To be honest, before this election cycle I hadn’t really looked very hard at what the Bible says about voting. I can defend positions on various political issues based on scripture, but I hadn’t searched the text on voting and qualifications for candidates. But with prominent theologians and average Christians alike weighing on on why we should or shouldn’t vote for particular candidates, I was finally motivated to see what the Bible says.
Before I begin, know that I am looking for the truth. Like many, I’m wrestling through a horrible choice in the 2016 election. I have been a follower of Jesus Christ since 1982. I graduated from a conservative Baptist seminary. I know the difference between eisegesis and exegesis. The last thing I want to do it “proof text” my way through this. Let me be the first to tell you, I could be wrong. I have friends that I respect who will disagree with me. Obviously, I believe I’m right, but I could be wrong. Instead of just accepting or rejecting my opinions, I encourage you to do your own study on the biblical passages I have discussed in this series of posts.
Christians find ourselves once again faced with voting for the lesser of two evils in the presidential election. I won’t go through each candidate’s litany of faults and reasons they are not fit to be president. Others have done that thoroughly. Suffice it to say that I approach these two candidates with the understanding that both lack the character I want in a leader. I disagree with many positions held by both candidates. I believe the character of both candidates disqualify them from leading our nation. I know that both will definitely implement policies I think are very wrong for our nation. Just like every previous presidential election, the GOP hopeful/faithful say I must support their candidate because the Democrat might get elected. She would ruin the Supreme Court, the 1st and 2nd Amendments, and basically destroy the nation. Hillary Clinton will be a disaster for conservative ideals.
I don’t dispute that Clinton would be a terrible president. Therefore, should I vote for the slightly better of the two very bad choices?
I freely admit that in previous elections I did just that. I pulled the lever for whoever the Right said I should. I ignored the primaries and assumed that the Republicans would always nominate someone that was decent. I don’t think anyone, Republican or Democrat, was fully prepared for just how bad both nominees would be this year. Faced with these two choices I have to look deeper. Must I vote for one of them to stop the greater evil? Is there a line that can be crossed where neither candidate should get my vote?
I believe that voting for the lesser of two evils is a pragmatic approach to the situation. Faced with hard circumstances, we make the best of them to keep something worse from happening. I get that approach. I also understand that since people are flawed, no candidate will be perfect. I see that in a sense, every election is a choice between two bad people, because we are all sinners.
But is there a line that Christians should not cross? What if neither candidate meets even the minimal biblical standard for a civil authority? It’s not a high bar. Based on what I’ve found a candidate should generally be God-fearing, trustworthy, respected, honest, wise and competent (see Part 1). This is certainly not a list “only Jesus” could equal.
So, approaching the Bible for help, I looked for incidents of civil authority being selected from between two “evils” (Part 2) and I looked at incidents of pragmatism. (Part 3) Understand that looking at history, these stories are not prescriptive, but descriptive. I want to see what lessons we can learn from biblical examples.
The posts below are not exhaustive, but are representative. They reflect what I believe scripture teaches about these things. I would love to see other passages that support or refute my understanding.
The biblical standard for civil authority that I can find is not very high. Many candidates for office have exceeded it. Some of the people running for President right now exceed it. But not the two main party candidates.
The examples of choosing between two evils in the Bible did not end well. I’ve had conversations with people who acknowledge that choosing an evil isn’t ideal, but fall back on issues. They are afraid of whatever horrible end the Right has said will come if we don’t support their candidate. Have you ever noticed that every single election the fate of the free world hangs in the balance? We are always told that we just have to choose the lesser evil one more time, next time we can find someone who we actually support.
It’s the pragmatic thing to do. I see that. Yet, every single example of someone being pragmatic from biblical history ends badly. Every example of someone doing what they believe God wants instead of the pragmatic choice ends up glorifying God.
Again, these are descriptive passages, not prescriptive. This is not what you are commanded to do, but you can learn from these examples. Pragmatism itself isn’t bad. Violating God’s principles is.
So, who should you and I vote for?
This election is heated. People who don’t fall right in line on the Right, and agree to vote for Donald Trump, agree to vote for the lesser of two evils, have been called un American, holier-than-thou, and pharisaical. I’ve been told I’m asking too much of a candidate. I’ve been told I am going to elect Clinton. I’ve been asked how I can face my children knowing I didn’t do everything I could to stop Clinton.
I have friends who love Trump. They have been big supporters since the primary. They have looked at his record and character, and decided that he represents their values. He is who they want to lead our country. I disagree with their decision, but applaud them for finding a candidate they can support.
I have friends who have chosen the lesser of two evils approach, they hate to vote for Trump, but hate to vote for Clinton even more. They are essentially voting out of fear. I understand this decision. But that’s not something I can do.
I also have friends who believe that, while they greatly dislike the Republican nominee, they must support a Republican platform that more closely matches what they value than the Democrat platform. So they will vote for the GOP while wishing the nominee was someone else. A minor distinction, but one that’s important to them.
I have friends who are voting for Clinton for many of the same kinds of reasons people are choosing Trump.
If you ask me who to vote for, I will tell you this: Pray. Find candidates that meet the minimum standard. Then evaluate their values and positions on issues that are important to you. And vote for the one that best fits your values. If that’s Trump, great. Hillary? Good for you. Someone else, go for it! That’s the beauty of our system. We each decide how to use our own vote.
What I will not do is take seriously any suggestion that it is my duty as a Christian to vote for the lesser of two evils. I can find no scriptural backing for this position. I understand why people make this decision, but it is not a something I have done. Nor is it a biblical imperative for me to do so. In fact, the evidence I have found suggests that a pragmatic decision that goes against your values is not what you should do. I would welcome biblical examples I have missed that show the lesser of two evils or pragmatic choices in a positive light.
What if the worse evil gets elected because you or I voted for a 3rd party? What if it’s Nader/2000 in Florida all over again? Do you believe that God is sovereign? If you really believe that, then you know that He has a plan. I don’t know what that plan is, but I can promise you it isn’t for you to violate your values with a pragmatic choice.
What if now, in this horrible election, believers in American said they wouldn’t listen to the narratives from the Right or the Left. Starting right now they would find candidates who reflect what they value. And only vote for those people. They refused to be bullied into voting for a lesser of two evils. What if on the local, state and federal level we all voted for people, and didn’t choose the lesser evil? What would our country look like in a few years?
Part 3 of Who Should Christians Vote For?
Voting for the lesser of two evils is a very pragmatic approach to an election. Basically, you evaluate the situation based on circumstances and make a decision. At this point a 3rd party candidate is a long shot to win anything. So, if you don’t want the worse evil candidate to win, vote for the slightly less evil candidate.
Pragmatism is something we use every day. Where will you eat? What will you wear? Tons of mundane decisions are made all the time based on pragmatic choices. There are times when a pragmatic choice is good. In fact, the only time a pragmatic choice wouldn’t be a good choice is if it violates what you know to be true, what you know God wants from you.
I went searching for examples of pragmatism in the Bible. Positive or negative. People that were pragmatic, and people who weren’t. I’m sure I missed some, but here’s a list of what I found:
- Abraham had his wife pose as his sister: Genesis 20. It was pragmatic for Abraham (who feared for his life) to say Sarah was his sister, but God had other plans.
- Israel spying out the Promised Land: Numbers 13,14. It was pragmatic to refuse to enter the Promised Land. God kept Israel in the wilderness until an entire generation died.
- Israel defeats Jericho: Joshua 6. A pragmatic person would say marching around a city would have little effect on defeating it.
- Moses’ mom did not kill him: Exodus 2. It wasn’t pragmatic to hide a male infant. But Israel was ultimately freed because of her actions.
- Hosea didn’t divorce Gomer: Hosea 3. A pragmatic Hosea would divorce a woman who returned to prostitution. But God used his love as a symbol for his relationship with Israel.
- Jeremiah kept preaching: Jeremiah 25. A pragmatic prophet would stop preaching after a few years with no results, but Jeremiah kept at it for 23 years.
- Daniel in the lion’s den. Daniel 6. A pragmatic Daniel wouldn’t have ended up in the Lion’s Den.
- Fiery Furnace: Daniel 3. A pragmatic Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego wouldn’t have ended up in the fiery furnace.
- Solomon Takes wives: 1 Kings 11. The wisest man on earth decided it was pragmatic to marry and take concubines from other nations, and he ended up worshipping false gods
- Ananias and Saul: Acts 9. It would have been pragmatic for Ananias to stay away from a renowned killer of Christians. But then he wouldn’t have been there to begin discipling a man who would write half the New Testament.
- Jerusalem Council: Acts 15. It would have been pragmatic to give in to the Jewish believers and make Gentile believers follow Jewish customs.
- Timothy: 1 Timothy 4:12. Pragmatism says that older people know more than younger ones.
- Gamaliel: Acts 5. Gamaliel gave some very bad pragmatic advice.
The only positive reference to anything pragmatic comes in 1 Corinthians 8. Although believers might have the freedom to do something, we should pragmatically choose not to do it if we might cause others to stumble, and sin.
Generally, pragmatism is not a good thing in the Bible. Many, many times God asks us to do things that just don’t make sense based on circumstances. I’ve seen it in my life. I’ve seen it in other’s lives. I’ve seen it time and again in the Bible.
Some of the examples above are specific to a particular command from God. Normally you wouldn’t expect walls to fall down by marching around them. It normally isn’t smart to present yourself to someone who kills people who follow Christ.
But other instances are just followers of God honoring God in every circumstance, even if it doesn’t make sense. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn’t know they would survive. (Daniel 3:16-18) They knew God could save them if he so chose, but regardless of circumstances, they were going to choose to honor God.
Luckily no one is asking us to bow to an idol. And they aren’t threatening to kill us if we don’t. We’re just trying to figure out how to vote.
Pragmatism is the foundation of situational ethics and the heart of post modernism. Valuing pragmatism more than the things God values is what has led us into this political wilderness. Making a pragmatic choice between two evils will always end with choosing an evil.
When presented with a choice where the pragmatic answer is different than the answer you know lines up with what the Bible teaches, what will you do? If you believe that there is a minimum standard for civil leaders, and the candidate you’re considering voting for does not meet it, will you make a pragmatic choice or keep looking?
Part 2 of a 3 Part Series: Who Should Christians Vote For?
In 2016 our choice for President is truly a terrible decision between the two major parties. Approached pragmatically, of course we must do our utmost to achieved the best result. Besides, as we are often told, unless Jesus himself is on the ballot, every election is a choice between the lesser of two evils. What does the Bible teach about this?
Are there any biblical examples of choosing a civil authority from between two evils?
Because Israel had judges, chosen by God, and kings there aren’t a lot of examples of people choosing between the lesser of two evil rulers in the Old Testament. And none that I could find in the New Testament. God, it seems, is less concerned with earthly governments, and more concerned about the Kingdom of Heaven. I found no prescriptive commandments regarding choosing civil leaders. Part 1 of this series looked at the minimum biblical standard for civil authorities. Like that post, I’m looking for examples in history from which we can draw lessons that might apply to our situation today. These are descriptive in nature, They tell us what happened, not what we must do. But, those who do not learn from history are likely to repeat the same mistakes.
In my search I did find an article that claimed to show 3 examples of voting for the lesser of two evils. (This was from 2012, and about voting for the lesser evil of Romney vs Obama. If only that was the choice today…)
Here are the 3 examples of selecting the lesser of two evils the author mentions:
Absalom vs David:
This is an attempted coup. 2 Samuel 15 outlines how Absalom gained support to try to overthrow his own father. David was not perfect. Among other things he had a man killed to cover his affair with that man’s wife. And his troubles with Absalom (who had been exiled for killing his half brother, after that brother had raped his sister) also stemmed from issues within his family.
But David was king of Israel. And David was a repentant, restored man. 2 Samuel 11,12 tells the whole story. Acts 13:22 describes David as a man after God’s own heart. This wasn’t an election, and it wasn’t a choice between the lesser of two evils.
Adonijah vs Solomon:
1 Kings 1. David is on his deathbed. Adonijah decides he should be the next king. But David has already told Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan (same one that confronted David about his affair and murder) that Solomon is to be the next king. This isn’t a secret, although no public announcement has been made. Adonijah knows about it because he doesn’t invite Nathan, any of David’s Mighty Men or Solomon to the event where he planned to take the throne. Since Adonijah was well liked, he likely could have become king.
Except Nathan discovered what he was doing. He knew that Adonijah would kill Solomon and his mother. So both he and Bathsheba went to David. After David learned what was going on, he made the official announcement that Solomon was his heir. Adonijh heard about this while his own feast was still going on.
So again, this wasn’t a choice between two evils. This wasn’t an election. Solomon was designated the heir by the king, and at this time wasn’t an “evil” choice. It’s not until the end of his days that Solomon turns away from God. That leads us to the last example.
Jeroboam vs Rehoboam:
You can find this story in 1 Kings 11,12. Solomon has turned from God. Rehoboam is Solomon’s son and assumed heir to Israel. God sends a prophet, Ahijah, to Jeroboam and tells him that Israel will be split. 10 tribes will be for Jeroboam to rule. 2 for Rehoboam. This isn’t an election, it’s God sending word through prophet. It’s judgement on Solomon, 1 Kings 11:39 says he will afflict David’s line, but not forever.
Was Jeroboam an evil? We know from verse 28 that he had some leadership in Israel; Solomon trusted him to lead the forced labor of the house of Joseph. That’s it. We do know that God made Jeroboam a promise:
“And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.” 1 Kings 11:38
Jeroboam did not have to do evil, he had a choice. Unfortunately, after an ugly division of Israel (along the lines the prophet predicted) Jeroboam did not obey God. 1 Kings 14 describes another prophecy from Ahijah concerning Jeroboam’s line because of his disobedience. From this time onward the Northern Kingdom never had a king that followed God. Judah and the Northern Kingdom never reconciled. Both Rehoboam and Jeroboam chose to do evil in the sight of God.
This is the closest of the 3 examples to choosing a lesser of two evils. Even though there was a prophecy, what if the tribes of Israel had a choice in who to follow? We knew how the division would end up because of the prophecy, but the people made a decision. What was the result of choosing between those two?
Both leaders moved their respective kingdoms away from God. The Israelites may not have known that Jeroboam would do this, but this pattern continued throughout the Northern Kingdom’s existence. Judah sometimes had kings who tried to follow God, but often had kings who also did evil in the sight of God.
What if there had not been a prophecy? What if the people of Israel truly could have changed the course of history in the moment? Instead of choosing between the tyrannical Rehoboam or the idolatrous Jeroboam, what if they had said no? What if they had demanded a king who followed God; one who was like David, a man after God’s own heart? What if they had rejected two bad choices, and chosen a good one? What would the history of Israel look like today? We don’t know, because that didn’t happen.
What we do know is that God eventually let Israel be conquered by Assyria and Judah by Babylon. He protected the line of David and maintained a remnant, and Jesus was born into a world ruled by Romans.
God eventually allowed his chosen people to be captured and carted off as spoils of war because they kept choosing to worship false idols and do evil in the sight of God. So if Israel had a choice in this situation,what should they have done? Would it not have been better to change course and not end up a conquered nation?
I, for one, don’t want to see America keep sliding into the hole our current political system has dug for us. What makes us think that God will preserve our country as we keep blindly choosing between two bad candidates for leadership when he didn’t even protect Israel, his chosen people? Time and time again, Israel’s leaders and her people turned from God. And he eventually allowed them to be conquered.
Even though the New Testament doesn’t report examples of choosing lesser evils in civil authorities, there is one passage that relates to doing something bad in order to achieve something good.
In Romans Chapter 2 and 3, Paul was writing about accusations that preaching about grace would devalue the law. Essentially, that doing things that go against the law (like not being circumcised) because believers are under grace devalues the Law.
“And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. ” Romans 3:8
The sentiment is the same as echoed in Romans 6:1-2. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Not just one sin, but sin in general. Not just one evil act, but do evil in general to do good. The greek word for good in this verse is “agathos” which means “good, profitable, benevolent, useful”. Paul is talking about doing things that are bad for a good benefit. Some comments on this passage:
- Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says, “Let us do evil, that good may come, is oftener in the heart than in the mouth of sinners; for few thus justify themselves in their wicked ways.The believer knows that duty belongs to him, and events to God; and that he must not commit any sin, or speak one falsehood, upon the hope, or even assurance, that God may thereby glorify himself. If any speak and act thus, their condemnation is just.”
- Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible says, “Whatever is evil is not to be done under any pretence. Any imaginable good which we may think will result from it; any advantage to ourselves or to our cause; or any glory which we may think may result to God, will not sanction or justify the deed.”
- Matthew Poole’s Commentary says, “ The apostle doth not vouchsafe to refute this absurd saying, but simply condemns it, and those that put it in practice.”
- Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary says, “Such reasoning amounts to this- ‘which, indeed, we who preach salvation by free grace are slanderously accused of teaching – that the more evil we do, the more glory will rebound to God; a damnable principle.’ thus the apostle, instead of refuting this principle, thinks it enough to hold it up to execration, as one that shocked the moral sense.”
Doing something bad for a good result? Condemning that action is just. Evil is not to be done under any pretense.
I cannot find a single positive example of something bad in hopes of a good result in the Bible. Choosing between evils never ends up with a good result, just a less bad one. How bad will we let things get before we reject the perpetual binary cycle?
I cannot find any biblical evidence that suggests a Christian should choose the lesser of two evils in an election. Many are facing that choice today.
If I may be so bold, don’t chose the lesser evil. Find someone or something to vote for.