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Matthew Franck—Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Radford University in Virginia, and Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute—argues that “it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.”

For my part, my conscience is more important to me than the outcome of this presidential election. I cannot in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Trump. What matters for me is that I cannot bring myself to intend, to will the victory of either of these ludicrously unacceptable presidential candidates. And that is what a vote for one of them would be—an act of willing that Clinton or Trump be president, carry out her or his stated policy aims, and bring his or her fundamentally bad character to the highest office in the land.

. . .  ”Not making the perfect the enemy of the good” is not the right adage for calculating what to do in our present predicament. Nor is “choose the lesser of two evils” the right way to think. That way of thinking really only works when at least one of the choices is in fact not really evil.

. . . . This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.

You can read the whole thing here, which includes links to pieces that would disagree with his reasoning.

It’s not my place to tell you how to vote. But I do agree with the counsel of Ted Cruz, who told the Republican National Convention (to a chorus of boos) to “vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who[m] you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the constitution.”

Update: Here is a thoughtful response from Rick Garnett, law professor at the University of Notre Dame. An excerpt:

One could reasonably think (and, to be clear, I’m not saying that this is what I think) something like this:  ”Look, candidate X has said all kinds of stupid and offensive things and also proposed stupid, dangerous, and immoral policies.  But, it is not the case that, if candidate X were elected, those policies would become operative because Congress, the courts, the press, the bureaucrats, candidate X’s laziness and ignorance, etc., would prevent or obstruct them, or at least most of them.  Candidate Y, on the other hand, is smart and ideologically motivated, and would enjoy the support of the press and other opinion makers, and so would very likely be able to make operative a number of candidate Y’s stupid, dangerous, and immoral policies.  So, I prefer candidate X, not because I intend that candidate X ‘carry out his or her stated policy aims’ but because I intend to do what I can to prevent candidate Y from carrying out his or her policy aims.”

This is different, I think, from the usual “lesser of two evils” argument, because it is focusing more on the “state of affairs that is likely to come to pass as a result of the election of candidate X or Y” than on the merits of X and Y’s character or proposals.


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19 thoughts on “Voting in the Age of Clinton and Trump”

  1. Cédric says:

    Quoting from the text:
    If “lesser evil” and “objective consequences” are not my guides, it is because the times demand that I reject both
    Trump and Clinton, declining to stain my conscience with a vote for either one of them.

    Who is “the times”? God?

    Could someone explain, Theologically, based on the Gospel, how a “lesser evil” and “objective consequences” vote
    can stain a conscience?

    Isn’t that a Roman 14 issue? (One person’s faith allows them to vote on every election, but another, whose faith is weak, cannot vote if both candidates are bad)?

    If that is a Roman 14 issue, why is the “weak faith” position so often advertised on a Pro-Gospel website?

    1. Cedric,

      Romans 14 is dealing with something that isn’t actually wrong in God’s sight (food, drink, and the like). Franck distinguishes it this way above: “That way of thinking really only works when at least one of the choices is in fact not really evil.” Romans 14 is dealing with something purely conscience and not command. Whereas, unrighteous leadership is actually wrong Biblically. We can and should respect the office, pray for those in office, and strive for peaceful living. But should Christians willfully support by vote (or in any other way) immoral leadership that show no signs of faithfulness to neither God nor the American people? No. The gospel gives great hope in that we are citizens of a greater Kingdom that will never topple. So even if this country is wrecked by the people and/or President, God’s Kingdom will stand strong. And because of this truth, we must not act out of fear (If you don’t vote for Trump, you’re voting for Hilary!) nor should be compromise principle (Trump isn’t as bad as Hilary.).

      Yes, vote your conscience, but we all need to be careful that our conscience hasn’t become seared by fear and compromise. We need to make sure that we are voting in a way that glorifies God. So the question then becomes: Does my support and vote for ____ glorify God?

      I hope that answered your question adequately enough. Grace and Peace!

      1. Luis says:

        Please Bible citation where the New Testamentry believers are commanded to only support godly or Christian leaders? Or prohibition to work with, support or make use of secular non Christian leadership?
        Thank you.

        1. Doug says:

          Luis,

          Roman rulers were vicious, yet Christians were exhorted: “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, HONOR THE EMPEROR. 1 Peter 2:17 —The Emperor btw, that God put in power.

          “Voting” is what trips many of us up. Partially because we’ve let “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” displace Romans 13:1: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

          To his credit, Trump’s emphasis on “law and order” as opposed to “freedom” or “the rights of man,” is much more consistent with God’s purpose for government than that portraid by any other professed Christian candidate.

          1. steve hays says:

            Doug’s comment is confused. In the name of submission to the authorities, he’s insubordinate to our actual form of gov’t.

            When you apply Scripture, you need to apply it to analogous situations.

            God’s purpose for gov’t isn’t law and order but justice. At best, law and order are just means to an end, not an end in themselves. The OT contains many indictments of unjust officials. And most commentators think Revelation is, among other things, a veiled but scathing indictment of Rome.

            In the OT, the monarchy was a constitutional monarchy, not an absolute monarchy. Kings were subject to the terms of the covenant. They could be deposed for noncompliance.

            1. Doug says:

              Steve,
              I would suggest that it is universal suffrage that creates the conundrum of which you mention. Imagine parental oversight contingent on the vote of dependent children. Would this not turn the family upside down? Yet is this not the same situation we find ourselves in as a nation? An organization as relatively simplistic as a pro football team would never leave selection of its head coach to popular vote. Yet we expect the masses to be competent to select an individual to oversee an empire. What has been the result of universal suffrage, but to diminish faith in the Lord as the active Ruler of the nations, and to correspondingly enlarge the imagined control of the individual; it has all but eliminated the role of submission. Given our present system, should it not rather be the case that we expect incompetent leaders? To lend credence to our present political system is to lend credence to social chaos and destruction; it is to promote rebellion against the government of Christ. We need to adjust to the Reality of God’s word, not expect Reality to conform to us.

              1. steve hays says:

                So you’re claiming that autocratic regimes have a better track record?

              2. Doug says:

                Steve,
                I would only claim that prayer is more effectual than voting, since Christ in reality is in control. It is not suffrage that empowers a people.

                You do not have because you do not ask.
                You ask and do not receive,
                Because you ask with wrong motives… James 4:2,3

      2. Merle says:

        Thank you – your response to Cedric is very helpful

    2. Luis says:

      Terrorists behead people following their conscience. That doesn’t mean is smart, right or admirable.

  2. Steve says:

    James, then following your logic, we should never vote for anyone. “No one is righteous, no not one.” “All have sinned and fall short”

  3. Aaron Ginn says:

    What is your purpose in voting? Is it to put the least dangerous person in the most powerful position on earth, or is it make yourself feel good about supporting someone who mirrors your worldview? If it’s the latter, then vote for a third party or write in your candidate of choice. Those people are not going to win the presidency so I fail to see the point. If it’s the former, your only logical choice is Senator Clinton. There is no difference between Clinton and Trump on abortion – both are completely pro-choice. Trump is certainly no Christian; he’s a hedonistic, misogynistic, racist bully. There is literally no good reason to cast a vote for anyone other than Clinton if your intent is to choose a president.

    1. Paul Bruggink says:

      The point of voting for a third party candidate would be that if enough people do, it will at least send a clear message to the Democratic and Republican parties that neither one of them is representing us well.

  4. Doug says:

    We need a consistently Christian political theory of government before we need Christian politicians. Christians currently in politics are about as effective as Christians in the public schools; their presence simply whitewashes the underlying antithetical system. As Christ instructs: “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”

    Systemic transformation is inherent in our mission as disciples of Christ. This is what we should first and foremost pursue. To continue our current emphasis on trying to elect “godly” leaders is as they say “putting lipstick on a pig.” It is to ignore the fundamental problem of antithetical political theory. We need to purge the errors introduced in conjunction with our Constitution, primarily those that led us to jettison our historical practice of politically recognizing Christ as King.

  5. Greg says:

    Every time we vote we are voting for the “lesser of two evils”. All men are sinners and fallen. To say that “these candidates are the worst of all the lesser of two evils, therefore I cannot vote”, is a slippery slope. What is to stop you from using this logic in every election from here on out?

  6. Bruce says:

    Before Mr. Obama I would have sad Mir. Gannett’s “thoughtful response” was correct. I am not a Law Professor. But from what I can see Mr. Obama has done anything he wants to do. Laws be damned. Courts be damned. Congress be damned. He doesn’t care, He does what he wants. Certainly Hillary will do the same. No reason to think the unstable Trump will do the same. The precedent has been set. Neither of these who are voted in will think they are under any authority but their own. Never knowing God has raised them up for His purposes.

    1. Bruce says:

      sorry – No reason to think the unstable Trump will NOT do the same.

      1. Rick Beach says:

        Let’s see:
        1) God Ordains All Things. Eph 1:11
        2) Trump and Clinton are the choices,
        3) God ordained them,
        4) God will control the President whomever it is. Prov. 21:1,
        5) Vote. Trust God.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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