Article by Randy Alcorn, reprinted in full from the original
(Note: This article is Part 5 in a series. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 here)
I’ve received many comments from those who believe that we should vote for a third party candidate. Why? Because voting between President Obama and Governor Romney involves choosing between the lesser of two evils, which means choosing evil, something no Christian should do.
First, let me say that I appreciate the vigorous exchange in the blog comments and take no offense at those who disagree with me. I appreciate it when Christians can make their arguments without painting those who disagree as stupid, less spiritual, or lacking an eternal perspective. I was very encouraged to see some asking each other’s forgiveness for what they said. Godly people land on different sides of this issue, but still love the same Jesus.
To begin with, I think there are radically different understandings of what a vote is. In this presidential election, what does your vote mean to you? Is it:
1) The expression of your highest hopes and ideals
2) An affirmation of doctrinal agreement
3) A statement to the world about your Christian convictions
4) An unqualified endorsement of a candidate’s character and wisdom
5) A means of protest against the established parties that have both failed miserably
6) A choice of the better of the only two viable candidates who remain, both of them very flawed, and one of whom will be president
Your answer to this question will largely determine your voting choices. Do you view voting like choosing a marriage partner? (Be extremely choosy.) Or like choosing a school or job? (Choose wisely, but know you can change schools or jobs.) Or like choosing a seat on the bus? (The best seats are already taken, but you choose the best alternative that’s left.)
What will you do in this election? Here are some options:
1) Abstain from voting because you are so disillusioned, and/or your citizenship is in Heaven, not earth.
2) Vote for a candidate you know has no chance of winning, but you’ll sleep better knowing you didn’t vote for the lesser of evils.
3) Vote for whichever one of the two electable candidates you believe will do the most good for the most people and inflict the least amount of harm; who will most uphold and least undermine our moral base and liberties.
Years ago, dissatisfied with the Republican and Democratic candidates, in two elections I wrote in Alan Keyes. Once I voted for Howard Philips. So I understand that perspective.
When voting within a party, I’ve chosen my closest-to-ideal candidate in the primaries. I don’t care whether anyone thinks he’s electable. But in the general election, things have shaken out and it usually comes down to only two candidates who can win. In recent years, I’ve voted for the one I think would do better than the other, despite my serious reservations about both.
So I’ve done it different ways at different times, always following my conscience and asking the Lord’s leading. I think what pushes me away from the third party options in this election is the stark nature of a few of the issues. Yes, there is abortion and the Mexico City Policy and the Supreme Court nominations. And there is the changing definition of marriage. (See Does the Fight for Marriage Really Matter?).
But what sticks out to me most is the urgency created by the dramatic erosion ofreligious liberties. I seriously wonder if the continued dismantling of our religious freedoms for another four years might permanently strip us of the very rights we will need if we are to influence our country’s direction—including through third party politics, pastors still being able to pass out voter’s guides, etc. This is one of the main reasons I’m determined to make my vote count this time.
Probably a dozen commenters wrote, “Voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil.”
I understand the logic. I’ve used it. But there is another way to look at it: To vote for the lesser of evils is to vote for less evil.
Think about it. Don’t we want less evil? Doesn’t less evil mean more good? I’m voting for the greater good my children and grandchildren and this country will experience than if the only other viable choice were elected. (Please don’t write saying others were far better candidates and Christians should have supported them. The only point I’m making is, regardless of the reasons, none of them will win the election.)
Yes, I don’t like either candidate. But, for instance, let’s say I believe only one single claim Governor Romney has made. A few blog posters have claimed everything Romney has ever said is a lie, which is quite a trick if you think about it, but I’m 99.9% sure this one is true: If elected, he will reinstate the Mexico City Policy, so that American taxes no longer pay for abortions overseas. If he failed to follow through on appointing prolife justices, and everything else, that one single thing is compelling, isn’t it? What makes me think he would keep that promise? Because every Republican since Ronald Reagan has implemented it, and every Democrat has rescinded it. Even if you believe Romney cares about nothing but trying to make himself look good (as one person commented), he would look very bad to break his promise to reinstate the Mexico City Policy. Does it matter to you that your taxes are paying for abortions around the world? It matters to me.
So this is one clear demonstration of how a vote for “the lesser of evils” is a vote for less evil. By voting for the third party, and not voting for the only person who can and will reinstate the Mexico City Policy, isn’t the voter in effect making more likely the greater of evils?
If there are two men and I’m choosing between them, unless their degree of good and evil is exactly the same, and their commitment to religious liberty, human rights, morality, sanctity of marriage and financial responsibility is identical, then righteousness is at stake in my vote.
“But by definition, the lesser of evils is still evil.” Yes, and also by definition, the lesser of evils isless evil.
We all know that the ideal is no evil. If we lived in Eden or on the New Earth, as all who know Christ one day will, there would be no evil. But that’s not where we live. And no party, candidate or vote will get rid of all evil. The best we can do is vote for less evil and more justice than the other electable candidate offers.
“But that’s just thinking pragmatically.” Or is it simply thinking logically, and trying to make a positive difference with the only power now left to me? Is voting my individualized expression of ideals? Or is it bringing my ideals to bear on the messy choice between two very flawed alternatives?
One woman commented on a previous blog: “I am going to cast my vote for Jesus Christ.” It’s a nice gesture, but I think Jesus wants us to use our vote in a way that matters. Jesus is not running for president. He already sits on a throne. A year ago there were more than two electable people, but now that there are two, shouldn’t we try to choose the one likely to do the most good and the least evil?
There’s something very flawed in the argument that “choosing the lesser of evils is always evil.” Scripture says every man is a sinner, an evil-doer (Romans 3:23). Even born-again Christians struggle with evil-doing (Romans 7:14-25).
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it…We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect.” (James 2:10, 3:2) To deny our sin is to call God a liar (1 John 1:10).
What does this mean? It means—wait for it—that your third party candidate is also a sinner, a doer of evil. Maybe you think he is a Christian, but then, consider how many Christians have made terrible decisions and have become corrupt when put into positions of power they weren’t prepared to handle.
Presumably you believe your man would do less evil than the Republican or Democratic candidates. I understand that. You’re probably right. But do not imagine you are taking the high road by refusing to vote for the lesser of two evils. In fact, by voting for your third party candidate, you are choosing the lesser of three evils.
And if your candidate cannot win, your vote is effectively insuring the victory of thegreater of three evils.
Frank Turk, in “Math and Elections”, makes what I believe is a compelling argument that demonstrates how voting for a third party, if enough people do it, assures that the greater of evils will win. He argues, “You have to vote for someone with a mathematical likelihood of winning if you really want to affect change… a vote against Obama but not for Romney ensures Obama’s victory.” (Read it if you don’t understand why.)
Some say, “But my principles compel me to vote for the best possible candidate, even if he can’t win.” If a vote is only a statement of best-case-scenario ideals, that’s understandable. But what if instead you view your vote as a practical tool that wouldn’t violate your principles because it can actually reduce evil, which should be one of your principles? Someone commented, “Logically, a vote for a third party candidate is as much not a vote for Obama as it is not a vote for Romney.” That sounds logical until you look at the math, then you see it isn’t true. If you are serious about thinking this through, please do not dismiss Frank Turk’s logic without actually reading him.
No matter how pure our intentions, votes can be used strategically or counterproductively. When we think we are taking the moral high ground, we may inadvertently help bring about a less moral result. If you are thinking of not voting or of voting for a third party candidate I would encourage you also to read the provocative article by Dan Philips.
Now, both Turk and Philips can be blunt. Philips is at times downright insulting. (I give more benefit of the doubt to third party voters and candidates than he does, perhaps because I’ve voted that way myself.) However, something can be insulting but also largely true, even if overstated. I have learned from the logic of those who have insulted me, and you can too. I would ask that you listen with an open mind, and ask God to guide you. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Proverbs 19:20-21).
I just read an argument against pragmatism, from the Constitution Party. Much of it is very good, biblical quotes and all. But it’s reasonable to ask whether enough people can or will get behind this or any party for it to become a political force. Is it possible that our secular nation, or nominally religious nation, would elect a man from this party to the White House? Years ago I thought there might be a chance, so I voted for the party’s founder, Howard Philips. Now, apart from a widespread Great Awakening, I don’t believe it’s going to happen. (I truly hope I am wrong.) But if that great awakening does happen, it won’t come through political parties, but through the Holy Spirit of God working through his people, as churches and families. Meanwhile I try to faithfully serve Jesus, reach people with the gospel, serve in my local church, and exercise my vote to the limited extent that it reduces evil and increases good.
Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). The person who lives his life in doctrinal and moral compromise needs to be reminded to be as innocent as a dove. The person who lives his life expecting of his country a degree of Christian spirituality that can’t be realized in a fallen world (e.g. returning or moving a post-Christian society to biblical values across the board), needs to be reminded to be as shrewd as a serpent.
To be shrewd is to be wise in the sense of Proverbs, which means being pragmatic not by compromising doctrine but by realizing which strategies work and which don’t. (More on that in the next blog.) The innocent dove may have noble ideals, but he must realize that sometimes his choices are limited. He must not think only of what could be done in the best of all possible societies, but also what can be done in his society as it is now, to make it better instead of worse.
“Follow your conscience,” many commenters say. I agree. My conscience once told me not to vote for a candidate unless he was the best of all. My conscience now tells me, in this general election, to vote for the better of the only two candidates who can win. My convictions haven’t changed. But my life experiences, including my long conversations with Americans whose worldviews are radically different than mine, have changed my views on what’s realistically possible in a post-Christian nation.
One caution for some who disagree. Isn’t it a bit presumptuous and condescending to believe you are listening to your conscience and following the Lord by “not voting for the lesser of evils,” but your brothers and sisters are not listening to their conscience or following the Lord by using their votes to “vote for less evil”?
One person said, “I want to send a message with my vote.” I understand. What I want to do is make a difference with my vote.
Is there truth to the old saying, “Politics is the art of the Possible”? Are some of us trying to do what is impossible? Ask yourself what is actually possible on Election Day. Ask yourself which of the only two candidates who can win might do a better job.
In Monday’s blog I will address what I believe is a highly inaccurate charge stated in the blog comments: “There is no difference between the candidates.” Really? Not on the tax funding of abortions overseas? Not on gay marriage? Not on religious liberties, which are of deep concern to any member of a religious minority that could be persecuted?
I’ll also address the questions related to pragmatism, compromise, whether God wants America to get the candidate it deserves, whether your view of the end times relates to voting, and whether it’s right to vote for someone who supports abortion in some cases (e.g. rape and incest), even if he opposes it in the great majority of cases.
I’ll conclude by saying I disagree with the comments saying if you have an eternal perspective you will never vote for the lesser of evils. Choosing to endure torture rather than deny Christ, seeing God at work in your worst adversity, laying claim to God’s promises of a New Heavens and New Earth (2 Peter 3;13)—all these involve eternal perspective. But an eternal perspective may also motivate you to vote for less evil and more good that could actually happen, as compared to the more idealistic positions of a candidate who is supported by 3% of the country.
Because you know this world is not your home, and that it is terribly fallen, you put your hope in Christ, not in this country. But as a steward of your American citizenship, you try your best to support good and resist evil, realizing how that is best done in politics isn’t spelled out in Scripture, and godly people will see it differently. Then, together with those who agree on Christ who is primary and disagree on what’s secondary, you trust God and serve him and hold up Jesus Christ and the gospel of grace as the only hope for this nation and this world.