If you missed yesterday’s post summarizing the “why” and “how” of Christian political engagement, don’t pass your eyes over another line until you go back and read it. And don’t miss this panel discussion from October 11, where I went deeper into these issues with several leaders from our church.
We finally come to the question at hand: Who should you vote for?
Why Some Feel Compelled to Vote for Trump
Many evangelicals believe that when you take everything into consideration, the vote that does the least damage to the country is a vote for Trump, even though they find many of Trump’s statements to be both offensive and indefensible. Norman Geisler, for instance, has argued that Trump is much more likely to govern in a way that preserves the ideals of religious liberty and limited government (as well as the other ideals I outlined yesterday) than Hillary Clinton, who is vocally and philosophically opposed to many of those ideals. Many other evangelicals have publicly joined Geisler.
(Until this weekend, Wayne Grudem, one of evangelicalism’s most significant theologians, stood as one of Trump’s reluctant supporters. He was never a fan of Trump and has been highly critical of him throughout the process. But with the revelation of a particularly heinous Trump video on Friday, Grudem withdrew his public support for Trump. He joins many evangelicals—and quite a few others—who are publicly calling for Trump to step down.)
Grudem still maintains that a Clinton presidency would be disastrous for our nation. He also believes that voting for a third party candidate who has no chance of winning (or abstaining from voting) essentially hands the election to Clinton. If we know full well the damage she will do—e.g., to the pro-life cause, through the undermining of essentials of religious liberty, and through advocating policies that will not help the poor—and do not do what we can do to stop that agenda, are we complicit in it?
According to this view, abstaining from voting is complicity in the likely outcome that will result from a mass-abstention by believers—the election of Clinton. It allows us, as believers, to wash our hands of the decision—which may make us feel better, but essentially puts the decision into the hands of non-Christians to make. We stood by while her pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty agenda was established into law, enthroned on the Supreme Court for decades to come.
Hillary Clinton, after all, has made it abundantly clear that her administration will not only continue to support the right of women to abort babies in the womb but also expand those “rights” and devote tax payer dollars to funding them. She has endorsed late-term and partial-birth abortions, including the euthanasia of those babies who survive the horrific procedure of abortion. She has vowed to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of federal dollars to fund abortions (an amendment that prevents, analysts say, close to 300,000 abortions a year). Under a Clinton administration, the availability of abortion procedures would take a gigantic leap forward.
It is fair to say that Trump’s own conservatism on these issues is in question. A friend of mine says, “Trump has only been pro-life for about 10 minutes.” (When I listen to Trump, I do feel like he demonstrates next to zero understanding of the principles behind the right-to-life movement or the reasoning undergirding our sacred freedoms of religious liberty. Is he a conservative by conviction or convenience?) But he has vowed to replace Justice Scalia with someone of equal conservatism, and his overall list of 11 potential Supreme Court picks is composed of judges whose records prove their commitment to religious liberty, the pro-life movement, and free speech. (His list even includes conservative superstars like Don Willett, the witty Texas Supreme Court judge many consider to be a young Scalia, who has been vocally opposed to Roe vs. Wade … and even critical of Trump himself.) With the onslaught of pressing judicial questions coming before the Court, the damage that would result from Clinton’s appointees would be something the country may never recover from. This certain damage will be far more significant, some believe, than the potential damages caused by Trump’s moral failings.
Is it possible that Trump reneges on his commitments and appoints bad judges? Of course, but voting for Trump, these leaders believe, is the most likely path that keeps us from disaster. This alone, many believe, outweighs the risk and embarrassments posed by a Trump presidency. If you have a choice between the devil you know and a suspected witch, Geisler says, go with the suspected witch.
Finally, those who hold this view often see in Hillary Clinton a figure of equally questionable morals to Trump. Her penchant for cover-up, denigration of Bill’s accusers, and indication that what she says publicly and what she believes privately are not always the same are deeply disturbing. As one has said it, “Hillary Clinton’s actions speak as loud as Donald Trump’s words.”
At the very least, evangelicals who eventually vote for Trump should not be like some of Trump’s supporters, who are blind fanatics of Trump’s brand. (And sadly, some evangelicals have postured themselves like blind fanatics. For that we should be ashamed.) But many believe that in light of the two terrible options, Trump is the better choice, and so in the voting booth they’ll hold their nose and pull the lever. For these people, a vote for Trump is not so much a vote “for Trump” as it is a vote “against Clinton’s stated agenda,” which they consider to be catastrophic, and casting a vote for Trump is the only realistic way, they believe, to thwart that. Grudem, for instance, even amid his new reluctance, still encourages us to think about the most likely outcomes. For many, a Trump presidency is more likely to preserve the Constitution than a Clinton one.
Why Some Feel Compelled to Vote for Clinton
Thabiti Anyabwile has suggested that Clinton is the better choice because, even with all of her defects, she is most likely to preserve the “status quo.” Anyabwile sees his vote as a sort of “punt” until we can raise up better candidates next cycle. He, like Grudem, encourages people to look at the most likely outcomes of each candidate and sees Trump’s presidency as so unpredictable that he prefers “the devil you know” instead of the one you don’t. (He doesn’t see any “suspected witch” in Trump; he sees full devil.) He doesn’t seem as worried about Clinton’s approach to the Constitution, and he believes she is more sensitive to the concerns of minority communities than Trump is (a position that Grudem, Arthur Brooks, et al. would dispute because they see conservative approaches to economics more empowering for minorities). He finds the prospect of a Trump presidency so pernicious that Christians should act in every way they can to prevent it.
Some believe that Anyabwile is naïve regarding the damage caused by a Clinton presidency—including the appointment of liberal court justices, the lifting of all abortion restrictions, the mandating of societal acceptance of the LGBT agenda, and the socialization of businesses and services from which there may be no return. For his part, Anyabwile knows his choice will have negative consequences; he simply hopes that we can recover in four years. Many others, like Grudem and Geisler, think that this recovery may be impossible.
Furthermore, Anyabwile’s understanding of the “status quo” may be rather shortsighted, evaluating “status quo” only in light of the last eight years of the Obama presidency, which many would say have been a dramatic departure from the “status quo” of American ideals that have sustained, prospered, and blessed the country for the past 200 years.
Why Some Feel Compelled to Say “Never Clinton,” “Never Trump”
Many evangelicals survey the field and agree with the criticisms of both sides. Like Grudem, they believe that a Clinton presidency espouses immoral and unjust policies that will harm our nation and impede the religious liberty of the church. (I hasten here to note, as I did yesterday: Religious liberty does not mean that businesses should be able to discriminate against LGBT people or those who have abortions. We do and must continue to oppose all such discrimination. The question is whether we should be forced to participate with others in actions we consider immoral—such as being forced to pay for abortions, or to conduct marriage ceremonies that we believe offend God.)They also believe that a Trump presidency harms the nation by exalting to leadership a man of questionable character. They can’t be complicit in bringing either to power. Thus some prominent evangelical thinkers, like Alan Noble, are urging Christians to step away from both.
The evangelicals in this group often embrace many of the ideals that Trump supposedly stands on; they simply don’t believe Trump truly embraces them. As one leader put it, “Trump has only been pro-life for about five minutes.” When I (J.D.) listen to Trump, I feel like he demonstrates next to zero understanding of the principles behind the right-to-life movement or the reasoning undergirding our sacred freedoms of religious liberty. Is he a conservative by conviction or convenience? More importantly, these leaders contend that Trump’s character makes him categorically unfit for office, even if he technically advocates for some of the right policies. Trump has, for instance, publicly and repeatedly bragged about committing adultery, saying things about women that I would never want my daughters to hear, certainly not from our appointed leaders (and while I appreciate his apology, his stubborn insistence on referring to it as merely “locker room banter” is deeply troubling). He has, just in the presidential campaign, mocked women, the disabled, and prisoners of war. His general impulse in any situation seems to consist of protecting his image while insulting those who disagree with him. As a friend of mine with CIA experience put it, nobody wants a petty, impulsive man with his finger on the nuclear launch buttons.
And yes, other American leaders have committed adultery, they say, but have they been so brazen about it, and did we know about their infidelities before choosing them? Furthermore, what we hear Trump saying (especially in regard to women) when he doesn’t know the mics are on—and his pathetic apologies for it—reveals things going on in his heart that are troubling indeed. This is not “locker room talk” or “how most men talk about women.” The Bible says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). What do Trump’s words reveal about what is going on his heart? Of course, we all have things going on in our heart we’d rather others not hear. He has apologized for those things, but it’s more than fair to ask: Does he act in ways that demonstrate he is truly repentant about those things?
They ask: Is this the leader that we want to set before our children?
What are the alternatives for this group? Some advocate for a third party candidate (like Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin); others say they will abstain from voting for the presidential office altogether.
To those who say that voting always requires that we choose from the “lesser of two evils,” evangelicals in the “never Clinton”/”never Trump” camp often respond that that is generally true; but there can come a time when believers in good conscience really cannot vote for either. In other words, there comes a time when the evils of both are so great that integrity demands complete dissociation. I (J.D.) had a hard time grasping what this group meant by this until I thought of it this way: If I were an army general who was ordered to kill either 5,000 innocent people in place A or 200 innocent people in place B, I wouldn’t choose the latter on the basis of saving 4,800 lives. I would refuse to obey the order altogether and try to do something about it.
To that, some like Geisler (and maybe Grudem) respond that we are not at that place yet, as Trump has not put forward immoral policies, and Clinton has, specifically in her her pro-abortion mandates.) Thus, a third party or abstention vote, when we know it is bound to fail, makes us complicit in the establishing of a pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty agenda. Won’t we share responsibility in the decisions the justices she appoints to the Supreme Court makes if we could have done something to stop her and we didn’t? Can we really avoid complicity by abstention?
Is that criticism fair? Or is it just a pragmatic argument, urging believers to abandon conscience in order to achieve a noble end—a version of saying, “Let us do evil, that good may come?”
These are the questions believers must wrestle with.
Is living with Trump’s significant shortcomings better than the alternative of a Clinton presidency, knowing the agenda she has vowed to pursue? Is his potential destructiveness sufficiently limited by our system of checks and balances? Should we follow his promises on policy even when we are disturbed by his paucity of character?
I’m not ashamed to admit that I love America. I love it not just because it is my homeland. I am inspired by its ideals. I cherish its promises of freedom. I am moved by her many stories of courage and selfless defense of the oppressed. I love the opportunities her liberties have afforded, and I am grateful for how those liberties have allowed the Church to grow and spread throughout the world like never before. I know we as a nation have failed—sometimes miserably and dramatically—to live up to our ideals. We are still healing from damage caused by our horrendous sins of slavery and oppression. Our hypocrisy between what we said we believed as a nation and what we sometimes practiced is inexcusable. But I love what America has always aspired to be.
I am heartbroken for our country right now. Deeply disturbed. It’s been said that in a democracy a people’s leaders reflect the state of the people. What does our current options for leadership say about “we the people”?
We have forgotten God, neglected his Word, and taken his blessings for granted. The book of Proverbs tells us, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34, emphasis mine). That “any” includes us. The “reproach” of these candidates sits upon our shoulders. More than anything, America needs Jesus.
This season has made me realize more than ever that my true citizenship is in heaven, not America. Thank God we believers serve a King who can never be corrupted and who gave his life to save the oppressed. We belong to a country whose walls can never be shaken and whose glories will never fade. That reality doesn’t make me one ounce less passionate about seeing change in my earthly country, but it keeps me from despair. I long for my homeland to come back to God, to experience the blessings that come from walking with him. I want America to return to Jesus. Salvation does not come riding in on the back of a donkey or an elephant. It’s not found in the stars and stripes of our flag, but the scars and stripes on our Savior.
I know that in our church, people who love Jesus as much, or more, than I do will parse some of these political questions differently than I do. I am glad we are brothers and sisters, that we worship and pray together each weekend, and that we do life together. We will talk together in the days to come, learn from each other, and challenge each other. And, at the end of the day, even if we don’t agree on all things, we will rejoice in a unity that goes deeper than our politics. We can talk about these things civilly, humbly, and with a love for each other that always gives the benefit of the doubt.
I have often pointed out to our church that one of Jesus’ disciples was “Simon the Zealot.” Zealots were those Jews that thought Judaism should revolt against Rome, driving out all Roman influence. Included with him in that circle of 12 was “Matthew the Tax Collector,” who had worked for Rome collecting the taxes. One thought war with Rome was the best course of action; the other thought complicity with Rome was wiser. I’m sure they had some incendiary political discussions by the campfires in the evening. I’d love to see Jesus’ posture as he listened to them. But at the end of the day, they found in their love for Jesus a unity greater than the political questions that divided them.
May God give us wisdom in the days to come on how to be the people of God in this terrible predicament, and may he have mercy on the United States of America. We have a lot of work to do in the days ahead of us. May we pray that both candidates comes to know Christ and the power of the gospel, and lead with justice and wisdom. Most of all, may God give us grace to love the gospel—and the church—more than we love our political positions, and may he empower us to use our historical moment to make the gospel known to the ends of the earth.