On Tuesday, The Federalist’s Denise C. McAllister released an article that set the internet afire. Her premise: God might want you to vote for a bad man in order to achieve a good thing. Why? Because God has used bad men to accomplish good things before. This isn’t a new argument; it was made by pastors with regard to voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and it’s being used now to justify voting for Roy Moore, despite credible allegations of sexual molestation of underage girls.
The article is well-written, but it makes one crucial mistake: we are not God. Yes, God can use bad people to accomplish His goals; in fact, he does so routinely throughout the Bible, and openly informs His prophets of that fact. But that’s because God is omniscient. His question isn’t our question. When we say that God used David — a man who committed murder and adultery — to create a dynasty, that’s a question of why God would choose to do so. Our question is whether it would be okay to act like David if it meant accomplishing David’s goals. And the answer is no, since David repents.
In reality, Denise makes several different arguments. She says that character matters, but it isn’t the only concern — we have to determine whether larger policy goals are advanced by avoiding a vote for a bad man who will vote for our values. That’s a fair argument and an open question: is it better to vote for a bad person who will stop terrible things from occurring in the present? Or is it better to avoid voting for that bad person in the belief that (1) God will provide a better solution or (2) there is long-term damage done when we are represented by bad human beings, since it dirties our cause?
In this calculation, I agree with Denise that not all character flaws or sins are created equal. She writes:
Will a serial liar deceive those who put him in office? Most likely. Will the porn-watching senator be influenced by his immorality to make bad foreign policy decisions? I don’t think so. Will a man’s sexual immorality influence his vote on abortion? Probably not. Call him a hypocrite, but I’d rather have a hypocrite who will stop the murder of millions of babies than a virginal man who leads countless to the slaughter.
I generally agree with this analysis. But it’s not a complete analysis. It’s a short-term analysis, and it leaves out the danger of allying with unsavory people to advance an end: if we do that purposefully, we own those unsavory people. Denise is right that we can’t always vote for saints. But that’s a far cry from voting for those who have been credibly alleged to molest 14-year-old girls.
Where I think Denise goes totally off the rails is in her analysis of the City of God and the City of Man. Here’s what she writes:
By erecting this standard, these critics come dangerously close to confusing the secular and the sacred, the city of man and the city of God…Most, if not all, of the commentary in the Old and New Testaments on purity in leadership refers to Israel and the church, i.e., the city of God. Christians are God’s covenant people and, as covenant holders, they are obligated not to be covenant-breakers. Covenantal leaders are obligated to be righteous so they don’t lead God’s flock astray. Their morality is of primary significance, and the lack of it will bring devastation to the entire community. Political leaders, however, are not spiritual leaders with the same responsibilities, burdens, and covenantal obligations of leaders within Scripture. This doesn’t mean we can willy-nilly vote for immoral men, because there are consequences to these kinds of choices in everyday secular life. But the prophetic gloom and doom that often comes from Christians who treat politicians as if they’re God’s covenantal leaders is completely inappropriate.
This hard break between the City of God and the City of Man when it comes to our political decisions would be foreign to Augustine, the originator of these terms. Augustine’s entire thesis in The City of God is that worship of Christ is worth striving for, and that the City of Man is driven by worship of the material:
These two Cities are made by two loves: the early City by love of oneself even to the contempt of God; the heavenly City by love of God even to the contempt of self. The one glories in itself, the other glories in God. The one seeks glory from men; to the other, God, witness of conscience, is its glory. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “My glory and the one who raises my head
Nothing in this dichotomy means that Christians can’t associate with those who live in the City of Man. But it does mean that they must always keep their eyes on the City of God. Denise poses a false choice when she suggests that to insist on character in politicians is a symptom of confusion over the City of God and the City of Man:
At its extreme, this kind of thinking leads to Christians concluding that they can only do business with other Christians, only have Christian doctors, only watch Christian films and listen to Christian music, only have Christian instructors and teachers, and only associate with other Christians, including not spending time with their pagan relatives. They imagine themselves as the Israelites of old, who were to “separate themselves from the ungodly” or receive God’s severe judgment as a nation. Such Christians fail to see God’s work in the city of man and how it is different from the city of God. God uses, in this secular sphere, all kinds of “immoral” men and women to bring about his purposes for his church. He is actually rather utilitarian and pragmatic regarding the secular world. Just go back to the Old Testament and see how he used secular leaders. God employed foreign kings to bring about his purposes of rebuilding the holy site of Jerusalem.
Again, that’s true. But that’s God’s choice. That’s not our choice. Our choice is to be holy. Our choice is to act without sin. That’s not always an easy decision — sometimes we have to analyze ends and means. But to suggest that avoiding a vote for egregious people is somehow Biblically questionable is absurd. But that’s what Denise does:
Today, God uses the “ungodly” as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and politicians. To vote for, associate with, or even advocate for a person working in the secular arena who will bring about the “greater good” despite being personally immoral, pagan, or the member of some “unapproved” Christian sect (as the Catholics once were in America) is justified. To refuse to do so out of fear of God’s judgment on our nation is fusing the city of man and the city of God in a way that God didn’t even do. It also ignores that God’s purposes are manifest through fallen men, whether they’re in the church or in the world.
Actually, to treat your choices like Divine choices is an act of arrogance. God expects us to use our moral sense, including our moral judgment about those we want representing us and those with whom we wish to ally. We can’t just ignore such judgments because it’s convenient to do so. Denise’s moral logic here is purely utilitarian. But Biblical logic isn’t utilitarian, at least when it comes to prescribed human action.
In the end, Denise’s argument is a bit of a cop out. It relieves us of responsibility to judge character at all — at least unless such judgments are so easy that they cost us nothing (e.g. not voting for a mass murderer who will surely lose anyway). While she insists character matters, it’s more of an add-on than a necessity. Denise herself seems to see this, and shies away from the logical conclusion:
I recognize the slippery slope that can come of what I’m writing here—“Why not put the devil himself on the throne if he offers liberty?” some might ask. I, of course, am not saying that, and I’m not talking about putting evil men in positions of power. Again, character, on the whole, matters. However, the issue of “moral aptitude” is not so black and white. People are multifaceted and complex. I’m not a fan of condemning a person for one failing or even a couple. There is more to us than the singleness of a part. I’m also not going to fall into the trap of treating individual politicians or secular groups as if they’re manifestations of the city of God on earth…Outside the realm of criminality and abuses of power that degrade the office and put the public at risk, a sinner can still serve and do great things. This is because God is ultimately in control, bringing about his purposes by his own righteous authority, and not the authority of fallen men.
This resignation is actually heresy. We can throw up our hands and vote for the guy who promotes our political priorities because hey, God is in control after all. This is a recipe for moral and political disaster.
No one is ignoring the complex choices in politics. I think Denise’s best argument is her first: that there are character flaws that matter, and ones that matter less; that there are ends that justify certain means; that an evil outcome may be so immediate as to justify using bad men to stop it. But she doesn’t stop there. Instead, she makes the argument that a politician’s character ought not to count unless it’s so clearly disqualifying that no sane person would see the benefit to voting for him or her. That’s short-sighted, and un-Biblical.