Is it okay for a Christian to vote for a pro-choice candidate for president? This is the question I hear from many evangelical friends. Some say no because one is then complicit in supporting the evil of abortions. They believe that abortion should be the sole issue in voting for a president.

Others who are also against abortion say yes because there are many other pro-life issues at stake. In fact, both Pope Benedict XVI and the Conference of Catholic Bishops permit a Catholic to vote for a pro-choice candidate. So even though the Catholic Church has been the strongest religious voice against abortions, no Catholic is bound to vote on the basis of abortion alone.

But many others are still undecided. Can a Christian in all good conscience vote for a pro-choice candidate without feeling they have lost or compromised their convictions and commitments to the sanctity of life? I think such a choice is possible due to the following factors.

The Bible

First, the Bible doesn’t mention abortion at all. Although abortion was common in the ancient world, neither Jesus nor the apostles say anything about it. David, though, had rich insights of how God was intimately involved in “knitting me together in my mother’s womb” (see Psalm 139:13), and Jeremiah records God’s words: “I formed you in the womb” (see Jeremiah 1:5). These verses speak poetically and theologically about God’s sovereign involvement in creating life even if they do not address all of the complex medical and ethical issues regarding abortion.

The Bible is also clear about murder being a sin, a commandment that lies at the heart of the abortion debate. Yet we grapple with perplexing questions: Should all abortions be considered murder or does it depend on the circumstances, such as incest or the life of the mother? Does the stage of pregnancy matter? Why does Ecclesiastes 6:4 describe a stillborn child as one that “comes without meaning and departs in darkness”? Why is the Bible so silent about abortion when we are so vocal?

Religious Convictions

Scripture doesn’t give us answers to these difficult questions, but abortion is such a significant issue that the people of God have wrestled with it for centuries. For instance, the early Church strongly believed in the sanctity of life and was against the killing of any human life through abortion. They cared so much about life that they also resisted serving in the military.  

The ancient priest and scholar, Jerome, however, distinguished between the formed and unformed fetus—a position that echoed early Rabbinic law. Augustine also made this distinction and confessed that he “couldn’t bring myself to either affirm or deny the final state of aborted babies.” These scholars and others wrestled with how human life developed and when the soul becomes alive. Chris Hall provides an extremely helpful commentary on the early Church discussions on abortion in his book, Living Wisely with the Church Fathers.

Today, most Christians are against abortions and especially late-term abortions. But many make exceptions for instances of rape, incest, and the life of the mother, arguing that taking life in these situations is similar to reasons for killing in self-defense.

Politicization

A complicating factor in the abortion debates is that in recent decades, the passionate cry against abortion has become not just a moral issue but a political one. This has not always been the case.

Abortion became a key strategic issue of the Moral Majority to unify Republicans behind Ronald Reagan (who ironically had passed the most liberal abortion laws in the country when he was governor of California) against Democrat Jimmy Carter. This fault line between Republicans and Democrats over abortion has intensified since then, although there are still pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans. The reality is that a candidate’s position on abortion today may be as much for reasons of political identity and power as it is for deep moral convictions.

We Can Use Our Vote for What Will Actually Make a Difference

A very practical question is whether the next president, whoever he is, will make any real difference in the rate of abortions in the country. Recently David French—a pro-life commentator who is theologically and politically conservative—wrote a provocative blog titled, “Do Pro-Lifers Who Reject Trump Have ‘Blood on their Hands’?”

This is a significant blog, as French presents statistics and historical facts that suggest that no matter who becomes president, the abortion rate will likely continue its downward slide from a level that now is actually below where it was when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

In fact, history shows that the abortion rate has declined faster under Democratic presidents than under Republican presidents. It’s difficult to pinpoint whether that is the result of presidential policies or other influences. But with those numbers in mind, French argues that presidents are inconsequential to the rate of abortions despite the battle over Supreme Court nominations. Even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion rates will largely be unaffected.

Michael Gerson is another pro-life, political and theological conservative who recently argued that abortion isn’t the only issue on the ballot to be considered. He believes that “persuasion will matter more than federal legislation” for the pro-life movement. He also asks the question, “Is it really in the long-term interest of the pro-life movement to associate itself with a form of right-wing populism that dehumanizes migrants, alienates minorities and slanders refugees?”

A recent meme quips: “Abortion: The only word that can make followers of Jesus vote against everything Jesus ever talked about because of one issue that Jesus never talked about.” Although this is clearly a generalization, there is truth to it. In voting for a candidate who claims to be pro-life, we could very well be failing to uphold the biblical call to care for the poor, to welcome the refugee, to seek justice and love mercy—all for the sake of the mis-understanding that voting for a pro-life candidate will necessarily reduce the number of abortions in this country.

Conclusions?

I can’t decide for other Christians how to vote for president, especially with respect to such a difficult and serious issue like abortion. But I can offer these reflections for consideration.

  1. The Bible affirms the sanctity of life and condemns murder but is silent about abortion.
  2. The people of God have consistently stood against abortion as wrong and we should continue to persuade our culture to honor and preserve the sanctity of all human life.  
  3. Who we choose as president will not affect the rate of abortions in our country. We should feel the freedom to vote for other reasons without condemning ourselves or others.
  4. Who we choose as president, however, will affect other pro-life issues in the country, and the world, such as poverty, racial and economic justice, gun control, immigration reform, controlling the pandemic, and combating climate change.
  5. No matter who we vote for, we can speak to one another out of love, respect, and an understanding that we each have been created in God’s image. This is another way of being truly pro-life in all we do and say.
17 replies
  1. Avatar
    Arthur Volkmann says:

    Perhaps it is time to develop a third party like the American Solidarity Party. How can we choose the lesser of two evils when both are evil?

    Reply
    • Bob Fryling
      Bob Fryling says:

      Yes, a third party like the ASP is very appealing but unfortunately I don’t think they have even won any major local or state-wide elections. So for now a third party vote is still a vote for the winner no matter how good it may feel to cast such a vote!

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Barry Wong says:

        I respectfully disagree with this dismissal of a third party vote. If enough people (at least the difference between winner and loser) were to consistently cast their vote for, say, the Libertarian party, they wouldn’t have to ‘win’ to get people’s attention and become a constituency which needed to be courted.

        Alas, we seem mired in the two-party binary, and in this particular presidential election, I’ll admit that the possible consequence of a third party protest vote feel grave. I would think this is especially true in swing states — a different experience than my own as a voter in states where the outcome is pretty well determined in every election.

        Reply
        • Bob Fryling
          Bob Fryling says:

          Barry, I didn’t mean to dismiss the idea of a third party for another election as I think we really need one. But I don’t think that is a viable option for this election and especially in a swing state. In 2016 if all third party voters (especially for Jill Stein of the Green Party) had voted for Clinton she would probably have won Michigan and Wisconsin. But yes, in a state like Ca. you can make protest votes but unless they are organized and consolidated in a significant way, I’m not sure the protest is really heard.

          Reply
    • Bob Fryling
      Bob Fryling says:

      Another thought – maybe instead of having to choosing between two evils we think of choosing between who is best despite their weaknesses – who would lead the country with greater civility and Christian character of grace and truth and who would care the most for issues of justice and mercy? Both the Democratic and Republican parties have manifested their lust for raw political power but who would best restrain these impulses and care for all Americans and not just their respective political bases?

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Bob A. says:

    Bob, this is exactly the dilemma so many of our friends face today. If only we could take the best of two flawed tickets. Or some are considering a “protest” vote with a write-in. Lord help us.

    Reply
    • Bob Fryling
      Bob Fryling says:

      Bob, yes, there is no perfect candidate or party or vote. We do need discernment as to what choice is best. Unfortunately a protest vote usually only matters to the protestor with no real influence other than effectively being a vote for the winner.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Jen says:

    Thank you for sharing this perspective and history. I’ve researched the topic myself, and came to the conclusion that there are more impactful issues that align with a pro-life perspective. I will vote based upon those issues, where I feel a president’s policies can make a meaningful positive impact for more people than anti-abortion laws could.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    robert brenner says:

    As one who would have most definitely been aborted if abortion had been legal in 1945, this is the biggest issue of all for me. It is all about the sacredness of life. If we do not see life as sacred from conception, I fear we fall into a deep abyss. And don’t minimize the fact that the Democrat VP candidate advocates for the murder of babies right up until birth. God help us.

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    robert brenner says:

    As one who would have most definitely been aborted if abortion had been legal in 1945, this is the biggest issue of all for me. It is all about the sacredness of life. If we do not see life as sacred from conception, I fear we fall into a deep abyss. And don’t minimize the fact that the Democrat VP candidate advocates for the murder of babies right up until birth. God help us.

    Reply
    • Bob Fryling
      Bob Fryling says:

      Robert, these are hard issues and I deeply respect your personal opinion. Indeed, I fully agree with you about the overwhelming importance of the sacredness of life and that we should seek to persuade our neighbors and culture of that. However, I believe we will be much more convincing if we also care about other pro-life issues as well. I also strongly disagree with vocal Democrats that just promote women’s rights which imply full unqualified support for late-term abortions (about 1% of all abortions). However, Joe Biden voted against late-term abortions and because of his strong Catholic faith he is certainly not for “the murder of babies right up until birth.” That I’m afraid is a fear based Republican talking point that does not honor Biden’s deep compassion and care for human life.

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Timothy J Leary says:

    This point you made I think was not flushed out enough. This is obviously a tricky election. But I would like a better treatment of this.
    The people of God have consistently stood against abortion as wrong and we should continue to persuade our culture to honor and preserve the sanctity of all human life.

    Reply
    • Bob Fryling
      Bob Fryling says:

      Thanks for your comment and I basically agree with you. The people of God need to do everything we can to speak and act about all pro-life issues and particularly abortion. But our most effective influence is more likely to be at the local level with adoption agencies, resources for unwed mothers and supporting greater women’s health care and especially for the poor. My concern is that I don’t think voting for President Trump solely because he now is pro-life (he used to be pro-choice before running for president) will change things in terms of actually lowering the number of abortions more than they are being lowered now. I also think that as people associate him with the pro-life movement they may actually be repulsed from from supporting it because of his lack of understanding and compassion for other pro-life issues. He is a political champion for the pro-life movement but not a winsome ambassador to convince others to join it. In other words there are two issues. The first is promoting the sanctity of life and the second is who to vote for and I don’t think they overlap in any spiritually compelling way.

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    Stan Gundry says:

    Bob, I am glad you picked up on French’s argument.

    I think Christians make a huge mistake when they assume there is an inconsistency between being prolife and prochoice at the same time. It seems to me you hinted at that when you wrote, ” But our most effective influence is more likely to be at the local level with adoption agencies, resources for unwed mothers and supporting greater women’s health care and especially for the poor. My concern is that I don’t think voting for President Trump solely because he now is pro-life (he used to be pro-choice before running for president) will change things in terms of actually lowering the number of abortions more than they are being lowered now. I also think that as people associate him with the pro-life movement they may actually be repulsed from from supporting it because of his lack of understanding and compassion for other pro-life issues.”

    What if all the money and effort expended on legislation and overturning Roe vs. Wade had been expended on supporting women with an unplanned pregnancy with every possible resource? Do we really believe that most women with an unplanned pregnancy want to abort that new life within? I do not have the statistics to prove it, but I have enough life experience to know that is not true. Every natural instinct within a woman (and maybe most men) cries out to give birth to that new life.

    While I am prolife, I am also prochoice because a) I believe there is a better way than laws or political action that are in the final analysis ineffective; b) some of the issues surrounding choice are so personal and complex that only the woman is entitled to make the choice (and certainly not a group of predominantly male lawmakers, judiciary, or theologians are so entitled); and c) for all practical purposes, the silence of Scripture in general and Jesus in particular.

    Reply

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