Pragmatism, Principles, and Politics

It’s been a crazy election year. We are a few days away from a presidential election and many folks have asked me for my opinion. Generally I make it a rule not to write about politics. I had a passion for it when I was younger and enjoyed opportunities like Missouri Boy’s State to learn more about our great country and how it worked. Yet as I’ve grown into adulthood the cynic in me has taken over and I’ve found myself bored with politics and have subsequently left the discussion up to those who were more passionate… until now.

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Lets talk politics and Christianity for just a minute. There is this sentiment that one’s religion need not interfere with politics. That is the position of senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate and choice for Vice President. It’s also a very religious statement. It’s religious simply because he said he could do something with his religion… forget about it when he makes political decision.

Folks have turned this around to say that we should check our religion at the ballot box. They have said, in effect that THEY know better than ME on how to practice MY religion (tell me that’s not a religious statement)... But let’s be honest, Tim Kaine’s religion doesn’t permit him to do that, he does it in defiance, not compliance to the faith he claims. He claims to be Catholic and his Pope (or any Pope before him) hasn’t said “check your Catholicism at the ballot box“… His church has a long history of standing against abortion (One of the issues that Kaine holds personally and religiously but doesn’t let interfere with his political life).

All this chatter about checking your religion at the ballot box is an attempt to persuade you to embrace an otherwise unappealing candidate by ignoring a major disagreement you have with them. It should be seen as manipulative and underhanded. Politicians don’t get to define YOUR religious beliefs and you should not fault them for theirs (if you could find one that held their beliefs with any sincerity).

Now let’s talk Pragmatism (it IS in the title anyway). There are folks out there who will tell you that you have to vote a certain way because you don’t want Hillary to win or you don’t want Trump to win. This is where I think a lot of evangelical pastors and theologians have compromised their principles. I don’t mean that flippantly so let’s investigate pragmatism for a moment.

Pragmatism is the philosophy that whatever works is “right.” So in essence the “end” justifies the “means.” So practically speaking you might vote for a particular candidate to get a certain end such as, “prevent Trump from blowing us all up” or, to “prevent Hillary from appointing liberal activist judges to the supreme court.” You cast a vote for someone you dislike (means) in order to get a result that you will be pleased with (end).

The problem with pragmatism is that for the Christian, the means matter just as much as the end! This is why I said some of our pastors and theologians have compromised their principles… they have endorsed a corrupt means… voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. 

It is not as though we don’t have a guide for such situations. We have a Savior who was perfectly obedient, even where we would choose not to be. Can you imagine Jesus casting his ballot for Trump? How about Clinton? Would he choose the lesser of two evils? Is there another way?

There is another way. The way where the means matters just as much as the end. Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). He was promised the world as his kingdom without the cross (end), all he had to do was worship the devil (means). Yet He rejected this and chose the cross out of obedience to God and the cross became the means by which you and I can be saved from our sins (end)!

You see, the silly thing about pragmatism is that when you apply it to something like politics, ethics, or religion it breaks down because as you change the means… you change the end. You won’t just prevent Hillary or Trump by voting for one against the other, you will also be endorsing Hillary or Trump.

Now let’s talk about Principles. Principles are those beliefs that you hold at the foundation of your being. You build your personal actions based off of your principles. If you are a Christian you have deeply held principles that will come up every election cycle. You have principles about life, marriage, poverty, justice, and more. Anyone who tells you to ignore your principles and vote for them is telling you that your principles don’t matter… and if you vote for them against your better judgement… your principles really don’t matter. But that was because YOU gave up your principles when you voted against your conscience.

Now you’re going to tell me that you are stuck. You have two options and you don’t like either one. You can’t vote for Hillary because well, you don’t need me to tell you, you’ve got tons of reasons. Now you know you also can’t vote for Trump, again you don’t need me to campaign for or against these folks. You’ve seen the media. You’ve formed your opinion… You don’t think you can go into the ballot box, cast a vote, and come out clean.

You do have another option.Vote based on your principles, even if this leads you to a third party candidate. You can vote for someone else. It may feel like you are throwing your vote away but in the last several elections nearly half of the people who voted, voted for a candidate who lost… You see that’s the thing…. Someone will lose! What if you vote for Hillary or Trump and they lose? You might be able to wash that off, but what if you vote for Hillary or Trump and they win? What will you tell your children when they ask? History won’t remember the loser only the winner. 

In a few weeks when we know who will be the next president I’m sure that God will still be on His throne!  However, the ballot box says just as much about our principles (or lack there of) as it does about the folks who are running for president.

Anyhow to those who asked. That is my 2 cents on this election. Hope it helps.