Voting and the Ethical Quadrant

By Phillip G. Kayser · 2016-10-11

A lot of debate at election time gets bogged down in talking past one another on issues such as pragmatism, consequentialism, the lesser of two evils (pro and con), whether the Bible even applies to voting and politics. This introductory article cannot address everything related to godly voting under Christ, but it will hopefully establish the key issues that need to be debated for the ethics of voting. To clear up potential misunderstanding and misuse of terms, I recommend this article by Doug Wilson. It is an attempt to bring clarity to these debates by helping us to avoid logical fallacies. But since that article does not address what the Bible says about such things, I hope to add to the discussion by discussing four critical areas involved in all ethical decisions, including the ethics of voting.

Bahnsen points out that ethics is incomplete if we do not apply the authority of the Bible to all four areas of ethics on any given question. He labels the four areas of ethics as Deontology, Situationalism, Existentialism (I prefer the label “Personalism”), and Teleology. Deontology deals with laws or rules (unfortunately, this is the only thing that many people deal with when discussing the lawfulness of voting for a candidate). Situationalism deals with the unique circumstances of the situation such as the candidates available, the two party system, our time in history, the presence of the demonic, etc.). Personalism deals with what is unique about the individual in question, including his age, party, spiritual state, disabilities, gifts, knowledge, background, etc. – all of which Scripture addresses). Teleology deals with the future trajectory (goals, timeline, outcomes of voting, future opportunity costs, God’s pleasure or judgment, etc.).

Christians tend to park on one or the other of these four parts of the quadrant in their discussion of politics, which makes for a truncated ethical decision. We must examine how the Bible informs all four of those areas: Why does the Bible reject some political candidates as being utterly unacceptable, yet it accepts “good” kings who were compromised and who refused to take down the high places in Israel? Does the Bible have a set of ideal standards and minimal standards that are far lower than the ideal? Does it consider the situation, the end result, and the heart of the individual? I believe it does.

Let me illustrate how the Bible addresses all four parts of the ethical quadrant using the issue of communication. The Bible says that our communication must conform to Biblical rules (“a word fitly spoken”), must fit the right situation (“in due season”), must have a proper motive (“speaking the truth in love”), and must have a godly goal (“for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers”). This could be diagrammed this way:

Let’s use this diagram to demonstrate that a person may still be in sin even when a norm (a formula) is being followed. Proverbs 27:14 says, “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him.” We are commanded in Scripture to bless one another (Deontology), but if we do it with a motive of irritating (the Bible’s principles of Personalism being ignored) and with a grating voice at 3 am (the Bible’s principles of Situationalism being ignored), then it involves us in sin. What is ordinarily a blessing is turned into a curse because of lack of sensitivity to those two parts of ethics.

Second illustration: Proverbs 21:27 says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more so when he brings it with wicked intent!” Sacrifices are good, but when we have just murdered a person, God won’t accept it because evil Personalism has spoiled it. When the goal (Teleology) for our worship is simply to make ourselves look good to the neighbors, it adds to our guilt.

Let's apply this to politics. I believe that God rejected some political candidates and expected His people to reject them (Psalm 2 with Acts 4; Saul; early Manasseh; etc.). Yet God was not perfectionistic in His evaluation of who qualified. There were other imperfect candidates whom God accepted (David; Asa – 1 Kings 15:14; the repentant but still imperfect Manasseh – 2 Chron. 33:12-17; etc.). When we examine the details of why God accepted or rejected those imperfect candidates, we find factors in one or more of the four parts of the ethical quadrant that were either present or absent. Imperfect but good kings were heading in the right direction on all four parts of the ethical quadrant. I think it would be fruitful to dig into the kinds of specific issues that make God reject or approve of political candidates. In this introductory essay I will barely skim the surface in applying the four parts of ethics to our current election.

Deontology

I can’t vote for Clinton, Trump, or Johnson based on Deontology because all three candidates are missing some of the minimum qualifications laid out in 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 2; etc. Those Scriptures are not laying out God’s ideal qualifications for a ruler (which constitute a much more extensive list). Rather, they are laying out the minimum qualifications. When God says, “he who rules over men must be…” something, He is drawing a line in the sand. Those candidates that do not meet these minimum qualifications are treated by God as “thorns” which must be “thrust away” (2 Sam. 23:6). (For more on this, see the note on Personalism below. Also see my lecture, “We Should Never Edit God” at Governing God’s Way. It deals extensively with deontology as it applies to both the candidate and the voter.) To embrace candidates whom God has "thrust away" is to fight against God and to be unfaithful to our office of voter.

Teleology

I can’t vote for Clinton, Trump, or Johnson based Teleology either. Kevin Swanson rightly cautions us with the phrase, “Direction, not perfection.” This phrase is a great summary of one facet of Biblical teleology in a candidate's life. For example, when wicked Manasseh (a king whom God had previously rejected – 2 Chron. 33:1-11) repented and started heading in the right direction (2 Chron. 33:2 Chron. 33:12-17), his trajectory made him qualified to be king in God's sight. He wasn’t perfect, but his passion was now to live out God’s law in the political realm. Some might think that this is the case with Trump’s repentance. However, Scripture calls for more than words – it calls us to bring forth the fruits of repentance. Trump’s current positions on abortion (exceptions of rape, incest, health of mother), homosexuality, big government intrusion, etc. do not convince me. It seems that though Trump and Johnson want to reverse some of the evils that Democrats have put in place, the direction of their lives is not toward God’s sovereignty over politics, but away from it.

Of course, Biblical teleology is more than simply ascertaining what God would say about the qualification of a candidate. It is also asking questions about God's requirements for me as a voter. Am I qualified to vote? (The Bible does set age and gender qualifications for voters. See my essay "Universal Sufferage: A History and Analysis of Voting in the Church and Society".)

What is my purpose in voting if I am to do all to the glory of God? Is winning the only legitimate measurement for voting? If I am compromising any parts of the quadrant of ethics in my political office of voting, then I can hardly expect God’s blessing upon me. Can I honestly criticize a candidate for being unconstitutional when I voted for him knowing full well that he would violate the constitution as soon as he came to office? I think not. I have exercised my officer of voter just as unconstitutionally as the Congressman that I have voted for. To vote for someone whom I know will perjure himself with regard to his oath of office is hardly a vote that is consistent with a prophetic voice against the evils of civil government. God calls us to fear Him more than national disaster. After all, He is the one who will bring the national disaster, and the history of the Bible shows that He brings national disaster upon both “liberal” rebels like the morally reprehensible Caligula (Rev. 6:3-4) and “conservative” rebels like much-acclaimed Caesar Claudius (Rev. 6:5-6). If God is opposed to a candidate, we should be too as His representatives. Every dimension of teleology should be considered, not just the outcome that would do less immediate damage.

Situation

Some might say that our situation (a secular government, a post-Christian citizenry, a two-party system) demands that I vote for the lesser of two evils among the two leading parties. I have already shown that there is a legitimate lesser of two evils among “good kings,” but not when it comes to choosing between two “bad kings.” But the Bible addresses many other factors in the situation that are often ignored. For example, the demonic: while a believer cannot be touched by Satan if he "guards himself" (1 John 5:18), the “whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). If king David could be swayed by Satan to number Israel (1 Chron. 21:1), how much more so an unbeliever? Jesus told the political rulers of His day, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do” (1 John 8:44).

Secular conservative politicians are powerless against corruption in DC because they are powerless against being swayed by demons. This is just one of many situational issues that the Scripture addresses. The situation must never be allowed to trump what the Bible says about the other three parts of the quadrant of ethics. Our goal in all four parts of the quadrant is to please God, not simply to win elections. For detailed answers for objections to getting involved in politics unless we can win, see “Should Christians Be Involved in Politics?” at Governing God’s Way.

Personalism

2 Samuel 23 and Psalm 2 both seem to insist that a ruler must be a Christian who at least tries to rule in the fear of God and consistent with God’s standards for justice. Are any of the top three presidential candidates Christians that serve in the fear God? It appears not to be the case. Psalm 2 insists that rulers in the New Covenant (see Psalm 2 applied to a Roman ruler in Acts 4:23-31) must not be overthrowing God’s laws (vv. 1-3), must be willing to be instructed by God’s word (v. 10), must serve the Lord with fear (v. 11), must kiss the Son (loyalty to Christ over party – v. 12), and must have faith (v. 12). These are not the ideal qualifications for a candidate, which can be found here.

Rather, these are the minimum qualifications that will keep a candidate from being rejected and destroyed by God (Ps. 2:4,5,9,12; 2 Sam. 23:6-7). But none of the three major candidates meet these minimum qualifications.

Obviously, each of these four points of the quadrant of ethics could be debated, and should be debated. I have given this introduction to welcome such debate and help us to become equipped to tear down strongholds and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God in politics. Christians must stop thinking like secularists and begin thinking with renewed minds.


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