The Danger of Abortion as a Wedge Issue (Carl Trueman)

The use of abortion as a wedge issue and as a clear dividing line between Republican and Democratic parties has the potential to kill intelligent discussion on a host of other political topics.  After all, if Republican and Democrat are the only two credible electoral options in most places, then, according to many, the Christian way of voting is obvious, and it is pointless to discuss any other policies or issues.

Such an attitude is in my experience very common in Christian circles, and it is problematic for two reasons.  First, it fails to address the difference between Republican rhetoric on abortion and action on the same, which is often dramatic and serves to weaken the rather stark polarities that are often drawn between Republicans and Democrats.  Second, it preempts discussion on a host of other issues – poverty, the environment, foreign policy, etc. – and thereby runs the risk of provoking a reaction among younger evangelicals that relativizes the issue of abortion and thus achieves the opposite of what it intends.

Carl Trueman, Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, xx.

This is one of those cases where we have to make sure we are good and fair readers (I’m afraid we often fail in that respect…)

Notice: Trueman is not saying abortion isn’t horrendous. He’s not saying it isn’t an important political issue. Nor is he saying we shouldn’t oppose it with all of our political fiber. He’s not even necessarily saying here (he may say this elsewhere–I’m not sure; but he’s not saying it here at least) that one shouldn’t or can’t be what’s called “a single-issue voter,” if by that we mean that stances on certain issues necessarily disqualify a candidate from one’s vote (see someone like Denny Burk), not that only one issue should concern our vote (Trueman is obviously opposing that).

What he is saying, however, is that there is a danger (it’s just a danger, not an entailment) in using abortion as a litmus test for candidates. And that danger is shutting down the conversation on other important issues like foreign policy, the environment (think climate change), poverty and economic inequality, criminal justice, the racialized nature of our society, immigration, the refugee crisis, etc.

And, if I’m going to be honest, I’m afraid that’s what’s happened in much white American evangelical engagement in politics (note the recent fiasco criticizing Thabiti Anyabwile; see this Twitter thread for a good example). It would appear that abortion-as-wedge-issue has resulted in us becoming painfully partisan, in a way that results in us merely becoming pawns for a particular political party.