If you want to see the future of Christian conservative politics you need to know about Wesley Goodman.
Goodman is a married, 33-year-old “family-values conservative” elected to the Ohio legislature last year. He had previously worked as an aide for a conservative congressman, and served as managing director for the Conservative Action Project and a member of the Council for National Policy, two organizations that serve as alliances of economic, social, and national-security conservatives.*
Earlier this month Goodman resigned from the legislature after he was caught engaging in “inappropriate behavior” (i.e., sexual behavior) with a man at his office. And it doesn’t seem to have been an isolated occurrence. Goodman had reportedly “exchanged salacious texts and emails with gay men he met on Capitol Hill, and sent sexually suggestive messages to young men he met through conservative circles who were too intimidated to publicly complain.”
One young man did complain, though. Two years ago Goodman allegedly invited an 18-year-old college student to his hotel room and attempted to sexually assault the teenager. The young man’s parents notified Goodman’s boss, the head of the Council for National Policy (CNP), who promised to take action. Goodman was dismissed from the CNP two months later, but when he ran for public office the pro-family Christian leaders never notified the people of Ohio they might be electing a sexual predator.
As we have discovered over the past two years, so long as the flawed candidate can be considered the “lesser of two evils” (i.e., not a Democrat), then some evangelicals believe we can vote for them and keep a clean conscience.
Looking back, it’s obvious these evangelical leaders who turned a blind eye to a sexually predatory politician were ahead of the curve. As we have discovered over the past two years, so long as the flawed candidate can be considered the “lesser of two evils” (i.e., not a Democrat), then some evangelicals believe we can vote for them and keep a clean conscience.
Why Do Evangelicals Condone Sexual Assault?
In an article published last October, I asked: “Why are so many evangelicals condoning sexual assault?” I noted that “many evangelicals—especially prominent conservative defenders of family and public morality—side with the powerful oppressors over the vulnerable oppressed. Many have shown they are willing, even eager, to overlook admissions of sexual assault if it will lead to their preferred political outcome.” And that some of America’s most notable pastors, educators, and organizational leaders “attempt to square the circle by claiming that while they are personally opposed to sexual assault and boasting about committing it, they have no intention of holding the perpetrator accountable.”
Numerous people told me at the time that I was being too critical and that the election of 2016 was a special circumstance. Given the choice between two extremely unqualified and unworthy candidates, conservative Christians were voting for Trump merely to protect the Supreme Court. For a time I wondered if that was true. Maybe it was just a political fluke, and evangelicals weren’t discarding our principles.
And then came Roy Moore.
An Idol in Alabama
There were plenty of sound political reasons for conservatives to reject Judge Moore. He has a history of violating legal ethics (he was twice removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court) and a blatant disregard for the Constitution. He was so unqualified for the U.S. Senate that even the leader of his political party, President Trump, refused to endorse him in the Republican primary.
Then came the credible allegations that during his time as an assistant district attorney he had inappropriate relations with teenagers, including sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. That should have been enough to tank his candidacy.
If Judge Moore were a Democrat, the citizens of Alabama would have chased him out of the state and into Tennessee. Because he’s a Republican, though, some pastors not only defend him; they even allow him to speak from the pulpit. (This week Moore was giving a stump speech at a church when he was interrupted. The pastor intervened to remind the congregation that they were at a “worship service.” The preacher was correct: they were indeed at a worship service, but what was being worshiped wasn’t Jesus.)
Some people believe Moore is innocent of the allegations made against him. Others simply don’t care if they are true or not.
On Not Sacrificing Our Integrity—Or Our Daughters
Take, for example, Tully Borland, an associate professor of philosophy at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas. Yesterday, Borland wrote an article yesterday titled, “Why Alabamians Should Vote For Roy Moore.” Borland says he has a 14-year-old daughter and that if he caught Moore sexually assaulting his child, he’d kick the judge in the groin. Borland also implies that after giving him a good kick he’d cast a vote for the former judge: “That being said, I don’t think it’s wrong to vote for Moore.”
I can’t fathom what perverse reasoning would allow someone to think, Yes, the man sexually assaulted my teenage daughter, but I gave him a kick so now I’ll help put him in one of the most powerful positions in the country. While I don’t understand his thinking, I give Borland credit for not being partisan about his own family. Too many fathers would cast a vote for a man who molested someone else’s daughter, even though they wouldn’t do it if the victim were their own child.
Borland’s argues that voting for a lesser of two evils doesn’t undermine your integrity. But Borland doesn’t seem to understand either the concept of integrity or the principle of “lesser of two evils.” To have integrity means that we have a consistent standard, and that our application of that standard is exemplified by our pattern of behavior. As Paul says, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity” (Titus 2:7).
To oppose sexual misconduct in general and yet excuse it when done by politicians is the opposite of integrity—it’s a prime example of hypocrisy.
For example, if you claim that character is important for leadership, both in yourself and also in others, then to be a person of integrity requires that you adhere to that standard even when it might conflict with your political preferences. To oppose sexual misconduct in general and yet excuse it when done by politicians is the opposite of integrity—it’s a prime example of hypocrisy.
The Un-Christian Principle of ‘Lesser of Two Evils’
Borland also misunderstands the concept of “lesser of two evils.” He claims, “All voting is voting for the lesser of two evils, and it’s almost never wrong to vote for the lesser of the two.” The basis for his claim is that since both candidates are sinners, we should vote for the “lesser” of the two sinners. This is not the principle of lesser, which itself is not a Christian concept.
The lesser-of-two-evils principle says when faced with selecting from two immoral options, the one that is least immoral should be chosen. But the Bible makes it clear that we are not to choose any immoral option. As Paul simply says, “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).
This lesser-evil principle twists the Catholic moral teaching about the principle of double effect, the claim it’s permissible to cause a harm as a side effect of bringing about a good result when it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end. Whether evangelicals should hold to this doctrine is debatable. But it is a gross misunderstanding to claim this principle justifies voting for a sexual predator simply because the molester opposes abortion.
It is a gross misunderstanding to claim [the lesser-evil] principle justifies voting for a sexual predator simply because the molester opposes abortion.
What Borland is really advocating is consequentialism, the view that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act. Borland makes this clear when he says that critics of Moore (and Trump)
fall prey to what philosophers call a reductio ad absurdum, an argument that reduces itself to absurdity. If one can’t vote for someone who is better (that is, less bad or less evil) or who is equally bad but has better policies, then one should opt out of politics and the voting process altogether! But since that’s not the case, the #Never_____ position fails. It’s that simple.
Note that Borland considers the idea of not voting to be an absurdity. Even faced with two immoral candidates, he believes we must choose one over the other. Why? Because of the bad consequences that might come about if we don’t vote for the candidate who supports our preferred policies.
If this sounds like a familiar argument, it’s because Christians have used it for decades to vote for pro-abortion candidates. They claim it’s better to choose candidates who support one’s views on a number of pertinent issues even if they support a grave evil (i.e., abortion) over which they have almost no direct influence (because no single politician can overturn Roe v. Wade).
Now, the same reasoning is being used by Christians to justify voting for sexually predatory Republicans. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that, for many Christians, consequentialism has replaced biblical ethics as the standard for our political theology.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that, for many Christians, consequentialism has replaced biblical ethics as the standard for our political theology.
A Nonpartisan Solution
Fortunately, there is another approach we can choose when engaging in secular politics: convictional inaction.
Convictional inaction refuses to support any political candidate, organization, or party that advocates for or turns a blind eye to gross immorality and injustice. Every Christian in America would refuse to vote for any candidate—regardless of political party—who supports such gross injustices as abortion or who covers up immorality, including sexual assault.
If every evangelical committed to convictional inaction, politics in American would change within four to five years (about two election cycles). Knowing they were truly at the whim of Christian voters, both parties would be forced to make radical changes. Convictional inaction is a nonpartisan approach that solves our political crisis by literally doing nothing.
If every evangelical committed to convictional inaction, politics in American would change within four to five years (about two election cycles).
The flaw in this approach, of course, is the collective action problem. It would take a majority—or at least a critical mass of convictionally inactive voters—to make it functional. And as we see in Alabama, there simply aren’t enough Christians willing to risk letting their political opponents win any temporary victory.
Still, I hold out hope that this approach will catch on. Politically conservative evangelicals today have been catechized by Fox News and talk radio. But there are a growing number of churches teaching what it means to live as ambassadors of the kingdom of God and not as partisan dupes in our current political cults.
Eventually, we may be able to restore the idea that character and moral integrity are minimum requirements to hold political office. But in the meantime, we’ll increasingly be stuck with the Wesley Goodmans and Roy Moores of the world. We’ve taught candidates they can get away with almost anything because they know we don’t have the courage not to vote for them.
We’ve taught candidates they can get away with almost anything because they know we don’t have the courage not to vote for them.
* A commenter pointed out that the media report I cited was in error, and Goodman was a member but not an employee of the Center for National Policy. He was therefore dismissed by the president of the Council, not fired as previously stated.