“Lesser” or “Never,” but Together: Evangelicals and the American Presidency

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Dr. Daniel Akin, President of SEBTS

Followers of Jesus find themselves in a unique and difficult situation when it comes to this year’s presidential election. Many of us see no qualified candidate for whom to vote. At present, that is my personal conviction and position, something I have been clear about on multiple occasions and through various channels. I cannot, as I currently see things, vote for either of the major party candidates. My conscience will simply not allow it, even as I consider the voting process to be a wonderful blessing and privilege we all have in America.

There are also faithful followers of Christ, many who are close and dear friends of mine, who feel they can (and even must) vote for a “lesser of two evils” candidate. This is because so much is at stake, particularly Supreme Court appointments. I can understand and appreciate and respect their position. This is a very difficult moment for all of us, and we should be both fair and honest about this reality.

The 2016 election is important, but it is too often divisive and open to unhealthy rhetoric. At Southeastern, we want to pursue the loving and civil discourse for which our school has come to be known. We know that brothers and sisters in Christ can hold and express differing positions even as they love and respect one another.

As a picture of this, I have asked two of our ethics professors, Drs. Dan Heimbach and Mark Liederbach, to share their personal positions and approaches to this timely and increasingly crucial question. They are brothers, friends, and colleagues, and they regularly show grace and respect for each other even when they have different perspectives.

Why Evangelicals Should Not Sit Out the 2016 Presidential Election

Dr. Daniel Heimbach, Senior Professor of Christian Ethics at SEBTS

The 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign season has just entered the general election period, and American evangelicals now face the repellent prospect of voting for one of the major party candidates—both of whom we think is terribly flawed and dangerous—or sitting out this election either by not voting or symbolically voting for a write-in we know has no chance. I am writing to explain why I think we must vote for one of the repellent major party candidates, and why I believe sitting it out is not what God desires. All Christians want to be Christ-like and faithful to the Word of God. But we differ sometimes on what that is. I will explain why being like Christ and following his teaching leads me to think we must not sit out this election. But I respect those who love the Word of God and reach other conclusions. The important thing is desiring to honor God and willingness to be corrected by what he says.

 God does not call Christians only to vote for political candidates who reach minimal levels of acceptability. Rather he calls us to be a good influence within real world limits (Jer 29:7), which in our case means voting for a comparatively “better” candidate over a comparatively “worse” one from among those our governing system makes available. Candidates are never sinless and some are positively wicked. But that does not make those voting for an available candidate complicit in his or her flaws.

Dr. Daniel Heimbach

Dr. Daniel Heimbach

Jesus paid taxes supporting the highly immoral Roman government occupying 1st century Judea (Matt 22:15-22). That did not make Jesus complicit in its failings and neither will voting for one of the available candidates in this election, even though both are flawed and dangerous.

I think sitting out this election is a version of the mistake Jesus warned not to make in the parable he told about a field of wheat mixed with tares (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43). In that parable Jesus addressed how Christians should live in present society, and he warned against taking an all-or-nothing approach toward bettering life in common with unbelievers. The field represents mixed society under present world limitations (Matt 13:38). And, while God plans a perfect world to come (Matt 13:41), he does not make Christians responsible for reaching that perfection. Rather, for now, he only wants us to be a good influence while accepting present world limitations that are far from ideal. We are wheat, not tares. But we must accept living in mixed society with them and not weed them out (Matt 13:29-30).

We can strive for better candidates in the future. But in the 2016 Presidential race, that process is over. Our major party candidates are selected, and now all we can do is promote or undermine which is elected. Whether we vote in this election or sit it out, we must realize that whatever we do will affect the outcome. There is no option with no impact at all. Now the only way we have of influencing this election for the better is to assess which candidate is less flawed or dangerous, and then to vote for that candidate. I believe that is what Jesus expects. I believe that is what he would do in our place. And I believe that is the truest and best way to please God in this election.

Why Evangelicals Should Exercise Conscientious Objection in the 2016 Presidential Election

Dr. Mark Liederbach, Dean of Students and Professor of Theology, Ethics and Culture at SEBTS

When it appears neither of the two candidates running for president provides a positive option, questions abound about the proper way for Christian to think about voting.

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Dr. Mark Liederbach

There are some who would make the case that it is better to vote for the “lesser of two evils” candidate. Otherwise the chance to advance an agenda may be lost, or more negatively stated, the opportunity to slow a decline would be wasted.  Such a position is not the same as mere pragmatism, though it is possible to construe it as such. Giving the benefit of the doubt to right-minded Christians taking this position, we should understand that there is a genuine desire to honor the Lord by using the gift of a meaningful vote to promote good or limit evil.

On the other hand, there are those that would make the case (including myself) that there comes a time when a person’s conscience will simply not allow a vote to be cast for either candidate. This position is sometimes critiqued as a form of misguided “perfectionism” in which the voter refusing to choose one of the two leading candidates is afraid of being complicit with evil. Critics will then point out that in a fallen world everything is tainted by evil, thus a demand for such “perfectionism” is not simply unrealistic of any candidate shy of Jesus himself. When taken to its logical extreme, such an argument would make life unlivable.

I beg to differ.

While it can be argued that the “lesser of two evils” choice is sometimes necessary, such a decision assumes that only option A or B has value.  It also assumes that a clear “lesser of evils” can be determined.

But there is a third option, and it would be wrong to describe it as “throwing away a vote.” That third option is called “conscience.”

A choice to follow conscience arises when the two presented options both have such evil positions, platforms and legacies that a voter cannot in good conscience support either one. In that situation the voter can still choose to go to the polls and vote for other offices (Senate, Governor, etc) with a clearer choice, while abstaining from voting for the particular office that offers up wretched candidates (in this case President).  Such a decision can be good and wise because it honors the right and privilege we are granted to participate in our governing process while also having the backbone to say: “The time has come when I cannot face my Lord with a pure heart by voting for either of these candidates.”

In this particular election, one candidate is in the midst of likely corruption and supports an agenda that includes abortion, gender confusion, legalized euthanasia and legalized marijuana. The other has built a life on the back of gambling, pornography, bigotry, divorce, abortion and amassing a fortune by preying on the poor.

These two evils don’t seem to have a clear “lesser.”

One can support a party platform (if the voter thinks one has long-term benefits) by voting for other offices while simultaneously abstaining from voting for one of the two most wretched candidates in history.  There are times when conscientious objection grounded in an ethic of worship is the more responsible choice.  I believe this election cycle is one of those times.

A position that argues “Never Hillary & Never Trump” may not be popular, but it may well be the highest act of worship a Christian can offer.

Conclusion

I am so grateful for these two men and the gift they are to our students. My hope and prayer is that this is a model for all those who live together under the Lordship of King Jesus. We can lovingly and graciously express our views, even when we disagree, and then join hands as we continue about the business of fulfilling the Great Commission until King Jesus returns! In all of this we must remember and never forget: our hope is not and has never been in a president. It is in a King.

  12Comments

  1. David Acker   •  

    Dr Liederbach’s approach will leave us with the “lesser of two evils.” A write-in or no vote at all weakens the voice of Christians and allows those, with little or no values and morals to choose our next 4 years of leadership. The arrogance that says “I will judge you, and determine that my personal standards are above giving you my vote” is borderline unchristian. This type of thinking will give the Whitehouse to the lesser candidate, then how will you “stand before the Lord, with a pure heart,” knowing that you did nothing to stop the worse candidate from taking office?

  2. Ann Stegall   •  

    I respect your views, but just go all night with not voting for anyone for president. Yes, Hillary is evil to be core as is her husband. What she and the Deocrats stand for go against all Christian beliefs. Trump has lived a life that is far from moral, but is not as evil as Hillary’s life.

    So it does come down to “.lesser of two evils.” You have to think about God / Jesus using many as disciples that lived less than perfect lives. People can change. My prayer is that Trump will pick great people to surround him and therefore help our country.

    The Supreme Court nominees are the main reason we need to vote Conservatve for the pr silent.. Trump will prayerfully nominate conservatives to the Supreme Court. If Hillary is elected, she will put more Liberals into the Supreme Court.. That would be a disaster for our country. They will take away constitutional right and probably religious freedoms as well.

    Not voting is unfortunately a vote for Hillary……so please reconsider that option. I respect your wanting to stay true to your conscience, but we aren’t voting for a pastor or deacon, but for a leader of a country that has gone downhill the last 8 years and needs drastic changes with someone that isn’t “.owned” by the lobbyists and their party officials.

    Thank you. ….. Ann

  3. Ann Stegall   •  

    I n Ed to edit a sentence as “auto fill” put in the wrong words. The first sentence should be…. ” I respect your views, but you can’t just “.not vote” for the president this year.”

    Hope this makes better sense.

    Ann

  4. Lewis ONeal   •  

    Thank You!

  5. Skip   •  

    To sit out this election is to give the liberals the next thirty years on the Supreme Court. If Trump does something out of line both Dem’s and Rep’ in congress can and will do their job. If Hillary does something out of line there is no way any Dem in congress will do anything to stop her. A failure to vote is just one less vote Clinton will need to stack the court. We got Obama because evangelicals would not vote for a Mormon.

  6. Pingback: “Lesser” Or “Never,” But Together: Evangelicals And The American Presidency - Called2Action

  7. JohnC   •  

    I can understand both viewpoints. I am struggling in supporting Trump. He isn’t a polished politician so what you see is what you get. Whatever he thinks, it is coming out and I do not like what I hear. Other politicians think the same things but they are pretty good at keeping it silent, unless their email is hacked. At this moment in time I have decided I am going to vote for the Republican platform – which Trump is supposed to represent. That is how I justify my vote. I cannot vote for a political platform that is 100% opposed and at war with my value system. My vote will be cast to cancel out a vote for that very same platform. I cannot stand by and do nothing knowing that they have no problem with their conscience in voting for lawlessness. When the day comes where you can look at all the candidates and honestly say there is no difference, then we all might as well mail it in. When I see that, I am done. In my opinion, we’re not there just yet.

  8. Drew   •  

    Vote for Tom Hoefling!

  9. Jonathan Borland   •  

    Is violation of conscience the ultimate trump card in any Christian ethical debate? Should our God-given conscience ever (or by its very nature can it never?) submit to reason or biblical/theological argumentation?

  10. Stephen Alexander   •  

    Okay, the first thing that really bothers me about all of these “Christian” leaders who are opposed to Trump, where were they when Romney was running for president. Romney is a solid Mormon. Mormons are not Christian, they don’t follow the Jesus of the Bible that Christians follow. Their Jesus was a literal brother of Lucifer, and their father was the God of planet earth. And at the God council when they were working on a plan for the inhabitants of earth they voted to accept Jesus’s plan and not his brother Lucifer’s plan. The great plan for every good Mormon woman is to be eternally pregnant so she can provide souls for her and her husband’s new planet. That is WHO Romney is, and where was all of the Christian objection to voting for him for president?????

    Now we have two candidates, one who has lied to the FBI, lied to Congress, lied to the families of the Bengazi victims to their face, and lied to America. A candidate who believes that a baby has no constitutional rights while in the womb, even after being there for 20 weeks. A candidate who said marriage should only be between a man and a woman and now says gay marriage is acceptable. A candidate that just now state attorney generals (Ohio) are beginning to investigate their family foundations for improper contributions.

    The other candidate according to Dr. James Dobson, is a baby Christian. This candidate does not have a perfect past, which the christian that is writing the post can unfortunately say Amen to. It is obvious to those who are watching closely that something is up with this candidate. He has brought a man of God close to him, in Dr. Ben Carson. And has put together a team of spiritual advisors: Dr. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr, Richard Land, Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, Mark Burns, James Robinson, Ronnie Floyd, Robert Jeffress, David Jeremiah, Jack Graham, James MacDonald, Jay Strack, Michele Bachman, Ralph Reed, A.R. Benard, Robert Morris, Jentzen Franklin, Harry Jackson, Tom Mullins, Johnnie Moore, Sealy Yates, Tom Winters, Tim Clinton, Tony Suarez.

    A personal note here: I am praying that these men and women will have Mr. Trump’s ear, and will speak the words that God gives them and help to disciple Mr. Trump.

    In conclusion, from a Christian perspective this is not a choice of the two evils. We have one candidate that has announced that she is the most progress candidate in history, and promises to unlock the door and let us see just what that means in our nation and in our Supreme Court. And we have another, who is NOT perfect, but it is clear that there is a crack in the rock and God is working on his life. So Christian, which candidate do you think will come closest to working for Christian values????? Seems pretty clear to me.

  11. Wayne Detzler, PhD   •  

    As a former adjunct professor at SEBTS I am especially thankful for this strong and godly response to the tumultuous times in which we live. I have passed it on to followers of my page on Facebook. During earlier years I was a Christian commentator on the BBC in England, and this contribution by the SEBTS faculty is the best I have ever read. Thank you so much.

  12. Dr. Heimbach:
    I have been ( and am still) wrestling with this question since Trump won the nomination. Since you were one of my favorite teachers, I was anxious to read your thoughts. I still have not decided but, I have a question that keeps coming back to my mind: I will never find a candidate that agrees with my positions 100% and, if I wait until I do, I will never vote again. Therefore, just where do I draw the line on “how many” things I disagree with before I refuse to vote”? God used Cyrus and King Artaxerxes to help the Jews. He can also use Trump. Does this mean I’ll vote for him; still haven’t decided but, the Lake of Fire would freeze over before I voted for Hillary! The only consolation I have is that no matter which one becomes President, God is still King.

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