Is It Wrong to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?

Question from a reader:

You said that you would not vote for any prochoice candidates. If it comes down to only two candidates for office and both are prochoice, do you simply not cast a vote? For example, if there is a strong Republican who is likely to be appointing more conservative judges to the Supreme Court during his term, but both he and the Democrat are prochoice, what would you do then? Basically, is it wrong to vote for the lesser of two evils?

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

Years ago when Bob Dole was running against Clinton, I had planned to vote for Dole (given the alternative). But because he wouldn’t stand firm against abortion, I finally decided that if I voted for Dole I was saying, “If someone’s a conservative and a Republican, he’ll get my vote even if he refuses to take a real stand against child-killing.”

I voted instead for Howard Phillips, then of the U.S. Taxpayer party, even though of course he had no chance of winning. For years I’d done something similar in Oregon. Bob Packwood was a notoriously pro-abortion Republican senator, a hero of women’s rights groups (ironically, after all those years he was finally caught and disgraced as a notorious womanizer, which he’d been all along). So every year I’d have Christians tell me that since the Democrats who Packwood was running against were also pro-abortion, I should vote for Packwood because he was the lesser of evils, in that he was more conservative on the other issues. I didn’t buy it. And I still can’t.

It’s not that I have no room for pragmatism. I do. I guess it’s the problem of “What is a vote?”

If a vote is laying hands on a person, anointing him, completely endorsing all he believes and does, then of course we should never vote for anyone but Jesus. If it is merely a tool, a best of viable alternatives, then it’s like “I need to buy bread for my family and the two choices are moldy bread and stale bread, and I wish there was fresh bread but there isn’t, so I’ll take the stale bread, because it’s less objectionable than the moldy.”

My friend, a solid prolifer, told me I was being a poor steward by not voting for Bob Packwood, the lesser of evils. But the lesser of evils is still evil. (Stale bread is less than ideal, but it is not evil.) Would I vote for Goebbels over Hitler or Caligula over Nero? Well, they couldn’t be any worse than the alternative, and might be somewhat better, but doesn’t a vote in some sense mean that I endorse this person? And what kind of character can you have while defending the killing of the innocent?

As for Rudy Giuliani, try as I might, I just can’t believe that followers of Jesus who stand for the cause of unborn children and family values were supposed to vote for a man who will not 1) defend the rights of the unborn, 2) define marriage as between a man and a woman; 3) keep his vows to his wife and 4) refrain from betraying and abandoning his own children. This is a man who publicly appeared with his mistress all over New York while still married.

Now, I don’t see casting a vote on the level of unqualified absolute endorsement, since if I did I wouldn’t have voted for Mike Huckabee either. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I could live with the areas where I disagree. All of us become pragmatic (choosing one imperfect candidate over a more imperfect one) at some point or we never vote at all, which some of my prolife friends never do. I give them consistency perhaps, but I wonder if they ever choose a less than perfect pastor, insurance program, or loaf of bread. 

Some people believe that it is wrong to be “single issue” about the matter of abortion. In order for me to vote for a candidate, it is not sufficient that he or she be prolife, but it is necessary. Why? Because personally I can’t cast a vote for someone committed to the killing of children any more than I could cast a vote for someone who says “it’s fine to kill unwanted illegal immigrants.” I don’t think I could stand before my Lord and say in good conscience, “Yes, this man was dedicated to the right for people to kill their children, but I preferred his economic policies, so I voted for him.”

Here’s John Piper’s position on not voting for pro-abortion candidates, which is the same as mine. Here’s an article that comes to a different conclusion than mine, but it is fairly stated, I think: Despite the logic of that article, in the end, as a matter of conscience I simply could not have voted for Rudy Giuliani. Is there a time for pragmatism? Sure. As long as you can stay within the realm of righteous principles, then go ahead and weigh pragmatic considerations, as a matter of wisdom. But there is no wisdom in unrighteousness. There is no wise way I can find to endorse someone committed to endorsing and defending child-killing. Such an endorsement is, to me, inherently unwise because it is inherently unrighteous.

To say that to write in a different candidate is the same as voting for Hillary Clinton-which is what so many people are saying-is not accurate, in my mind. It would be like saying if Germany were a democracy, to write in a third candidate, instead of voting for Goebbels, would be to vote for Hitler. I don’t believe it. I understand the pragmatic implications, but when men embrace evil-and abortion is a great and dark evil as was Jew-killing-I believe I must find some imperfect man or woman, even if I disagree with him in numbers of areas, who at least believes that unborn children and Jews have the right to live. 

As I said in my blog, I think there ARE worse things than Hillary Clinton being elected. In my opinion, having to stand before God to answer for compromising biblical convictions and acting as moral hypocrites by voting for an unprincipled man who will not defend the innocent and care for his own family is worse. God will not judge me in light of whether I’ve followed conservativism or promoted Republicanism, but as to whether I have honored my Lord Jesus. Furthermore, I truly believed that Rudy Giuliani’s election could have meant the end of a prolife Republican party. Republicans would have known they could get the Christian vote even if they betrayed the unborn. And I, for one, would have had to consider leaving the party.

Jesus said if we love Him, we should keep his commandments. These include His commandments about the sanctity of life. I love Jesus more than I dislike Hillary Clinton.

If Giuliani and Clinton were to have faced each other in an election there would be some policy and philosophy differences, but what would be their fundamental differences in morality and faith and personal integrity? Now, to me, Fred Thompson or Mitt Romney would have been different than Rudy Giuliani. Thompson is not adamant enough against abortion, and I suspect Romney’s move toward prolife had some political motivations. However, at least they CLAIMED to be prolife. Giuliani was flat out prochoice, and to be prochoice about abortion is to be pro-abortion, every bit as much as to be prochoice about rape is to be pro-rape. So despite the fact that I wouldn’t have voted for them in the primaries, in the end I believe I would have voted for Romney or Thompson against Hillary or Obama or Edwards.

But I would not have voted for Giuliani. I have no control over who votes for the Democratic prochoice candidates. I do have control over whether I vote for a prochoice candidate, and I won’t. I won’t be held accountable for someone else voting for a pro-abortion candidate. I will be held accountable if I vote for such a candidate myself.

McCain is prolife, though he is inconsistent on the stem cell issue. So while I could never vote for Giuliani, who was not prolife, I could have voted for Thompson and could vote for McCain, knowing they are less than ideal, but that they are avowedly prolife even with regrettable inconsistencies.

If I had to write in Mike Huckabee or Alan Keyes in the general election (I wrote in Keyes once some years ago), others would think it wasted, but at least it would make a small but real statement that no party which puts forth a pro-abortion candidate will ever get my vote. If all prolifers did this, there would be no possibility of a candidate like Giuliani getting the nomination in the first place. We need to send this message to the Republican Party-there are some things so basic, we can’t compromise on them. The lives of innocent children are among those.

I’m very concerned that we have lost sight of biblical convictions and replaced them with Conservativism and Republicanism, just as some “social justice” Christians have replaced them with Liberalism and Democratic loyalties. History shows us there is moral corruption in both parties. The two greatest presidential scandals involved a conservative Republican (Nixon) and a liberal democrat (Clinton). Immorality and scandal know no party. They’re endemic to the sin condition.

I remember the way many conservative Christians acted as if God’s kingdom had come during the Republican revolution, gaining the majority in the mid-nineties. After years of touting “Family Values” and being a darling of Christian conservatives, decrying “the moral decay of the left,” Newt Gingrich left his wife for another woman. During their divorce proceedings, his wife and the rest of the country learned that Gingrich had engaged in a six-year affair with a congressional aide who was twenty-three years younger than he. The affair began about a year before the Gingrich-engineered Republican takeover of the U.S. House. When the various reports of Bill Clinton’s adulteries surfaced, Gingrich was all for exposing him. He championed Clinton’s impeachment proceedings-and all the while he was engaged in an ongoing adulterous relationship.

Years earlier Gingrich had ended his first marriage by serving his wife with divorce papers while she was in the hospital being treated for cancer. Gingrich never apologized to his supporters for his affair that went through all his years as the nation’s conservative champion. His conscience appears to be as seared as Bill Clinton’s. And he went right on commanding $50,000 per speech when he speaks to conservative groups. (Maybe he repented and I never heard about it. I hope he did.)

The fact that many conservatives, including many Christians, and many pastors, said nothing about Gingrich’s immorality while railing against Bill Clinton’s immorality demonstrates moral inconsistency and hypocrisy. It suggests that they/we were governed less by moral principles than by loyalty to a political party.

I think no political party or candidate should assume they have “the Christian vote.” I think we need to vote for what we believe God wants, regardless of what affect it ultimately has on any group or party.

As far as electing a president who would appoint prolife justices, or at least those who might overturn Roe v. Wade on a constitutional basis: first, I don’t believe Rudy Giuliani would have followed through on his promise. Someone who is prochoice would be violating his own convictions to appoint judges who are prolife. But I will grant that it is certainly MORE likely (even though to me still very unlikely) that Rudy would have done this than that Hillary would. As for his promise to Pat Robertson and conservatives to do this, I would trust that promise about as much as I would trust the promises he made to his first and second wife, and for that matter his third.

Ronald Reagan was the most adamantly prolife president you could ask for. While in office he actually wrote a prolife book, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation. An amazingly good book. And yet, Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, who not only failed to move against Roe v. Wade but have supported it and kept it in effect. (And David Souter was appointed by George Bush Sr., another Republican, who wasn’t as prolife as he should have been, but was way more than Rudy Giuliani is.)

So I don’t even have much confidence in appointments made by prolife presidents-why would I put hope in appointments made by a prochoice president?

Things to think about. I’m not sure that I’m right–a conscience can be misguided. But I do know my conscience won’t permit me to cast a vote for those who turn their back on children, and defend the shedding of innocent blood.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries