Principle vs. Pragmatism

This divisive presidential election has brought forth a discussion that has all too often not been as productive as it should be: the issue of what is principled and what is pragmatic and whether there is a line that should not be crossed.

In my courses, I give a definition of principle as follows:

The source or origin of anything; a general truth from which one can deduce many subordinate truths.

Principled people believe in foundational truths that span all ages and circumstances. To be principled is to think and act consistently with those truths and to be willing to stand alone for them, if necessary.

Of course, one must have a proper understanding of what is a foundational truth and what is not:

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Then there is pragmatism, which is defined in this way:

Truth is based on the usefulness of ideas (whatever works is true); truth is a process, constantly changing according to time, place, or personal experience.

Pragmatic people are willing to dismiss foundational truths in order to do whatever seems expedient to achieve some goal.

And then there’s someone like this:

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There is the crux of the problem, in my view.

This election has brought out a lot of pragmatism on the part of those who have decided to go with Donald Trump. Those who have made that decision will say that it is a principled one because it keeps the obvious wrong choice out of power. However, my question is what has been sacrificed by making that decision.

Here’s my rule of thumb:

A compromised principle leads to unrighteousness, but a principled compromise is a step closer to the principle’s ideal.

In supporting Trump, are we led closer to our principles or are we instead pulled down into unrighteousness? Some have answered that by keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House, we maintain our principles. While I understand that reasoning to some extent, I cannot accept it.

For me, putting Donald Trump into the White House rather than Hillary Clinton only gives us another model of unrighteousness in the highest office in the land. By supporting him, I believe I am compromising a principle of Christian character.

Now, those who disagree with me respond that I am promoting unrighteousness by allowing Hillary to take the reins of power. No, I see both options as unacceptable; both are deplorable, despicable, corrupt individuals who should never be in any position of authority.

Consequently, supporting either one would be, in my opinion, a compromise with principle.

There is no Biblical mandate saying I have to vote for one of those two. The Biblical mandate is to stand up for righteousness. That’s what I believe I am doing.

I will never question the genuineness of anyone’s Christian convictions if they decide to vote for Trump. I will critique that decision as unwise, but I will not challenge their Christianity.

It would be nice if those who question my decision would do the same for me.

Let’s keep our attitudes right toward one another. This election will soon be over and we will have to move forward together without sacrificing Biblical principles. I only hope we can agree on how to do that.

A Warning

Jesus exhorted His disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They are supposed to reflect His heart and carry out His mission. That’s hard to do when those who call themselves Christians may not be Christians at all.

The Barna Group recently conducted a study of those who claim the name of Christ. A summary of the findings shows the following:

  1. The Christian church is becoming less theologically literate. Basic Biblical concepts are fading, especially among young adults. Only a minority of those surveyed associate Easter with the resurrection of Christ, although they do know it’s a religious holiday. [This is an indication that those interviewed are probably from all denominations, and not those considered to be more evangelical/fundamentalist in nature.] A majority don’t think of the Holy Spirit as an entity, but merely a symbol of God’s power. Very few believe their faith [such as it is] should be integrated into every aspect of their lives.
  2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented. They are more isolated from unbelievers [although I’m not sure there’s much difference between the majority of those surveyed and those who are self-identified unbelievers]. The emphasis on religious pluralism they receive through their education makes them less inclined to get involved in faith-based conversations.
  3. Growing numbers are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life. For both young and old, life accomplishments are more important than faith. They don’t want to take time for spiritual reflection and they compartmentalize their lives, not allowing the spiritual to interfere with what they deem “the practical.”
  4. Interest in participating in community action is escalating. On the surface, this would appear to be a positive, but that is surface only. What it really indicates is the ascendancy of the liberal worldview’s concept of social justice, which is usually disassociated from a vibrant faith that focuses on the foundational truths of Scripture. This community action is more geared toward government programs than personal self-sacrifice.
  5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian church. We now fear being labeled judgmental. As a result, we don’t take strong stands against immorality and philosophies that lead away from Biblical truth. Only a minority of those surveyed believe that the Scriptures dictate moral absolutes.
  6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible. The media treatment of modern Christianity tends to point out the faults rather than the contributions. Lacking sound judgment and the desire or ability to probe beneath these negative portrayals, those surveyed don’t think the church does much good in society.

Depressed yet? Well, keep in mind that these results are drawn from a broad spectrum of American Protestantism, and most of the mainline churches have departed from Biblical teaching for decades.

It’s still sobering, however, simply because this is the public face of American Christianity. This is what observers consider to be the real thing. What they don’t realize is that this represents more the watered-down, liberal church. The true Body of Christ exists within the overall “church,” but most of what passes for the church today is not the genuine article. How about this for an illustration?

From my own experience, though, I do want to warn that there are serious inroads being made within those denominations and movements that still hold to Biblical foundations. Attempts to erode those foundations are evident, and we need to speak out against them. Is that too negative? Tell that to the apostle Paul and others who gave stern warnings to the believers of their day. We must follow in their footsteps.