Voting More Evil than Dancing, says David Lipscomb

In 1875 David Lipscomb was asked a question about whether one should exclude those who voted from the local congregation as a test of fellowship, just as some advocated should be done with those who participate in dancing and drunkenness.

Below is Lipscomb’s response in part (Gospel Advocate, 1875, 399-402).

     We suppose we have done as much to excite an investigation of this question as any one in the land. But a few years ago, because we did not advise some brethren in Arkansas to excommunicate every man that failed to see as they saw, they charged us with being a mere time server with no independence, and disgusted with our cowardice and infidelity to truth, as they called it, they quit taking the Advocate as an unclean and unholy thing. Well we were sorry for their course, but we think we can quietly bear opposition, both front and rear, when we know we are right.

     We are satisfied that voting does much more harm to the church than dancing does. And we are no apologists for dancing. We believe it is lust exciting and is a fruitful promoter of lewdness and other sins.

     The evil and wrong of voting is a matter of much stronger faith with me than the evil of dancing. Show me the passage on which the evil of dancing rests and we will show you a score, equally as plain, that voting is wrong. The whole organization of the kingdom of God is based upon the fact that every other institution in the world is of the evil one, is against God–must be destroyed, must be prevailed over by the gates of hell.

     While saying this much, we are yet unwilling to say that we think a church ought as yet, to withdraw themselves from one for voting. (The brethren will excuse us for not using the word exclude. It is not a Scriptural word, nor does it convey a Scriptural idea.) The reason for this is, the brethren have not been sufficiently taught upon the subject. The Scriptural means for correcting an evil has not been sufficiently used to resort to this extreme measure. We have spoken upon the subject, written upon the subject talked publicly and privately upon the subject, have come as near making a hobby of the subject as any one, (expect to do it more in the future and have no dread of being called a hobbyist), yet we have never to a single individual taken the pains to present the subject in such fullness and with such earnestness, as to be ready to give him over to Satan for rejecting it.

……To give force to the truth on this subject, it is much more needed that those who believe that Christians ought not to sustain, uphold and participate in human institutions, should teach the truth to others, by every means in their power to force an investigation. When we have access to papers to discuss the question through the papers (when they refuse the discussion, make them feel we regard they have outraged truth), do it in public teaching, do it private conversation.  Do it kindly, persistently, earnestly, as believing truly that the kingdom set up by the God of Heaven ‘shall break in pieces and destroy all these kingdoms but it (alone) shall stand forever.” If it destroys the kingdom it must destroy all those in those kingdoms. All supporters and upholders of these kingdoms, must share their fate. We must teach it in all our relationships, we must make all who know us feel that we believe, the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church which Christ built. But that they will encompass within their destroying vortex every other church, organization, kingdom in the universe. In prevailing against these kingdoms, the gates of hell will prevail against all that are component parts of these kingdoms, against all work performed in and through them.  No child of God ought to do work where it will perish in hell. We have not a doubt that all work done in any other congregation, organization, church or kingdom will be engulfed in hell….

One gets a sense of how important this is to Lipscomb.  The kingdom of God stands in opposition to all human institutions, and the most powerful, violent and coercive of institutions is civil government.

In this article, Lipscomb notes how the Christian Standard, the American Christian Review, and the Apostolic Times — all papers located in the north or border states — oppose his position and treat him as a traitor to democracy. Lipscomb’s position was characterized by the Apostolic Times as the position of a “stingy soul-sleeping Dutchmen and sore-eyed, whiskey drinking Irishmen.” Some ethnic stereotypes are embedded in that comment. They essentially say that Lipscomb is simply anti-authority when he is actually pro=kingdom of God.

29 Responses to “Voting More Evil than Dancing, says David Lipscomb”

  1.   Jeff McVey Says:

    Interesting article.

    I have the obvious question: what was Lipscomb’s attitude toward slavery ??? It looks like his attitude toward government draws up along North / South lines…

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    He opposed slavery, and he believed the Civil War was God’s just punishment against both North and South.

  3.   Jeff McVey Says:

    “he [Lipscomb] believed the Civil War was God’s just punishment against both North and South”.

    What, in Lipscomb’s opinion, did the North do to deserve the punishment of the Civil War ???

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    The whole nation, from its beginning, was implicitly guilty for the evil of slavery. The North tolerated, even extended and sanctioned, slavery through its compromises.

    •   Jeff McVey Says:

      Hmmm, not sure Lipscomb gave a good answer as to why the North was punished (along with the South) for slavery. It sounds like Lipscomb believed that the “many” in the North were punished for the sins of the (relative) “few” in the North who were slavers.

      Personally, I have always found the mangement practice of punishing the group for the sins of individuals to be bad practice.

      •   John Mark Hicks Says:

        It is not the few slavers in the North, but those the North that extended and legally sanctioned slavery. The North, as a governmental institution, did not oppose slavery. Lincoln’s 2nd inaugural recognized that the “blood” of both sides was payment for the blood of slaves. This was not an uncommon notion in the post-Civil War era.

        Corporate responsibility is deeply rooted in Scripture and part of most ethical systems.

      •   Jeff McVey Says:

        “Corporate responsibility is deeply rooted in Scripture and part of most ethical systems.”

        Wow, John Mark, that’s the most interesting thing that I’ve heard you say yet. So I stand (or fall) before God not based on my own actions or reactions to God’s efforts, but based on how OTHERS have acted or reacted ???

        Surely you meant that “corporate responsibillity” is part of how God deals with nations or peoples, and has no bearing on how God deals with the eternal destination(s) of individuals…

  5.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    At first I was surprised by your “Wow” since “corporate responsibility” is part of most ethical systems except for Egoism. But then I see how you interpret “corporate responsibility.” I don’t think corporate and individual responsibility are mutually exclusive.

  6.   Steven Hunter Says:

    What scriptural proof did he give for his position? Also, does his scriptural proof take into account the tyrannical empirical form of government verses America’s democratic-republic form of government?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Yes, he does. In fact, going against his teacher Tolbert Fanning, he gave a July 4 speech in 1855 (if I remember correctly) defending American institutions. So, he is well aware. But he came to believe that even republican forms of government are driven by power, greed and violence. Corporate realities (industrial powers and money) furthered strengthened his view in the late 19th century.

  7.   Clark Coleman Says:

    “The whole organization of the kingdom of God is based upon the fact that every other institution in the world is of the evil one, is against God–must be destroyed, must be prevailed over by the gates of hell.”

    So, according to Lipscomb, an organization founded to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay by encouraging certain improvements in agricultural practices, etc., is an institution from Satan, is against God, and must be destroyed. Alternatively, Lipscomb believes (1) that the church should undertake ALL works of stewardship and conservation, or (2) that all such works are not worthwhile to God in the first place, or (3) that all such works must be performed by individuals who do not cooperate via any institution or human organization.

    Likewise, if civil government regulates the discharge of sewage into the local lake, then either (1) this regulation should be left up to the church, or (2) God does not care about our fouling of clean waters on Earth, or (3) somehow individuals should be acting alone on this matter.

    Does anyone have any idea which of these three beliefs Lipscomb would have held, and how he would have justified it from scripture?

    I think the general problem with pacifism and its cousins, such as non-involvement, is that airy abstractions are the realm of discourse rather than concrete examples.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:


      This statement has to be read in the context of his whole agenda. In Civil Government he notes that even in creation that structures of relationship and care would have been in place if the world had developed, and nothing wrong with organizations that further creation’s goal. Social actions through organizations are not necessarily evil. Indeed, if they serve the kingdom of God, they are–in that sense–of the kingdom of God. So, for example, Lipscomb suppoprted (in the sense of approving their goals) the Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

      The problem with government is that it serves the telos of its own self-interest–maintaing power, maintaining its own existence. It is a self-perpetuating mode of coercion through violence. It is that in which Christians, according to Lipscomb, should have no part.

  8.   Randall Says:

    If folks wish to understand Lipscomb better (though JMH has summarized his view well) they may wish to read On Civil Government written by Lipscomb and available on line courtesy of Hans Rollmann here:

  9.   Charles Stelding Says:

    Were there other groups at the time of Lipscomb which held similar views of non-voting or was Lipscomb alone? You may have already answered this and I just missed it.

  10.   brian Says:

    I think it is telling how often the view of not being involved in government, abstaining from voting, etc. is portrayed as passive, do-nothing, monastic, and all theory.

    it’s as if praying, serving, loving, teaching, helping, working, etc are worthless unless you vote, or that they don’t really accomplish anything.

    I wonder if it shows how many American Christians believe that writing letters to the editor, marching with a sign in your hand, and passing legislation is more powerful than prayer.

    ps-an observation based more on past discussion than the current thread

  11.   Buddy Norman Says:

    Guys, I am sorry, but it seems to me that “doing nothing” is doing something. Doing nothing seems to allow eviI. This would be the same as the intitution of church not making a stand for honesty, morality and the overall teachings of Jesus. I understand the evils of corrupt government, but I am not sure that is the intent of government. I also understand that good, honest politicians have been led astray from noble intent, but I cannot put the idea of providing protection for a people (original intent of democracy) in an evil category. I know that the pupose of any government should be God honoring and moral, but how could that ever happen if Christians did not participate. I agree with Brian about marching and sign holding. In my estimation it usually displays hate, therefore that is not about what I am referring. I do need to read Lipscomb’s “On Civil Government”. I am sure it would shed some more insite on this.

    •   brian Says:

      God allows evil.

      how should the church “make a stand for honesty, morality, and the overall teaching of Jesus”? your statement seemed kinda loaded. what means has God given us to do that?

      I think the Govt can do a better job of protecting and defending if Christians don’t participate. death penalty, war, killing, etc.

  12.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks for the engagement by all. Given the political climate and values attached, I think it is important to hear Lipscomb’s voice even if we disagree with it

  13.   eirenetheou Says:

    Under the heading “What Human Governments Do for Man” (that’s how they wrote in those days), Brother Lipscomb concludes:

    “So long as men refuse the rule of God, God ordains they shall be ruled by their own governments and eat the fruit of their own ways and be filled with their own devices. Showing clearly that when men turn from the government of God to their own inventions and governments, then God ordains these governments as means of punishing them for their rebellion, and while this punishing them, they are God’s ordinances for this work and none should resist them. In doing so they are resisting the ordinance of God.

    But it is not in man to form government in which the selfish element will not prevail, and which will not be used to tax and oppress the ruled for the glory and aggrandizement of the rulers.”

    Brother Lipscomb describes, quite presciently it seems to me, the first decade of the twenty-first century in the United States, following the stolen presidential election of 2000.

    i have noticed that those who advocate voting are seldom, if ever, ready to take responsibility for the actions of those whom they elect to hold office.

    May God have mercy.


  14.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    While I have yet to come to agreement with Lipscomb regarding voting, I can sympathize with his ethic very much as I have much more in common with his overall view of civil government and Christianity than I do with the pro-capitalist and militaristic expressions of Christianity that are common today. As for the notion that the US (as well as other democracies) is in contrast to tyrannical forms of government, my ministry had brought encounters with both African American and Native American people…some of whom have been a part of the churches I have served in. I’m quite sure neither group would absolve the US of any injustice and tyranny.

    •   Jeff McVey Says:

      In response to this (and other posts), I agree with the view that American capitalism and Christianity are not the dead-cinch match that many fundamentalist ministers portray them to be. In fact, pure Capitalism as expressed in the “Gilded Age” of the Rockefellers, Carnegies and du Ponts was an evil and viscious (sp?) system which employed children in coal mines for a nickel a day basically because it could get away with it (and, besides, they make such better workers because their fingers are smaller and can get in smaller cracks and crevices, and they never complain). It is only because of the advent of two things (1. labor unions and 2. “socialistic encroachments upon the market economy” such as Social Security) that the beast of Capitalism has been tamed in this country to be a peaceful, even useful beast.

      •   RICH constant Says:

        boy oh boy Jeff.
        and what a beast
        to” Big to FAIL”
        it is a wonder to me that any one in their right mind could say, “that the beast of Capitalism has been tamed in this country to be a peaceful, even useful beast.”
        when the whole of the capitalistic system was dang near disposed of because of greed rooted in opulence…everyone wanted “MUCH” MORE!
        the more we as a people continue to trust in a system run by men that have truly failed ethically,
        gambling away 10 trillion
        dollars on bundles of high risk securities.
        Got caught, and then ask big brother to feed the beast that had “GOT to big to fail”!
        and so,
        then enters
        Barney Frank…BOY OH BOY
        HAVE barney and his bunch learned how to legislate ethical behavior, or is every one just a slave to the beast?

        blessings rich

      •   Jeff McVey Says:


        I am reminded of Churchill’s comment about forms of government, i.e. that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others…” I do believe that capitalism is the worst form of economic system, except for all the others… The market-driven economy is by far the most efficient method to manage the economy, leaving all other methods, including the centrally-managed economy (i.e. “communism”) far behind in the dust.

        The problem with capitalism is that it makes no provision for the innate value of human beings; human beings are only worth what they can earn per hour. Capitalism is a product of the human mind; it is not from God, no matter how loudly fundamentalist ministers proclaim that it is; nothing made by God could crush human hopes and lives underneath its wheels as efficiciently as does ruthless Capitalism.

        The trick with Capitalism is to stay ahead of the turning wheel. If your job is being obsoleted, learning another trade is the only recourse that you have. If you have nothing to give to the market economy, the market economy will give you nothing in return.

        God’s church provides a great service in this age by sheltering, protecting and helping the victims of the market economy. But the market economy, as godless as it is, is still better than the two caste system of royalty and serf that we are descended from, and it is also better than life in any despotism.

      •   RICH constant Says:

        well Jeff
        i absolutely agree with what u are saying to a point.
        point being that as a compared to what, (I do believe that capitalism is the worst form of economic system, except for all the others…) the way you are putting forward your thoughts they revolve around the past, all in their own misgivings of the exploitation of the masses by the few.
        sorta kinda ya know. 🙂
        any way…
        i believe that capitalism is a great tool if it is used ethically, and we as Christians should drive the capitalistic ship into the future.
        for the greater good of god and to his glory.
        to me thinking this way skews my out look and helps me have a more creative outlook.
        no matter what the past teaches.

        blessings Jiff

  15.   riverwindfire Says:

    @K.Rex Butts, and the eirenic flow of this discussion: unlike most of you, I live in another country, though I grew up in the USA. I have no daily experience with African-Americans, and only a little with “native Americans.” Here, my daily experience takes me to first-generation Asian, African, European, and South American immigrants. So I tend to hear these discussions differently …

    I notice that the quotes from Lipscomb, and our responses, necessarily deal with issues of voting, the powers, government, etc. in the context of the history and social life of the USA. “… neither African American, nor Native American would absolve the US of any injustice or tyranny.”

    Lipscomb’s view that human governments inevitably lead to tyranny and violent coercion might stand out even more sharply if you take the discussion outside of the American intramural experience. What do people living “on the ground” in South/Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, Vietnam, etc. think of the hegemonic influence of American government on their countries over the last, say, 60 years? What is their daily-life experience of it?

    ISTM that we might see the question more clearly if we take a more global view. It certainly helps me better appreciate Lipscomb’s view.

    •   K. Rex Butts Says:

      Thank you for reminding us that the world is bigger than just the US. I’ve only been out of the US for about five weeks in Brazil, so my global experience is very limited. But I have no doubt that the question would be even sharper from the perspective of “South/Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, Vietnam, etc.”

  16.   Dennis D Says:

    I am new to Lipscomb’s teaching and trying to understand the motivation for his words on Civil Gov’t and try to encapsulate my thoughts on what has been written by others.

    Is it too obvious to state Lipscomb’s ideas came from 1 Samuel 8:7 “They have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king.” Those are God’s words to Samuel the priest/prophet regarding His chosen people, the Jewish Nation some 3,000 years ago after they had abandoned God in nearly every way imaginable.

    The covenant with the Jewish Nation died when Jesus said from the cross, “it is finished” and the temple curtain was rent from top to bottom”-Mt 27:50-51. As a Gentile Christian, I am quite happy it is gone, but the Jew who has become a Christian should be happy as well. It was impossible to keep the old law, not to mention having more save people in this world is a good thing.

    I would agree God wants us to put Him first in everything we do, and He punishes us for not doing so both now and in the hereafter II Cor 5:10. However, Romans 13:1 is part of the new covenant we live under today as Christians, and it is pretty clear who ordained today’s government(God himself).

    However, just because God ordained something does not mean He controls it. He created(ordained) you as a person to live on this earth, but He does not control you. You are a free moral agent, and the ruler of this world is clearly Satan. While God could do so, He chooses not to control you or Satan.

    So, we can respect what God ordained, heed its laws(if they do oppose God’s law), and live knowing we are not of this world II Cor 5:17. Neither should we expect things to go well for this world’s people as long as it continues to spin.

    My point is, God in His wisdom knows we are not capable of overcoming all of the world’s evil. However, it is not the Christian’s job to even do so! We are to spread the words(Mt 28:19-20) of Christ to world and obey the gov’t commands along the way, but we should not even remotely expect the whole world to do an about face and follow Christ because the way is narrow to heaven and few will find it(Mt 7:13-14.

    Thank you for letting me share


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks, Dennis. You might want to read Lipscomb’s book on the subject entitled Civil Government. It is available online:

      His argument is sweeping rather than based on the Samuel text. It is rooted in his understanding of the fall, the conflict between God and Satan, the dramatic conflict in Revelation, etc. He addresses Romans 13 as well.

      His point is that God uses governments (just like he used Babylon or Assyria) for God’s purposes as God turns evil on itself since governments are fundamentally self-interested. God may order the world in a particular way in order to accomplish a purpose without, as you note, causing events, and in this way God may use governments for good even if governments themselves ultimately serve their own interests.


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