If Christians, constitutionalists, and conservatives were already concerned about apathy gripping the nation at a time when we need eternal vigilance, I’m guessing a rallying cry of vote for the guy “that will do the least amount of damage” won’t do much to awaken our fellow Americans from their slumber.
But that’s exactly what was printed on an otherwise brilliant handout on Christians and political activism I was given at the recent National Religious Broadcasters Convention. This handout from a respected Christian apologist provided a pithy and principled summary on why people of faith not only need to be involved in civic affairs, but have a moral obligation to be.
I was tracking with him the whole way, until the very end.
That’s when the handout abandons its moral certainty for a moral murkiness that recreates the failed paradigm deconstructed in my new book We Won’t Get Fooled Again: Where the Christian Right Went Wrong and How to Make America Right Again.
At the very end the handout addresses the question of “the lesser of two evils.” It says on one hand since Christians believe “there is none righteous” and “no one is good but God,” we are in essence always practically voting for the lesser of two evils to some extent. I agree with that. But its remedy to this moral dilemma I do not.
To resolve this moral dilemma, the handout suggests voting for the candidate “that will do the least amount of damage.” Ugh. If anything, I think I might actually like “the lesser of two evils” better. At least it’s catchier and has some brand name cache.
But the candidate “that will do the least amount of damage” as an alternative? Can’t you just see every mom telling their daughters to go out there and find the husband/father “that will do the least amount of damage” to spend their lives with? Doesn’t every girl dream of one day marrying the man “that will do the least amount of damage?” Just as every father hopes to one day raise a son into a man “that will do the least amount of damage” I’m sure. How many NFL teams have won Super Bowls by drafting players “that will do the least amount of damage” for their franchise?
I believe the history of Christianity proves that Christians are most effective when advancing a positive premise and not a negative one. For example, we’re better at being “pro-life” than “anti-abortion.” We’re better at being “pro-family” than being “anti-same sex marriage.” And we’re better at grace than judgment (although there is certainly a time and place for both, but we seem more conditioned to advance the judgment without the grace).
Therefore, instead of arguing with ourselves about how much evil we’re allowed to be tainted with and still be considered good, or watering down our standards to find the candidate “that will do the least amount of damage,” why not assert a positive premise instead that takes the responsibility off of us and puts it on the candidate running for the job where it belongs?
Instead of the “lesser of two evils” or the candidate “that will do the least amount of damage,” why not rally people of moral conviction around “doing the most good that we can do?”
People of faith are called to advance righteousness, not regulate evil. When we’re doing the former and rejecting the latter we not only maintain our integrity – which is vitally important for any movement claiming to stand for virtue and objective truth – but also strategically positioning ourselves to engage in a principled incrementalism. The kind of incrementalism that has us persevering in the race set before us as we strive towards the ultimate goal of a more prosperous and virtuous society, as opposed to describing a win as losing by less than we had previously planned as we’ve been doing for a generation.
Too many people of faith tilt at windmills and believe they’re going to get back everything we’ve lost all at once by electing a heaven-born president the way the ancient Israelites once petitioned God for a king. And too many people of faith believe there’s no avoiding the iceberg straight ahead, so let’s just keep re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Respectfully, I disagree with both.
I no more believe God only works through the theologically precise then I do God no longer performs miracles. Some of my brethren self-righteously believe unless someone is perfect on every issue they can’t vote for them, without first asking themselves if they’re so sure of their own perfection. When they’re lying on a bed in the ER suffering a heart-attack, do they stop and demand the cardiologist on staff be a young earth creationist or five-point Calvinist before he treats them? Or are they more concerned with a cardiologist that can stop their heart from stopping?
Meanwhile, others among us are so eager to win for the sake of winning they’re so willing to water down what they believe to the point that a win is really no win at all. Some of these people act as if they’ll give an account of their life in eternity to the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and not their Creator. When they say grace around the dinner table they thank John Boehner for the food.
Both cases are childlike, either/or thinking. When we were children we thought, spoke, and reasoned as children. When we became adults we were called to set aside such childish things.
The world, and the people within it, is too complex to evaluate as such simpletons. The responsibility of self-government calls for more discernment than that. We need to judge others consistent with how we would like to be judged and how the God they swear their oath of office to will judge them. We need to vet them in the full context of their lives as a whole. Not just isolated moments we may agree or disagree with.
Granted, there are non-negotiables we can never compromise or excuse others for doing so regardless of the circumstances, and any wife or husband will tell you that one moment of unfaithfulness can undo a life of integrity. But at the same time we can’t act as if we don’t actually want candidates to change for the better if they want to.
A recent story I saw on television about the annual rating of automobiles illustrates the point I’m trying to make perfectly. The company based its ranking on vehicles by which ones were “the most reliable,” not the ones “that will do the least of damage” or are “the lesser of two evils.” Toyota was the only company to have two of the top five brands on the most reliable list, and I’m guessing Toyota would rather promote the idea they’re “the most reliable” as opposed to spending millions on television commercials celebrating their cars as “the one that will do the least amount of damage.”
If you were fighting for America to return to the principles and virtues that made her the greatest country on earth, wouldn’t you rather do the same?