Political Expediency or Principle?
ALL intelligent creatures, as free moral agents, have the choice of being governed by principle or by passion. To be governed by principle means to act upon knowledge of the facts according to reason and conscience. To be governed by passion means to act because of outside influence, to let personal considerations dictate, such as wealth, fame, power, safety or gratification of the senses or instincts. Adam, our first parent, chose to be governed by passion, by outside influence as represented in his wife, Eve, instead of by principle as represented in God’s will and law. The vast majority of his offspring have followed his example.—Gen. 3:17; Matt. 7:13, 14.
Particularly strong is the temptation to be governed by outside influence and passion, instead of by a sense of duty and principle, felt by those in governing positions. By reason of their power they have many opportunities to use their positions for their own benefit rather than to dispense justice. Such misuse of political office often takes the form of political expediency. God’s Word, the Bible, records more than one instance of where those in responsible positions acted from expediency instead of from principle. Aaron allowed himself to be influenced by the people to make the golden calf, and Saul was likewise influenced to disobey God’s command regarding the rooting out of the Amalekites.—Ex. 32:1-6, 21-24; 1 Sam. 15:13-23.
The most notorious example in all history, however, of a ruler’s compromising what he knew to be right for the sake of political expediency is that given to us by Pontius Pilate. Pilate had taken up his duties as governor of Judea A.D. 26 and repeatedly clashed with the Jews, he being a stubborn ruler and they a fanatically religious, stubborn people. In his own stubbornness Pilate at times had the blood of the Jews shed needlessly, on one occasion even mixing their blood with that of their sacrifices.—Luke 13:1, 2.
In view of these events it can be appreciated that when the Jewish mob came to him that passover night A.D. 33 with Jesus, Pilate preferred not to have anything to do with the matter and told them to punish Jesus according to their law. But the mob wanted to put Jesus to death and so had to have Pilate’s authorization. (John 18:31) After questioning Jesus and finding no fault in him Pilate was ready to release him, but that was not what the mob wanted. Hearing that Jesus was a Galilean he sent him to Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and tetrarch of Galilee, glad for the excuse to shift the responsibility.—Luke 23:1-7.
Herod was pleased to see Jesus, expecting to see a miracle performed, but, finding Jesus uncommunicative, returned him to Pilate. While this gesture resulted in Pilate and Herod’s becoming friends “with each other on that very day, for before that they had continued at enmity between themselves”, it still left Pilate with the responsibility of making a decision regarding Jesus. There could have been no question in his mind regarding the innocence of Jesus, “for he was aware that out of envy they had handed him over.” In fact, three times he said to the Jewish mob: “Why, what evil did this man do? I found nothing deserving of death in him; I will therefore punish him and release him.”—Matt. 27:18; Luke 23:8-22, NW.
Pilate, who could show himself so stubborn in dealing with the Jews, showed himself peculiarly weak and lacking in firmness when principle was involved. The fickle populace, which just four days ago hailed Jesus as King, was now clamoring for his life as a result of the rabble-rousing of the religious leaders. (Luke 19:38, NW) Fear of another uprising no doubt played its part in causing Pilate to yield, even as Matthew’s account indicates. (Matt. 27:24) But evidently still stronger was Pilate’s love of his position and his regard for Caesar’s favor upon which that position depended, a fact noted by the apostle John. So when the crowd taunted him with, “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar. Every man making himself a king speaks against Caesar,” Pilate weakened. He knew he was doing wrong by yielding; his very act of washing his hands in public revealed the presence of a guilty conscience. And so political expediency was responsible for the perpetration of the greatest crime in history, the foulest murder, the violent ending of the only perfect life that had ever been lived, that of none other than the Son of Jehovah God.—Matt. 27:24; John 19:12-16, NW.
There have been many Pilates down through the centuries; rulers who have sacrificed innocent servants of Jehovah God because of political expediency, among which might be included those who have acted as ‘swords of the church’ of Rome during the Dark and Middle Ages. And there are many Pilates with us today; minor officials in such democratic lands as the United States, Canada, Switzerland and Italy who yield to religious pressure to persecute Jehovah’s servants, necessitating appeals to the Supreme Courts, which courts in many instances have shown themselves to be above political expediency. On the other hand there are lands where the leading or major government officials have shown themselves to be Pilates in being willing to sacrifice the interests of Jehovah’s servants in the interests of political expediency. Christians suffering under such conditions can take comfort in Jesus’ words that Jehovah God, in his due time, will avenge all such injustices.—Luke 18:7, 8.
To follow principle costs something. It means loving the truth, even though it is unpopular. It means fearing God, not men. And it means hating unjust gain, not going after it. (Ex. 18:21; Prov. 29:25, AS) But it is the price that all must pay, especially those in positions of responsibility and authority, for being free moral agents; and not only so that we might have a clear conscience now but also that we might gain the approval of the Judge of all the earth, our Maker. The way of political expediency is the easy way that leads to death. The way of principle is the hard way, but with proper knowledge it leads to life.—Matt. 7:13, 14; John 17:3.
Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God?—Jas. 4:4, NW.