Christians, Voting, and Immorality

Does requiring Christians to vote mean requiring them to be pragmatists or even immoral? This seems to fall back to the question, is it possible to be in politics and maintain an ethic (as far as Christians are concerned, a Kingdom ethic)? In most people’s minds the word ‘politician’ seems to connote something similar to ‘used car salesman’, and for good reason. On a practical level it seems that a Christian that runs for office must do 1 of 2 things. Either view Christianity and politics as two separate spheres that co-exist, pursuing the latter and living the former privately (even though religion can’t actually be successfully dropped from politics). Or, view the two as indistinct in life/practice and run for office accordingly.

It seems to me that in a democratic society where, by definition, the populous is represented by individuals, the populous’ ethic is too. In this case, it seems as though the second of our two options above will always be in opposition to the populous’ belief. If this is true, and it seems to be, then requiring Christians to vote is pushing them into a dilemma: choosing one of the two populous representatives, one of the two populous’ ethic. So, what must a Christian do, choose the lesser of two evils? Should a Christian take part in placing someone in office that is, more than likely, less than morally reputable? It seems then that the Christian is stuck choosing a candidate because he will most closely achieve some end that Christians see as ideal. Isn’t this pragmatism? Is this immoral?

Let’s put this more straightforwardly:

  1. Being a politician means being dishonest
  2. Dishonesty should not be supported by Christians
  3. Therefore, Christians should not vote for (that is, support) politicians

Now, of course I would never say that there is a necessary, logical connection in premise 1 between being a politician and being dishonest, it’s just the way it is (and in a democratic society, the way things have to be). When I say ‘dishonest’ I don’t necessarily mean a tax-evading, stealing, cheating person, I mean someone who uses his words to intentionally not tell the whole truth or to mislead in order to gain popularity among the people.

So, maybe Christians shouldn’t vote. What do you think? Let’s lay aside what might happen if Christians didn’t vote and, for now, discuss the argument.


10 Responses to “Christians, Voting, and Immorality”

  1. 1 David Burnett September 18, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Joel, I miss you. To vote or not to vote… there is the rub. The Christian moralist argument would seem to say to prevent the least amount of harm to the people of the nation, cast a vote accordingly as it would be in line with living under kindgom principles. Top me I have an issue with this. This seems to say “of the better of two evils, I must choose one.” I don’t want to choose evil at all. Is this insensative in some way? Am I being ignorant? Praying for my leaders and the wellfare of the nation in which I am in exile is required in scripture (Jer 29:4-7; Dan 6:4-5; 1 Tim 2:1-2) but to what extent should my involvement in the affairs of my democratic form of government be? I don’t see any of the people of God taking an active role in seeking to be involved with government in scripture but merely a praying on behalf of or finding yourself caught up in the middle of it contrary to your will (this being any government other than Israel or Theocracy, i.e. Daniel in Babylonian exile, etc). But we have a whole new form of empirial harlotry today called “democracy”. How then should we live? Still thinking, I’ll get back to ya.

  2. 2 Lance Barker September 28, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    Joel, I am happy you brought this up. I have been wrestling with this for a few months. As of today I will not vote. To be a citizen of a new world order means I live for it alone. I am a ambassador in this country for my homeland. I live under my homelands rules and laws. I go to my emissary and meet people and am an advocate of my homeland. I cannot take on the role of a citizen of the country that I am an ambassador for. I can and will always be a safe haven for others and represent my King. I am like David and still thinking.

  3. 3 rudi hayward September 30, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Joel, I must object to your general line of argument here and those of the previous comments. I don’t see the Bible teaching us to seek for purity by trying to escape from the world. Jesus certainly didn’t follow that line (for example Luke 5:27-32), I would even say that a “don’t touch” approach to culture is deeply unbiblical (see Colossians 2:20-23). I see no way of being salt and light in the world if we are advising to take the salt out of the world and hide the light under our own holy bowl (see Matthew 5:13-16). I actually believe that we cannot remove ourselves from politics, it is a basic creaturely task, and to try to do so misses the endless injunctions in the Bible to seek justice. Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God was certainly off the radar in terms of the politics of his time (and indeed ours) but it doesn’t sound to me apolitical (see Luke 4:14-21).

    There are loads of resources that develop these issues but you should certainly look into the excellent work of the Center for Public Justice see Two books that cover crucial Biblical basics are Paul Marshall “Thine is the Kingdom” and Alan Storkey “Jesus and Politics”.

  4. 4 joelpatrick September 30, 2008 at 8:17 pm


    Thank you for disagreeing with me. It makes the world go round! I would probably say two things in response to your objection: first is a question: which premiss do you disagree with? Second, I wouldn’t and am not trying to advocate an escape from the world. I think there is a form of politics that Christians SHOULD be involved in and that is in having a voice and calling politicians and leaders to account- a very hands on approach. I think this is what Paul would have done before Caesar or anyone else… “Before God this is wrong!” [not an actual quote], whether it is policy, economy, etc., Christians should speak out. But as far as representing the populous goes, or being forced to cast my vote for one of two populous representatives, that I question.

  5. 5 rudi hayward October 1, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Joel, I was trying to make a broader point about the importance of political involvement for Christians. If we believe that Christ is Lord, and indeed “King of Kings” then this must lead to our taking political responsibility seriously. Voting is only one element of that responsibility. My concern, still staying at a more general level, is that your argument looks in danger of following the logic of the Pharisees who, on seeing Jesus associating with tax collectors (who would certainly have found dishonesty an “acceptable” part of their job) and sinners, drew the conclusion that Jesus was supporting sin. Also is not the “don’t vote” conclusion very close to the “don’t touch” policy that Paul argues against?

    Let’s take your first premise. First you need to clarify what you mean by “dishonest” which will either turn out to be broad enough to include everybody and every profession, so don’t buy your food from any supermarket because then you will be supporting dishonesty and no doubt plenty of other sins. Indeed the vicar will not be free from sin in his very role as church leader etc. Or it will be narrow enough to say that plenty of politicians are honest people deserving of our trust, just as our vicar is deserving of our trust imperfect though he is. So are you setting an impossibly high level of purity and morality or are you just being cynical about today’s politicians?

    Your connection of dishonesty with democracy also surprises me. I would be interested in knowing what alternative political system you think would do better to reduce corruption and bribery. It seems to me that democracy combined with the rule of law has been more effective than any other system on this, but correct me if I’m wrong.

    I think our disagreement may come down to our understanding of representative democracy. It seems to me perfectly acceptable that a Christian could stand for election basing their policies on biblical principles. A democratic politician does not have to represent every view of the citizenry, nor even the most popular views. It may make it difficult to win elections, but that shouldn’t bother a Christian whose task is to pursue justice and not, primarily, to win elections. Also I think we do well to distinguish democracy from the doctrine of popular sovereignty.

  6. 6 joelpatrick October 2, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Rudi, I think your comment is really well put. Thanks again. First, I don’t think the Pharisee comparison works since my argument has nothing to do with not having an association with (that is, a relationship with) certain persons- I would encourage Christians to have the same kind of relationship with the same kind of people that Jesus did. The argument is aimed toward whether it is right (or whether it requires pragmatism) to support politicians, or be in politics, in this day and age with this governmental structure. So, I think it is comparing apples to oranges.

    I think you make a good point about how I’m defining dishonesty. This is what I intended to to communicate, but apparently did not demonstrate. Though everyone is imperfect and all professions are, probably, marred with some sort of corruption or sin (even to the smallest degree), being in politics requires it in a way that owning a supermarket or being a vicar doesn’t. If shopping at the supermarket required the unethical treatment of animals and the extortion of workers in, say, the coffee bean industry, I probably would say that Christians should figure out an alternative. But, this isn’t the case. I can go to the supermarket and buy free-range eggs and fair-trade coffee. There are two sides to this issue, not just whether I can run and represent a secular people as a Christian, but as a Christian, should I vote when, for instance, my choices are McCain (who has voted in support of abortion, for example) and Obama (who is adamantly pro-abortion, for example)? I’m raising the question of whether voting requires a compromise. And this is where the pragmatism and lesser-of-two-evils-decision comes in to play.

    I think you make a good point though. A Christian can run and try to establish policies based on Christian principles and lose the election, if the whole point is not winning elections. However, this doesn’t help me (the voter) because when s/he inevitably drops out, since it isn’t about winning elections, I’m still stuck with the same lesser of two evils dilemma. I think you are attacking one side of the coin, can Christians be in politics, but not the other, do Christians vote when they have to choose between guys like McCain and Obama?

    You also make a good distinction between popular sovereignty and democracy. I’m happy to say, then, that Christians can run for office if winning elections isn’t the aim. However, in saying this I still feel skeptical. There is a responsibility for a Christian to act a certain way and and a responsibility for a politician to act a certain way. When terrorists attack the US, the Commander and Chief has the responsibility to retaliate for the sake of the country, but doesn’t the Christian have the responsibility to love his enemy and forgive those who persecute him?

    As far as a better political system goes, I don’t think there is an alternative. Like you, I think democracy has proved to be the best humans have come up with. I didn’t write this post to suggest an alternative, just to point out a problem. Thanks again Rudi.

  7. 7 rudi hayward October 2, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Joel, I’m not convinced of the difference you draw between politicians and supermarket owners and church leaders. It seems to me just as likely that a church leader could succumb to pressure (real or perceived) that they should always present themselves as spiritually alive, theologically certain etc. as that politician would succumb to analogous pressures.

    Beyond this distinction it seems to me that you have changed the subject from dishonesty to principle. You now ask whether we can vote for a politician who holds unbibilical principles like pro-choice. At the general level of Christian involvement in politics I still think your approach is too perfectionist and consequentially tends towards limiting christians to external engagement only. My first comment attempted to highlight the necessity of an integral Christian approach to the political task. When we do this I think we should see, for example, that the Commander and Chief DOES NOT have the responsibility to retaliate in the face of terrorist attack, he has the responsibility to pursue justice.

    I fully agree that voting raises difficult questions, but it is not a question of “the lesser of two evils” which is simply side-stepped by not voting. Not voting is a third option; it has its own political consequences. To paraphrase Burke “the surest way to a corrupt political system is for good people to stop voting”.

  8. 8 joelpatrick October 4, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Rudi, I appreciate your clarity and think you may have a point. I originally said that, “I would never say that there is a necessary, logical connection in premise 1 between being a politician and being dishonest, it’s just the way it is (and in a democratic society, the way things have to be).” After our discussion I would drop the parenthetical portion off of that statement. And, maybe highlighting dishonesty is the wrong way to go about the discussion altogether. I’ll give it a think and maybe post something new, I’ve had some other things floating around that you might be able to help me with.

    As for the rest of your comment, I understand pursuing justice to mean rightly giving what is due (wrong to wrong, pardon to the innocent, good to the good, or something like that -Romans 13). So, your distinction between not retaliating (punishing for the sake of prevention) and pursuing justice, doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Regarding your last paragraph, I do think that I am currently, and in the future will continually be, faced with a lesser of two evils scenario (as in the current presidential election in the states). And this just brings the whole issue (voting or not voting) back to the forefront: is it immoral to help place someone in office who holds unbiblical positions (like pro-choice and partial birth abortion)? And, in this case, and for the ones to come, does this make me a utilitarian?

    As for Burke, even if ‘good people’ stop voting, I don’t think that ‘bad people’ will intentionally (or necessarily unintentionally), for their livelihood, elect corrupt people or bring about corruption. Who knows, maybe they would.

    Thanks for the help.

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  10. 10 Mike Arienti November 4, 2013 at 1:58 am

    Let’s look at this a little more sensibly. All people are sinful. Why SHOULDN’T Christians consider voting one more way to influence their world for Christ? Even if your only reason is “so-and-so is pro-choice and I want to stand up against that,” VOTE!

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