What Makes a Vote Moral or Immoral? The Ethics of Voting

Article
09.29.2020

Author’s note: Two versions of the same article are below. The second one is 8000 words. I wrote it first. I commend it to anyone who wants to think through the ethics of voting slowly and carefully, with a lot of the nuances and “what ifs” some of us want. The shorter one clocks in at 2400 words for anyone in a bit more of a hurry. This tactic—writing the longer then shorter version—is one I have often used in my writing career. Both have their purposes, perhaps most of all the development of my own thinking on a topic!

—Short Version— 

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. 

NINE PRINCIPLES

The nine principles build 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.

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).

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

CONCLUSION

How then should you ethically evaluate the different candidates on offer in the next election? That hard work is now over to you.

Look over these principles again. Supply any additional ones that you think might be missing. Educate yourself on the candidates. Talk with the elders of your church. Talk with your fellow members. Pray. Ask God for wisdom. And act.

 

—Long Version—

 

It’s tough to be honest when writing on the ethics of voting. You want to justify your voting patterns.

It might be even tougher to be perceived as honest. Readers naturally wonder, “Are you drawing those ethical boundaries in a way that favors your preferred candidate?” Call it a suspicion of ethical gerrymandering.

And it’s a healthy suspicion. For you to wonder about me. For me to wonder about myself or anyone else on this topic.

CARELESS ARGUMENTS

A few years ago, at a dinner party of Christian academics, I sat next to a university professor who labelled herself politically liberal and pro-life. She said, “The Republicans are pro-life on abortion; the Democrats are pro-life on capital punishment. So I realized those two things cancel each other out, leaving me free to vote on other matters.”

Leaving aside any feelings I might have about Democrats or Republicans, may I suggest that this sounded like gerrymandering ethics? She wanted to vote Democrat, so she mapped out a contorted argument to justify it. The thought bubble in my head read, “Wait, how many people have been put to death by capital punishment since the Supreme Court re-legalized it in 1976 versus how many unborn babies have been murdered since that time?”

I Googled this question when I got home. It turns out, as of January 2020, 1,512 people have been legally executed since 1976, when the Supreme Court re-legalized capital punishment. As of September 2020, the number of children murdered in the womb is more than 40,000x that:

62,061,402.

Even if you agree with her that the death penalty is in principle wrong—and even if you assume that every single one of those 1512 convictions was mistaken and that every one of those individuals was as innocent as the unborn children—consider the math: 1,500 does not equal 62 million. Not by a long shot. Those two numbers do not “cancel each other out.”

I propose that this is a careless ethical argument.

DON’T DEFLECT, BE HONEST

All of us, of course, are susceptible to making careless, self-justifying ethical arguments.

Where I see this most clearly is in our deflections. For instance, when I correct one daughter for fighting with another, four times out of five the first words out of her mouth will be, “But she…” She deflects. And my reply is almost always: “I’ll get to her. But right now I’m talking to you.”

Likewise, if someone mentions an ethical challenge in voting for candidate “Jack” on Twitter, four of the first five replies will be, “But candidate ‘Jill’ is horrible!” To which I want to reply: we can talk about Jill, too, but are you willing to face head-on and square-shouldered the ethical challenges of voting for Jack?

Here’s one way to know you’re not being fully honest with yourself: you’re unwilling to hear the moral challenges other people might offer of your preferred candidate, and you’re unwilling to weigh and really wrestle with those challenges.

THE ETHICAL ASYMMETRY BETWEEN “YES” AND “NO”

Perhaps I can offer a hatch door to help you escape the temptation to deflect. First, you almost always have more than two choices when it comes to voting. Maybe you vote third party, write in a candidate, or just don’t vote. A few counties have compulsory voting, like Brazil or Australia, yet even then they often have parliamentary systems with more than two choices, and there’s always the possibility of civil disobedience. We’ll reflect more on these possibilities in principle 7 below, but now I simply want to make the point that rare is the occasion that saying “no” to one candidate necessitates a “yes” to the other candidate.

Second, saying “no” to one path is ethically easier than saying “yes” to another path. There’s a lower ethical bar. “You should” and “you should not” are not symmetrical. For instance, it’s easier to tell a Christian woman she should not marry a certain non-Christian man than it is to say that she should marry a certain Christian man. Why? Because saying “no” is saying “no” to only one thing that’s morally wrong, while saying “yes” is saying “no” to many things that may be permissible. More to the point, God doesn’t give us the license to tell other people what positive course of action their obedience to God must take when they have multiple permissible options before them.

What all this means is, there may be times when a pastor or a Christian friend might reasonably say, “I don’t believe you should walk down that path. In fact, I think it might be sin.” Yet that’s not the same thing as saying, “You must therefore walk down that other path.” I’m willing to say the former. I have a hard time imagining ever feeling the license to say the latter. And, frankly, it usually frustrates me when pastors do.

A BIT MORE CONTEXT

When I refer to the ethics of voting, I mean I’m interested in what makes a vote sinful or permissible. I’m not asking what makes a vote good or wise, which would require us to evaluate what the Bible says about the purpose of government and justice. I’m not going to tell you how to vote in this upcoming election. I’m not even going to tell you how to weigh all those principles listed below in order to yield the “most moral vote.” I don’t think that’s possible in any of universal or systematic way. Two early readers of this piece reached the end and asked, “So what exactly are you saying?” I believe they were looking for a grand synthesis that they could then apply. I don’t think I can offer that synthesis.

So what am I saying? I’m simply saying the nine principles below, all of which attempt to demonstrate how your vote is a moral activity—or an immoral one. That’s all. And those nine principles then should help you to evaluate your own vote.

Further, as long as I’m still clearing my throat, I have struggled with knowing whether to articulate the principles below without showing at least a few of my personal convictions. On balance it seems more honest and pedagogically useful to do both. I write as a Bible-believing Christian, and my political instincts tend to be conservative. Meaning, I believe there are moral challenges to voting in both directions, but you’ll discern that I don’t view those challenges symmetrically.

That said, I don’t presume I’m offering the final or objective word. As Christians, we take our principles of right and wrong from Scripture, but thinking ethically about our vote always involves placing multiple issues on a balancing scale and making biblically unscripted judgments about how much they weigh in comparison to each other (e.g. see 1 Kings 3). The weight I give to all the rocks on the scale depends, at least in part, on my own life experience. And if there’s one thing marriage has taught me, it’s that my wife’s experiences help me to weigh things a little differently.

If you don’t share my conservative tendencies, hopefully you’ll still find the principles useful. Yet you will bless the conversation by demonstrating what I’ve missed or how another set of experiences should cause me to weigh some issues differently. For instance, were I to spend several weeks trying to escape a war-torn country with children in tow and to cross a national border, I would probably weigh immigration issues a little differently.

Yet in all this, hopefully we can together take a step or two toward elevating the conversation which, in my estimation, is presently driven by carelessness and ideological tunnel-vision.

Lastly, I’m speaking out of the U.S. context, where the relationship between the voter and the candidate is slightly different than, say, in a European parliamentary system where party weighs more heavily. I’m confident others can better figure out how to apply it to their own electoral and political contexts than I can.

NINE PRINCIPLES

Here are nine principles on the ethics of voting, which build cumulatively. The first and the ninth may be the most crucial, with the third, fourth, and eighth a close second.

1. Your vote bears moral weight by virtue of a chain of causation.

When you vote in a democratic system, you are 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 then morally responsible for this evaluation and act of judgment.

This is easy to see if we’re talking about a ballot measure. In 2012, question 7 on the Maryland state ballot asked me and my fellow Marylanders “to increase from 15,000 to 16,500 the maximum number of video lottery terminals that may be operated in the State.” A vote for or against that ballot measure was a moral decision by virtue of the moral significance of state lotteries. If I’m right, and state lotteries are unjust because they hurt the poor, then voting to expand commercial gaming by 1500 terminals is to participate in an injustice. And a person is morally culpable for that pro-lottery vote.

The moral significance of a vote is a little harder to see when talking about voting for a candidate, and I’m willing to say accountability decreases slightly due to a number of factors we’ll get to. But a chain of moral accountability remains.

Suppose 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.

I’ve found that people want to resist this. Sitting at lunch, one pastor friend responded, “Wait, are you saying I’m responsible for everything Jack says he’s going to do?”

Basically, yes. To some extent. Other complexities will weigh in which, again, I’ll get to. Still, we start right here with a basic chain of causality. Apart from our votes, Jack is just a solid-colored ball sitting in the middle of a pool table, shouting, “Send me to the side pocket!” But Jack is inert. He doesn’t possess the agency or power necessary to get to that side pocket. Meanwhile, Jill is the striped ball, and she’s campaigning, “Send me to the corner pocket!” But she, too, is stuck. Neither can move toward their desired pockets until the white cue ball of our votes rolls down the table, knocks into them, and gives them the agency they require to roll to their preferred pockets.

Which means, we possess a morally significant choice between Jack’s side pocket (a, b, c, d, and e) and Jill’s corner pocket (l, m, n, o, and p) because our votes create the necessary agency for one or the other. The transfer of moral culpability from Jack or Jill back to us is not as clean or scientifically exact as it is with a couple of inanimate pool balls on a smooth green table. The actions which candidates actually take once elected are unpredictable. They’re human beings and will do things we don’t anticipate. They’ll also encounter circumstances outside of their control that prove far bumpier than the green cloth, including other balls rolling around the table trying to stop them from entering their intended pockets.

Still, insofar as a candidate promises and succeeds at reaching a certain pocket, moral responsibility travels back to us, the voters, who knowingly gave him or her the power to do so. It’s the simple formula of cause and effect, and our vote is a first cause. It creates the requisite agency. We’re handing Jack or Jill the sword of state.

So back to my pastor friend at lunch: “Are you saying I’m responsible for everything Jack says he’s going to do?”

I replied, “If voting for Jack does not make me morally responsible for a, b, c, d, and e when Jack tells me that that’s where he wants to go, then I’m not sure how my vote bears any moral weight whatsoever. It would seem voting is amoral. And my guess is that neither of us are ready to concede that.”

2. With regard to what a vote does, your motives don’t matter (but see point 8).

This point follows on the last one, and it’s an even harder pill to swallow: your motives don’t matter when you vote, at least in regard to what your vote does.

As I said, your vote gives a person agency. It hands him or her the sword of state. That’s the real, undeniable, and concrete consequence of your freely chosen action, and you’re morally responsible for it by virtue of this chain of causation. And in this regard your motives or intentions matter not a whit. Recall that Scripture does acknowledge a category for “unintentional sin” (Lev. 4).

You might hate Jack and his promise to pursue a, b, c, d, and e, but decide to vote for him as part of a long-term strategy, like a general ordering a strategic withdrawal today so that he can live to fight tomorrow. 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.

You might believe issue e is wicked, yet vote for Jack because you really care about a, b, c, and d. Or because you think Jack’s offering the lesser of two evils compared to Jane. Still, again, you cannot discount what your vote does. It gives Jack agency to pursue a, b, c, d, and e, and, again, you remain morally responsible for that.

Voting machines and ballots are dumb. They cannot discern any fine-tuned distinctions that might exist in our brains. Our votes are up or down. If you vote for Jack, you hand him the sword of state to pursue e just as much as you hand it to him for a through d. 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.

You might even take other actions to undermine the bad effects of e while voting for Jack. Still, you cannot discount what your vote does. Other goods don’t make that particular bad vanish.

To put it another way, which voters are morally responsible for Jack’s pursuit of e? It has to be the ones who voted for him. Are just some of the people who voted for Jack responsible for his pursuit of e, or are all of them? It has to be all of them.

This is a tough pill to swallow, as I say, because few of us encounter candidates that agree with us on everything. Voting and party alignment always involves a series of pragmatic compromises. Still, we’re morally culpable for those pragmatic compromises. When the Nazi soldiers pound on your front door and ask if you’re hiding Jews in your basement, you might decide it’s morally better to lie than to tell the truth and watch the Jews be carted away to concentration camps. Fine. I’d agree it is better. But the lie is still fraught with moral significance. You and I are making a moral wager that we hope will be vindicated in God’s final assize.

Likewise, when you vote for Jack, you’re taking on moral responsibility for a, b, c, d, and e, even if you hate e. And rather than deny this fact by appealing to your pious motives, you should accept it, square-shouldered, like a leader who’s willing to accept responsibility for the good and bad of his or her decisions.

Professor of ethics Matthew Arbo has observed that, strictly speaking, we cannot cast a ballot against a candidate. The logic and mechanics of voting only allows us to say “yes” to someone. There’s no way to say “no” to someone without also saying “yes.” Of course, many people vote in order to say “no” to one side in their minds or hearts, but they can only do this by actually saying “yes” to the other side, as least from the perspective of the ballot. The problem is, that “yes” comes with moral baggage, say principles one and two. Our “yes” make us an accomplice with everything that candidate is promising.

3. There is 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. In and of itself, it may be morally permissible to establish 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. Yet our moral evaluation of that tax rate, that immigration quota, or that sentencing standard might change over time as we watch the outcomes of these laws. We might discover a host of unintended injustices piling up that lead us to conclude that, in our time and place at least, an x percent tax rate, or y immigration quota, or z sentencing standard is effectively unjust.

In other words, the historical outcomes or consequences of otherwise morally permissible laws are relevant to our ongoing moral evaluation of those laws. If a morally permissible law produces an unintended, unfortunate outcome, like a welfare policy exacerbating cycles of poverty, or a sentencing standard leading to mass incarceration and the further destruction of families, a just response is to look for ways to alleviate that bad outcome, which may or may not involve changing the original law.

On the other hand, some 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 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. For instance, it would be inconsistent and perhaps even hypocritical to vote to “reduce the number of slaves” while also voting to uphold slavery laws. Again, the laws themselves are unjust.

Now, realpolitik considerations sometimes involve compromises. Half a loaf is better than no loaf, they say. For instance, I believe abortion is wrong from the moment of conception. Yet suppose I’m offered the chance to vote on a bill that changes the law from permitting abortion in all three trimesters to permitting it only in the first trimester. By voting for that law, I’m helping to ensure that fewer babies will be killed in the womb, and such a vote would seem to make good strategic sense, especially with a divided legislature that would never vote for overturning abortion entirely. But by accepting this compromise I’m also putting my hand to an unjust law. I’m saying “yes” to the profound injustice of killing babies in their first trimester. Is this the right thing to do, though, because of the preferred outcome—fewer babies killed?

I can see how Christians might arrive at different answers to that question. Yet my point here is to encourage all Christians to recognize the moral dilemma because “reducing the number of abortions” is categorically different than “reducing poverty” or “reducing automobile accidents.” Abortion itself is intrinsically wicked in a way that tax rates and automobiles are not. So even if my temporary goal is to reduce the number of abortions, and I vote to outlaw abortion second and third trimesters even while affirming it in the first, my ultimate goal must remain overturning abortion entirely. I shouldn’t be content stopping there.

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?

The character of a candidate matters for at least three reasons:

(i) A person’s character makes a candidate’s promises more or less believable, which in turn makes democracy more or less workable and meaningful. It’s true that we maintain veto power over dishonest candidates through our ability to kick the rascals out. Yet the moral and strategic value of a vote in any particular election depends on candidates striving to do what they promise to do. If Jill promises x but then pursues y, my original vote for her is meaningless for the length of that term of office. Democracy depends, in other words, on the honesty and integrity of candidates and office-holders.

Insofar as we vote for known deceivers, then, we become complicit both in their deceit as well as in any bad paths they choose—and we become complicit by the same chain of moral causation described in point 1 above. Ultimately, we become complicit in the weakening of democracy.

(ii) A person’s character makes a candidate more or less trustworthy for making just decisions amidst the thousands of unpredictable decisions a politician makes while in office.

(iii) Perhaps most crucially, 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. Their consciences may tell them that other authorities (parents, league superintendent, etc.) would forbid such jokes. Yet their coach’s actions, by virtue of his position, creates a little space in their consciences to do as he does.

So it is for leaders in every position. A police chief who looks the other way when his officers use excessive force implicitly authorizes the whole department to do the same, department policy notwithstanding. A pastor who gives himself to material acquisition teaches his church to follow.

The pattern of a leader’s life—whether in the home, on the ballfield, in the c-suite, in the church, or in the nation—establishes the boundaries of acceptable behavior within his or her domain. People sometimes argue that a candidate’s policy positions are more important than his or her character, and it’s true that policies have an immediate and tangible effect on a body politic. Yet if a leader’s character teaches, authorizes, and creates space for immoral activity, such as racism or deceit, then character, too, 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. Not surprisingly, therefore, Paul exhorted Timothy to watch his life and doctrine, saying he would save himself and his hearers by doing so (1 Tim. 4:16). A leader’s life is powerful.

Suppose then you knowingly hire this baseball coach who makes racists 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?

5. Saying “But Democracy!” doesn’t sanctify your vote.

Just as our pragmatic compromises don’t absolve us of moral responsibility for the concessions we make, nor does another argument I hear from friends: “But this is how democracy works. Surely there is always a morally righteous choice.”

To which I say, maybe. Let’s make sure we’re not sacralizing democracy. I fear that our confidence in democracy tempts to believe we’re absolved of moral responsibility for choosing the better of two compromised options.

But decision-making by “aggregative mechanisms”—as one of my political science professors described voting—is no guarantee of wholly holy choices. The precise mechanism and the constitutional structures behind it don’t cover our decisions with a force-field of moral sanctity. Better to put on our grown-up pants and admit that acting in government involves making tough decisions, and that even the best decisions will entail elements of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Just ask the general sending troops off to war. When we vote, we are participating in government decision-making, even if only in a limited respect.

To put this another way, receiving the opportunity to vote means stepping into the moral domain of power-holding, and with increased power comes increased moral responsibility. Westerners today treat the opportunity to vote fairly casually. We take it for granted as all-good. Yet we should take the moral stakes seriously, and recognize that sometimes there are no “clean” options for making tough leadership decisions.

I’ve never been a politician. But I am a pastor, and pastors regularly face this hard reality, particularly as they work through tough divorce, abuse, addiction, and other moral-crisis situations. Advise the broken family this way, and the wife suffers. Advise the family that way, and the kids suffer. Voting can be similar. Welcome to ethics in a fallen world.

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, health care, various social issues, and more. There are a number of rocks on the moral scales that Lady Justice must weigh. Victor Sholar rightly observes Christians shouldn’t choose “between the immigrant or the orphan, the poor or the unborn, the police officer or the unarmed African-American.” Therefore, a voter seeking to vote justly should always consider not just one or two issues but all the issues a candidate or party endorses, asking how much each one “weighs” morally.

On the other hand, some rocks are heavier than others (Matt. 23:23). They’re more morally significant. Michael Sandel’s trolley-car illustration from his book Justice captures this point. You are piloting a trolley car. You look down the tracks and see you are about to run over five people. There’s not enough time to break. Yet right in front of the group is a rail split. You can grab the trolley handle and send it down a side track, but doing so will kill two people on that separate track. How much does it morally “weigh” to kill two people versus five? Most people would say it’s better to kill two than five, but are you morally culpable for killing the two rather than the five because it involves your deliberate action rather than accepting what is otherwise an accident? Or what if the five were convicted murderers and the two are your spouse holding your child? Does this change your moral calculation? Either way, the illustration draws out the point. Thinking ethically about voting means accounting for more than one rock, but it also means acknowledging that some rocks are heavier than others.

Or go back to the university professor I sat next to at the dinner party. She believed the moral weight of 62 million unborn children and 1500 convicted criminals can “cancel each other out.” She rightly saw that there are multiple rocks on the scale. But I would say she wrongly did a poor job of discerning which rock was heavier.

The two principles raised here bring us to the matter of “one-issue voting.” Some people say that one issue can outweigh every other issue, such that we can ignore the other rocks on the scale. Abolitionists in the 1850s felt this way about slavery. Pro-life advocates today believe this about abortion.

Perhaps a better way to justify one-issue voting comes from John Piper, who has observed the ethical asymmetry between what compels us to vote for a candidate and what might keep us from voting for a candidate. A candidate needs to be right on a number of issues to win our vote. Yet it might take only one issue to disqualify a candidate. Perhaps we want to support candidate Jack because he supports issues a, b, c, and d. But then we learn that Jack is pro-stealing, or pro-pedophilia, or pro-slavery. Most of us would say that that his stance on that one issue disqualifies Jack. Piper then extends the argument to abortion. It should take more than a right stance on abortion to compel a Christian’s vote (because there are a number of rocks on the scale). Yet the wrong stance on abortion should disqualify a candidate (because some rocks are heavier than others).

Of course, Piper’s argument only works when the disqualifying issue in question divides the candidates. How would he have encouraged me to vote in the 2014 Maryland state election when the candidates for both major parties were pro-choice? Does that issue then cancel itself out, so that I’m free to vote on other issues, or should I count both candidates as disqualified?

Further, how do we weigh the deficiencies of a candidate’s character on the scale with all the other rocks? Does Jack’s bad character outweigh Jill’s support of a wicked policy, or vice-a-versa? In fact, Piper believes that bad character can disqualify a person from the presidency just as much as support of a wicked policy: “I regard Donald Trump as not qualified for the presidency.”

Whether one adopts Piper’s argument that candidates can potentially disqualify themselves with one bad issue or through bad character—I do—hopefully every Christian recognizes the need to weigh out every rock on the scale as well as to give due consideration to which rocks may be heavier. Failing to pay attention to both all the rocks and the heavier rocks makes us more susceptible to personal biases and gerrymandered ethics.

So here’s a quick pastoral and confrontational word to you on this point, friend: our hearts see the biases of others far more quickly than their own, which is why Jesus warns us to start by searching for the plank in our own eyes (Matt. 7:3–5) and why he would not entrust himself to our judgments—“for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24–25). If you tell me that your judgment is generally impartial and unbiased, I’m going to accuse you, at best, of naivety and self-deception. One solution to our natural bent toward personal bias in weighing the different rocks is to recognize that people’s different life experiences will enable them to better appreciate the weight of some rocks than you do. If I grew up with a single mom and attended failing public schools, or as a second-generation immigrant, or as one of nine children in a homeschooling Christian household, or as an ethnic minority, my life experience just might enable me to grasp the outcome or effects of certain policies in a way that others don’t (see principle 3 above). Lady Justice needs to be blind-folded and impartial in one sense (see Ex. 23:3,6), yet in another sense she needs to make sure she really is weighing each rock properly by asking everyone to speak into an issue (see Prov. 18:17). My pastoral word, then, is: listen hard to people with different life experiences than your own—that you might weigh issues better, more objectively, more justly.

7. Is it morally permissible to not vote or to vote for a candidate that is certain to lose? It depends.

The challenges of weighing all those rocks leaves some people wondering if it’s better not to vote at all. “If I vote for Jack, I’ll effectively be condoning his terrible behavior and example. If I vote for Jill, I risk supporting her terrible support for issue p. Both directions feel like an endorsement of sin. Can I just stay home and not vote?”

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. We love our neighbor by doing what we can to work for a more just government. If I’m driving the trolley car and I have a choice between killing two and five, doing nothing is killing five. And perhaps slightly better than killing five is killing two.

That said, I’m reluctant to make this an absolute principle. Loving neighbor and doing justice are absolute principles. But nowhere does the Bible say a person must pursue these things by voting. Plus, never does an election hang merely on our decision, as in the trolley car illustration. 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. To borrow from the apostle Paul, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (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. Those who vote for a losing candidate often anticipate the loss, even when the candidate belongs to one of the major parties. If your major party candidate is down in the pre-election polls by 10 percent, you still vote for him or her. The same dynamics apply when your candidate promises to only get a few votes: the rightness of your vote doesn’t depend merely on possible outcomes, but on your faithfully affirming what is right. Even writing in a candidate, if one’s ballot allows for it, is to participate in the election process and formally register what you believe is right and just.

8. With regard to church membership, your motives matter.

This point is particularly for Christians. It will take a little bit of runway to get there, and if you don’t like nuance in ethics, you won’t like this point.  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. It would be wrong for me to selfishly eat all the ice-cream in my house, and even to persist in a pattern of doing so. But my wife might understandably not raise my selfishness with our whole church. She would treat it as a sin with which to forbear.

The line between Gears 1 and 2 isn’t always easy to discern, but most Christians would maintain that both gears exist because some sins are worse than others (e.g. Matt. 23:23) and because—frankly—it’s not always clear what’s a sin and what isn’t. The lesser-of-two-evils illustrations above make the latter point. Is it a sin to lie about the Jews in your basement? Do either of the trolley car options involve sin? How will the Lord weigh such things on the Last Day? It’s difficult to know.

Recognizing these two gears is useful because it allows us to face these tough ethical dilemmas and speak honestly to our own convictions while also creating some space for others to make different judgments. I might be personally convicted that voting for candidate Jack is a sin because he supports state lotteries. Yet you’re not convinced that lotteries are sinful, and so you vote for Jack. Driving in Gear 1, I would then say that you may be sinfully culpable for giving agency to Jack to promote state lotteries. Yet, having said that, I wouldn’t then downshift my ethical evaluation into Gear 2 and say that I could no longer come to the Lord’s Table with you. Why not? First, I recognize that I could be wrong about lotteries. Second, even if I’m right, not all sins rise to the level of significance that I would need to break fellowship with you.

Now, with all that set up, let’s turn to the significance of motives for church membership with another illustration: voting for a pro-choice candidate. Unlike state lotteries, most Christians would affirm that abortion is wrong. We’d even use a word like wicked, meaning, the wrong is weighty. Furthermore, I would argue that voting for a pro-choice candidate, when other options are available, probably makes you sinfully culpable, according to principle 1 above. And I think this is true no matter what your motives are, according to principle 2 above.

But now let’s think about your motives, supposing you share them with me. If you vote for a pro-choice candidate specifically to support abortion, I believe we shift from Gear 1 to Gear 2. Christians—I would want to persuade my church—must not support abortion. They must not sponsor it, advocate for it, vote for it. And should someone in my church do so, I would recommend the breaking of Christian fellowship.

That said, suppose a Christian tells me she wants to vote for a pro-choice candidate not because of the candidate’s support of abortion, but in spite of that support. She abhors the idea of abortion. At the same time, the idea of voting for the supposedly pro-life candidate makes her “want to throw up,” as one Arabic Christian woman recently said to me. It would feel like voting for her own political self-destruction, she said, because the candidate “is against everything I am.”

At this point, I believe five responses are simultaneously necessary. First, I would try to lean in with compassion, listen, and feel the weightiness of the rocks she’s describing. That’s especially important for someone like me who hasn’t experienced what others have experienced, like this Arabic Christian woman. Scripture commands me to suffer with the parts of the body that suffer in 1 Corinthians 12:26, and the distinctions of that body—now look back at verse 13—include ethnic and political distinctions (“whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free”).

Second, while I would feel tempted in the moment to stop there and remove the ethical pressure of principles 1 and 2 above, I do feel consciously constrained to affirm my personal conviction that it would probably be sin for her to take the pro-choice path, and I would discourage her from taking it.

Third, I would exhort her not to do anything that would defy her own conscience before the Lord (Rom. 14:1–5, 22–23), such as voting for her own political self-destruction. My saying “no” to one path is not my insisting on “yes” to another path. Therefore, she should explore other options.

Fourth, I would affirm my willingness to come to the Lord’s Table with her even if she finally disagrees with my judgment in this matter. I wouldn’t break fellowship or recommend excommunication.

Fifth, leaning in a bit more, I would ask her whether she believed voting for the pro-life candidate was sin in light of all things that made her unable to vote for that candidate. If so, would she extend forbearance to members of the church who voted for that candidate?

The most difficult needle to thread in such a conversation is the fourth thing I just mentioned. If I’m personally convicted that her actions are probably sinful, why would I not recommend breaking of fellowship? The short answer is, her motives do make a difference to me, at least in terms of how I would relate to her as fellow Christian. And here the difference between because of and in spite of is meaningful. There’s a strategic element to voting which we’ll consider in the next point, and I recognize how a Christian might make different strategic judgments than me, even while I continue to maintain the basic wrongness of their position.

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? What if someone is voting for a member of the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi Party? 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. So with Nazism. It existed expressly for the denial of God and the promotion of Arianism. No “because of/in spite of” divide seems possible. Supporting either of these parties would be more analogous to supporting an abortion provider like Planned Parenthood (regardless of how PP markets itself).

So, no, I’m not saying good motives allow us to maintain Christian fellowship with any vote a Christian might take. Yet if good motives are in fact conceivable, yes, we should be slow to break fellowship. However, 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, as with the Nazi Party or the KKK, then at that point churches should consider excommunication for party membership or support. To be sure, there’s no mathematically precise way to determine when that moment comes. It requires a wisdom-driven judgment call.

In short, Christians should be able to discuss voting with a moral vocabulary and as morally significant, and this means being willing to call some votes “sin.” That said, the complex nature of the enterprise suggests we should leave space for fellow Christians to arrive at different conclusions without breaking fellowship. John Wesley believed the American colonists were disobeying God by rebelling from the British Crown. I hope he would have nonetheless accepted any revolutionaries in fellowship around the Table.

9. In the final analysis, ethically evaluating our votes involves both moral principles and strategic calculations.

Decision-making in politics in general and voting in particular is filled with tough moral calls, which is what principles 1 to 8 have highlighted. This is true not only because the issues are complex, but also because voting involves strategic calculations about how to get stuff done.

What does it mean for our moral evaluation to recognize the so-called “strategic realities” of voting? It means 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. Furthermore, your opponent’s next moves are seldom predictable. Every decision is a calculated risk. Maybe you’re convinced of one strategy, but you don’t realize your opponent has prepared for it, and you’d be wise to consider another.

Likewise, principles 1 to 8 tell us we must pay attention to every distinct vote and ask what moral principles it affirms or denies. Yet principle 9 now reminds us that every particular vote is just one move or play in this larger game of governance. 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 best for your shared cause in the long run. I have one friend, for instance, who believes the anti-Trump effect on state-legislates hurts the pro-life cause in state legislatures by turning them Democratic, as has arguably been the case in his own state legislature according to 2018 election exit-polls. Therefore, he’s voting for Biden in the 2020 election, as he puts it, in order to help the pro-life cause in state legislatures. I’m not persuaded by his rationale. I think he’s making all kinds of predictions about the future he should not make. Still, it’s hypothetically possible he’s right.

How then do we morally evaluate his action? His vote in 2020 is just one move in a larger multiyear “game.” This brings us back to why the because-of/in-spite-of distinction is meaningful in terms of Christian fellowship. Nonetheless I find myself in an awkward situation: I believe he’s probably sinning in his vote and I’ll say so. But I’m not ready to break fellowship with him because he’s seeking a good end, and it’s hypothetically possible that in 10 years he will be proven strategically correct.

A similar dilemma faced many people who opposed slavery in antebellum United States. If someone in my church voted for a pro-slavery senator because he believed slavery was good and that African-Americans were less-than-human, then I would recommend we break fellowship with this member (assuming unrepentance). Yet suppose this fellow member sincerely lamented slavery, but believed that we need to slow-roll its abolition for the sake of preserving the union. Therefore, he was willing, nose between fingers, to vote for the pro-slavery senator, say, in the 1856 election because, by some calculated dynamic on the chess board of politics, he believed electing that senator versus the alternative would actually serve the cause of abolishing slavery in the long run. I’d urge him to do otherwise. I’d tell him that I believed he was sinning and that he would come to regret his vote. Yet it would be a little bit harder to recommend his excommunication. Ironically, the following decade would prove at least aspects of his political judgment accurate as the move against slavery really would tear the Union apart.

Yet notice what’s crucial in my restraint from recommending excommunication: his goal must be to overturn an intrinsically unjust law, as in principle 3 above. He cannot wave off the injustice of slavery 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. A smidgeon of flexibility would be permitted only at the tactical level, not at the level of what his heart and actions must be set against.

Some will point to the strategic nature of voting and then effectively, if not explicitly, declare moral evaluation off limits. “How can you say their vote is ‘wrong’ if they’re just adopting a different set of tactics?” For instance, why would I still call his pro-slavery vote sin, even if his judgment about the political realities would prove accurate? Because a Christian understanding of righteousness does not finally depend upon political realities, but on what’s faithful and right, often in spite of those realities. “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still.”

Further, there’s an element of “free-riding”—referring to the principle of economics—in such a decision to temporarily affirm what’s evil for the sake of the longer path toward the good. If every Christian did on an ongoing basis what this imaginary anti-slavery voter who votes for the pro-slavery senator does, then the evil of slavery would never have been overcome. Slavery ended because enough citizens finally said, “Under no circumstances, no.”

CONCLUSION

The moral complexity of voting tempts some people to give up on moral evaluation altogether, particularly in light of the strategic nature of the “game.” My own sense is that it’s better to affirm that our votes possess moral weight and then work hard at forming our convictions, which includes using the language of sin and righteousness. Yet we should also hold evaluations in this domain with a slightly looser grip.

The citizens of a democracy, including its Christian citizens, need to be able to make objective moral arguments and to do so with vigor, yet still leave some room for disagreement and the possibility that one might be in the electoral minority. Part of what makes room for disagreement possible, even as we use the language of sin and righteousness, is to acknowledge the limitations of our moral evaluations and strategic judgments.

I also believe that our moral evaluations should ordinarily quarantine themselves to the language of “should not” rather than “should.” I recently read another writer’s paper which laid out three categories of possibilities for the 2020 elections in the United States: Christians saying we should vote for Joe Biden; Christians saying we should vote for Donald Trump; and Christians saying we should leave every person to his or her own conscience.

For my part, I don’t think we ordinarily possess the moral license to offer moral “shoulds” because there are almost always several permissible paths a Christian can walk. At most, from time to time, we might say “should not” to one path or another.

By:
Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan (@JonathanLeeman) edits the 9Marks series of books as well as the 9Marks Journal. He is also the author of several books on the church. Since his call to ministry, Jonathan has earned a master of divinity from Southern Seminary and a Ph.D. in Ecclesiology from the University of Wales. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Cheverly, Maryland, where he is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.