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May Christians Vote for or Support Immoral Candidates or Leaders?

Not every question can be answered by appealing directly to a text of scripture. The Bible has nothing to say about the modern practice of voting. At the time when the Bible was written, the government was either a theocracy, where God ruled in Israel through a hereditary monarchy and priesthood, or God’s people were under totalitarian dictatorships, where they could not choose the leader of the nation. For example, no human being elected Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar to office. The only voting commanded in the New Testament is the choosing of officebearers to serve in the church.

Immorality in an officebearer is cause for suspension and deposition from office. An officebearer must be “blameless” and “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2); he must not be “given to wine,” a “brawler,” or “covetous” (v. 3). The same qualities are required in Titus 1:7. The members of the congregation must seek such men and elect them to office.

Politics is an altogether different sphere. A president, congressman, senator, or other elected official functions very differently from an officebearer in the church. Therefore, such qualities, although desirable in a political candidate, are not decisive. Immorality, while distasteful, is not disqualifying in an elected official, unless the sin is also criminal.

To put it very simply, if a Christian may not vote for an immoral candidate, he may not vote at all, for very few political candidates are moral. Some Christians believe that they should not vote. They are free to opt out of the political process. However, they will still have to live under the leaders elected by their fellow citizens. They will still have to honor them, and they will benefit from or suffer under their legislative decisions. Other Christians cannot in good conscience vote for an immoral person. That is also a matter of Christian liberty. The Bible neither commands that we vote for an immoral candidate, nor does it forbid our doing so. The Christian who decides to vote must not despise his brother who does not vote. The Christian who decides not to vote must not judge his brother who votes. Politics must never be the cause of disunity in the church.

What is an immoral person? How do we know if a person is immoral? According to which standard can we judge a person’s morality? Some look at a candidate’s marriage. Many politicians are divorced and remarried, making them impenitent adulterers. Other politicians marry only once, but they are notorious for their infidelity. Some politicians are devoted parents, as far as we can tell, but they are vociferous advocates for the murder of the unborn (abortion). Some politicians are happily married and faithful in their marriages, but they are idolaters: Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jews, etc. Many politicians are covetous, proud, and power-hungry, hardly Christian traits. In many cases, we simply do not know about a politician’s personal life. Politicians seek to avoid scandals by keeping such details private as much as possible.

Another matter to consider is this: if a politician is personally repulsive, does it really affect me? If a politician commits adultery, he hurts his spouse, children, other family members, and close friends, but does his infidelity concern me? If a politician tells lies—and most, if not all, politicians tell lies—do his lies affect me? If a politician is greedy, covetous, and power-hungry, do those sins affect me in my personal life? We do not tolerate open violation of God’s commandments in the church, and especially in our officebearers, but the church is not called to judge the world. If the president is immoral, Paul’s words are pertinent: “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without [outside the church]? Do not ye judge them that are within [inside the church]? But them that are without God judgeth” (1 Cor. 5:12–13a). If the president were a member of a Reformed church, however, and lived in open immorality, the elders of the church would be duty-bound to discipline him.

We do not look to political leaders for moral leadership, but to fulfill the function of government: to pass legislation that enables the church, as much as possible, to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:2). The function of government is to be “a terror…to the evil” (Rom. 13:3), to punish evildoers, to reward the good (or at least to leave the good alone), to protect the nation from her enemies, and to promote order in society. If a wicked man promotes a policy platform protecting freedom of speech and religion, I would vote for him rather than for a less openly immoral person who promotes a policy platform that would curtail the church’s freedom to preach openly about certain sins.

Another factor is this: what is the significance of my vote? When I choose a candidate, is my vote an endorsement of everything that the candidate represents? Do I, by my vote, express my approval of the candidate’s entire life, behavior, and philosophy? Or is my vote negative rather than positive? In other words, am I voting for Candidate A to prevent the election of Candidate B, whom I view as worse than Candidate A? Perhaps Candidate C has the ideal policy platform, but he is (in my judgment) unelectable. Therefore, I still vote for Candidate A to prevent the worst option, Candidate B. These and other factors come into play when I vote.

My advice, for what it is worth, is to look past the personality and morality/immorality of the candidate running for office, and look at his policy platform and record. If I wanted a tradesman to work in my house, I would not ask about his morality but about his competency. Morality is important, but not the most important factor in the “hiring and firing” process. May the Lord give us wisdom in this area of life too!

 

Originally published November 2020, Vol 79 No 11