Some Christians plan to sit out this presidential election because none of the viable presidential candidates reflect their conservative ideals, and think casting a vote for any of them would be morally wrong. While I am somewhat sympathetic to this position, ultimately I think it is unwise, and possibly even immoral. This is a serious charge, and I do not make it lightly. Allow me to substantiate my charge with a reasonable argument (credit, for which, goes largely to Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason ministries).

The time to vote according to one’s ideals and conscience is the primary election, not the general election. In a general election our options are narrowed down to two viable candidates, and we vote for the best available candidate. It may be that neither candidate represents our ideals, and we are tempted to sit out the general election for conscience’ sake, or to send a message to the political parties that we do not like the candidates they are advancing (protest vote). Whatever the motivation might be, the fact remains that one of the two major candidates will be elected whether we vote or not, and they will have an impact on the issues that matter to us. Sitting out the election will do nothing to change that. Sitting out the election, however, can determine whether some of our ideals will be advanced or attacked.

It may be the case in a general election that both candidates equally fail to represent our ideals, but in most cases, one candidate will better represent our ideals than the other. For example, candidate A may share with us 3 out of 10 ideals, while candidate B may only share 2 out of 10. While neither comes close to representing our ideals, candidate A more closely resembles our ideals than candidate B, and is more likely to promote our ideals than candidate B. If we take our ideals seriously—meaning we want to see them advanced for the good of our fellow Americans—we should be interested in electing those who will do the most to promote them. As such, we have a moral responsibility to vote for the candidate who will act to promote a greater amount of good, and work to prevent a greater amount of evil. Failing to vote, however, may result in candidate B being elected over candidate A, which in turn may increase the net amount of evil in the world. To see how this is so, let me illustrate.

Let’s say candidate A (the better of the two bad candidates) has 51% of the popular vote (of registered, likely voters), and candidate B has 49% of the popular vote. If 4% of conservative Christians refuse to vote for candidate A because he does not match up to their ideals, they shift the vote to the other candidate. Now, candidate A only has 47% of the popular vote, and candidate B has 53% of the popular vote. Ironically, then, sitting out an election may result in the increase of evil, by throwing the election to the worse of the two candidates. In other words, sitting out could have the unintended consequence of increasing evil.

One might respond that choosing the lesser of two evils is evil. I disagree. Choosing the lesser of two evils is a moral good because it results in the greater good. In fact, when we have the ability to reduce evil in the world, and our inaction would have the effect of increasing evil, we are morally culpable if we do nothing. If not voting will cause greater evil, then we have a moral obligation to vote. We are not obligated to vote for the best candidate, but the best candidate available.

What about one’s conscience? While I would never advise someone to violate their conscience, neither can I pretend the conscience that demands one do something that would increase evil is a properly functioning conscience. Only a misinformed conscience could demand such a thing of a person. Any conscience that demands we do something that will result in increased evil needs to be informed by a different set of moral principles.

If you don’t care for your presidential choices, you are not alone. I don’t care much for them either. But I recognize that one of them is better than the rest when measured against conservative ideals: John McCain. While this individual is not my ideal, his presidency would result in more good and less evil than the presidency of the other candidates, and that is why I will vote for him in the general election. I hope you will vote as well. Remember, all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.