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October 20, 2020

The Definitive Examination of Morality, Voting and Sin

By Anthony Wade

Is voting a moral exercise? A sinful one? Does judgment hang in the balance?


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As we head closer to the election we see the NAR Christo-political operatives getting more and more desperate. Today instead of responding to another droning dominionist nonsensical article I came across one that appears to be written with good intent. Jonathan Leeman is an elder at a Baptist church in Maryland and he wrote the above linked article which made its way into my inbox this morning. Perhaps we can find some points of agreement along the way but I am afraid that his premise of mixing morality with voting is fundamentally flawed. Even with good intentions, the dominionist influence within well intended churches cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, we will proceed in the hope of having a civil discourse, even if it I might be in disagreement. For the record, Mr. Leeman was kind enough to provide a short version of this article, which is the one I have chosen to address for consideration of your time. Let us reason once more together.

"In this article I'm not going to tell you how to vote in the next election. I'm not going to tell you what makes for a good or wise vote. I'm even not going to offer my full moral evaluation of the upcoming 2020 elections in the United States. Rather, my goal is merely to offer nine principles that will help you determine for yourself whether a given vote is morally better or worse or at least morally permissible. God has given you the Bible and pastors like me to offer you principles. Yet he has also given you a conscience and created you to make these kinds of moral judgments. Further, I think I would be pastorally overstepping were I to tell you how I think you positively should vote, assuming there is more than one permissible option (which includes not voting, voting for a third party, writing in a candidate, or even civil disobedience if you live in a country with compulsory voting). At most, I think a pastor can, from time to time, warn you against paths you should not take. Seldom if ever should he tell you which path you should take, assuming that doing so closes down other morally permissible paths." - Jonathan Leeman

Now, with all due respect, the only reason why an article such as this is undertaken is the writer has a side he believes lines up more with Christian faith and the purpose of the writing is to convince other Christians. This is a direct result of NAR teachings on dominionism which have infiltrated the America church. The worship of this country is in fact the last idol of the church age in my opinion and the zeal for this idol blinds even the most well intended. His initial premise here of differing between morally better or worse is an interesting twist on the lesser of two evils argument. By couching it this way the writer avoids the messy issue of voting for evil, no matter how "lesser" we have deemed it to be. It cannot be avoided however. Both parties are evil. Both candidates are evil. This is the fallen nature of man, no? Either way, let's progress onto his nine principles which he describes as building cumulatively, with the first being most foundational and the ninth incorporating everything.

1. Your vote bears moral weight by virtue of a chain of causation. When you vote in a democratic system, you're actually participating in the role of the "governing authorities" that Paul and Peter describe. Your job is to align your objectives with the purposes which God gives to the government in Scriptures, such as "punish[ing] those who do evil and praise[ing] those who do good" (1 Peter 2:13-14; see also, Gen. 9:5-6; Rom. 13:1-7; etc.). Therefore, your vote requires you to make a moral evaluation about what's good and what's evil, or wise and unwise (see Prov. 8:15-16), and then to act on behalf of your evaluation. You are morally responsible for this evaluation and act of judgment. Suppose then candidate Jack says he believes in positions a, b, c, d, and e, while candidate Jill supports issues l, m, n, o, and p. When I cast a ballot for Jack, I am giving Jack the agency--that is, the power or ability--he needs for turning a, b, c, d, and e into law over and against l, m, n, o, and p. If Jack is elected and succeeds in writing a, b, c, d, and e into law, I become morally culpable for those laws, at least in some measure, by the simple formula of cause and effect with my vote as the first cause. Our votes create the requisite agency. We're handing Jack or Jill the sword of state." - Jonathan Leeman

This is simply extra-biblical. Yes God does outline for us government and its purpose. That is it. It offers no such intricate "aligning of objectives" in scripture whatsoever. According to this logic, God outlines what He would like government to do but leaves the assurance of this up to us. That is the core of NAR theology. God does not need our help beloved. He will bring to pass His will with either President Trump or President Biden. The problem with his analogy here is that no one candidate or party lines up with God, none. Not to mention that Leeman advocates voting for "positions" as opposed to people. The problem there is that most politicians, regardless of party, campaign promising the world and then never deliver on those promises. The notion that the individual voter becomes morally culpable for laws that are passed is RIDICULOUS. What if you voted for President A and Senator B. Now, B does not get elected and his spot votes for a morally repugnant law, which President A signs into law. According to Leeman's logic I voted for the right Senator but the wrong president. Is that half a sin? This is absurd. When we stand before Christ we are culpable for what we do, not what others do. They answer for their sins. Here is an example that might be less nebulous. Leeman is not so secretly advocating for voting for the Republican Party, as do all Christians who are over involved politically. His number one issue, as with all political Christians, is abortion. Yet the Roe vs. Wade decision was given to us by a Republican Supreme Court and it was reaffirmed by a different Republican Supreme Court decades later. According to Leeman's logic, anyone who voted for those presidents, that nominated those justices, is now morally culpable. God help us all if our judgment is based upon what other people do versus what they promised.

"2. With regard to what a vote does, your motives don't matter (but see point 8). Suppose you believe issue e is wicked, yet vote for Jack because you really care about a, b, c, and d. Still, you cannot discount what your vote does. It gives Jack agency to pursue a, b, c, d, and e, and you remain morally responsible for that. There's no way to absolve yourself of moral responsibility for the one thing you don't like and to keep it for the four things you do like. Voting ballots are dumb. They cannot discern your motives. The moral chain of causation remains. Recall, furthermore, that Scripture acknowledges a category for "unintentional sin" (Lev. 4)." - Jonathan Leeman

First of all, the section regarding unintentional sins no longer are in place because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Unintentional sin however is still about things you do, not things other people do. Leeman keeps making this illogical leap that says we gain a transference of other people's sins based upon casting a vote. If that was truly the case, no Christian should ever vote. Let me guess, that's a sin too? Please. Let me put this chain of causation nonsense to rest. In 2000, George W. Bush ran as a pro-life candidate, even though his history was pro-choice. Christians everywhere demanded a vote for Bush because of this issue alone. We will call that issue E. Bush also ran on impoverishing tax cuts for the rich and eventually would get us into the Iraq War on fake intelligence, for the sole purpose of greed and money. Bush had complete control of both houses of Congress for two years yet they never brought up abortion. Not even once. He ran again in 2004 as a pro-life candidate and the church was positively giddy to vote for him again. Of course, abortion never came up again. So according to the Leeman logic, we become guilty of the impoverishing the poor, a very important subject to God, because we gave Bush the sword of the state. We also are guilty of the unintentional sin of the Iraq War including the millions of people who died because of it. Oh, and what about issue E? You remember, the only reason why we voted for Bush? Yeah, we never even got that. Our vote does not convey sin upon us beloved and thank God for that.

"3. There's a distinction between morally permissible laws and immoral laws which is crucial to our moral evaluations. Some laws or actions promised by a candidate, in and of themselves, are morally permissible, even if they eventually prove to have unjust outcomes. For instance, think of laws establishing the tax rate at x percent, or to establish an immigration quota at y people per year, or to incarcerate a person for z years for possessing an illegal drug. Other laws, by their very nature, are always unjust (see Is. 10:1-2). So it is, for instance, with laws establishing race-based slavery, segregation, or discriminatory mortgage-lending practices. And so it is with laws establishing abortion. Our posture toward morally permissible laws with bad or unjust outcomes should be different than our posture toward morally unjust laws. With morally permissible laws, we can talk about "reducing the bad outcomes," even while continuing to affirm the moral permissibility of a law. Not so with inherently unjust laws. The goal with unjust laws must be to overturn them, plain and simple, lest our ongoing support affirm what's inherently unjust (see Rom. 1:32). What sense would it make to support a pro-slavery senator while seeking to reduce the number of slaves? Now, realpolitik considerations sometimes involve compromises. Half a loaf is better than no loaf, they say. Still, even as we accept halfway measures for the sake of reducing bad outcomes, our overall goal and strategy must remain overturning the unjust law." - Jonathan Leeman

So we come to it. The same issue that seemingly every political Christian operates off of. I am unsure why it is being compared to discriminatory mortgage practices but that aside, sin is sin. Leeman is trying to create an area for super sins such a slavery and abortion but let's examine his referenced immigration quotas. So if immigration is a minor issue, what about when the powers we elect use immigration for their own personal prejudices and separate mothers from their children? Do you honestly think this is a minor issue to God? Why are we not guilty of that unintentional thingy? His tortured logic on abortion is betrayed by the truth that even if he got his dream of overturning Roe, that does not end abortion. It merely returns it to the states. It ensures that any woman living in Missouri will have to travel to another state to get an abortion. What however did you also get with positions A, B, C and D just to achieve E?

"4. The character of a candidate matters by the same chain of moral causation described in point 1. Does the character of a candidate matter to the ethical significance of a vote? Yes, and it does by the same chain of moral causation described above, only now culpability transfers not through issues like a, b, c, d, and e, but through the person him or herself. If I choose a babysitter for my children whom I know has poor character, or a landlord for the apartment building I own whom I know has poor character, or a treasurer for my church whom I know has poor character, I become at least partially complicit in any bad decisions each of these individuals make. Jesus tells us that, "Every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit" (Matt. 7:17). If I knowingly plant a bad tree in my garden, is just the tree then responsible for the basket of bad fruit which my children carry inside? Am I not responsible, too? A leader's character and behavior teaches and even authorizes what's morally acceptable within that leader's domain. Suppose a baseball coach has a pattern of telling racist jokes. By doing so, he's teaching his players that racist jokes are acceptable. In a sense, he's even authorizing them to sit in the dugout and make such jokes among each other. He's creating some space in their conscience for such activity, even if other authorities in their lives condemn racist jokes. In other words, character has a very real and tangible effect on a body politic that's analogous to passing a law. It's like the passing of an informal and unspoken law supporting those things, which people will notice and follow (see 1 Tim. 4:16). A leader's life is powerful. Suppose then you knowingly hire this baseball coach who makes racist jokes. Do you not risk becoming at least somewhat complicit in his racism? If so, might not the same principle apply to voting for a dishonest and unvirtuous candidate?" - Jonathan Leeman

Here is the rub. How do we know who we are dealing with is morally acceptable? Let's travel back to the 1990's when the Clinton scandal was at its height. The only thing that mattered for Christians in those days was moral character and Bill Clinton had none. The three loudest voices on the Republican side were Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston and Dennis Hastert. You could not turn on the TV without one of these three amigos standing at a microphone admonishing us all on how important morality was in our elected leaders. Fast forward ten years and hindsight provides us with delicious ironies and hypocrisies. It seems at the very time they were railing against Clinton, they themselves were morally repugnant. Gingrich was secretly having his own affair with a woman half his age who he would leave his wife for. Livingston had so many affairs his own party made him resign, oh and Dennis Hastert? Guilty of molesting little boys. None are righteous Jonathan. All have turned away. It is interesting however that Leeman says it is important to not vote for morally suspect candidates but clearly he wants you to vote for the least moral candidate in history in Donald Trump. That is the power of the dream of overturning Roe has on the NAR church today.

"5. Saying "But Democracy!" doesn't sanctify your vote. People say, surely there's always a morally righteous choice. That's true, but the Bible never guarantees one of the two major candidates in an American election is a righteous choice. Maybe the righteous choice is not voting or writing in a candidate (see principle 7 below). Let's make sure we're not sacralizing democracy." - Jonathan Leeman

Absolutely. I would take it a step further and say there is never a righteous choice. The best we can ever hope for is a lesser of two evils choice.

"6. There are a number of rocks on the scale, but some rocks are heavier than others. Two principles are bound up in this point, and we need to pay attention to both simultaneously. On the one hand, a just government must attend to a multitude of issues--the economy, foreign policy, national defense, criminal justice, healthcare, various social issues, and more. There are a number of rocks on the moral scales that Lady Justice must weigh. On the other hand, some rocks are heavier than others (Matt. 23:23). They're more morally significant. Thinking ethically about voting means accounting for more than one rock, but it also means acknowledging that some rocks are heavier than others. A related point here concerns the question of "one-issue voting." Can one issue disqualify a candidate? Hopefully every Christian would say that a pro-stealing, or pro-pedophilia, or pro-slavery candidate is disqualified, no matter how good he or she is on other issues. I wish everyone would arrive at this conclusion on abortion. Also, can bad character disqualify a candidate, potentially outweighing the other rocks on the scale? If what we said above is true--that bad authorizes and creates moral space for immoral activity--it's hard to see how bad character cannot disqualify someone. Imagine how radically the political landscape would change if every Christian in the United States embraced the last two paragraphs. Some will call this idealism, which might be a fair critique if "idealism" means acting on principles, not outcomes. That, too, is something you must weigh: pure principles vs. realistic outcomes. My recommendation is to weigh these things preparing yourself for the Lord's final judgment." - Jonathan Leeman

This is not idealism. It is the primary tenet of the NAR dominionism. They present the issue of abortion as the only deal breaker out there. Never mind that a president cannot end Roe - only the Supreme Court can and we already saw that it was Republican Supreme Courts that gave us and reaffirmed Roe. We also saw from Bush that what we hear as a promise does not always end up with what happens in reality. What is absolutely reprehensible here however is the assertion that how we vote will determine somehow our final judgment. Listen to me very carefully - it will not. According to the Leeman principles one could have voted for every pro-choice candidate while alive and they get into heaven. That includes Nixon. That includes all of the Republican appointed Supremes who gave us Roe. That includes Hastert, Gingrich and Livingston. That includes the million dead at the hands of Bush and the other dead from his father's Iraq War. That includes all of the Republican roll backs of regulation that lead to the destruction of God's creation. That includes all of the poor people who were further impoverished while the rich got bloated and richer. That includes voting for a thrice married, thrice unfaithful, grab the woman by their genitals president who likes to buy off porn stars he slept with. That includes voting for a Mormon in 2012. Oh, and how has it gone to advocate for all of that in exchange for their promises of ending Roe? We can play this game all day long. Bottom line is when we stand for judgment, we will only answer for our lives and once again, thank God for that.

7. Is it morally permissible to not vote or to vote for a candidate that is certain to lose? It depends. Ordinarily, I believe it's morally better to vote than not to vote. God has given us a stewardship with the blessing of a vote, and we don't want to be like the servant who buried his talent in the ground. Why should we vote? For the sake of love of neighbor and justice. That said, nowhere does the Bible say a person must pursue love and justice by voting. Therefore, if a person is convinced in his conscience that he'd be sinning by voting for Jack and Jill both, I would say he shouldn't vote for either, so long as he is fully convinced in his mind (see Rom. 14:5). Perhaps slightly better than abstaining from voting is to vote for a candidate that one's conscience can accept, even if that candidate is certain to lose, because you're still participating in the election process and formally registering what you believe is right and just." - Jonathan Leeman

This is what I mean by the influence of NAR theology within the church today. I am still assuming the best of intent from Mr. Leeman but the notion that God has blessed us with the vote or given us stewardship over the government is simply untrue. It is however exactly how every seven mountain dominionist thinks. The usage of the parable of the talents is equally noxious. In that parable the three servants do not vote. They invest what has been entrusted to them for the sake of their Master. If you want to make an argument that this means what we do for the kingdom fine, but a secular vote to see who leads a carnal nation has nothing to do with the kingdom. Just look at the parade of false teachers the current president surrounds himself with! Do you think it is a good thing that his spiritual advisor is Paula White? Even if we allow the tortured argument that our vote is for loving our neighbor, the choice is still between two unbelievers who do not care one whit about the cause of Christ. Leeman seems to realize the silliness of this argument as he tries to split the bill but I am not buying it. Then he reduces all decisions that might be sinful to how we feel about it? Seriously? Just as long as we are convinced that our choice is somehow righteous? We already know it cannot be!

8. With regard to church membership, your motives matter. Moral evaluation among Christians operates in two gears. Gear 1: our determination of right and wrong. Gear 2: our determination of wrongs that, apart from repentance, require excommunication or removal from membership in the church. What's key here is that not every moral evaluation in Gear 1 will downshift into Gear 2. You might be personally convicted that a certain vote is probably sin (Gear 1), but for any number of reasons decide that it's not a sin for which you would recommend excommunication. For instance, I believe it's ordinarily a sin to vote for a pro-choice candidate, by virtue of principles 1, 2, and 6 above (Gear 1). Furthermore, if someone was voting for the pro-choice candidate because of his or her support for abortion, I would probably recommend excommunication (Gear 2). Christians absolutely must not support abortion. Suppose, however, a fellow church member told you she was voting for the pro-choice candidate in spite of the candidate's view on abortion. She hates abortion, yet she says she's unconvinced the pro-life party is actually pro-life. She cares about other issues, too, and she sees other strategic considerations in play (see principle 9 below). I would still affirm my own conviction that she was probably sinning for her support of that candidate (as an unintentional instance of Romans 1:32), and I would want to persuade her otherwise. But I would still affirm my willingness to come to the Lord's Table with her. In short, a fellow Christian's motives do make a difference, at least in terms of how I would relate to someone as a fellow Christian. And here the difference between because of and in spite of is meaningful. Does this mean Christians should accept any potential vote so long as the person says they're voting for a candidate in spite of the evil aims of the candidate? No. When the occasion comes that a party exists almost exclusively for the purpose of wickedness, when a particular evil becomes an entity's raison d'etre, then at that point churches should consider excommunication for party membership or support. For instance, it's difficult to know how someone could vote for the KKK in spite of its racism and not because of its racism. The KKK exists expressly for the purpose of racism. To be sure, there's no mathematically precise way to determine when that moment for a major party comes. For the Nazi Party, that moment arguably came in 1934 with the Barmen Declaration. Yet every instance involves a judgment call, and every church, as led by its elders, needs to ask the Lord for wisdom, moral clarity, and courage to make that judgment." - Jonathan Leeman

Wow. I was hoping we could get to the end with the only offensive part being the notion that we will stand in judgment for our vote but excommunication? Wow again. We have already reviewed why this NAR type thinking is so wrong. According to Jonathan Leeman a Christian should never vote for a pro-choice candidate. He considers it a sin to do so. That means you are hell bound unless you vote for his candidates. His pro-life candidates, which we all must admit are in the Republican Party. So he thinks that there are no moral issues in voting for a member of Satanic cult like Mitt Romney, because after all he is pro-life. Once again, the man who sleeps with porn stars, grabs women by their genitals, divorces two wives, cheats on three, multiple bankruptcies, overtly racist, and thinks he has nothing to ask God for forgiveness for? He's ok because he pretends to be pro-life? If I were to ask which candidate was most likely to have paid for an abortion in their lifetime I am pretty sure we all would guess the same one. Millions of dead Bush? He is ok because he swore he was pro-life, right? People voted for Dennis Hastert for decades while he was molesting little boys but hey, at least he says he is pro-life right? Are we sensing the point of the idiocy of voting solely on a topic that is merely a promise and an unfulfilled one for decades? Now, I would not hold you in judgment or consider excommunication for all of these sins listed for the people you may have voted for but Leeman actually believes in that as well as an eternity in heaven based upon voting for something that never came to pass. Sorry, that is unbelievably wrong bordering on idolatry.

"9. In the final analysis, ethically evaluating our votes involves both moral principles and strategic calculations. We need to view any given vote within the larger and highly elaborate game of democratic governance. A game, of course, consists of several periods and many moves. Plus, you don't judge the success or failure of a game by any one period or move. You judge each move by how it contributes to the outcome of the whole game. And the game of politics transpires over multiple election cycles. If the first principle above laid the foundation upon which the rest of the principles built, this last principle is the earthquake that shakes the building and makes the whole structure of our moral evaluation look a little less sturdy. For instance, suppose a friend tells you he intends to vote for candidate Jack who supports something you both believe is wrong. Yet due to a host of realpolitik considerations, he believes voting for Jack is a better long-term strategy for your shared cause. It's hypothetically possible he's right, though you seriously doubt it. How then do we morally evaluate his action? You might still warn him he's probably sinning in his vote, but also affirm that you're not ready to break fellowship with him because he's seeking a good end. What's crucial, however, is that his overall goal must be to overturn the intrinsically unjust law, as in principle 3 above. He cannot wave off the injustice and say, "Well, it's never going to change. I might as well focus on other things." His heart would need to cry out against the injustice. In short, a smidgeon of flexibility might be permitted only at the tactical level, not at the level of what his heart and actions must be set against." - Jonathan Leeman

Yeah, no. Can you seriously imagine standing before Christ and hearing, "well I would love to let you in but Clinton in 96? C'mon!" The notion that your vote contains the possibility for sin is ridiculous and dangerous. If true, all Christians should simply abstain from voting, period. No sense taking the chance of the unintentional sin that was mentioned once in Leviticus and meant for the nation of Israel. I will close with my favorite analogy for these matters. This country, this world, is the Titanic. It has already struck the iceberg and I have seen how the movie ends. Trust me, the ship is going down. You cannot revive the ship. You cannot hope and pray the ship behaves better to stay the coming wrath. As the church we are charged with one thing and one thing only. That one thing is not to try and figure out which politicians are morally superior and which are child molesters in hiding. That one thing is not to vote. It is however to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ far and wide. Jonathan Leeman's evangelism plan starts with telling half of the church they are going to hell because they refuse to vote for the candidates Leeman votes for. That is not a good plan.

The Gospel is us telling the lost who the lifeboat is. Politics is arguing over who is best to navigate the ship into its icy grave. I hope that is a clear enough choice for all of us.

Reverend Anthony Wade - October 20, 2020

Authors Bio:
Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.