Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the 2008 election cycle has been a winnowing season for all Americans who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Both of the major parties nominated individuals whose views discard the nation’s founding principle of respect for the authority of the Creator God.
Faced with this circumstance, those in full possession of the facts had to make a choice for or against telling the truth. Many so-called Christian leaders chose to act deceitfully. They produced voters’ guides and made statements pretending that John McCain is pro-life. His record includes some actions that appear to be pro-life and others that could not be. They emphasized the first and ignored the second. If the pro-life position is just a matter of counting votes, they could claim to be justified. But Christian conscience can never be satisfied with a result that accepts as righteous those who appear to do good, but turn their backs on the principle of all goodness, which is the will and spirit of God. Such were the Scribes and Pharisees whom Christ harshly ridiculed and condemned, even though his uncompromising rejection of them led directly to his unjust arrest, torture and crucifixion.
For Christian conscience, the core of the pro-life position is not a matter of numbers, but of wholesome respect for God’s authority. McCain’s consistent and repeated support for research that destroys embryonic human lives and his position that state governments have the right to disregard the God-given unalienable right to life prove that such respect is not the basis of his actions. As a matter of Christian conscience and American principle, he is not pro-life. Moreover, since McCain professes to accept the fact that humanity exists from the moment of physical conception, his willingness to support embryo-destroying research implies a conscious choice to go against God’s will when expediency requires. He knows what is right, but as a matter of conscious calculation chooses to do otherwise. As a matter of conscience, this is exactly what Obama has done by supporting the murder of viable babies born into the world despite every effort to abort their lives. Obama’s position is an outrage, not just as a matter of feeling, but because it self-evidently violates God’s stand against the taking of innocent life. When he advocates the view that such murder is part of so-called “abortion rights,” he, too, consciously rejects God’s authority.
As a matter of political expediency, some leaders in the pro-life cause have been willing harshly to condemn Obama’s conscious choice against God, while consciously hiding McCain’s similar choice. They have produced deceptive voters’ guides that label McCain as pro-life. These same leaders quietly contradict themselves, however, by arguments that take the view that Christians have no choice but to support the lesser of two evils, thus tacitly acknowledging that McCain, too, stands for evil. Though some ignored the thorough arguments I and others have made against the choice-of-evils position, others recognized their truth. They adjusted their rhetoric, taking the position that Christians had to vote effectively to limit evil – or else they would be guilty of promoting it. Slyly, this argument implies that those who conscientiously seek to hear the word of God and keep it are in fact the evil ones.
Yet the apostle says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) We cannot limit something by extending it. The limit is established where it ends and something else begins. Christ suggested this when he responded to the unforgivable accusation of the Pharisees who said, “It is only by Beelzebub the prince of the demons that this man casts out demons.” Christ replied to them, saying:
Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand; and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:25-28)
Clearly, Christ ridicules the notion that evil can be divided against itself, that a line can be drawn that incidentally separates evil from evil when both arise from the same principle. Yet this is precisely what they seek to do who claim that we can limit one evil by supporting another. Christ understood that we must define good in terms of its source, not its circumstances. “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” (Matthew 12:33) For Christian conscience, the difference between good and evil is a matter of principle. This is why Christians reject moral relativism and “situational ethics.” For Christian conscience, the moral nature of action lies in the relationship between the action and its source, which is to say, the principle that governs it. The will of God is the principle of good action.
And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments. …” The young man said to him, “All these I have observed: what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16, 20-22)
The line between good and evil (the limit of evil) can only be established by action that focuses on God’s will. In his words to the young man, Christ points to God’s commandments as the indicators of his will. But he goes on to suggest that until we see as goods only those things that correspond to God’s will, and wholeheartedly follow the one who embodies them, our observance of his will is not complete.
A good action is one that arises from this single-minded and wholehearted focus on God. The aim and objective of the action is God, so that no preoccupation with evil plays any part in it whatsoever. This is entirely incompatible with action that aims at “limiting evil,” which, by focusing upon evil, loses sight of the root and source of all good. Good action may in effect limit evil, but it does so by making way for good, as John the Baptist made way for Jesus Christ.
Now those who say that we are morally obliged to support evil in order to limit it suggest that people who fail to do so are somehow responsible for the evil that results. They contend that people who single-mindedly seek out and support a candidate for president whose views and actions consistently align with the commandments are morally culpable. Anyone, therefore, who does not vote for the evil they prefer (in this case John McCain) is casting a vote for the evil they oppose (in this case Barack Obama.) This comes close to the unforgivable stance of the Pharisees, who ascribed evil to one whose only crime was to follow the will of his father God.
Though Jesus could know with certainty and from within the exact substance of his father’s will, we rely upon faculties of perception and reasoning that leave us with no source of certainty except by faith. We want to do what’s right, but we cannot know that what we do will in fact produce results more good than evil. Therefore, our choices are almost always approximations, best guesses about a future whose contents “must be acted ‘ere they may be scanned.” As beings finite and limited, we can only have a finite and limited impact upon the future. If we take stands that seem to correspond to God’s will, but produce results that move the situation further away from his will, do we not promote evil in fact for the sake of an unreal and unattainable perfection?
If we walked only by sight, this argument might be decisive. But on numerous occasions Christ demanded that his disciples trust in him, rather than in the results of their own rational calculations. They did so when he twice fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes, though their rational calculations told them so little food could not possibly feed so many. Peter did so when he stepped out of the boat with nothing but his trust in Christ to keep him from being swallowed by the sea. This reliance upon the Lord was in and of itself enough to secure salvation for people as disparate as the woman healed by a touch of his garment, and a crucified thief saved by his simple recognition that what seemed the culmination of Christ’s failure and defeat was in truth the seal and emblem of his triumphant victory. Such as these trusted before what Christ called “the sign of Jonah” had been revealed. As Christians for whom that sign is like the rock of ages, what faith are we called to by our certainty of its truth?
The key flaw in all the arguments that call us in this election to embrace evil in order to fight or limit evil is that to do so we must surrender our single-minded reliance upon God. But what once we let go of that reliance, what good is left to us? Once we take up the sword of evil to fend off or defend ourselves against it, what becomes of the faith whereby Christ fed the multitudes and which alone opens the way to life and hope and a future? These questions reveal the true import of this flawed moral reasoning. It seems to offer us a better hope for victory as the world understands the term, but only if we surrender the faith that alone leads to the victory that lies beyond the world’s understanding. That faith is proved especially in those circumstances when we trust in God as the standard of truth though the whole light and reason of the world decries our trust as folly. Who is responsible for evil: those who persevere in faith despite the world’s reproof, or those who say we must surrender perfect trust in God in order to limit evil? Don’t the latter lure us into a place that is beyond redemption precisely because to reach it we must surrender our hold upon the key that opens the floodgates of God’s saving grace? Rather on the day when evil seems to triumph over us, should we not hold fast and say, though it be with our last breath, as Jesus did, “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit” – and there leave will and choice, conscience and vote and all?