How should you respond if you consider the election to be illegitimate? Four options and a biblical path forward

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Republican state officials in Texas sued Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the US Supreme Court yesterday. Their suit alleges that the four states acted unconstitutionally by changing their voting rules to expand access amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Forbes cites experts, however, who claim that the lawsuit is “nearly certain to fail.”

Meanwhile, the results of the 2020 US presidential election were finalized yesterday under what is called the “safe harbor deadline.” This law declares that any completed and certified vote count “made at least six days before the time fixed for the meeting of the electors . . . shall be conclusive, and shall govern in the counting of the electoral votes as provided in the Constitution.” 

According to federal law, those voting in the Electoral College “shall meet and give their votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.” This year, the specified date falls on December 14. Six days before December 14 was yesterday. 

However, court challenges continue. The Supreme Court refused a request yesterday from Pennsylvania Republicans to overturn the state’s election results. Some Republicans in Congress are urging President Trump not to concede the race even assuming Joe Biden wins the Electoral College next Monday, asking him to take the battle to the House floor in January. They believe Congress should consider overturning the election results because of allegations of fraud. 

According to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, 52 percent of Republicans believe President Trump “rightfully won” the election; 68 percent said they were concerned that the election was “rigged” for Joe Biden. Overall, 28 percent of Americans thought the election was “the result of illegal voting or election rigging,” up 12 points from four years ago. 

Since I am neither a lawyer nor a lawmaker, I have no expertise to offer on this contentious issue. My purpose today as a biblical philosopher is to help us think through scriptural options for those who believe the presidential election was unfairly decided. 

Let’s consider a spectrum of alternatives, then focus on practical steps going forward. 

Four logical options 

From a logical perspective, those who believe the presidential election was decided unfairly have four broad options within the American system of government. 

One: Seek to have the election overturned. As we have noted, this is currently being attempted by those mounting court challenges and supporting a congressional vote to overturn the results. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel writes that states and the courts have a duty to ensure that the election was conducted properly and that similar irregularities do not arise in the future. 

Two: Seek to have President Biden removed from office. This approach assumes that he is inaugurated as our forty-sixth president on January 20. Congress could then impeach and remove him for cause; the Twenty-Fifth Amendment allows the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to remove the president for cause as well. 

Three: Stop contesting the election but oppose President Biden’s agenda. This approach assumes that the new president’s election was so corrupt that he cannot and should not govern and seeks to obstruct him in every way possible. 

Four: Support President Biden where we can do so biblically. Rev. Franklin Graham said in a recent interview, “If Joe Biden is the president, if that’s what it turns out to be, then we need to do everything we can to support him, where we can.” 

How Christians responded to the Roman Empire 

The first approach is certainly legal and legitimate. God’s word calls us to “seek justice” and “correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17). We are promised: “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” (Psalm 106:3). Pursuing legal means to ensure that the election was as fair as possible is a biblical response to concerns over possible injustices. 

If, however, these approaches are not successful, evangelical Christians who believe the election was illegitimate will need to decide whether they should unconditionally oppose a Biden administration or seek to work with it on common causes. To this point, let’s consider biblical precedents. 

Paul taught, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” noting that the authorities that exist “have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). These “governing authorities” included Emperor Nero, who ascended to the throne at age seventeen, perhaps after his mother poisoned the previous emperor. Nero persecuted early Christians and martyred both Peter and Paul. 

Nonetheless, Paul did not incite his many followers to rebel against the authorities even when he was unfairly treated (cf. Acts 16:35–40Acts 21–26). In this, he followed the example of Jesus, who commanded his followers not to resist his arrest (Matthew 26:52) even though his Father could have sent him “more than twelve legions of angels” (v. 53). 

To the contrary, early Christians employed Roman roads under Roman peace to bring the gospel across the Roman Empire. They offered “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” to God “for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1–2). Justin Martyr (AD 100–165) wrote that Christians are moral, upright, and law-abiding citizens who are the Empire’s “best allies in securing good order.” 

An early prayer “for all our emperors” 

However, early Christians knew that they served a power higher than humans. When commanded by the authorities in Jerusalem to cease preaching, Peter and the apostles responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). 

Their example leads us to stand for biblical truth without compromise (Ephesians 4:15) but to work with our leaders where we can. For example, an official with the National Association of Evangelicals suggested that his organization could collaborate with a Biden administration on immigration, paid family leave, and criminal justice reform. Dallas pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress, a stalwart supporter of President Trump, stated: “If President Biden succeeds, we all succeed.” 

Tertullian (AD 145–220) offered this prayer “without ceasing, for all our emperors”: “We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest” (Apology 30).

Let’s join him, to the glory of God.

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