Election: How to Deal with the “Lesser of Two Evils”

In a few weeks Christians will join millions of other Americans in electing a President. Seldom have American Christians faced such unsavory options in presidential candidates. Christians of good faith and good conscience disagree on whom to support: Secretary Clinton, Mr. Trump, an independent, or “none of the above.”

As the election approaches it is helpful to pull back from the frenetic frenzy of 24 hour cable news, talking heads, social media angst, and the hysterical hyperbole dominating this election season to reflect prayerfully and thoughtfully on how Christians should approach any election and its final outcome. By God’s grace I will walk into the voting booth with deliberate calmness and will react to the outcome of the election, regardless of who wins, with dignity and confidence in God’s sovereignty over the affairs of state and of men. 

The following biblical principles and practical advice help guide my thoughts, vote, and reaction to the outcome of this year’s election. I have divided my thoughts into two parts: Principles and Practical Application. Perhaps these will be of help to you as well. 

One of the core goals of our schools is to teach our students to think biblically about everything, “to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” That goal begins with us for as Jesus said, the student will be like his teacher: 

Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:39ff

Each of us is somewhere along the continuum of possessing a biblical worldview across a spectrum of issues. Depending on the issue we may be further down the road in our understanding than on other issues. On some issues we may be flat out wrong but not realize it. On others we may be in the realm of legitimate Christian liberty where the “right answer” may depend on context and culture. 

In politics the matter becomes all the more complex because one is dealing with a proliferation of complex intertwined issues that defy easy formulas and simplistic policies. The matter is made more difficult by the fact that confirmation bias, our subconscious absorption of cultural mores, our lack of knowledge and expertise, our ideological biases, our cultural context and experiences, and the mendacities of modern media make coming to a thoroughly biblical position on every issue difficult at best. But with humility, prayer, and seeking the counsel of others, we must try.

What God Requires
As we assess the policy positions of the candidates and of their respective parties, and as we teach our students and staff to do likewise, the following verses (among many others) guide my thinking.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. 1 Tim. 2:1ff

Justice and love for our neighbor must inform our decisions and our vote. As I ponder my options I seek to elect the candidate that in my best flawed judgment is most likely to promote justice and righteousness in every sphere: in the womb, in the inner city, in the suburbs, in business, on Wall Street, between social and ethnic groups, through health care, in the environment, in the justice system, and in international affairs, ad infinitum. I must not only vote in the interest of a white conservative evangelical suburbanite, I must also vote in the interest of my neighbors in the inner city, on the farm, and across the sea. 

I am also voting for the candidate that in my judgment is most likely to promote a social order conducive to my living a quiet and peaceful life of godly dignity in serving God and loving my neighbor as myself. My vote must not be just about my socio-economic interests and my demographic; it must also be about my neighbor’s interests and my fellow citizens who do not look like or think like me and whose experiences and needs are different than mine. 

Having the perspective that an election is not merely about my own interests and opinions is hard but commanded:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jer. 29:4ff

Do nothing from selfish ambition [that includes voting] or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Phil. 2:3ff

It is important that we teach and model before our students the principle that we do not vote merely based on our self-interests, or the interest of our groups (for example Evangelical Christianity) but also for the interest of all of our neighbors. 

Voting for the “Lesser of Two Evils”
Because both of this year’s presidential candidates are so unpopular and flawed it is often said that one must vote for the “lesser of two evils.” For progressives this may mean voting for Secretary Clinton. For conservatives it may mean voting for Mr. Trump. For others it may be “voting for none of the above” by writing in a candidate. The fact is we are always voting for the lesser of two evils because every person is evil. 

There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.” Rom. 3:10ff

Some candidates by virtue of their policy positions and/or life styles are more evil than others. In some election cycles the difference between the two candidates is greater, making the choice easier. In other years, there is far less difference between the candidates. They may both promote evil policies and reflect evil lifestyles differing more in their policy-positions or the type of evil reflected in their lifestyles than in the depth of the evil itself. One must prayerfully decide if one candidate or the other really is the “lesser of two evils” in lifestyle and/or policy positions and vote accordingly. If the difference between the two candidates is so narrow as to be nearly impossible to define one as genuinely “less evil” than the other by policy and/or lifestyle, one can legitimately vote “none of the above” by writing in a candidate. One’s vote must be made based on being well informed on the issues, honest and accurate (not relying on gossip, rumor, innuendo, and slander) regarding the candidate’s conduct and character, and after seeking wise, godly counsel. 

It is vital that our students do not hear staff demonizing either candidate based on ideological bias, rumor, and innuendo. While it is perfectly acceptable—in fact essential—that we teach our students how to critique the candidates’ character and policies, such critique must be done with justice to them in mind. An election season does not justify slander or gossip. 

God is Sovereign Over the Affairs of State
While we have every reason to be concerned about the quality of leadership and the direction of our country, we must not become anxious, fearful, or despondent. Regardless of the outcome, God is sovereign over it. The Scriptures are clear that there is no governing authority unless God ordains it and equally clear that God’s directs the decisions of the king. His ways are also not our ways.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Rom. 13:1ff

He changes times and seasons;  he removes kings and sets up kings;  he gives wisdom to the wise  and knowledge to those who have understanding;  Dan. 2:21

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” Jn. 19:11

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; 
he turns it wherever he will. Prov. 21:1

How we react to the outcome of the election will be the loudest lesson we teach our students. Will they hear anger and fear or a realism informed and tempered by  confidence in a sovereign God?

Evil for Good
Let’s suppose your candidate loses. What then? While it is appropriate to be disappointed, even concerned for the Republic and the possible consequences, which can be dire and even evil, we must remember that even in such circumstances God is working for our good. 

Because we live in a hyper individualistic culture, American Christians tend to interpret Bible verses individualistically, that is, “how does this verse(s) apply to me?” While appropriate, it often shortchanges the full meaning of the passages. In fact, much of the Bible is directed to the Children of God collectively, Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. A case in point is Romans 8:28, a favorite verse for many Christians: 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

While applicable to each Christian, it is also broadly applicable to the universal church. What God does in this world, including the outcome of elections, is ultimately for the glory of Christ so that in all things he may be preeminent (Col. 1:15ff) and the good of His church and the advancement of the Kingdom. If the verse is true for each believer, it is true of every believer, and if it is true of every believer, it is true of the universal church of which Christ is the Head. 

Accordingly, what may seem bad for individual believers, or a group of believers within a nation, God is nevertheless causing to work toward the greater good not only of those believers but for Christ’s universal church. For example, when God permitted the horrific persecution of Christians under Nero, the church spread far and wide taking the Gospel with it. We must remember that whatever evil God permits at any given time is under his sovereign oversight for a purpose greater than ourselves and greater than our nation. Ultimately, God is working for the good of his church universal and the preeminence of Christ. 

If God allows our nation to elect deficient and even devilish authorities, then God has his good purposes and will cause good to come from it, not as we define good but as he defines it reminding us:

My thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isa. 55:8ff

Forget the Horserace
Focus on the substance of a candidate’s character, conduct, and policy content, not on the horserace. The media, for the sake of ratings, focuses on the sensational and controversial—who tweeted what, the latest scandal, a recent faux pa, polls, ad nauseam. Little time is devoted to in-depth assessments of the issues. If you or I approach the election based on personalities and the latest headlines and talking head blather, we will not be informed voters. It is our responsibility in seeking the welfare of the city to be as informed as possible. Read the platforms, read experts on various topics, read the arguments on the other side—you might gain a new perspective—and then assess the  character of the candidates and then prayerfully make the best decision you can.

Honor the King—No Matter who She or He May Be
Both Paul and Peter command us to honor the king. They wrote the command to Christians suffering under Nero’s horrific persecution. 

Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Rom. 13:7

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 1 Pet. 2:17

I am reminded of how David honored King Saul who was trying to kill him. When David had trapped King Saul in a cave he had the opportunity to kill him. Instead, he merely cut off the corner of King Saul’s robe and then felt guilty for doing so!

Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” 1 Sam. 24:4ff

That is a godly example of honoring an evil king! No matter who wins, we honor the “king.” This does not mean acceptance of evil—John the Baptist lost his head for condemning Herod’s immorality. It does mean that we verbally honor those God has placed over us no matter how much we dislike and disagree with him or her. We do so, and teach our students to do so, for the sake of the Gospel. 

Converse with Candor and Civility
We live in a crass, crude, uncivil, and “outrage of the week” country. This is sad but it gives us the opportunity to be different—to be salt and light—as we speak the truth in love while conducting ourselves in word and deed with dignity and civility in our political discourse. Consider the following passages: 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Rom. 12:14ff

For we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. 2 Cor. 8:21ff

As leaders and teachers in Christian schools we must model before our students what it means to “take every thought captive” and how one is to honor the king—even one we consider evil or at minimum one with whom we mightly disagree. Like it or not, this election cycle gives us ample opportunity to demonstrate before our students and parents how imperfect but mature and maturing christians deal with an election between what many consider to be two very flawed candidates. What will our students hear and see from us between now and the election and afterward? 

The student will be like his teacher. What will you and I be teaching them this election cycle?