough to understand voting (3-year-old Melanie was fascinated with “Arackabama” in 2008), our family has discussed elections, and I have had them do research on the different candidates to learn more about them and to try to understand their issues and values. Yet despite my best efforts this year, it is hard to explain exactly what we are seeing in the media (and, frankly, it is hard to disguise my own confusion and bafflement at the statements and actions of some of the candidates).
When it comes to understanding what factors motivate voter turnout and participation in elections, many voters describe themselves as “single-issue voters.” This issue may be motivated by “liberal” values, such as minority rights or improving immigration issues. Or the single issue may be one that resonates more with conservative voters, such as abortion or being anti-same-sex marriage. Single-issue voters usually feel passionately about their issue, and use it as a litmus test for which candidates can be supported vs. which ones have to be immediately ruled out.
An op-ed I read recently, written by the associate pastor of the church I attended in high school, gave me a fresh perspective on what “single issue” should (arguably) unite all Christians, whether we consider ourselves politically conservative or liberal. If we describe ourselves as followers of Christ, and aspire to follow his lead in what our priorities are, what would be the number one issue? What social / political issue is discussed the most throughout Scripture? Is it guns? Sexual sin? Immigration? Greed? Love?
Actually, a strong case can be made that the single issue uniting Christians should be poverty. There are over 2000 verses in the Bible concerning economic justice for the poor. Jesus admonished his followers over and over to care for the needy in their society, to give up their possessions and follow him, and to prioritize spiritual things over earthly possessions. As Rev. Bowen-Marler writes in this op-ed, “the beauty of being a single issue voter on poverty is that nestled within that single issue are a plethora of other issues: payday lending reform, Medicaid expansion, affordable health care for all people, race equity, defense, foreign policy, education, transportation, campaign finance reform, the list goes on and on and on. And let’s be real here, all the evidence shows that the No. 1 way to reduce abortions is by reducing poverty. For pro-life Christians, wouldn’t it then make sense to elect politicians committed to reducing poverty so that in turn the rate of abortions in our country will go down?”
Political liberals and conservatives might disagree on the best strategies for reducing poverty, but if all Christ-followers were committed to taking steps in both their personal and political lives to reduce poverty and to genuinely prioritize the needs of the poor, how radical a shift would that be for our country? In this lenten season, as we reflect on how we might eliminate excess in our own lives, how might we use this election season as an opportunity to look in our communities for ways that we might make tangible steps to care for the needy all around us?
Prayer: God, help us to love as you love, to see the world with your eyes, and to show our faith through our words and deeds. Amen.