Now that the question of who the 2012 Republican presidential nominee will be seems to have been answered, another question is being hotly debated in Evangelical circles: Can an Evangelical Christian vote for Mitt Romney?
It’s a question that’s been discussed all along, but for most Evangelicals, it was a question that they hoped they ultimately wouldn’t have to face. They had a number of candidates they were generally supportive of and were optimistic that one of them would surely beat Romney. It didn’t happen.
So the question that was once in the abstract is now reality and, not surprisingly, the opinions on the matter are rather forcefully being set forth in blogs, on Facebook, and in Sunday School classes.
The discussions frequently involve an assertion that voting for Romney is voting for the “lesser of two evils”, and therefore is still a vote for evil. The contrary argument usually defends the hypothetical vote for Romney on the ground that not voting for him (in our two-party system) amounts to a vote for Mr. Obama.
So why would a vote for Romney be a “vote for evil”? There are generally three reasons that are cited:
First, there is little confidence that Romney is really the conservative he says he is. Few Evangelicals (or anyone else, for the matter of that) trust him. On the social issues they care about, Evangelicals are leery of what President Romney will do as opposed to what candidate Romney has been willing to say. And they are quite aware of what he said and did as Governor of Massachusetts. I think it’s fair to say that many are convinced that Romney will say nearly anything he deems necessary to get elected.
Second, while Romney has staked out some positions that are relatively conservative, he hasn’t gone far enough to suit most Evangelicals. For example, although he has changed his position from being pro-choice to being pro-life, he still supports abortion rights in the case of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. Romney’s website says he believes life begins at conception, and if this is really true, it stands to reason that he would drop his support of at least the first two exceptions that he allows for. He hasn’t.
Third, Romney’s Mormonism is an issue for some. A few generations ago this would have been a massive problem for Romney, and not just among Evangelicals. But times have changed, and many Evangelicals have been deeply affected by the pluralism that our nation seems to have thoroughly embraced, thus if they could be convinced that someone can restore the Judeo-Christian ethic of a by-gone era (not to suggest Romney has actually promised to do this) they’d gladly support him, even if he is a Mormon. For this reason, Romney’s religion is the least of his problems with Evangelicals.
To be sure, these are matters which legitimately ought to give any conservative Christian more than a little pause. But do these concerns categorically and utterly disqualify Romney as a candidate if there are indeed no other viable candidates for the Evangelical Christian to vote for in this year’s general election? What is the alternative? The re-election of Mr. Obama is simply unthinkable to most Evangelicals. A Romney presidency looks utopian by comparison. He would clearly do them the least amount of harm. Therefore they may view it as being in their best interests to support Romney if they aren’t prepared to simply disengage from political activity. Voting for him may be seen as nothing more than utilizing a civil mechanism in an attempt to slow the progress of evil.
I do not accept the characterization of this approach as voting for the “lesser of two evils”. I have written about this before, but I have never developed my thoughts on this subject in any detail. I plan to do that in a subsequent post. I hope to discuss a number of questions, but as I see it the matter chiefly rests on the answer to two questions: (1) What are the civil obligations of Christians in a pluralistic nation and society as opposed to a distinctively Christian nation and society? (2) What is the nature of a vote?
For now, suffice it to say that although I do not endorse Mitt Romney, I am interested in defending those Christians who find themselves reluctantly supporting him in the general election. It is a calumny to suggest that they are necessarily unprincipled hacks for doing so.