Of two evils, choose neither

18 08 2008

 

[This is a re-print of an article I wrote several years ago that was published in The Christian Statesman. I submit it for your consideration as the 2008 presidential race kicks into full gear. As always, your comments are welcome.]

For Whom May Christians Vote?

by Douglas W. Comin

The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (Chapter 23, paragraph 15) says, “The Christian, when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ, ought to be involved in the selection of and to vote for civil rulers who fear God, love truth and justice, hate evil, and are publicly committed to scriptural principles of civil government.”

This is a fairly strict set of criteria by which to evaluate a candidate for civil office. There have been few, if any, viable candidates for political office in the past generation who would have passed muster according to the plain meaning of these words. They do not refer to a man who simply professes to be a Christian, but one who is self-consciously and openly committed to godly civil government as defined in the Bible.

Some would argue that the difficulty of the question of Christian suffrage is heightened by the fact that the Scriptures were written during times when the kind of selection process in which we find ourselves engaged was virtually unknown. Throughout the historical scope of scripture, civil rulers were not voted into office by democratic process. This fact makes it hard to find any explicit biblical guidance for our practice within the framework of a modern democratic republic.

Yet in Israel, elders were to be selected from among the people, and there were clear criteria by which they were to be judged. “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders . . .” (Exodus 18:21)

In later times, Israel would be ruled by a king, “like the other nations,” but these guidelines were given by God and they are a sure standard of the character of God-honoring leaders. Anyone who was not known among the people as an able, truthful, just, and God-fearing man was not to be appointed to the exercise of civil government.

Again, some would argue that these guidelines were rightly given to Israel as a true theocracy, but they cannot be made to apply within the context of a nation which does not self-consciously follow God and which has abolished religious tests for its civil leaders in its constitution (Article VI, section 3). Yet for the Christian, the Bible supersedes any document of human origin. A civil leader is always bound by God’s word to apply its principles in his personal practice without placing the will of men over and above the clear commandments of God. The abolishment of religious tests for civil office in the constitution is a tragic sin, as is that same document’s failure to acknowledge Christ as the Mediatorial King and Head of the nation.

But just as its failure to acknowledge Christ’s Kingship does not dethrone Him, neither does its abolition of religious tests cancel the fact that God would have His people to set rulers over themselves who are godly and upright men.

Can a Christian cast his vote, then, for a candidate who does not meet the biblical criteria defined in Exodus 18:21 and echoed in the Reformed Presbyterian Testimony? What if none of the candidates pass the Scriptural test? Should the Christian choose between the “lesser of two evils”? Here is the real difficulty. Let me make a couple of suggestions.

First, the principle of representation must be rightly understood. An elected official is a representative, but of what? He is not, first and foremost, a representative of the people’s desires. This is a man-centered view. The God-centered view sees the magistrate as a “minister of God” who represents God’s authority over the people. He is an agent of God to bring blessing upon the righteous and judgment upon the ungodly. While God can bring blessing to His people even through the agency of an ungodly ruler, such as Cyrus who was called “the Lord’s anointed,” He is not honored when His people willingly appoint rulers who are known to be covenant-breakers.

If we understand the representative nature of civil government to be man-centered, then we are justified in choosing between the lesser of two evils based upon which of them will most consistently meet our personal agenda for the nation. But if the representative nature of civil government is God-centered, then we cannot possibly be justified in electing an official who hates God.

Second, the sovereignty of God must be truly appreciated. While we must take seriously our responsibility as citizens of the nation, including our responsibility to vote, God is sovereign over all nations. Part of our problem with this question arises from the idea that we must save our nation from evil. If two candidates are running for office, one of whom is a militant atheist who has publicly demonstrated his opposition to God’s law, and the other is a political conservative who makes no profession of faith in Christ, but seems to favor “traditional family values,” should Christians vote for the latter in order to save the nation from the scourge of the former? Neither is known among the people to fear God, hate evil, and love truth and justice. Should the Christian cast his vote for a man who clearly falls short of God’s absolute standard of godly civil leadership for the sake of comparatively less evil?

To answer these questions in the affirmative is, in a sense, to argue that the individual Christian, rather than God, must determine the destiny of the nation. The lack of any biblically qualified candidates for civil office is, in and of itself, a judgment of God. Should the Church ignore God’s warnings, bypass the directives of His word, and make a decision based upon situational ethics in order to temporarily stay His hand of judgment from the land? God’s judgments are often redemptive. Man’s decisions, when they stray from the clear teaching of God’s word, never are.

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10 responses

3 09 2008
Kyle

Douglas,

Thank you for this article (and also in particular for the one on the Iraq war – I see there is much other good reading here so I will be back!). Would that more Christians thought this way.

I found a link to your blog through the Warfield List, and apart from enjoying your posts, I was also humbled to see my blog, “Covenant In Blood,” on your blog roll. I must apologize for not posting much there of late, but I will be listing your blog on my site as well.

Thanks & God bless,
Kyle

5 09 2008
Angela Wittman

Dear Mr. Comin,

Please know that I am a newer member of the RPCNA (Sparta, IL) and praise the LORD for its clear teaching on the Lordship of Jesus Christ and for men like you who lead the way. May the good LORD bless you and keep you standing tall for Christ’s Crown and Covenant.

In Christ,
Angela Wittman, ed.
ChristianLibertyParty.com

5 09 2008
dwcomin

Thank you, Angela, for your kind words. May the Lord also bless you as you seek to honor Him in all that you do.

7 09 2008
Georgians for Life Coalition Blog » Blog Archive » Striking the “S” Word: The Non-Problem of Bristol Palin

[…] and open their Bibles. We need to search the Scriptures to glean the principles by which we are to choose civil rulers, then do our duty and leave the results to […]

11 09 2008
James M. Odom

Douglas,

While much of what you say is true, and while you in many ways choose the right standards by which to judge, it seems to me that the clear implication of your article is that Christians should abstain from voting for the Republican candidate (i.e., presumptively, because it is the lesser of “two” evils, as the only choice be proposed to them by the Christian part of the culture) because he does not meet the standards of the RP confession. While I may be presuming a bit further than you intended, I still think that is the basic gist of such an article, timed as it is.

I believe, however, that there are a few holes in your reasoning, and that there are a few other plausible, Biblical, theories, than those you suggest, by which a Christian could rightly make such a choice. I’ll describe them within the text of your original post below.

“The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (Chapter 23, paragraph 15) says, “The Christian, when such action involves no disloyalty to Christ, ought to be involved in the selection of and to vote for civil rulers who fear God, love truth and justice, hate evil, and are publicly committed to scriptural principles of civil government.””

>> Both you and the Testimony have this well-stated. I want to emphasize to readers though, the standard of “action” which “involves no disloyalty to Christ.” I would suggest that to be a pretty high standard, and that it would be difficult to prove that the action of choosing one who professes, with some evidence to support such a profession, to “love truth and justice, hate evil,” and public committment to, at least some, scriptural principles of government, rises to such a level.

“This is a fairly strict set of criteria by which to evaluate a candidate for civil office. There have been few, if any, viable candidates for political office in the past generation who would have passed muster according to the plain meaning of these words.”

>> Accordingly, I would suggest that this is a fairly flexible, rather than strict, (i.e., and appropriately so in a Testimony document that dictates the proper actions of adherents to a particular denomination, implying discipline, disqualification from some vows of service as teaching and ruling elders, etc.) set of criteria. I think a credible profession of faith and actions consistent therewith (e.g., selection of a running-mate who has expressed such views more strongly, voting record, promises, answers to questions, etc.) – and I realize that whether or not that standard is met is also a matter for discussion in choosing for whom to vote – is adequate to meet the standard of the Testimony, and therefore does not fail to pass “muster according to the plain meaning of” those words.

“They do not refer to a man who simply professes to be a Christian, but one who is self-consciously and openly committed to godly civil government as defined in the Bible.”

>> I don’t see the evidentiary support for this conclusion as to the specific characteristics of a man who would run for office. I agree that it probably doesn’t meen a simple profession, as you suggest, but what the precise actions associated with “self-consciously” and “openly” are highly subjective. To give an example of a flaw with this reasoning, would you suggest that “government as defined in the Bible” would dictate that a candidate must hold a theonomist position (i.e., with no ceremonial aspects, of course)? Many RPs would stronly advocate against such a position, and maintain that their view was in no way opposing the Testimony.

“Some would argue that the difficulty of the question of Christian suffrage is heightened by the fact that the Scriptures were written during times when the kind of selection process in which we find ourselves engaged was virtually unknown. Throughout the historical scope of scripture, civil rulers were not voted into office by democratic process. This fact makes it hard to find any explicit biblical guidance for our practice within the framework of a modern democratic republic.”

>> Here, it seems that the objection is overstated. The argument that our system (i.e., a Republic based upon law – Biblical law – with democratically elected temporary representatives) of government was unknown, and therefore that the Bible provides little guidance, is a leap of logic, and argued by few seriously. However, the argument that our system is radically different from the monarchies and oligarchies typically referenced in Scripture, and that we should therefore correctly apply Scriptural principles in light of that form of government, is a sound and strong one. Avoiding great detail on this outside topic, let’s just say that our governing authority is primarily a set of paper documents, that those document indicate that “we the people” (i.e., those who accept U.S. citizenship and the benefits thereof) are the rulers, and that in order to submit to that governing authority, we have a duty to choose those elected representatives. Christians will be judged by the standard of David (e.g., would God have been pleased with David’s refusal to govern based upon the unGodliness of the people), who was King, rather than Lazarus, who had no real authority.

“Yet in Israel, elders were to be selected from among the people, and there were clear criteria by which they were to be judged. “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders . . .” (Exodus 18:21)

In later times, Israel would be ruled by a king, “like the other nations,” but these guidelines were given by God and they are a sure standard of the character of God-honoring leaders. Anyone who was not known among the people as an able, truthful, just, and God-fearing man was not to be appointed to the exercise of civil government.”

>> This standard is well-stated, and true. However, how to judge that standard (i.e., is a man “able, truthful, just, and God-fearing” or not) is fairly difficult. It is also important to note, as I’ll comment later, that this standard wasn’t intended to suggest that rulers had to live up to God’s standards (i.e., perfection). For all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God – Romans 3:23.

“Again, some would argue that these guidelines were rightly given to Israel as a true theocracy”

>> There is not, and there has never been (i.e., except perhaps, arguably, when God was present as the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day in the desert) a Theocracy. Theocracy would literally mean “Rule by God.” God has always worked Providentially through representatives, appointed from mankind. The raising of Theocracy is typically a strawman raised by liberals who want to label Christians who rely upon the True Law in the same camp as Muslims who would implement false Sharia idolatry. It really is important for us to avoid such discussions.

“The abolishment of religious tests for civil office in the constitution is a tragic sin, as is that same document’s failure to acknowledge Christ as the Mediatorial King and Head of the nation.”

>> The Testimony suggests that this is a sin, by saying that nations have an affirmative “duty” to covenant with Christ as King. I’m not aware that religious tests are so endorsed by the Testimony. While I am uncertain as to the necessity for civil governments to do these things, I entirely agree that both would be the best and wisest way to proceed, and that it was an error not to have done so more explicitly.

“Can a Christian cast his vote, then, for a candidate who does not meet the biblical criteria defined in Exodus 18:21 and echoed in the Reformed Presbyterian Testimony?”

>> A Christian should not do so, but it is not as simple as you suggest to determine whether or not he or she is doing so in a particular election.

What if none of the candidates pass the Scriptural test? Should the Christian choose between the “lesser of two evils”?

>> I suggest that because we have a duty (i.e., and not because we believe we “save our nation from evil” rather than God, or because of some other man-centered view) to cast our vote (and to use our voice, exercising political speech) in submission to the ruling authorities that exist (i.e., presuming citizenship), and because God typically works through natural, rather than supernatural, means (see R.C. Sproul on this) that we should cast that vote for the candidate with a reasonable probability to win, and who would most closely implement policies within his authority (e.g., don’t hold a President to economical changes, or legislation, which are outside his Constitutional authority) that would be consistent with the ideals of Exodus 18:21, etc. We should only withhold our vote in the instance that both of them are truly evil and dedicated to the hatred of God (e.g., in my opinion, two pro-abortion candidates), in which case we would become culpable as evildoers, as accomplices with them.

“While God can bring blessing to His people even through the agency of an ungodly ruler, such as Cyrus who was called “the Lord’s anointed,” He is not honored when His people willingly appoint rulers who are known to be covenant-breakers…then we cannot possibly be justified in electing an official who hates God.”

>> We are all covenant-breakers. Isn’t that one of the main points of reformed theology? How, exactly, would one choose from the entire human race if one were not allowed to choose rulers who were “known to be covenant-breakers.” This standard is too high. While am cynical about the current politicians and political parties and entirely endorse the formation of new powers to replace them, I believe it is over-critical to label these human beings, some of whom overtly profess Christ, and can even explain that profession correctly, as unacceptable and God-haters due to their sinful nature and mistakes.

“If two candidates are running for office, one of whom is a militant atheist who has publicly demonstrated his opposition to God’s law, and the other is a political conservative who makes no profession of faith in Christ, but seems to favor “traditional family values,” should Christians vote for the latter”

>> Probably.

“…in order to save the nation from the scourge of the former?”

>> No.

Neither is known among the people to fear God, hate evil, and love truth and justice. Should the Christian cast his vote for a man who clearly falls short of God’s absolute standard of godly civil leadership”

>> No, if he truly, “clearly” falls short.

“…for the sake of comparatively less evil?”

>> Yes, because we, as the leaders of our nation, as dictated by our duly legitimate government, have a responsibility to minimize evil (e.g., the number of unborn babies wrongfully slaughtered.)

“To answer these questions in the affirmative is, in a sense, to argue that the individual Christian, rather than God, must determine the destiny of the nation.”

>> The arguments above demonstrate that there are other, more sound and Biblical, reasons for answering some of the questions in the affirmative.

“The lack of any biblically qualified candidates for civil office is, in and of itself, a judgment of God. Should the Church ignore God’s warnings, bypass the directives of His word, and make a decision based upon situational ethics in order to temporarily stay His hand of judgment from the land?”

>> No, and they cannot in this nation, because they only control one vote and one voice, among hundreds of millions necessary to change the outcome.

“God’s judgments are often redemptive.”

>> I would suggest “always,” rather than “often” here.

11 09 2008
dwcomin

I appreciate your thorough interaction with the article, James. I will give serious thought to your arguments.

11 09 2008
James M. Odom

Douglas,

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration. I hope to get the opportunity to visit with you, a fellow RP, sometime. What congregation do you attend? I’m in Sparta, but spent several years in Indy, followed by several years in Colorado Springs, before that.

For Christ’s Crown and Covenant,

James.

11 09 2008
dwcomin

We are members of the Manchester RPC in New Kensington, PA where I serve as a ruling elder. Please give my regards to Pastor Ray Morton.

Yours in Christ,
Doug

11 09 2008
James M. Odom

Doug,

Indeed I will convey your greetings!

For Christ’s Kingdom,

James.

10 07 2009
B. Banner

I grew up in the RPCNA and left. It is not a good place to be as a woman with Ph.D. nor a Christian who happens to be a Democrat. This discussion reminded me of several of the reasons why I left.

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