It seems that more and more in modern politics, voters are faced with choosing between the “lesser of two evils.” In such instances, how should a Christian vote? Should we follow the advice of famed Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon who says that “of two evils, choose neither.” Or, in this case, does the lesser evil represent the greater good?
No Clear Answer
Our present form of representative democracy did not exist in biblical times, so the issue of how to vote when choosing between “two evils” is not specifically addressed. Consequently, many Christians have sought over-arching biblical principles that can be applied to find an answer. Not surprisingly, many genuine, well-meaning Christians have come to very different conclusions.
For this reason, it is likely that this issue is one of the “disputable matters” that Paul addresses in Romans 14. In such cases, Christians have autonomy and can make whatever decision they feel best honors God (1 Corinthians 10:31) as long as they are “fully convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14:5).
Understandably, this answer can be unsatisfying and feel like a bit of a cop-out. So, let’s take a look at scripture and see if a case can be made for voting for a “lesser evil.”
Understanding the Real Issue
It is important to realize that a vote for any candidate (short of Christ Himself) is a choice between the lesser of two evils. All people are sinners (e.g. Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12, Psalm 14:1, 1 John 1:8) and have a nature that is opposed to God. If we are determined to only vote for perfect candidates, we will never vote.
We also have to truly understand the choice to be made. A candidate may be “evil” in that you disagree with much of what they do or how they act, but are they truly and completely evil? If your choice is between Hitler and Stalin, you may be forced to choose neither. But most likely, your choices are more “undesirable” than “evil” (at least by human standards). It is rare that the potential candidates have literally no redeeming qualities or political views.
While the Bible does not provide a clear directive on voting for the lesser of two evils, there are some indications from scripture that God gives us the autonomy to do so. Specifically, there are examples of godly people working for some very ungodly political rulers.
Both Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament worked in influential political roles for pagan kings. Joseph served under the Egyptian pharaoh and Daniel worked for both the Babylonian and Persian emperors. All of these rulers were pagan and opposed to God. They were “evil.” But they were used by God to accomplish a particular purpose, so godly people were allowed to work for them (or, in our case, to vote for them).
Furthermore, God has “voted” for some deeply flawed political leaders. David was an adulterer and a murderer but was selected by God and was Israel’s most successful king. Samson regularly succumbed to sin, but God nonetheless appointed him as a judge of Israel and used him for mighty works.
It is important to realize that in these cases, God’s use of sinful individuals is in no way an endorsement of their flaws. Rather, God can use anyone for His purposes, despite their imperfections. This fact is important to remember when we vote. We don’t have to agree with or endorse 100% of what a candidate says, does, or believes to vote for them. Rather, we should look to see if, despite their faults, they have qualities or positions that can be used by God (more on this later).
There are Limits!
However, while a Christian has the autonomy to vote for a “lesser evil,” there are limits. As in the Hitler vs. Stalin example, at some point, conscience does require a “choose neither” response. For example, a Christian should not vote for someone that is actively opposed to the Christian worldview or the spread of the gospel.
Also, we must never pretend that a “lesser evil” candidate is the same as being good. We are called to respect our political leaders, but we cannot ignore sinful behavior or pretend that it’s OK. Unfortunately, many Christians often accept, or even celebrate, ungodly behavior that should be called out for the sin that it is. Elevating any candidate to the level of demagogue is wrong, even if we support their policies.
The Bible give clear qualifications for pastors (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9) and deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13), but not for political leaders. However, the Bible does give information about the role of government, so Christians can use these principles when deciding between undesirable political candidates.
Restrain Evil/Maintain Order
Romans 13:3-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 are two of the most comprehensive passages regarding the role of government. Both confirm that a key function is to restrain and punish evil and maintain order. Given this fact, Christians should vote for candidates that seek to honor and support the rule of law and order in society.
Enables the Gospel
In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Paul urges Christians to pray for government officials so that we can “live peaceful and quiet lives.” Paul’s point is that an orderly and peaceful society allows the gospel to more easily spread to a world that desperately needs it. Within the political context, a Christian should avoid candidates that actively seek to create divisions or pit various “voting blocs” against one another since this could hinder the gospel.
We should also look at how a candidate relates to the Christian worldview. Are most of their policies consistent with or opposed to Christian doctrine (e.g. abortion)? Does the candidate support a Christian’s right to freely and publicly live by their faith, even if others disagree with their views? An undesirable or non-Christian candidate can still foster an environment where the gospel is able to spread.
Christians will inevitably and regularly be faced with a choice between undesirable political candidates. While it is feasible that a Christian may have to (rarely) abstain from voting in such a situation, it is certainly not mandated by the Bible. Rather, abstaining is a matter of conscience and, I believe, should be thought of as a last resort. If Christians choose not to vote, our leaders will be mostly non- or even anti-Christian. And while we should take comfort in that fact that God is ultimately in control, we must remember that He often chooses to work through us. So we shouldn’t sit on the sidelines!