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 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. To move forward and tell the truth would seal his fate by sword.
Fearful of the consequences, Abram and his wife Sarai determined one small act of deception might serve to spare their lives.
What other choice did they 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 is that many moral decisions are not always as clear cut as I would hope or as straightforward as the church would often have you believe.
The current political season is no exception in terms of complexity.
As the selection of final candidates winds down to two individuals whose rhetoric, behaviors and values often seem to contradict the message of Christ, many of my fellow Christians are asking what to do.
Many have responded that, though they would not be happy about it, to not vote for one would be a vote for the other. We must choose between the “lesser of two evils.”
Out of fear of the damage that four years by the opposition party could do to our country, they state they would simply have to “plug their noses” and vote for ………… because “anyone but …………”
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? Is it really our only choice?
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 Christians 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 righteousness and truth?
Shouldn’t God’s promise to Abram that he would make him into a great nation have been enough for him to trust that he could tell the truth and still live?
This was not the only compromised choice that Abram and Sarai made. Desperate to help create the great nation God promised and fearful that without a child that dream would never be realized, they made the practical decision for Abram to get their servant Hagar pregnant.
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 – a pretty big cost for one small compromise.
Scripture is full of stories of individuals making “practical” decisions:
- Jacob’s decision to trick his brother and then his father in order to inherit the blessing (Gen 25:27-34, 27:1-40)
- Moses’s murder of an Egyptian who had beaten a fellow Israelite (Exo 2:11-15)
- Israel’s call for a king to rule over them rather than be led by a prophet (1 Sam 8:10-22)
- Saul’s decision to offer a sacrifice without waiting for Samuel (1 Sam 13:8-14)
The list could go on with each presenting an overriding theme: when you resort to merely “practical” means you are often ultimately relying more on yourself than God and the results are never good.
This is especially true when the practical causes you to compromise righteousness and truth and act in contradiction to the very character of God.
On the reverse end, scripture is also full of people acting in faith and 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 seemingly “impossible” choices.
Is it possible many Christians are willing to compromise on the character of a candidate because they are looking to their own understanding rather than God’s?
Could it be they are acting out of desperation for change and fear for what might happen, while failing to see that God could still do the impossible when they act on righteousness and truth?
I and several other Christians have alternatively stated that, as it stands, we will not be able to vote for either Trump or Clinton. Because I strongly advocate that it is everyone’s moral responsibility to at least vote, for me that would mean a third party or write-in vote.
In response, I have heard many arguments disagreeing with such a stance. Many come from friends, colleagues and even mentors whom I highly respect and take seriously.
However, as I listen to the counter-arguments I cannot help but think that they simply sound “practical.” But are they done in faith?
Here’s a look at a few of those arguments:
1) We are voting for a commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief.
This is true but since when did non-pastors become unaccountable to God?
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 a false separation of secular verses religious.
Even though Saul and David served different functions over Israel than Samuel (after the people demanded out of practicality they be led by a “commander-in-chief” king rather than “pastor-in-chief” prophet), when these commanders stepped out of obedience to God the people suffered greatly.
2) It is our responsibility to be like Joseph and Daniel, who honored and respected even wicked leaders and, thus, gained prominent positions of godly influence.
It is correct that 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 witness and influence.
However, there are three things wrong with the above 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. They respected their leaders but they did not “buy” their place of influence by choosing them.
And will God not hold us accountable for the leaders we do 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.
Would they have achieved their same level of influence if they had sacrificed their character?
Third, the 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 (that you vote for) is redeemable but 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 marrying a non-Christian, hoping they can still be saved?
And what about the other candidate? What makes one candidate worthy of your choice of miraculous redemption and not the other?
3) We must vote for the lesser of two 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?
Scripture is pretty clear that the number of acceptable false gods is none (Exo 20:3-4).
Furthermore, if you are voting for the lesser of two evils, that means you are still voting for evil.
If you are having to plug your nose when voting, that’s an indication you recognize you are choosing something contradictory to your own values (and to God).
Christians are called to do everything with joy and peace. If you are doing God’s will and yet are doing it with dread, anxiety and shame, could it be that something’s not right?
4) We cannot expect a perfect candidate. No one is perfect.
This is very true and it is why we must continually offer grace to everyone, including candidates and elected officials. But since when did we change the standard?
For Christians, the standard has always been Christ, who was and is perfect, and the goal is to seek to be like him. When someone falls short, others should be quick to offer forgiveness and grace, especially to those who humbly seek it.
Do either of our candidates humbly seek to be like Christ? Do they admit the need for forgiveness and grace? Or have they settled into a lifestyle where unapologetic 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.”
Christianity has been much maligned over the last several years. Many have accused Christians of being full of hypocrisy, bigotry, hate, and deception as well as of being more interested in power than principle.
If Christians choose to align themselves with messages that could further reinforce those perceptions the damages could be irreparable.
You may or may not win the election, but your influence on individual people could be lost for good and your desire to “change the nation” could actually be reversed.
And if, as shown by all the biblical examples, in your desire for the practical you end up ignoring God and compromising your character, it’s guaranteed you lose every time. The cost is too great.
On the reverse end, if people see you standing for truth and righteousness at the sacrifice of worldly power, there’s no telling how much of a difference that can make.
6) To choose not to vote for one of the two candidates is a throwaway vote; or not voting for ………. is a vote for the other candidate.
To accuse those who choose to vote either third party or write-in of throwing away their vote, misses the point. Everyone who votes is voting for something…even if it is just principle.
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).
There is power in fighting with principles.
Additionally, stating that not voting for candidate A is a vote for candidate B makes (ironically) no practical sense. Why is it not just as much a vote for candidate A?
To be honest, intended or not, the statement comes across as a manipulative effort to align those who are voting on principle with an “evil” vote – therefore, getting them to vote for candidate A out of fear or guilt.
Also, let’s face the fact. While it is important for everyone to participate and together we can make a difference, rarely does one person’s vote on its own alter an entire national election. In that sense, most anyone who shows up at the ballot is voting on principle.
But your one single vote by itself will not eliminate abortion, racism, intolerance, debt, or whatever issue is most important to you.
However, scripture does say this: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16).
Prayer by a single righteous person has the power to change any one of these issues. If we compromise our righteousness by making a practical vote instead, do we miss out on the power of prayer?
While practical can still be a good thing, in our pursuit of it have we lost our faith to believe God can move mountains and change a nation by his own power?
In our fear and desperation have we, like Abram and Sarai, taken it upon ourselves to make things happen?
It is true that prayer also has the power to change either candidate; that is why we should pray for them as well.
While I have stated that I cannot vote for either candidate as it stands, I must be prepared for God to be able to do the miraculous between now and the election.
And in avoidance of sounding hypocritical, I also must make sure my own decision to not vote for Trump or Clinton is not purely “practical.” What God specifically directs me to do must take precedence.
However, as of now, I simply cannot reconcile my faith or my values with either of the candidates’ messages. While each has some positives I could support, it would be too much of a compromise for me to take those along with the negatives, and God has not directed me differently.
I would not be able to vote for either candidate without having to plug my nose and it would not be done with joy and peace. In the end I must rest on righteousness and truth and believe that God can do the seemingly impossible from there.
One More Example.
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 terrible things. 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). Though, Barabbas was a vile person, they were willing to choose him because “anyone but Jesus.”
Pilate, as part of the establishment government, actually recognized Jesus’s innocence and would have preferred to release him over Barabbas; but he feared an insurrection if he did not respond to the mob.
Peter, the faithful follower, terrified of his own persecution, responded practically by denying the very person he swore he would never leave.
And the people, swayed by the cries of everyone else around them and tired of waiting on Jesus to be the change, chose the wild revolutionary while literally calling for the sacrifice of righteousness and truth.
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.
But what or who is your practical that you’re tempted to choose instead? Who is your Barabbas? Is it Trump? Clinton? Third party candidate? Staying home?
What greater time do we have than now to stand as witnesses to the world and show we believe in the impossible instead?
We can continue to compromise, sacrificing righteousness and truth in favor of the practical.
Or we can stand in faith in the miraculous and show to the world what God can do.
Who do you choose, Church…Barabbas or Christ?