The two best articles that I’ve read this election season about voting are:
Jonathan Leeman, “What Makes a Vote Moral or Immoral? The Ethics of Voting.”
John Piper, “Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin.”
Instead of addressing the particulars of this election, both articles provide Christian readers with Scriptural considerations by which to reach those conclusions. Because they deal with issues on a broadly Scriptural and principial level, I think both these articles will stand the test of time and remain useful for Christians seeking to fear God and honor him as they vote in future elections as well.
Leeman offers nine principles to guide Christians as they vote:
- “1. Your vote bears moral weight by virtue of a chain of causation.”
- “2. With regard to what a vote does, your motives don’t matter (but see point 8).
- “3. There’s a distinction between morally permissible laws and immoral laws which is crucial to our moral evaluations.”
- “4. The character of a candidate matters by the same chain of moral causation described in point 1.”
- “5. Saying ‘But Democracy!’ doesn’t sanctify your vote. … The Bible never guarantees one of the two major candidates in an American election is a righteous choice.”
- “6. There are a number of rocks on the scale, but some rocks are heavier than others.”
Can one issue disqualify a candidate? Hopefully every Christian would say that a pro-stealing, or pro-pedophilia, or pro-slavery candidate is disqualified, no matter how good he or she is on other issues. I wish everyone would arrive at this conclusion on abortion.
Also, can bad character disqualify a candidate, potentially outweighing the other rocks on the scale? If what we said above is true—that bad [character] authorizes and creates moral space for immoral activity—it’s hard to see how bad character cannot disqualify someone.
Imagine how radically the political landscape would change if every Christian in the United States embraced the last two paragraphs. Some will call this idealism, which might be a fair critique if “idealism” means acting on principles, not outcomes. That, too, is something you must weigh: pure principles vs. realistic outcomes. My recommendation is to weigh these things preparing yourself for the Lord’s final judgment.
- “7. Is it morally permissible to note vote or to vote for a candidate that is certain to lose? It depends.”
- “8. With regard to church membership, your motives matter.”
- “9. In the final analysis, ethically evaluating our votes involves both moral principles and strategic calculations.”
Each of these principles requires unpacking, which Leeman does in his article. Tolle lege.
While Leeman’s article is broad, trying to capture a holistic ethic for voting, Piper’s article is narrowly focused on the issue of a candidate’s character. This article is compelling because it is Scripture saturated. Here’s one excerpt:
There is a character connection between rulers and subjects. When the Bible describes a king by saying, “He sinned and made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 14:16), it does not mean he twisted their arm. It means his influence shaped the people. That’s the calling of a leader. Take the lead in giving shape to the character of your people. So it happens. For good or for ill.
Some evangelicals have dissented to Piper’s article, but those which I’ve encountered have not engaged the Scriptures that Piper raised. There is one main objection to the article: If their favored candidate, whom they concede has poor character, loses the election, policies that are contrary to Scripture will be enacted. This argument rests on a consequentialist ethic, which is not a biblical ethic. To be sure, Christians need to be sure that the consequences of their actions are pleasing to God. But they must also be sure that their motives are pleasing to God and that their actions themselves do not violate God’s revealed will. In other words, it is never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right. (As to how to assess right in wrong when voting, see Leeman’s excellent article.)
In the end, these are the factors that weigh most with me:
- I will give an account to God for my vote. To be able to give a good account with a clear conscience is the most important thing in this election.
- In my work in the field of Christian worldview shaping, I’ve seen that a significant danger for Christians who wish to change the world (or their nation) is the temptation to compromise truth or righteousness to gain access to the power needed to effect the change. In the end, the gains are illusory and the costs are great. Though I desire to see our nation transformed for Christ, and though I want Christians to use their influence within culture to press toward righteousness in every aspect of our society, faithfulness to the God of truth and righteousness must always be more important that gaining political or cultural power.
- I live in South Carolina, and South Carolina is not a swing state. If the president loses South Carolina, he’s already lost; if the Vice President wins, he’s already won. Therefore, I should feel no pressure to compromise biblical principles in my vote.