This article has been revised and updated here.
The nomad and his wife made their journey toward a dangerous foreign land. Behind them a severe famine threatened to overtake them. Before them resided a people with a deadly reputation. The man had heard stories before of their barbaric acts; he knew that if they found out that this beautiful woman with him was his wife they would likely kill him in order to take her as their own.
To stay behind meant certain death by starvation for both of them. To move forward and tell the truth would seal his fate by sword or some other horrific means. Thus, one small act of deception might serve to spare his life. What other choice did Abram and his wife Sarai have? It was the practical thing to do. After all, these were desperate times.
And desperate times often call for desperate measures….and a little bit of compromise, right?
One of the things I’ve come to learn as a Christian, whose beliefs are centered on notions of right and wrong, is that many moral decisions are not always as clear cut or black and white as I would hope.
Some things are known: we know as Christians we have an absolute responsibility to care for the poor and needy. Some are more complex: if you encounter a homeless beggar do you give him money, or will you be further contributing to the problem?
Oftentimes, decisions cannot be handled by a formula and proclamation of right and wrong, but instead have to be committed to prayer – asking God what He would specifically have YOU do in that moment.
The current political season is no exception in terms of complexity.
While the choice for this year’s Republican presidential candidate is far from solidified, and in fact the tide may be changing somewhat, many of my fellow Christians who are equally disturbed by Donald Trump’s divisiveness and lack of moral character find themselves asking, “What if Trump actually does become the Republican nominee?”
Many have responded that, though they would not be happy about it, they would still have to simply “plug their noses” and vote for Trump…because “anything but Hillary or Bernie.”
And while I have been very outspoken regarding those, especially Christians, who have supported Trump early in the primaries, I also recognize that if Trump were to become the nominee, the moral decisions behind whether to support him or not become increasingly complex.
At that point, what defines a “Trump Supporter,” or even for that matter a “Clinton Supporter” or “Sanders Supporter,” changes. Instead of ardent support, for many, it is simply a “lesser of 2 evils.”
I have openly stated that if Trump becomes the nominee I will not be able to vote for either the Republican or Democratic nominee. At the same time, many of my friends, colleagues and even mentors, whom I deeply respect, are in a different place…and I have to say I get it.
The one thing I do firmly believe is that as Christians and as U.S. citizens we have an absolute moral responsibility to vote. To completely walk away and not participate, in my opinion, is irresponsible. But in terms of how one votes, it is more complex.
It is with that understanding that I come to you here, not to tell you what is right or wrong in terms of who you vote for, but to at least give you a few things to consider and perhaps even to persuade. But more importantly to ask that you at least consider it in prayer.
One of the primary reasons given for voting for the “lesser of 2 evils” is concern about the damage that four years by the opposition party could do to our country.
For them, though their candidate is not ideal, it is a practical or pragmatic decision. They are desperate for change from the destructive path our nation is headed and they feel they don’t really have any other choice.
But is “practical” really always the best way to go when faced with a desperate situation?
Abram (later known as Abraham) made a practical decision when he decided, as they entered Egypt, that they should lie and pretend Sarai was not his wife (Gen 12:10-20). And in many ways it actually paid off. Not only was Abram’s life spared but they gained many riches as a result.
Yet, few of us would argue that it was the right thing to do.
Many others suffered (with sores and wounds) at the hands of Abram’s dishonesty – not to mention what it likely did to Sarai’s heart after she was taken into Pharaoh’s house and more or less raped. Furthermore, what kind of testimony about the character of God was it to the people of Egypt if His representative was known to compromise faith and truth?
Shouldn’t God’s promise to Abram that he would give him the land of Canaan and make him into a great nation have been enough for him to trust that he could tell the truth and still live?
In fact, the Bible is full of stories of individuals who compromised and made “practical” decisions:
- Abram and Sarai’s choice to have Abram sleep with their servant Hagar after Sarai couldn’t get pregnant (Gen 16:1-15)…practical and desperate.
The result was the child Ishmael, an ancestor to Muhammed and, thus, the birth of Islam – with which the Jewish people still have enmity today.
- Jacob’s decision to trick his brother and then his father in order to inherit the blessing (Gen 25:27-34, 27:1-40)…practical, deceitful and desperate.
The result: a damaged relationship with his brother as well as a life of being deceived by others.
- Moses’ murder of an Egyptian who had beaten a fellow Israelite (Exo 2:11-15).…an impassioned and desperate “practical” way to save the Jewish people.
Moses’ lost his position of influence and his salvation of the Jews was postponed another 40 years.
- Saul’s decision to offer a sacrifice without waiting for Samuel (1 Sam 13:8-14).…after waiting desperately for 7 days while his enemies gathered and his people began to scatter it certainly seemed practical.
As a consequence, he lost his kingdom.
- David’s arrangement for the husband of his impregnated lover to be “accidentally” killed (2 Sam 11:14-24)…again, practical and desperate.
He paid a heavy price, starting with the death of his son and ending with a divided family and kingdom.
The list could go on – so much so that it presents an overriding theme: when you resort to merely “practical” means you are often ultimately relying more on yourself than on God and the results are never good. This is especially true when the practical causes you to act in contradiction to the very character of God.
On the reverse end, scripture is also full of people doing very “impractical” things:
- Noah building a boat where there was not water (Gen 6).
- Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son when it was the only true heir he had (Gen 22).
- Moses leading the people to a sea that cannot be crossed (Exo 14).
- David refusing to kill Saul when he had the chance (1 Sam 24, 26).
- Esther approaching her king at risk of losing her head (Est 5).
- Fishermen casting a net one more time into the water after a night of no success (Luke 5).
- Paul and Silas singing praise songs in prison and choosing not to leave when they could easily escape (Acts 16).
- Jesus allowing himself to die when he could have easily called on angels or men with swords (Matt 16:51-53).
All of these were able to escape the practical by seeing and being willing to make the seemingly “impossible” choice.
If you are a reluctant supporter, willing to vote for someone you normally feel would be completely unqualified, is it possible you are turning to the practical because, like Abram and Sarai, you are unable to see God’s ability to intervene in the “impossible?” Is it possible you are willing to compromise on the character of a candidate because you are looking to your own understanding rather than God’s?
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the “practical” explanations that have been given for voting for a candidate that seems to contradict our own Christian values:
1) We are voting for a commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief.
As I shared in my article Must Our President be Christian? What Even Evangelicals Get Wrong About Separation of Church and State, it is true that the presidency serves a different function than the pastorate; however, both are still subject to the same rules under our Christ-created universe.
Such rules include the need to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in order to be most effective. To believe these rules do not apply to everyone is to be guilty of compartmentalizing God into two false worlds of secular verses religious.
Even though Saul and David served different functions over Israel than Samuel (after the people demanded they be ruled by kingship rather than prophet), when they stepped out of obedience to God the people suffered greatly.
2) God sometimes places even wicked leaders over us and it is our responsibility to be like Joseph and Daniel, who honored and respected their leaders and, thus, gained prominent positions of godly influence with their leaders and over the land.
It is true that as Christians we have an absolute responsibility to honor our leaders no matter who they are. Too often in the past Christians have tended to spend more time vilifying elected officials rather than treating them with love and respect, consequently losing their place of both witness and influence.
However, there are three things wrong with this argument.
First, we live in a democratic society and not a monarchy. Joseph did not choose Potiphar or Pharaoh and Daniel did not choose Nebuchadnezzar nor the other Babylonian kings that followed. Both were forced into their situation. We have the option now to choose our leaders.
If someone is elected that we do not like, yes, we have a responsibility to respect them. But for now, do you not think God will hold us accountable for the leaders whom we freely choose?
Second, in their desire to serve with respect and in their rise of influence, Joseph and Daniel never sacrificed character. Joseph chose to disobey the authority of Potiphar’s wife and Daniel refused both to eat the king’s food and to stop praying to God. None of these were “practical” choices, with Joseph suffering as a result and Daniel nearly dying, but it was God who gave them favor and influence and not their own doing.
Do you think they would have achieved their same level of influence if they had sacrificed their character?
Third, this argument operates under the assumption that there is a good “wicked” leader and a bad “wicked” leader – as though the Nebuchadnezzar of one political party is redeemable and the Nebuchadnezzar of another is not.
Some are willing to vote for one political candidate with hopes and beliefs that the person can still be radically redeemed and changed. But is that not very much like a Christian dating a non-Christian, hoping the other person can still be saved? And what makes one candidate worthy of your choice of redemption and not the other?
3) We must vote for the lesser of 2 evils, or the least “heathen.”
How do you choose which one is the least heathen? By determining that one has only 8 false gods instead of 10 and, therefore, at least you’ll end up with 2 less?
Are there certain false gods that are at least acceptable and worth putting up with, while others are not?
How many and which false gods are acceptable? The last I checked, the answer was none (Exo 20:3-4).
4) We cannot expect a perfect candidate. No one is perfect.
This is very true and it is why, as Christians, we must continually offer grace to everyone, including candidates and elected officials. But since when did we change the standard?
Our standard has always been Christ, who was and is perfect, and we have always taught that the goal is to seek to be like him. When someone falls short, we should be quick to offer forgiveness and grace to those who humbly seek it.
Do any of our candidates humbly seek to be like Christ? Or have they settled into a lifestyle where arrogance, divisiveness, and deception are a regular part of who they are?
5) Too much is at stake to let the other candidate win.
Many are concerned about the consequences that even a 4-year term could bring if the opposing candidate is in office. They state that in just 4 years that person could cause irreparable damage to our country, while simultaneously arguing, ironically, that we should not be too concerned about the “lesser evil” candidate because it is “only 4 years.”
Many of the concerns are valid. However, we need to also consider the irreparable damage of the messages we send when supporting a still “evil” candidate as well as ask ourselves what it truly means to “win.”
Christians have long argued that it is not about party, it’s about principles. Yet when they continue to support a party in spite of the fact that its main candidate has abandoned a large percentage of those principles, the message to others is that the argument is a lie.
And for those that have counter-argued that the “Christian base” is really more about power than principles, their criticisms become more strongly validated.
Many Christians contend that their “lesser evil” candidate will still at least fight for some very important principles, implying those principles are more important than they ones they are willing to sacrifice. But like the one false god is better than another false god argument, what does that say to others whose important principles we so willingly cast upon the alter?
For example, while conservative Christians rightfully fight for issues of life, what does it say to minorities when you show that concerns about bigotry (something they live with on a daily basis) are less important?
Furthermore, recent polls have shown that many people consider Christianity to be entirely about intolerance and hate. If Christians willingly support a candidate strongly thought to be full of divisiveness, bigotry and hate, how much more will that solidify the perception?
Some Trump supporters argue that the Donald is merely acting the way he does now to win the nomination and election, but once he gets the win he will change his tune and behave more morally and “presidential.” But even were that the case, even if he turned out to be a great president, if Christians openly supported him while he acted bigoted and full of hate, they will never be able to take that message back.
In that sense they will have lost. Yes, you might win the election, but at what cost?
A number of the faithful rightfully express concern that Christians are rapidly losing their first amendment rights. Thus, it is worth it to support Trump just for that reason.
But what value are first amendment rights if you have completely lost the trust and respect of all the people you are trying to reach?
And if the opposing candidate ends up winning, then you will have completely lost everything. Not only might you see a decrease in first amendment rights but you will also see a rapid decrease in the number of people still willing to defend you.
And if, as shown by all the biblical examples, you end up ignoring God and compromising your character, you lose every time.
It is for these reasons that I cannot vote for the “lesser of 2 evils.”
Scripture tells us “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness” (Eph 6:12, RSV). What better way is there to fight against principalities than with principles?
Since I began speaking out against Trump through my articles I have found myself making unusual alliances. I have had people write me, stating that, though I am a Christian conservative and they are “polar opposites” in terms of political and religious views, they admire me for standing up.
What a greater time do we have than now to serve as a witness to those who have typically felt disenfranchised from our message?
I am sure I am dreaming here but how amazing would it be for the church in America to unite at this time and stand entirely on principles alone? How powerful would it be if we gathered together and openly stated to both political parties, “You no longer represent us or the principles of righteousness and truth. Therefore, we will not vote for either one of you at this time.”
What if we united around an independent candidate or a write-in that really did represent those principles? Or what if we simply wrote in, “No more!”?
How much will it then wake up both political parties to then begin re-reaching out to those they have lost?
The truth is that neither party has truly represented all those values for quite some time. I firmly believe that God has allowed the current circumstances to happen to greater highlight what has been there for a while.
For too long the church has been complacent while candidates have compromised aspects of decency and integrity just so our side could get the win.
For too long we have allowed politicians to lie, in spite of fact checkers obvious proof, accepting it all as just a normal part of the political process.
For too long Christians have allowed other important principles to be compromised simply on the promise the candidates will look after our own pet projects.
For too long we have tuned into TV, radio, and social media where anger, gossip, hate, exaggeration, half-truths and divisiveness are a normal part of the language. And often we have knowingly passed it along.
For too long we have compromised on righteousness and truth and bowed down to the false gods of “practicality” and “first amendment rights” when we should be bowing to the true God of “faith” and “self-sacrifice.”
Is it possible by not voting for one of the two main candidates that the candidate you least desire will win? Yes. But when you vote on principle, and especially if you vote according to what God is specifically telling you to do…even it if sounds impractical…you win every time.
There is one more biblical example I have not brought up.
Just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Pontius Pilate gave the people a choice: he would release the notorious prisoner named Barabbas or he could release Christ.
Barabbas was a wild man, an insurrectionist, guilty of robbery and murder. Many historians have interpreted that he was likely a revolutionary – one who resorted to whatever means necessary in order to defeat the establishment Roman government.
Jesus, on the other hand, was righteous but would not give the people the kind of physical revolution that they wanted.
Barabbas was the practical means for change. Jesus stood on principles alone.
Interestingly, everyone around them made decisions based on feeling they had no other choice.
The chief priests and elders felt, as Caiaphas had prophesied, that Jesus death was the only way to save their nation (and their power).
Pilate, though he thought Jesus innocent, feared an insurrection if he did not respond to the mob.
Peter, terrified of his own persecution, responded practically by denying the very person he swore he would never leave.
And the people, wanting change and swayed by cries of everyone else around them, chose the wild revolutionary while literally calling for the sacrifice of righteousness and truth itself.
The only one who really knew he had a choice that day was Christ…who instead of the practical chose the will of the Father and self-sacrifice.
And fortunately, the God of grace called for a revolution of his own – one that involved new life and a revolution of the heart.
Today, we do have a choice because we know that we serve a God who can do the impossible, even when it seems most impractical.
So who do you choose, Church…Barabbas or Christ?