Liberals among the Catholic hierarchy are spending this election season decrying so-called “single-issue voters.” For example, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the diocese of El Paso decried single-issue voters in America Magazine, the Jesuits’ platform for the Church’s modernist left. According to Seitz, Christian voters are called to consider all issues and the “greater common good” when they cast their vote. Of course, by single-issue voters, Seitz means pro-lifers, and the single issue he’s suggesting Catholics compromise on is abortion.
His Excellency warns that for too long many Christians have focused on abortion and have “scandalously turned a blind eye” to important causes like worker rights, social support for the poor and the sick, immigration rights, the environment, and combating racism.
Only Christians who concern themselves with abortion are guilty of “single-issue” thinking, according to the bishop. He would have us believe that those pesky kids at the March for Life in Washington every January are to blame for societal ills such as racism, higher carbon dioxide emissions, union busting, poverty, mistreatment of immigrants, and every other bad thing, including cats and dogs living together. The religious person praying the Rosary outside of Planned Parenthood may be a menace to society, apparently.
The bishop sees a problem that simply doesn’t exist. It is unlikely that the typical American Christian thinks solely about abortion when he votes. If that were the case, neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama would have won the presidency. Obama won 54 percent of the Catholic vote in 2008 and 50 percent in 2012. The effusively pro-choice Obama would never have won the presidency if all Catholics were single-issue voters.
Even if it were true, there are worse ways to decide for whom to vote than focusing on abortion. College males of my acquaintance seem to be expressing their voting choice based on what will put them in the best light with the women they’re interested in. This is certainly a less Christian basis for political judgment.
The bishop could easily have provided examples of other single-issue voters, such as Christian Zionists who vote for the candidate they believe will bring the greatest benefit to Israel, or those who vote for any candidate promising amnesty for illegal migrants. As far as I can tell, the bishop doesn’t deride these individuals as narrow-minded, single-issue voters.
“We must repudiate any compromise of the moral integrity of the church’s witness through partisan alignment with single-issue political strategies disconnected from an integral ethic of human life,” writes his Excellency. I will believe this when Bishop Seitz repudiates the hispanic nationalist group La Raza for focusing on immigration, AIPAC for focusing on America’s foreign policy regarding Israel, the NAACP for focusing on racism, the Humane Society for focusing on animals, and unions for focusing on labor policy.
The bishop partook in Black Lives Matter rallies over the summer, even kneeling in solidarity before BLM protestors—a gesture that garnered him a congratulatory phone call from the pope. Never mind that BLM is a single-issue lobby. If you tell them that “all lives matter” they become confrontational. Yet the BLM-supporting bishop has no problem tut-tutting pro-lifers for their narrow focus on unborn lives. Pro-lifers need reminding that “all lives matter,” but not BLM protestors, apparently.
Pro-life advocates have long received special censure. “Abortion might be called the single issue about which one mustn’t be a single-issue voter,” conservative columnist Joseph Sobran wrote way back in 1982. “Civil rights, Israel, farm policy, nuclear energy, entitlement programs, whales—you can be downright obsessive about these and nobody will say boo.” It all comes down to attacking pro-lifers indirectly. Of course, no bishop in his right mind would overtly attack pro-lifers since that would offend traditional Catholics and religious Protestants as well. Hence the duplicitous attack on “single-issue voting.”
Seitz’s piece was published on Sept. 30, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of Joseph Sobran’s passing. A persuasive advocate for the unborn, Sobran provides a compelling rejoinder to Bishop Seitz and all those who belittle pro-lifers for caring about the “single issue.” If you’re unfamiliar with Sobran, check out his classic 1982 “Crucial Issues” essay in the Human Life Review.
John M. Howting III is assistant editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.