When no good option is available, what should a Christian do? When the choice is between “the lesser of two evils,” what is the alternative for a person who doesn’t want to choose evil? Trying to answer such questions makes for stimulating discussion in a college ethics course.
However, we are not in a college ethics course. We are marching ever closer to Election Day. Lord, help us.
As we make our voting decision this year, no doubt we will consider parties, personalities and policies. Yet in this election year, none of the standard categories prove helpful. How, then, can we make a good choice for the next president of the United States?
Christians do have help beyond the standard categories. Christians have a higher standard for making decisions large and small, a framework described by Larry Ashlock, professor of pastoral leadership and ethics and director of the doctor of ministry program at the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and executive director of the Baptist Center for Global Concerns.
An ethical framework
Asked to describe an ethical framework for selecting a political candidate, Ashlock clarified: “There is no one ethical system in the Scriptures, the sourcebook for our faith and practice. In fact, even though Christ greatly emphasized ethics, he did not teach an ethical method to his disciples. There have been many through the years that have tried, and failed, to produce a one-size-fits-all scheme for making moral decisions. The difficulty rests in the fact systems break down, and, before one realizes it, there is the subtle pressure to make the situation fit the system.”
Broadly speaking, Ashlock reminds us of Jesus’ principal mandate recorded in Matthew 22:37-40—we are to love God with all of our being and our neighbors as we love ourselves. To love our neighbor means Christians will refuse to vilify a particular political candidate.
Christ’s love mandate also was expressed perfectly in his cross and provides an example of how we may approach moral decision-making with any issue (see John 3:16-17; 15:9-14).
Ashlock credits Richard Hays, author of The Moral Vision of the New Testament, with pointing out the Apostle Paul applies this singular gospel message to all the particular communities and moral problems he addresses in his letters. Hays offers three “interlocking” theological motifs that stem from Christ’s loving sacrifice and give rise to Paul’s ethical teaching. They are eschatology (Ashlock uses “hope”), cross and new community. These three themes provide support for Christ’s love command, much like ribs support an umbrella’s panels, Ashlock says. They also offer, in this political season, a lens through which a Christian may examine candidates and policies and make moral choices.
“We love well when we provide the broken with hope,” Ashlock said. “There are many broken Americans right now that are living pressed down by social injustice—such as economic hardship, racial bigotry and health challenges. We offer the hope of Christ when we live our lives within the ‘cosmic drama’ that God is at work in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:14-18). …
“Which candidate offers the best promise of being used of the Father to bring hope and to allay injustice for all citizens?”
“Jesus’ death on the cross was an act of loving, self-sacrificial obedience that becomes a model for the obedience of all who are in Christ,” Ashlock added. “His was a freely-made sacrifice that brought reconciliation to God for humanity. We have been called to this same ministry of the cross (2 Corinthians 5:19b; follow Christ’s example, Galatians 6:2).
“Which candidate … as best as one can tell, embodies … the moral imperative to serve others in Christ’s love?”
Finally, “which of the candidates is best suited to build new community? The fruit of God’s love is the formation of communities that ‘confess, worship and pray together in a way that glorifies God’ (Romans 15:7-13). … Since government and those that govern are held ultimately accountable to God (1 Peter 2), then our next president should, at least, sense a moral responsibility to enhance human flourishing and build ‘community’ across our nation.”
If we are to hold candidates to the latter standard, then we as Christians—whether or not we vote—must do a better job of building community ourselves, perhaps beginning with our posts, shares and comments on social media, where many Christians have been every bit as divisive and unloving as at least one of the two top candidates.
No easy answers
The filters of hope, cross and new community, while not as effective as casting lots for making a definitive choice, are helpful for putting us in the right frame of mind when thinking about who should or should not hold any political office.
On second thought, the filters of hope, cross and community might be better than casting lots. They might help us become the sort of people we wish our politicians were—our politicians who rise from our own ranks, after all.
Eric Black is pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, Texas, and a member of the Baptist Standard Publishing board of directors.