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.