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?
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?
Yesterday Kim Davis, the now famous clerk from Kentucky, was thrown in jail. Her crime? She refused to allow marriage licenses to go to same sex couples with her name on them. She says that goes against her religious beliefs. After being criticized, publicly shamed, and harrassed by those who disagree with her, she was locked up.
She was arrested because she refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, after a judge said she had to. She was held in contempt of court by U.S. District Judge David Bunning.
And why not? We are a nation of laws. She was elected to serve the people. There are people in her county that now have the legal right to get married, and she refused to let them. (It should be noted, that the same couples can go to many other county clerks to get their licenses.)
Some say that law she refused to follow is unjust. It is a ruling made by the Supreme Court, which cannot, in fact, create law.
“Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized. “
When Davis took office, she promised to follow that law. And she still is.
But the Supeme Court’s ruling says laws like that are unconstitutional. Obergefell v. Hodges said that states must recognize marriages of same sex couples from other states. But then went further (and this is where they created law, rather than judged it) They appealed to the 14th amendment and said that everyone should be able to marry the same sex if they chose to. After that interpretation of the Constitution, Wikipedia explains what happened next:
“The Court examined the nature of fundamental rights guaranteed to all by the Constitution, the harm done to individuals by delaying the implementation of such rights while the democratic process plays out, and the evolving understanding of discrimination and inequality that has developed greatly since Baker.” (emphasis added)
Once they had decided that every state must recognize the marriages, the next step was to short circuit the democratic process, so their ruling decreed that it should be legal in all 50 states and American territories for same sex couples to get married.
So now we have states with legally passed constitutional amendments and the 5 judges who sit on the Supreme Court at odds with each other. And one clerk who promised to follow the law, before the law changed. (There are actually more clerks in the country like this, but Davis is the one in the news)
That’s her job. She follows the law of Kentucky in regard to her duties as County Clerk. Part of that is issuing marriage licenses. Her position is elected, and she cannot be fired. She could be impeached and removed from office. This news article explains how:
“The Supreme Court of Kentucky has a constitutional authority where they can remove a circuit clerk, but not a county clerk. And so that really is an executive branch function. The governor would have to be in charge of that. There may have to be a special session called to deal with it, or refer to the department of local government,” said Professor Connelly.
A vacancy in the office of the county clerk is filled by the county judge executive or by the mayor until a successor is elected. Even if Davis is criminally charged, she still won’t be removed from office immediately.”
Her only crime is standing on her 1st amendment rights. She is not in jail because she won’t issue marriage certificates to same sex couples. She is in jail because she refused an order from a judge. That order was for her to act against her conscience, and against her religious beliefs. She is being held for contempt, not for breaking a law.
Should she be removed from office? Sure, she can no longer perform her duties. I’m not sure why she won’t resign. But that doesn’t make her a criminal. She should not be in jail, held in contempt, because she is exercising her rights. By holding her in contempt for refusing to follow a court order to execute a law that goes against her religious beliefs, the judge is denying her 1st amendment rights.
In her place, I would have resigned the moment I found that I could no longer do what I was being asked to do. But she didn’t. And that brings consequences.
But jail time should not be one of them. She is being held in contempt of court because she refuses to violate her religious beliefs. Remove her from office because she won’t do what the law now says she must, but do not jail a woman because she won’t betray her religion.
Impeach her, remove her from office. But jailing someone for exercising a right that is is promised to each one of us in the US Constitution threatens the freedom of every American citizen.