A few weeks ago I linked to R C Sproul’s article on Principled Voting and received the following question, which I received permission to post on the blog:

I get the reasoning of “every vote is a vote for the lesser of two evils” (as someone put it), but I also have a really hard time reconciling in my conscience some of the issues related to a certain candidate. While there is a choice I absolutely will not support, I hesitate about voting against him because I feel like I am giving my support to an individual I cannot endorse. For this reason I’ve voted Constitution party at least once in the past, but have also second-guessed that decision. What kind of combination of principles, integrity, realism, and pragmatism is appropriate, given the nature of our political system in the US?”

I’m sure there are lots of Christians in a similar dilemma. Anyone got any advice? Any good resources you can recommend?

  • KB

    I don’t know if this will be helpful, but the first question a Christian should ask is not, “…given the nature of our political system in the US,” but “given what Scripture says.” When preparing to vote in elections Christians have some important decisions to make:

    1. Is voting a moral decision? -if no, then vote on! -if yes, then Scripture must either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence direct us.
    2. Does Scripture lay out requirements (beyond preservation of life for the unborn) for those who are “servants of God” (Romans 13:4).
    3. Does wisdom dictate that we vote for the “most” qualified, or for “the” qualified?
    4. Knowing that those who hold eminent offices aggravate the nature of their sins by virtue of their office (WLC 151), would it be a greater act of love to help him/her avoid causing more offense by not voting for them?
    5. How does one vote in faith and to the glory of God?

  • http://www.cpc-kc.org Andrew Barnes


    It was a pleasure to hear you at the PRTS Conference this year. I’m glad I am familiar with you now. :) I now follow you on twitter (@PuritanHope).

    As to your post and question, while I used to vote for the lesser of two evils over time that seemed to be a contradiction to my theology. That is to say that God ordains the right man (or woman) for each specific office. My responsibility, in our type of government, is to vote according to God’s Word and vote based on what I believe is most righteous and most holy and most glorifying to God.

    As I think of Presidential candidates only, the main ones are obviously Obama and Romney. To vote for either in my conscience would be contrary to many principles in Scripture. So I cannot do so, I must vote for another option. I still haven’t figured out quite yet who that is (Constitution party? Maybe..). I like their preamble of their party position.

    Now in saying this, many Christians have condemned me saying that a vote for someone other than Romney is a vote for Obama. I see the logic in that and I’d probably agree to some extent, however when I look at Scripture and the Sovereign Ruler of the universe He never calls me to do the lesser of two evils but to do the right thing and most holy and glorifying-to-Him thing every time. I must then leave it in His hands.

    Also, I have found that if everyone always votes for the lesser of two evils, the good won’t ever come about (guaranteed). Perhaps some day our Lord will move His people to a common God-glorifying candidate and God will place Him in the office under Him. But today is the day of lesser of two evils, I’m afraid. And what many suspect if part of the Church, the day of judgment for this country.

  • http://www.seektheholy.com/ Chris Roberts

    There are no perfect candidates, so the question to ask is whether a candidate’s imperfections are such that I can live with, given the benefits he offers. For me (to put names to it), I cannot vote for Obama. He has disqualified himself on several fronts, making him a candidate whose imperfections I cannot live with. Romney is not my ideal candidate, but so far I can live with those things about him I don’t like, particularly because the things I do like are badly needed for this country.

    In many ways, I can live with the candidate who is a political pragmatist. It means he will want to be re-elected, so he will continue to do what his party wants if it will get him his party’s votes. Romney has a sketchy record, but he’s going to want a second term, so if he wins a first term I believe he will more or less do what he has promised and, on the whole, what he has promised is good (with some definite exceptions). I would prefer that he had the principles (though not the politics) of someone like Ron Paul, but at least I have some notion of how his pragmatism will lead him to behave.

  • bryan

    When I go to vote, whether in Church or in State, I ask myself two questions. Does this person fear the Lord and do they strive to keep his commandments?

    If either of these answers are ‘no’ I do not vote for them.

    There is a big difference between “the lesser of two evils” and someone who is fallen but striving to glorify God imperfectly. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney meet this test so I will not be voting.

    • http://www.seektheholy.com/ Chris Roberts

      Has any politician ever met this test? It would be rare indeed.

      • SH

        Ron Paul and Gary Johnson both fit the criteria, but they are certainly very rare individuals.

    • SH

      You should still vote. There are plenty of third party candidates that fear The Lord and strive to keep His commandments. Passive acceptance of evil soils the hands of all those who do not resist it.

  • Bryan W.

    I just read this recent post from boundless that addresses this issue. I found it clarifying of the view that we can and should vote for the lesser of two evils.


    • SH

      I read the boundless article, and I have come to this conclusion: it is all about your perspective. Depending on the foundational values of your soul, which can be very different than your neighbor’s, you cannot morally vote for a certain politician because that politician is evil to you. If their political platforms conflict with your deepest convictions and go against what you consider to be right and wrong, you cannot justify voting for them. To a different person the same politician may not conflict with the values that make up their moral fiber. Based on your core values, voting between two politicians MAY be a choice between two evils or just a choice between two not-so-perfect candidates.

      Therefore, one should NEVER vote for the lesser of two evils because that denotes that both are evil according to your own values. Even the lesser evil one conflicts so significantly from your core beliefs that they merit the title “evil”. Granted, many people use the term “evil” when they just mean “less preferred”. This should be avoided because it confuses people as to what issues are vital to you or just secondary issues in your mind. It misrepresents to those around you what your moral fiber is made of.

      There are plenty of candidates to vote for that are not the two mainstream candidates. If your choice is truly a choice between what you consider to be two evils, then you should vote for one of the third party candidates to avoid staining your hands with the sins of an evil person who you intentionally helped into office.

  • http://www.Armchair-Theology.net Dave Moser

    Another thing to keep in mind: Due to the electoral college in the US your vote in the presidential election truly does not matter unless you live in a “swing state.” If you don’t live in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin or Colorado, don’t worry too much.

    Admittedly, this isn’t as helpful in Senate/House/State/Local elections.

  • James

    If you are voting for a man who has promised to do things as president that the Constitution does not authorize him to do, then you are exercising your will that he will take an oath on inauguration day, which he does not intend to keep. For me, I would rather end up with any candidate that comes to me in God’s providence, than have my deciding vote that would have given me a better one, make me complicit in the man’s blaspheming God. Look up the Larger Catechism on why God adds, “He will not hold him guiltless who…”

    In the second place, I grew up with a very Americanized doctrine of: God gave you a vote, so you have to use it to do good to others. I would modify that to “so you have to use it to honor God.” Anyone who does not honor the Son, as he honors the Father, does not honor the Father either. So, I just cannot vote with a clear conscience for a man who isn’t going to self-consciously honor Christ as the Living God, in his office as president.

    A final thing for me is a primary cause/secondary cause thing. Good–and even lawful–policy is a secondary cause. But blessing rests entirely upon the goodness of Christ. If Nero was His servant for believers’ good, then I know that whomever He puts in the White House is His servant for my good. And, I will give honor to whom it is due, even if (as it almost always seems to be) my first prayer for him who is in high position is for his salvation.

    It is a very American thing to say “your vote is important.” It’s no more or less important than anything else you do before the Lord. It’s important, because everything done from faith, working through love, in obedience to God’s law, and in service to His kingdom is important. But it’s not like so very much depends upon us that we should bend principle in order “to make it turn out better.” [and the history of how much better this kind of thinking has ever made it turn out isn't very encouraging!]

    I’m thrilled that the Christian counterpart to “your vote is important” is “No condemnation… No separation” with a great big “all things work together” right in the middle! (Read Romans 8, front to back, if you don’t get the reference–if you read it with faith, you’ll read it also with joy!)

    As many folks say: Christ is never up for election or reelection. And for that I am most grateful.

  • Kate Genoff

    Every vote for every candidate we have ever voted for, or will ever vote for, is a vote for the lesser of two evils. For me clearing the way, normalizing and encouraging the killing of the least of us is too great an evil to ignore. To vote for someone who cannot win, or even to refuse to participate, is to allow that evil to go completely unchecked. And in that my conscience can’t rest.

  • Terri

    I believe that God judges us for our failure to do what we can to stop evil when given the opportunity. In this election we have that opportunity.

    To stand by and do nothing is surely a great sin.

  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray
  • Adam Thompson

    I see the argument for both sides, but I tend to choose the “lesser of two evils” approach. A few random thoughts:

    1) Voting is primarily a pragmatic process to reach a specific end goal (electing a politician), not a moral subscription. I do not believe that voting for a candidate who is not a Christian violates or compromises my ethics or morality before God.

    2) Our nation is becoming increasingly Godless. (Barring a revival), those who adopt the approach of “I won’t vote unless it’s for a godly candidate” will increasingly have no vote or influence in the elections. I currently live in Japan. If Japanese Christians held this view, they would literally never vote. Ever.

    3) We seem to spiritualize and place a high moral weight on political elections in America. We seem to expect Christians to choose Christian politicians, but we don’t expect this behavior in other parts of life. (We don’t place the same expectation on what company we work for, corporate shareholder elections, hiring employees, etc.)

    4) Both options are actually “the lesser of two evils”. Voting for a candidate you agree with but you know won’t be elected, or not voting, are not ideal options either.

    In the end, I look at the realistic options and choose the best option. But I would be open to voting for a third party candidate if I was convinced my vote would do some good.

    Some people will accuse me of pragmatism and compromising my beliefs. Yes, it’s pragmatic, but politics are not the church. Pragmatism is required in the secular world. But I don’t think I’m compromising my beliefs to vote for a non-Christian politician, any more than I am when I shop at the grocery store (and indirectly support ungodly companies).

  • Foppe VanderZwaag

    Dear David. Thank you for posting this. It seems, as some already noted, we always have voted in our country for the lesser of (two) evils. What changed that makes this suddenly an issue? When did we ever have a candidate or president of whom we (could have) said, “He feared God?”

    Not voting or voting for a another candidate does not make it any better. I would not vote either one of the men if he would be our new pastor or an elder in our church. Who do we have to choose from in addition to the two men set before us as a duo?

    This is a very timely discussion. A few weeks ago I put this in our church bulletin:

    “Dear congregation, We may not endorse one candidate over another in the forthcoming presidential election, but we may urge you to register to vote this coming November. The deadline to register is October 6. As I mentioned last Sunday evening, whether for an office bearer or for a president of the United States of America, we won’t be able to vote at all if we look for a perfect man. Then, as I said, only the Lord Jesus Himself could be the One to vote for. However, He already rules and does that in our country, among other ways, by granting us the privilege and duty to vote. Prayerfully consider this God-given opportunity as you evaluate the men running for office not only based on their faults but also on their virtues and moral convictions. Compare their party platforms, and vote with a clear conscience the one you consider most able and suited to lead our country in a biblical way.”

    Just today I spent quite some time working on this, together with the two other pastors of our church, and sent a letter to our congregation. Not only to encourage the congregation to vote but also and especially to join us in daily prayer the next 40 days till election day for our nation and its future. You may have it in your inbox already. If not, I’d be happy to send it to you.

  • http://homeschoolonthecroft.blogspot.com/ Anne

    As Christians, are we called to do what we believe to be pragmatic? Or to do what is right?

    It’s easy to choose when both ‘right’ and ‘pragmatic’ fit neatly together. But when we have to choose one *or* the other….

  • MK

    Perhaps this whole question is being approached from the wrong perspective. If we approach it from voting between the lesser of two evils that would imply we are doing something morally wrong if you choose one or other evil. Perhaps the question could be rephrased, “Should I vote for the better of two options?” There is also the point that our vote is not only for an individual, but also for all the individuals that will make up an administration. Your vote will also affect how we can live morally and upright as Christians in our society. The effects of not voting are far-reaching.

    • http://www.cpc-kc.org Andrew Barnes

      The problem with this rephrasing of the question or even the original question is that you and others are looking at this in a way that God has only provided 2 possible options for you to vote for when that is not the case. So it can’t be the better of 2 options because there are more options than 2.

  • purisomniapura

    Some are saying voting for Mr. Romney would be a sin of commission. Perhaps not voting at all could be viewed as a sin of omission. Not voting means doing nothing to promote or reestablish justice, but actually further enables the present abuses, contempt & utter disregard of the US constitution to continue.

    Protection of the unborn is of primary urgency to all God fearing Christians; but refraining from voting altogether will only help solidify the damage in this area that’s already been done. Better to support taking slow …even baby steps toward the return of political accountability & adherence to our constitution, than to support full blown unbridled disdain for it.

    Mr. Romney is a far cry from being an ideal candidate & there is much about him not to like, but at the very least, the priority of America’s sustainability & respect for our constitution appear to be on his radar screen. My failing to vote for the lesser evil will more readily secure a continuation of the greater evil & the ground already lost will be permitted to perpetuate from bad to worse …so what is the greater sin for the Christian …to vote or not to vote?

    Perhaps our grandchildren & great grandchildren will be best equipped to judge!

  • Eric

    Has anyone even bothered to look at Romeney’s record?
    They are practically the same.

    I don’t understand the disparity in the thinking (other than FEAR) of the ‘lesser of two evils’ approach. I’ve talked to several Christians I know with that approach and the reasoning defies logic. How, do we, as Christians, a SPIRITUAL PEOPLE, redeemed by Christ, decide in this ONE AREA to be pragmatic, and politically expedient (how can we compartmentalize here when we strive to be principled IN EVERY OTHER AREA OF LIFE AT ALL OTEHR TIMES? Who’s to say Romney (who is just as progressive as Obama ‘yes, look it up’) don’t just believe the rhetoric; won’t just pick up where Obama left off. The record shows the Romney is not conservative, despite the rhetoric.

    I say, well, we could vote for the better candidate (3rd party), they say ‘well we could never get everyone to do that, so I won’t’. I feel like I’m in the matrix and all these people I respect have bought into these totally farcical axioms. Of course you won’t do it, neither will every one else, because they all have that attitude.

    Lack of faith, what it may come down to. Possible? Basing decisions on what I see (or fear in this case), when the one we fear should be GOD ALMIGHTY, and trusting in Him to rule and reign while we do what’s right despite the circumstances.

  • purisomniapura

    John Piper also weighs in on voting for the lesser of two evils ….