Years ago, conservative religious broadcaster and psychologist James Dobson uttered on his nationally syndicated show a commitment that he would never, under any circumstances vote for a presidential candidate who supported a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
Dobson has never been shy about this, nor about encouraging others to walk in his footsteps on this issue, and to simply not vote if there were no alternatives that fit within this requirement.
More recently, many black clergy across the nation have found themselves with what they believe are no good choices for president. According to Associated Press and other media reports, these clergy cannot bring themselves to support a Mormon candidate — Mitt Romney — nor one who has espoused support for equality in the arena of gay marriage — President Barack Obama — thus they are essentially telling their parishioners to simply not vote.
In both cases — with Dobson and with the black ministers — we believe they are absolutely wrong to make such statements.
Do not misunderstand. We support a person’s right to hold an opinion on a given subject, and we support a person’s right to try to convince others to follow that person’s beliefs. In both of these cases, religion seems to be playing a significant role in how these leaders are attempting influence their followers, and that’s okay too.
The truth is, when a person makes a decision — whether that person is a private citizen determining how to vote or a public official consider some sort of legislation — everything that has gone into that person’s life, including religious upbringing and belief, help factor into their ultimate choice. Anyone who tells you otherwise is being dishonest or delusional.
What we find objectionable in those two sentiments, what we believe is flat-out wrong, is reducing an election to a single choice, putting forth a litmus test of sorts that a candidate must pass, and then supporting that candidate no matter what based on that single test.
Politics and leadership are never easy, at the national, state, or local level. How can voters expect our leaders to grapple with difficult decisions, to make the hard choices even if they are not popular, if we are not willing to do the same when casting a ballot?
Voters need to look at the candidates in totality, not on one or two issues. Can a voter give added weight to a particular question or issue? Certainly. But today’s political leaders must deal with complex issues, sometimes compromising on one question in order to get needed work done on another.
We hope people in positions of influences — pastors, social leaders, and the like — will not attempt to pigeonhole their followers into making choices based on one or two issues (or even worse, refusing to participate in the election). And if they do attempt this, we hope their followers have the good sense to ignore them and make informed, reasoned choices on election day.
The only wrong decision is to refuse to vote.