Saturday, November 5, 2016

Confession: I Am a One-Issue Voter

Don’t be a one-issue voter! That is a common admonition made by people writing or talking about voting.
A one-issue voter, of course, is someone who feels so passionate about a single subject that they are willing to cast their vote based on a candidate’s stand on that issue alone.
For example . . .  
To give an example from long ago, my father was not a highly political person, but he self-identified as a Democrat. Nevertheless, he did not like Franklin Roosevelt. In 1936 my father turned 21 and voted for the first time—but he voted for Republican Alf Landon for one reason and one reason alone: prohibition.
Roosevelt was elected in 1932 partly on the basis of his promise to end prohibition—which did end in 1933. My father thought that was a mistake--and held it against Roosevelt in the 1936 election, and as far as I know in the following two elections as well. That is what it means to be a one-issue voter.
From what I hear, some people are going to vote against Hillary Clinton next Tuesday (or have already done so) mainly because of one issue: abortion. As I wrote in an earlier blog article, many conservative Christians will vote for Donald Trump primarily because they know Clinton will support abortion rights—and would appoint Supreme Court justices who would do the same.
“Pro-life” should mean far more than “anti-abortion,” but some think that voting in opposition to all abortion is more important than anything else when casting one’s ballot.
In my case . . .
But why do I now identify as a one-issue voter?
While working on the sermon I preached last Sunday (Oct. 30) at the Rosedale Congregational (UCC) Church (in Kansas City, Kan.) I decided that, alas, I am one.
I used the alternate Old Testament reading from the lectionary, Isaiah 1:10-18, and titled my sermon “Seek Justice,” taking those words from verse 17. 
In my sermon I also used one of the most important verses from the New Testament, which in one version is translated, “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Douay-Rheims, 1582, 1899)
Writing about the Kingdom of God as God’s reign, Stephen C. Mott translates that verse, “First of all seek the Reign and its justice” (Biblical Ethics and Social Change, 1982, p. 104).
It was my reflection on this verse, and the emphasis on justice in Amos 5 as well as in Isaiah 1, that led me to the conclusion that the candidate (or Party) most aligned with justice should be the one I vote for.
What this means
First, it is important to note that justice in the Bible is most usually not about punitive (criminal) justice or about restorative justice, a rather new and important emphasis. In the Bible justice is usually what can be called “distributive justice” and is often, rightfully, called “social justice” and includes racial justice and economic justice, among other types.
Thus, voting on the one issue of justice means voting for candidates most likely to work against oppression of people because of race, class, or gender.
So, here’s how I plan to vote on Nov. 8—and how I urge you to vote if you haven’t already: I will vote for the candidates who seem most likely to oppose oppression in order for there to be justice for women, for people of color, for LGBT people, for economically poor people, for American Indians, and for immigrants. 


  1. Leroy, I appreciate your self-reflection, and your description of your father's early political views. All of us who have envied or condemned single-issue voters can relate to your experiences. Sometimes thinking too much can "make our brains fall out," as one of my college professors used to warn.

    You alluded to the over-simplification of pro-life as merely anti-abortion, but have you considered the potential over-simplification of social justice as well? Marxism-Leninism sought to free the Russian people from the autocracy of the tsar, but flaws soon became evident with that revolution, and how many lives were lost! The oppression of "taxation without representation" may have been "solved" by our own American revolution, but when England lost the colonies as a dumping ground for undesirable convicts, Australia was colonized and its aboriginals became indirect victims of our "social justice" impulses.

    We're back to the dilemma that everything is connected to everything else. Be skeptical that there is a superior single issue that can guide us as we vote. We need each other to advocate our own most passionate issues and to listen to each other, and to "muddle through" by compromise, deal-making, pragmatism. It ends up a lot like making sausage, with some of us carnivores, some herbivores, some omnivores. . . .

    1. Phil, I appreciate you reading my new blog article and making such thoughtful comments before 8 o'clock this morning.

      I still want to maintain that seeking justice is a worthy single-issue for which to base one's vote. But having said that, I want to agree with you that knowing what is just in every situation and how justice can be achieved is no easy matter. Real life issues are always complex and need to be seen, and discussed, and decided by the difficult process of dialogue (listening to each other, as you said) and even argumentation in the attempt to work/vote for justice.

  2. For those being elected to serve in DC I am a one issue candidate as well. The Unaffordable Care Act. Through my business I know of 5 people who have benefited, and hundreds whose family budgets have been devastated. The number one cost item on the family budget now (even above the mortgage/rent), if they can afford to get it. As an independent, I am not thrilled with those I am voting for. At state and local level, my vote will be pretty evenly split between candidates of 4 parties. Justice? I question the definitions these days.

  3. Justice is a great prism through which to vote. Putting the well-being of others, especially the poor, oppressed and disadvantaged, ahead of privileges for oneself, is one way we can all contribute to making the world a better place. And it just happens to be the Jesus way. :)

    1. Thanks so much for your cogent comments, Bruce!

  4. Spot on Leroy!

    The first Moment of Clarity in this whole business for me was reading Leviticus chapters 25-26, regarding the Year of Jubilee.

    The second Moment of Clarity was when I had my Urban Sociology class - at a Baptist college in '88 - read the same. One fundamentalist reacted with intense anger and yelled "Only Communists believe that part of the Bible!!!"

    I figure any movement toward Jubilee is better than moves away from it. God's promises for either path for a nation are wondrous on one side - and chilling on the other!

    1. Larry, I was glad to hear from you again. (It had been quite a while since I had, and I was just thinking about writing you a few days ago.)

      The whole matter of the Year of Jubilee, which may never have been carried out very completely or with much success, at least expressed what YHWH considers to be the path of justice in olden times. While that is something that cannot, or will not, be implemented in this day and age, at least it helps us to think deeply about the meaning of justice and to work toward that end, even though we know we will never arrive at that end.

  5. My Sunday School class some time ago started reading Richard Horsley's "Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All " (2009). Through the twists and turns of various delays, I think we are finally finishing the book tomorrow, just in time for the election. Horsley's main points are that Jesus was proclaiming the same social justice message as ancient Israel, and that the United States was founded on a covenant understanding deeply steeped in the biblical covenant.

    Horsley is down on "imperial" megacorporations whose empires echo the ancient empires such as the Roman Empire that Jesus confronted. He also condemns NAFTA (back on 2009!), so Donald Trump fans should be pleased. Hillary Clinton supporters might like this, "Equivalents to supplementary aid to people in temporary economic difficulty such as gleaning rights and liberal lending without interest would run the gamut from food stamps to unemployment compensation. This would require EXPANSION of programs already in place but inadequate." (p. 177) He even mentioned the justice requirement for "...affordable and quality health care..."

    I was especially interested in his critique of bible translations, including the NRSV. He says Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is just as much as restatement of the ancient Israelite economic covenant as the parallel passage in Luke 6. What Matthew said with a slight flourish compared to Luke has been spun into the individualistic pietistic language we find in English translations. There is no significant difference between "the poor" and "the poor in spirit." Jesus really was praying for God to forgive our debts as we forgive others. To hunger and thirst for justice (not righteousness) is essentially the same as hungering and thirsting.

    If justice means police throwing people into jail, that is at best a limited understanding, and in America, an overused one. If justice means honoring Jefferson's soaring phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" then justice is an excellent "single issue." As an old hymn made new again in the musical "Godspell" put it, "God save the people! Not thrones and crowns, but men!"

    1. Craig, thanks for sharing about Horsely's book. I have not read it, but I have read and profited from his 1989 book "The liberation of Christmas : the infancy narratives in social context." Perhaps that has been mentioned in your SS class, and Milton has, most probably, read it.

  6. Thank you, as always, for your thought-provoking post, Rev. Seat.
    I've been a single-issue voter since a bout 10 years ago. Although I'm Canadian and therefore have no vote in the upcoming US election, I do pay attention to where canidates stand (or not) on my one issue; the truth about 9/11.
    As Jill Stein is the only candidate who has called for a proper investigation of the facts of 9/11, I would be voting for her if I were a US citizen. Two elections ago my favorite would have been Cynthia McKinney, for the same reason. (If elected, McKinney would have been both the first black and first woman president, and without doubt a more shining representative of both than either Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton.)
    To be fair Donald Trump once expressed interest in the truth about 9/11, which places him above Hillary Clinton in my one-issue books. But I disqualify him because he was insinuating blame to Saudi Arabia, which would be almost as wrong as the 15 year-old official conspiracy theory against Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
    Truth/Honesty/Intgrity being my single issue, there's really no contest between a. Clinton, who represents the 15 year-old lie that has "justified" the deaths of countless browner-than-me "them" in distant lands and raised obscene profits for "our" oilygarchs and friends, b. Trump and his new-and-improved Saudi Arabian variation on the 15 year-old pack of lies and c. Jill Stein and her call for a long-overdue investigation of 9/11 based on available evidence.

  7. The problem with "justice", and all other words as well, is that they can be defined by the user to suit their own prejudices. I just came across THIS LINK this morning in which the author explains how he can call himself a pro-life Christian and vote Democratic. I believe this author's definition of the word justice is similar to mine.

  8. Thanks for sharing this article, Clif.

  9. Leroy, I appreciate that you differentiate several ‘types’ of justice: punitive, restorative, distributive, etc. It cues us not to be too sure of what we mean by ‘justice’ in several contexts.

    Perhaps I am wildly mistaken to think that the biblical context is largely framed by a conception of original/initial right-relationship. That is why the idea of the Jubilee year (Sabbath of Sabbaths) is a concept of restoration to a (supposed) right distribution of resources. Tikkun Olam is a restoring/mending to a relationship of wholeness. The meaning of corrections toward ‘justice’ of our practices is significantly affected by whether our ideal of justice is understood as already given or an emergent (and thus moving) ideal. I am still trying to unlearn that ‘corrective’ judgments need not be equivalent to ‘punitive’ judgments.

    I remain concerned that we too easily equate ‘tsedek/ah’ [righteousness, right-relationship] with ‘mishpat’ [judgment, just-leading]. Just decisions are what biblical rulers where expected to make on behalf of all the people. In the USA it seems reasonable to expect it of our leaders, who, we (bible readers especially) must not forget, are not rulers.

    The Isaiah quote is about [those with responsibility for the people] learning to do “the good” and devoting themselves to (just)-“judgment” [with some prime examples of how to do that]. When Abraham asks “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” he is challenging the one with responsibility for all creation to act righteously [with respect to others, not ‘self-righteously’]. Should we not ask as much of our potential leaders?

    1. Thanks much for your significant comments, Dick.

      I am not a Hebrew scholar such as you are. For the meaning of the Old Testament (as well as the New Testament) words for "justice," I have relied on, and trusted, the explanation of Stephen Charles Mott, mentioned in the article.

      In addition to the section on "Justice and Grace" (pp. 58-64) in the book introduced in the article, Mott also has a section called "The Character of Biblical Justice" (pp. 77-88) in his 1993 book titled "A Christian Perspective on Political Thought."