PMW 2020-094 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is the third and final installment on voting for the lesser-of-evils. Please see previous two for context.
The Question of Scripture
In this series I am promoting a Christian worldview rooted in Scripture. But how can we encourage Christians to compromise in their voting while maintaining their worldview? The question of compromise is particularly significant for Christians who are uncompromisingly committed to Scripture. So then, does the question of compromise undermine all the practical arguments brought up by Christian idealists?
This is an important matter to consider — especially in that it frequently arises in Christian political discussions. Does the Bible have anything to say regarding the question of compromise? Actually it does. It allows realistic, principled compromise. Consider the following examples.
The law of God. God’s law prohibited any labor on the Sabbath. For instance in Exodus 35:2–3 we read: “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.” Exodus 34:22 commands cessation of labor even during plowing and harvest times: “You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest.”
Nevertheless, despite these clear prohibitions, Jesus himself taught that there are practical situations in which one may work on the Sabbath: “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him?” (Luke 13:15). “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day? This is not a compromise of God’s Law, but is a practical application of God’s Law in grievous circumstances.
Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview
Ed. by David Hall
No other Christian teachings in the past five hundred years have affected our Western culture as deeply as the worldview of John Calvin. It extends far beyond the theological disciplines.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Jesus’ practice. Christ specifically compromised on a matter so as not to cause offense. As the Son of God he was not required to pay the two-drachma tax. Nevertheless we read in Matthew:
“When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’ When Peter said, ‘From strangers,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are exempt. However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.'” (Matt. 17:24–27)
He could have affirmed his immunity from paying the tax, which would have underscored his claim to his deity. But here he “compromised” on that particular issue and paid the tax — so as not to cause offense.
In fact, consider the following situation. Rome was a pagan nation dominating Israel, and each legion carried an idolatrous Standard (Signums) for their identification. The Jewish historian Josephus was an eyewitness to the destruction the Jewish temple in AD 70. He reported that the Romans “carried their standards into the temple court and, setting them up opposite the eastern gate, there sacrificed to them, and with rousing acclamations hailed Titus as imperator” (Wars 6:6:1). The church father Tertullian (AD 160–220) writes: “The camp religion of the Romans is all through a worship of the standards, a setting the standards above all gods” (Apology 16).
Nevertheless, though Jesus interacted with Roman soldiers he never encouraged them to leave the army (Matt. 8:5–13). Neither did John the Baptist when directly asked by soldiers “what shall we do?” (Luke 3:14).
Jesus employs an illustration in his parabolic teaching that recognizes that we must think in terms of practical solutions and be willing to compromise as we look to larger goals. He taught twin parables on discipleship that employed strategic compromise for securing our ultimate goals.
“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
“Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” (Luke 14:28–31)
In the second parable, the king here planning for battle surely has a desire for victory. Yet as he looks realistically at his prospects he realizes the potential for loss. Consequently, he begins working on a compromise to settle the differences with the opposing king.
Paul’s practice. In Acts 15 the Jerusalem council (which included Paul, Acts 15:12, 22) dealt with the question of circumcision. This issue was divisive and controversial in the early church because of Jewish converts to Christ (Acts 15:1, 5). The council rejected circumcision as necessary for Christians (Acts 15:1, 19, 23–29). It then sent Paul and Barnabas to Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia with the council’s letter stating this.
As Paul was in the very process of delivering the letter from the Jerusalem council (Acts 16:4), he went to Derbe (Acts 16:1) and met up with Timothy. Then we read the remarkable notice that “Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3)!
Of course, Paul was not compromising the principle by declaring that Timothy actually did need circumcision in order to be saved. But he did nevertheless circumcise Timothy — and that for a practical reason: so as not to offend the Jews. And he did so in the very historical context of his delivering a letter from the Jerusalem council declaring that circumcision was unnecessary. A heated context that caused “great dissension and debate” (Acts 15:2), even “much debate” (Acts 15:7).
In fact, Paul even denounced those who demanded circumcision for Christians: “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Gal. 5:2). This was a foundational principle for his doctrine of free grace. Yet not only did he have Timothy circumcised, during that same general time frame he wrote to the Corinthians stating that:
“to the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.” (1 Cor. 9:20–21)
Of course, he never changed his conviction (principle) that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, yet he altered his action for practical (pragmatic) goals: to persuade Jews of the gospel.
Elsewhere Paul derisively refers to circumcision as “mutilation”: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). The word translated “false circumcision” is katatome, which literally means “mutilation.” He is using a play on words: the Jews offer katatome when they practice peritome (“circumcision”).
Paul even forthrightly teaches that “true circumcision” is not of the flesh but of the heart (Rom. 2:28–29; cp. Phil. 3:3). He states that Abraham was “the father of all who believe without being circumcised” (Rom. 4:12). He does not have his associate Titus circumcised (Gal. 2:3). Yet, he has Timothy circumcised.
Likewise, today we do not compromise our conservative principles regarding proper constitutional government. But we sometimes have to alter our action (our vote) for the lesser of evils with a view to maintaining as many constitutional policies and practices as we can.
Our Long-term Strategy
As I have been pointing out, we are in a socio-political struggle for the long run. Therefore, I have been urging that we act accordingly. Like it or not, in politics we cannot expect overnight success through one particular election or by means of a “perfect” candidate. To continually vote for the “perfect” candidate when we know he is going to lose does not help us build for the future, for by that we are ceding more victories to the overt liberals. Liberalism is messy. When its goo gets all over the place, it is very difficult to clean up the mess.
Why should we continually butt our heads against the wall each election cycle? It performs no useful service except for providing a steady drumbeat leading Christians in the march away from long-term influence. But what about those with less grandiose designs who hold that voting for the perfect Christian candidate will at least make “a statement”? More often than not they make the wrong statement: “Let’s lose this one for Jesus.” Their dismal poll numbers can make a statement, but not a very loud one. Sadly, conservative and moderate candidates can split the vote against the dangerous liberal candidate.
Recognizing the necessity of strategic compromise and incremental advance we should be willing to seek smaller political victories in the meantime. And rather than hoping against hope for the perfect presidential candidate to be elected, we will have to accept a tolerable candidate who functions like a finger in the dike effectively buying us more time — and keep us from throwing good money and our political hopes into a losing cause. Change tends to be generational rather than overnight.
We should not expect to change the nation in one fell swoop. Rather we should engage the more manageable work of changing a political party from within. Transforming a political party that is relatively close to several of our positions is easier than trying to change an entire nation that is literally “all over the map.” Like it or not, American government is effectively a two-party system.
If worse comes to worse, we may eventually need to create a new political party from within the established lesser-of-evils party. But this would need to start out on a more local level and build toward higher offices and larger goals in the long run. For instance, today many Christians tend to put too much hope in the presidential election, hoping for the big prize. Turnouts in mid-term elections are generally around 20% small than in presidential elections. We should begin by working locally in small realms rather than trying to leap to the presidency.
Political Issues Made Easy
by Kenneth Gentry
Christian principles applied to practical political issues, including the importance of borders, the biblical warrant for “lesser-of-evils” voting, and more. A manual to help establish a fundamentally biblical approach to politics. Impressively thorough yet concise.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill coined the phrase: “all politics is local.” By that he meant that people tend to vote on matters of local interest and significance. This requires that politicians must recognize the needs of their constituencies. And since this is generally true, it also underscores the significance of learning about local needs by working in lower offices — as training for higher office.
Our nation used to be more acclimated to localism in its early days. Of course, slow transportation and limited communication had much to do with that. Today Christians need to take a greater (not sole) interest in local elections, such as mayoral, city and county councils, county administrators, sheriffs, and so forth. Once we have built success and gained experience in these more local areas, we can move on to state legislatures and governorships. And then to congressional and senatorial office, and on to the presidency. Secure foundations must be laid before a gold dome can be placed on the top.
As conservative, evangelical Christians we are committed to principle at the very core of our being. The doctrinal convictions we hold regarding our holy faith serve as the very foundation for our lives — they are our most basic principles. And as servants of Christ we love and seek the right, just, and good. Consequently, it is difficult for us to compromise since our very lives are rooted in God-given principles.
We do not, of course, compromise our principles themselves. That would make us what we are not. But sometimes we must compromise our methods. In promoting Christian politics in a mixed and antagonistic environment such as we have in America, we must recognize the opposition we face. We must accept as a political principle that we will have to oppose the greater evil by sometimes voting for the lesser good.
In this chapter we have seen how our long term goal for victory must often involve a short term strategy which is painful but necessary. We must recognize the big picture and learn patience in seeking to bring it into proper focus. We saw how even theology and Scripture allow compromise in our methods in seeking the ultimate greater good. Voting the lesser of evils is necessary in a fallen world where all human action is tainted by evil.
I hope you will get out and vote. And I hope you will vote for America, the Constitution, religious freedom, law-and-order, pro-life legislation, a free-market economy, higher minority employment, a defended border, and peace in the Middle East. That is, I hope you will vote for Donald Trump and a Republican Senate. Babies’ lives hang in the balance.