Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Yet another Christian has decided to tell you what and for whom to vote for? It seems these days Christians are being battered by pundits telling them what to do with their vote.
Recently, evangelicals have divided over what to do about the possibility of voting for Donald Trump. The responses run the gamut from bending their past statements into a pretzel in order to now endorse the person they railed against before to calls for voting third party in protest.
Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has not said how he’s voting but he hasn’t discouraged those who embrace #nevertrump.
“Some conservative evangelicals will vote for Trump,” Moore conceded. “Many others simply won’t vote, or find a third party candidate or write in someone.”
He said these disappointed voters “believe there is something more than politics: a good conscience.”
This has another evangelical pastor, Carl Gallups, touting the virtues of voting for the lesser of two evils.
“I sincerely appreciate what [Moore] is trying to accomplish, but he’s simply leaving out the harsh realities of our electoral system. . . Christians say, ‘Well, I’m voting for the lesser of two evils’ – well, yes you are,” he admitted. “Yes you are. But you always have and you always will – until Jesus returns. If you don’t vote, or you vote for a third party which will not and cannot win, then you have literally, actually voted for the greater of the two evils.”
Here’s where I disagree. With respect to Pastor Gallups, it isn’t that simple. Voting for the lesser of two weasels isn’t the only ethical choice just because it is the only practical choice. First of all, I thought Christians didn’t decide morality in terms of the end justifies the means. I’ve been taught that all my life. Christians were not Utilitarians. But let’s examine his claim more closely. If you don’t vote or you vote for a third party you are voting for the greater of two weasels.
Pastor Gallups simply doesn’t understand voting. In a national election if everyone who reads this blog didn’t vote, it would not sway an election. I know this a deeply ingrained intuition we have that if we don’t vote it could make the difference in a close race. We’ve been regaled with stories of how elections were decided by one vote. Maybe for city council or in the state senate surely but the presidency? We all saw in 2000 what happens when one state’s electoral vote is close. Lawyers. Lots of them. If the election came down to your vote, a court would decide not you.
If you live in Ohio or Pennsylvania maybe, just maybe, you could swing an election if you know a lot of people or have a really really popular blog. But Pastor Gallups doesn’t say if you are in a swing state vote for the lesser of two weasels. He says, it is your duty to vote for one of these two weasels no matter where you are and if you don’t you are the cause of the greater weasel winning. Nonsense. This is a fantasy of a romantic view of democracy not the realities of a republic.
But if I don’t vote, you say, I won’t have a right to complain. Really? Let me borrow an analogy from Jason Brennan, a professor at Georgetown who writes an excellent book called the The Ethics of Voting. Considering the astonishingly small chance of your vote making a difference, that’s a bit like saying, “If poor people don’t play the lottery, then they have no right to complain about being poor. There is something they can do about it.
You might say, but if enough people follow your advice and don’t vote, we would be in trouble. Yes, if more Christians simply didn’t vote at all, it might sway an election. But notice, that’s not Gallup’s argument. His argument is that if you individually don’t vote you are guilty.
“Voting your conscience in the primary is one thing, but if Hillary Clinton is in the White House on November 9th because millions of Christians did not want to ‘offend their conscience,’ how can they live with themselves? How will they explain how they enabled handing over the nation to policies which perpetuate evil? How can they explain that hypocrisy to their children and grandchildren?”
What about voting third party?
Gallups seems to think all that does is ensure victory for the greater weasel and then says it will be your fault. Actually when it comes to a third party your vote is more likely to make a difference. According to one reading of the electoral map, if likely Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson won just his home state of New Mexico, it could throw the election to the House of Representatives where there is a chance he and his running mate former Massachusetts governor William Weld could emerge as the compromise candidate.
Nonsense you say? Chaos? Unthinkable? Stranger things have happened.
Would that be a good thing? Lots of Republicans have defected to the Libertarian party. Is that a mistake? After all Johnson is pro-choice. He won’t appoint judges that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Yes but he’s also against partial birth abortion and any government funding of abortion. I could make a joke here about the lesser of two evils between abortion and partial birth abortion but I won’t.
How about Gallups claim that voting for a third party would just be a vote for the greater weasel?
I have significant data that says that even if third party voters don’t win (which is likely) they have a big impact not on the election but on the actual governing. When a third party wins a significant number of votes, the victorious party modifies their governing strategy accordingly. A vote for a third party actually sends a message that the people in charge better take our views seriously. Where as voting for the lesser weasel, just sends the message that evangelicals will roll over as long as the other guy is worse.
One thing that bothers me about Gallups argument is that it assumes the only election that matters is this one. Nonsense. Do I think Hillary Clinton can do a lot of damage to Religious freedom in four years? Yes. Do I think she can nominate judges that will turn the Supreme Court so far left that it will make Noam Chomsky blush? Sure. But I also know that Americans like divided government and a strongly conservative congress can hold the tide against either of these two weasels.
What I won’t accept is that if I vote my conscience, I am some how to blame for what befalls America for the next four years. If Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becomes President, I will be able to look my grandchildren in the eye and tell them I didn’t vote for a weasel. So much for pragmatics. How about some moral theology?
Is there a moral case for not voting for the lesser of two weasels? Well consider this musing from Chris Skates at The Resurgent.
Perhaps if Ted Cruz had won, the American church would have fallen back into the trap of assuming that temporary economic prosperity and security from terrorism would have been a solution to the deep seated problems the world faces. As an American Christian I have always felt I was relying on a great God, but in the back of my mind, just a little bit, have I actually been relying on the greatness of America?
Yes. Suppose we get the lesser weasel as Gallups wants. What does this do to Christianity and its uneasy relationship with the Republican party? Over and over in the book of Isaiah a theme emerges that we get the leaders we deserve. God allows the leadership we deserve. If we accept those leaders as the lesser of two evils, do we not accept evil is just the nature of the game? And if that is the case, do we have any reason to rise up against it. If you vote for the lesser of two weasels, are you to blame when they assume you will continue to do so every time? Don’t we perpetuate the idea that all one has to do to win is be less horrible? Would Jesus approve?
I’ll give Skates the final word and then ask you to respond in the comments where we can work out our faith with fear and trembling.
Could it be that God knows full well that we American Christians are being marginalized by a culture that not only rejects our faith but is now openly hostile to us as individuals and that this marginalization will only become more intense under a Trump or a Clinton or a Sanders Presidency? And does he know that it will be then and only then when we will truly let go of what we have been clinging to and fully reach for Him?Ω
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