After responding to an article I wrote at The Federalist explaining why Christians are justified in voting for Roy Moore or any other morally questionable candidate, Ben Shapiro graciously invited me to publish a counter to his response. I agreed, because I believe the premise against which Ben argued is not completely true to my post. If the fault was my failure to communicate clearly and not a misunderstanding on the reader’s part, I’m thankful for the opportunity to clarify.
As with any debate, it helps first to explain terminology. When I describe a candidate as “morally questionable,” I am not talking about established criminality, abuses, or moral failings that would outright disqualify a candidate from office or put the public at risk. I am talking about personal sins and past immoral actions that taint one’s character. I am not talking about an evil or wicked man, or a Hitleresque individual who promises economic prosperity while committing genocide.
I am also not talking about a pedophile that has molested children—a pedophile being someone sexually interested in children under the age of 13 and not applicable in the Moore case. I am working from the presumption that many voters supporting Moore in Alabama don’t believe the allegations of sexual assault, while they might believe he was interested in young girls 16 years and older before he was married nearly 40 years ago. This is the moral context of my post, not a defense of putting evil incarnate into a leadership position.
Turning now to Ben’s post—The headline begins the error: “No, the Bible doesn’t say you should vote for Roy Moore just because God uses bad people to do good things.” This is not my argument. If it were, we could justify just about any evil in the secular sphere because God used all kinds of calamity to bring about good.
My premise is this: It might be morally justified to vote for an immoral or imperfect man to achieve a good thing. Why? Because the secular sphere, which by definition is concerned about worldly matters, is different from the sacred sphere, which is spiritual in nature. The expectations and requirements for leaders in a secular frame are simply not the same as those in the sacred.
I described these two spheres as the city of man, or earthly city, and the city of God, or heavenly city, as first coined by Augustine. The distinctions between these two cities have been sharpened over the centuries with different schools of theology interpreting them in divergent ways. Lutherans, Catholics, and, of course, Jews would see more of an overlap between the two than most Protestants. Since I’m a Protestant, I am working from a greater divide between these two than some of my Christian conservative colleagues.
I believe Ben and I would agree that there is a distinction between these two cities. He provides an excellent quote from Augustine on this point. I’d like to add another:
Now citizens are begotten to the earthly city by nature vitiated by sin, but to the heavenly city by grace freeing nature from sin; whence the former are called “vessels of wrath,” the latter “vessels of mercy.
The earthly city, which does not live by faith, seeks an earthly peace, and the end it proposes, in the well-ordered concord of civic obedience and rule, is the combination of men's wills to attain the things which are helpful to this life. The heavenly city, or rather the part of it which sojourns on earth and lives by faith, makes use of this peace only because it must, until this mortal condition which necessitates it shall pass away.
The Bible, too, speaks of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of man, the church and the world, in which God’s people are merely sojourners—strangers in a strange land. Jesus said of his disciples that they are not of this world, even as he is not of this world.
In my post, I cited God’s actions in the city of man to show that there is a distinction between these two worlds, between the godly and the ungodly. While ungodly leadership is forbidden in the spiritual city, it is justified in the material. There are many examples of God’s allowing his people to work alongside earthly leaders with questionable morals to bring about greater purposes, not only as a matter of judgment, but also as a matter of peace and restoration. But just because God did it, does this mean we can as well?
Not necessarily. My purpose in citing God’s actions was not a call to emulate him but to recognize the distinction between the secular and the sacred, between moral requirements for God’s people in governance and those for the world. If I were calling for people to act like God or to presume to know God’s secret purposes, this would indeed be arrogant.
Having established that there are two cities in which a Christian lives, the question is how do we function in the city of man? Politicians, as I’ve said, are secular leaders. They’re part of the city of man, governing according to God’s authority, for he alone bestows all powers in heaven and earth. How then, does the Christian engage with the state, even when it comes to voting?
Augustine gives some insight into this question:
The heavenly city, or rather the part of it which sojourns on earth and lives by faith, makes use of this peace only because it must, until this mortal condition which necessitates it shall pass away. Consequently, so long as it lives like a captive and a stranger in the earthly city, though it has already received the promise of redemption, and the gift of the Spirit as the earnest of it, it makes no scruple to obey the laws of the earthly city, whereby the things necessary for the maintenance of this mortal life are administered.
When things are in harmony between the two cities, a Christian is expected to serve, obey, pay taxes, and even vote for secular leaders. They are functioning in a material world according to its dictates. This might involve all kinds of uncomfortable actions and choices. However, when the city of man makes laws that force a Christian to choose between living in the secular, material world and living as a member of God’s celestial city, then they must dissent.
In Augustine’s day, Christians were expected to obey the secular state, but when Rome imposed its worship of many gods on Christians who knew there was only one true God, “the heavenly city” was “compelled in this matter to dissent and to become obnoxious to those who think differently, and to stand the brunt of their anger and hatred and persecution.”
This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace.
It therefore is so far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced. Even the heavenly city, therefore, while in its state of pilgrimage, avails itself of the peace of earth, and, so far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessaries of life, and makes this earthly peace bear upon the peace of heaven; for this alone can be truly called and esteemed the peace of the reasonable creatures, consisting as it does in the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God and of one another in God.
When I consider voting for someone with questionable (though not certain) immorality, a man who will advance earthly peace through means acceptable to God as opposed to someone who will enact laws that are an affront to God and destroy that peace, I think my choice is clear. The secular leader I’m choosing is not of the heavenly city in his appointed office (though he might personally be a Christian), and his rulings will have direct bearing on my life as a believer in this world.
Which leader in this case would cause injury to my faith and godliness as I live in the earthly city? Which one will disrupt the peace to which we all are called? The one who would impose on me laws that drive me from worship of God, or the one who would allow me freedom to live according to my faith and morality as God has decreed? How much should I factor in a man’s personal failings when it comes to his public service and its affect on my faith and godliness?
Each of us might answer these questions differently, but they are legitimate questions posed in difficult times. Ben wrote that it is better to avoid voting for a “bad” person altogether in 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 causes?”
I think this is the crux of Ben’s concern. To the first, I would say that is certainly a valid choice. Look for another solution if it comes. Some people are choosing to do just that. Others think this is the only choice and it must be made.
As for the second, if your concern is that there will be long-term damage to your Christian witness, then certainly vote your conscience, wherever it leads you. But as I’ve explained, and as Augustine noted, living in this secular world and making these choices doesn’t soil our testimony. Our testimony is soiled when we follow the ways of the world against God, turning from love of him toward love of material things.
Choosing a sinful man for a secular position because he will govern in a way that will allow Christians greater freedom to exercise their faith and to pursue good does not soil one’s testimony. It might be used as fodder by a political opponent to make you feel guilty for something you have no reason to feel guilty about. In other words, the only damage might be political. But Christians aren’t called by God to worry about political damage, only spiritual damage.
When it comes to governing decisions, laws, and rules, which choice will cause the greater spiritual damage and threaten God’s people in their worship of God in the long run? An immoral man with sins from his past who stands for religious liberty and right to life, or a “moral” man who threatens religious liberty and stands for death?
These are the questions I wrestle with. They don’t make me immoral. They don’t make me short-sighted. They make me a pilgrim struggling to live in obedience to my God in a dark and fallen world.
Denise C. McAllister is a cultural and political commentator based in Charlotte, NC. She is a senior contributor at The Federalist and her work can be found at several outlets, including PJ Media where she’s a contributor, Real Clear Politics, Hot Air, and Ricochet.