Mt Soledad
Welcome to the
Christian Citizenship Council
of San Diego
San Diego
“When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Prov 29:2)

Equipping the Church to Vote

Chapter 6: Principle versus Practical

“There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed
against the Lord.” (Prov 21:30)

There is a quandary in politics that can make many decisions on potential legislation a virtual minefield for the godly leader.  As a case in point, consider a hypothetical situation where a Christian Pro-Life legislator is faced with deciding on a law that would make abortions illegal except for reasons of rape, incest (or even health of the mother).  On the one hand, if he supports the law he shows progress in removing the scourge of the vast majority of abortions as practiced in this nation.  However, to some, he may appear to have abandoned his fundamental principle of valuing all life as being in the image of God because the law would still allow abortion under certain conditions.  If he doesn’t support the law, he may be viewed as acting consistent with the fundamental principle of all life being of equal value (no baby left behind!), but a practical outcome would be allowing all abortions to continue unabated.

This quandary is not as far fetched as you may think.  The same questions occur when considering third party candidates for office.  Should a vote be cast for a candidate (third party) that has virtually no opportunity to be elected but has positions more in line with our beliefs, or for the best of the two major party candidates?  This soul-searching problem is dramatically illustrated in looking at California registration statistics.  For the presidential election year of 2000, of almost 16 million registered voters, over 45% were registered Democrats, and almost 35% were registered Republican. A full 15% of those registered declined to state their preference, while about 5% registered as one of the five other officially recognized political parties in the State (American Independent; Green; Libertarian; Reform; and Natural Law).  Hypothetically, in order for Republicans to win a race, they must garner a 10% increase in votes over their registered base.  If half the undeclared voters vote Republican (not an unreasonable assumption), they still fall about 3% short on average.  With the 5% minority party vote remaining committed to their party, the Democratic Party will continue to dominate indefinitely.  This occurred at the national level with the Presidential election of 1992, where “conservative” voters chose the Reform Party ticket in sufficient numbers to ensure a Republican President was not elected and Bill Clinton was elected without a majority.  Incidentally, Bill Clinton was elected both times without a majority of the national vote.

Christians have been split many times over these types of issues because of a difference in approaches to politics.  Though we have a common enemy, sincere believers can (and will) disagree on tactics to use as a matter of conscience.  This difference is sometimes referred to as “Principle verses Practical” 8 , although in fairness, it should be pointed out that each side of the illustrations above can be grounded in solid principles.  Also, sincere believers can (and will) differ on what tactics should be used to defeat a common enemy.

One other point needs to be mentioned when it comes to candidates for public office.  It’s believed by many that supporting someone implies acceptance of all the candidate believes or does, while the opposition, de facto, can do nothing right.  In reality, every candidate, no matter how good, is going to be a compromise from our own personal views or positions.  It’s appropriate to remember that you can personally endorse a particular candidate without compromising your own beliefs.  In other words, recommending a person for public office doesn’t necessarily mean you enthusiastically approve everything about them.  When this is understood and applied, some of the practicalities of who to support become much clearer.  More will be discussed on this topic in Chapter 7, “Biblical Qualifications for Candidates.”

The following is a short summary of major concerns and positive aspects of the “Principle” and “Practical” approaches to tough problems.  Though this may not provide a definitive way to reach consensus on issues, it’s intended to at least make a voter aware of the shortcomings of different tactical approaches so believers can better understand, and hence appreciate, each other.  We’re called by God to defer to each other whenever we can, to strive to understand each other as best we can, and to not think less of each other when we disagree on things that scripture gives us freedom to differ on.  As you wrestle through voting issues from a Christian, Biblical worldview perspective, may you first strive to determine what would bring the most glory to Christ, and then how to best accomplish that given existing limitations.

Contrasting Two Different Decision Strategies


If “Principle” Strategy

If “Practical” Strategy





Can appear as legalistic in application

Can appear as an “ends justifies the means” mentality


Can focus on truth, with no allowance for benefits

Can appear to compromise beliefs for results


Can result in no action at all

Can be driven into expediency


Can develop a “leave it up to God” mentality

Can appear to trust man more than God


Can appear as the easy way out

Can appear as “politics as usual”


Can appear as a “feel good” vote

Can appear as siding with enemy


Can prevent any compromise from occurring

Can result in gradual movement away from righteousness


Can appear intolerant of other approaches

Can appear to be unprincipled in approach


Can view other approaches as “ungodly” or “sinful”

Can appear to support the lesser of two evils


Can appear to waste a vote

Can appear to waste a vote


Can create even worse results

Can create even worse results


Can prevent “much good” because of a “little bad”

Can cause “much bad” for a “little good”


Can appear to be living in a “holy huddle”

Can appear to be in league with non-Christians


Can overlook areas of freedom to compromise

Can overlook key foundational principles





Can help define issues and principles clearly

Can make progress without necessarily violating principle


Can send a powerful message that cannot be ignored

Can accomplish “much good” while tolerating “some bad”


Can prevent expediency overwhelming what is right

Can accomplish incremental
changes vice none at all


Can ultimately result in the right answer being implemented

Can ultimately result in the right answer being implemented


Can help to determine the core Values that are not negotiable

Can help to creatively determine options consistent with core principles

8 The “Principle” position may also be referred to as ideal, conscience oriented and absolutist.  The “Practical” position may also be referred to as practice, pragmatic, contextual, realist oriented and incrementalist

Previous          Contents           Next