Christians in the Age of Trump: A Contrasting View

Donald Trump rose to power amid controversy. Two and a half years into his administration, there is no sign that’s ever going to change. No doubt, he’ll continue to be a controversial figure long after his administration has moved into the history books.

I agree with much of what Greg Barkman had to say on the topic yesterday, particularly the negative assessments of President Trump’s character and behavior. I agree also that some of the President’s policies have been helpful to the nation and sensible in the eyes of conservatives. I concede, too, that in an election, deciding what candidate to support can be difficult—especially if we only consider those who have a chance of winning. If we accept that constriction, we’re stuck with what the parties decide to offer us.

Those are the primary points of agreement. Philosophically, I’m sure we agree on much as well. Most of the controversy among conservative Christians has to do with how to apply principles we share. Still, these principles are often not articulated in the more Trump-friendly perspectives I hear from fellow-Christians. I believe that if these truths are more front-of-mind, they’ll have more influence on how we evaluate presidents and make electoral choices.

1. Christian perspective is long and deep.

I’m using the word “Christian” in this post in a particular sense: not “the way Christians actually are,” but rather, “the way Christians ought to be,” that is, the way we are when we’re true to what Christianity is.

When I say the Christian perspective is long, I mean that Christian thought always puts now in the context of the whole story of humanity—which is God’s story. So our analysis of consequences should be quite different form the analysis that is normal in our culture. Rather than, “If we do X today, what will happen tomorrow?” Christians should think, “If we do X today, where does that fit into eternity?” From there, we work backward to the present: “What’s the consequence generations into the future? What’s the consequence in twenty years?” Admittedly, we often can’t answer those questions. But it gets easier when we get down to, “What impact does this have in a decade? Or in eight years?”

But I think we rarely start our analysis of consequences with the question of eternity. How will my choices in this moment matter when all this is over? (and they will matter—Matt. 12:36, 2 Cor. 5:10). When it comes to public policy and elected officials, we just about as rarely consider political outcomes a couple of election cycles down the road. This is a failure to look through the Christian lens.

The Christian perspective is long. It’s also deep. When we’re looking at things Christianly, we’re not only driven by our relationship to the God who sees the end from the beginning, but also to the God who sees and knows the real essences of things and is never fooled by mere appearances (Heb. 4:13, among many others).

The deep perspective takes some work. “Man looks on the outward appearance” (1 Sam 16:7), and by default, surface realities are what’s most real to us. But at the current political moment, we’re called to look past both the bashing of left-leaning punditry and the cheerleading of right-leaning (or right-off-the-edge!) punditry to sift out what’s really factual and wise. We’re called to tune out the noise and dazzle and hype, and read thoughtful, reflective considerations of the issues we face in our times.

2. Christian ethics looks beyond results.

Genuinely Christian ethics does include results when evaluating the rightness or wrongness of actions. “Love does no harm to a neighbor” (NIV, Rom. 13:10). “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (ESV, Rom. 14:21).

But outcomes are not the only consideration, or even the primary consideration. This is because everything a Christian does is personal. Worshipful service of our Creator is supposed to be an ever-present motivational layer in all we do (Rom. 12:2). The apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 6:16 that Christian sexual ethics is not only driven by the goal of holiness but by the fact that Christ Himself is joined in some way to everything we do. Elsewhere Paul describes his own motivations in life as a drive to “please” a real person—Jesus Christ, whom we call Lord (2 Cor. 5:9).

Whatever else we might say about Christian ethics, we have to acknowledge that what ultimately determines right and wrong from our perspective is how Somebody feels about it. This shatters the popular utilitarian reasoning that whatever brings about the greatest good for the greatest number is the morally right thing to do.

Because Christian thought takes the long and deep view, we know that discerning what really brings about the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run is often impossible to know. Because we evaluate our choices through a personal grid—the good pleasure of our God—human good isn’t even mainly what interests us.

It’s possible to accept all that and still believe that a Christian should (a) vote only for a candidate that can win, and (b) vote for the least objectionable candidate that can win. But there’s a lot of thinking and evaluating that should happen before we even get to that point. In the long, deep, and Personal analysis, what really constitutes “winning”?

3. Christian values emphasize persuasion over coercion, understanding over compliance.

If we managed to put the ideal candidate in office—one who lacks all the character and conduct negatives of a man like Donald Trump—there’s still only so much he could get done, and only so much that would survive the next swing of the electoral pendulum. There’s only so much external constraints can accomplish.

Christian thought understands that faith in God-revealed truth is eternally transforming (Rom. 10:9-10, 17). There isn’t anything on earth more mighty than genuine Christian faith, because that faith is a heart-soul-mind surrender that permanently entwines us with the Creator God.

No law, or set of rules, or series of court decisions can do that.

And even on the time-bound plane of social concerns and public policy, only winning hearts and minds—genuinely persuading people of enduring truths—can produce changes that endure through election cycles.

A president who can get some policies enacted but who does it in a way—and from an ethos—that closes minds to important ideas and values may well do more harm than good. On the other hand, a president who is opposed to Christian views of society and justice (as those on the left are) but who provides a clear and sharp contrast with the ideas at the core of both conservatism and Christianity, may unwittingly persuade many to reject leftist beliefs.

To sum up, none of us really knows beforehand what the long and deep outcomes of a presidential election are going to be. We often don’t even know that years afterwards, with much confidence. What Christians should do then, in the electoral ethics department, is ask ourselves what pleases our God. And though that also doesn’t make the decision obvious, it does change the equation. We know that our Lord is at least as interested in how we get somewhere as He is in where we arrive.

“…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8).

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Mike Harding's picture

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood against Hitler and it cost him his life.  Very brave man.

Pastor Mike Harding

GregH's picture

Larry wrote:

Am I missing something here?

Two things:

  1. I didn't know this was a retired pastor on a personal blog. I missed that.
  2. I don't think that matters much since as a pastor, we cannot separate our personal views from our public calling. It's not worth it.

Imagine the number of people who hear a pastor say something about a politician, and refuse to listen to them about anything else. And about 50% of the people are on "the other side" whatever side that is. Why in the world would a pastor want to take a chance that someone would not listen to the gospel because he vented or praised a politician?

I understand that position. I do find it ironic that your words condemn yourself though. You have certainly spoken out on this issue here on this thread to the extent that you would turn off many that disagree with you politically.

Jay's picture

I don't think that was necessary, Greg.  It was an honest mistake.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood against Hitler and it cost him his life.  Very brave man.

Today's church needs more Bonhoeffers.  The good news is that we're probably going to get more of them, but the bad news is that society is going downhill so fast that they may very well get the chance to suffer or be martyred like he was as well.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

GregH's picture

Jay wrote:

I don't think that was necessary, Greg.  It was an honest mistake.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood against Hitler and it cost him his life.  Very brave man.

Today's church needs more Bonhoeffers.  The good news is that we're probably going to get more of them, but the bad news is that society is going downhill so fast that they may very well get the chance to suffer or be martyred like he was as well.

According to Larry, a pastor should really not take stands on politicians on a personal blog. My point is that he has done the exact same thing here (which is equivalent to a personal blog, more or less).

Larry's picture

Moderator

I do find it ironic that your words condemn yourself though. You have certainly spoken out on this issue here on this thread to the extent that you would turn off many that disagree with you politically. ... 

According to Larry, a pastor should really not take stands on politicians on a personal blog. My point is that he has done the exact same thing here (which is equivalent to a personal blog, more or less).

Did you consider that if you think my own words condemn me that you haven't actually understood my words? Why would you think I would say something that would condemn myself?

The explanation is quite simple: This is a very narrow forum for ministry discussion (it's not a personal blog) about what ministers should do and how we should approach the culture in our thinking. That is quite different than a pastor in his church or community. So I think you actually haven't understood what I am saying.

And I think there are times when a pastor might, on a personal blog or personal conversation, engage on this issue with value to readers of all stripes. I have done it before on my blog to a small degree. Even here, I have made it clear what I think of Trump and why I have said what I have. I don't think it has been confusing. So I don't understand the angst over this. 

Greg, if someone had said about Obama the kinds of things they have said about Trump (and there were opportunities to do so in many regards), I have a hard time thinking you would have been as receptive. Why do you think that is?

Larry's picture

Moderator

It would indeed be foolish to go out on a limb and endorse or bash a political figure if the text one is preaching doesn't demand it.

What text demands the endorsing or bashing of a political figure for political reasons? 

His job is to tell the truth.

Actually it's a bit more narrow than that. His job is to preach the word and the truth that is in the word. 

GregH's picture

Larry wrote:

Did you consider that if you think my own words condemn me that you haven't actually understood my words? 

No, I think I am quite capable of understanding your words and you have been quite clear.

Larry wrote:

The explanation is quite simple: This is a very narrow forum for ministry discussion (it's not a personal blog) about what ministers should do and how we should approach the culture in our thinking. That is quite different than a pastor in his church or community. So I think you actually haven't understood what I am saying.

And I think there are times when a pastor might, on a personal blog or personal conversation, engage on this issue with value to readers of all stripes. I have done it before on my blog to a small degree. Even here, I have made it clear what I think of Trump and why I have said what I have. I don't think it has been confusing. So I don't understand the angst over this. 

OK. You see SI different than a personal blog. I am not so sure. I know you don't use your last name here but with a little work, a possible visitor to your church might find your words here, attribute them to you and be in the 50% that is offended. Maybe that happens and maybe it doesn't. I am not saying you are wrong in any way. I just found it interesting that you gave that reason to not discuss Trump publicly when you have been discussing Trump on this thread.

Larry wrote:

Greg, if someone had said about Obama the kinds of things they have said about Trump (and there were opportunities to do so in many regards), I have a hard time thinking you would have been as receptive. Why do you think that is?

I am not sure I see any relevance. It appears you are trying to deflect and I am quite sure you don't know my political views. So, because your question is based on an invalid presumption, I am not sure why I should answer. 

I will say this. Obama would not be discussed here in the same way Trump has been for a few reasons. First of all, at least from what we can see, Obama generally appears to be a much higher quality person than Trump and is harder to attack on the same grounds. Second, the main point here is not as much about Trump but rather a discussion of how/why conservative Christianity decided to hitch their wagon to him. That did not happen with Obama.

On my part, there is no angst. If I came across with angst, that was my mistake. I was trying to sort of gently point out an inconsistency and I am not even saying you were wrong in it.

Don Johnson's picture

I think that in general preachers should avoid politics from the pulpit (although we might all define "politics" differently - one man's patriotism is another man's politics, for example).

However, I see no reason why a pastor can't have a political opinion and can't express it, especially on his own blog or any other where he comments.

However, discussing this point will distract from the main point, which is the somewhat bizarre alliance between Trump and conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. I understand the reasons for it politically and tend to share those reasons, but it is still a bizarre alliance. That is why we are having the discussion, in my opinion.

It would be better to simply acknowledge that it is a bizarre alliance rather than to pretend that it is not. Trump is no hero from the Christian perspective. He does advance some causes Christians support, so to the degree that he does, Christians will generally support him. I just wish they were a little less "fanboy" about it.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

I agree. Well said.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

No, I think I am quite capable of understanding your words and you have been quite clear.

Based on what I have said and what I meant and what you have apparently inferred, I don't think you understand. I am not sure how you would know better what I mean than I do. I don't mean to be snide there, but if I say you are not rightly understanding me, I don't know how you could disagree. I am not an expert on much of anything, but I have a pretty good idea of what I mean by something, even if I am not as clear as I think I am.

OK. You see SI different than a personal blog. I am not so sure.

A personal blog is a blog where the owner of the blog is the author. This isn't really even a blog. It is a forum or what used to be called a bulletin board. It is a community, not a personal blog. And yes, someone could find me here and I would not be troubled by that. Again, I think that indicates you don't understand my point.

I have been discussing Trump only in the context of a larger philosophy of civic duty in politics. I have said the same thing about other candidates for various offices at various levels.

I am not sure I see any relevance.

I think the relevance is one of an apparent double standard. You certainly don't have to answer that. I just pose the question of why it would seem that way.

Second, the main point here is not as much about Trump but rather a discussion of how/why conservative Christianity decided to hitch their wagon to him.

Which is the point I made above. 

This discussion, from my end, is about the larger issue of civic duty and responsibility. I think the issue of why conservative Christianity hitched to Trump is pretty easy: There were no other options. Again, remember most evangelicals voted against Trump.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood against Hitler and it cost him his life.  Very brave man.

True, but Trump isn't Hitler and the US isn't Germany. Hitler was systematically exterminating a whole group of people. It was genocide. That isn't politics and it isn't personal.

GregH's picture

Larry wrote:

Based on what I have said and what I meant and what you have apparently inferred, I don't think you understand. I am not sure how you would know better what I mean than I do. I don't mean to be snide there, but if I say you are not rightly understanding me, I don't know how you could disagree. I am not an expert on much of anything, but I have a pretty good idea of what I mean by something, even if I am not as clear as I think I am.

OK, this is getting sillier and sillier. I apologize for pointing out what I believe to be inconsistency. Regardless of whether I am right or wrong, it is certainly not anything to spend much time or keystrokes on. Have a good night.

Mike Harding's picture

You are absolutely correct Larry.  My point is that Bonhoeffer to some degree got political for a righteous cause.  The Dems want Abortion on demand for any reason at any time.  Their method of choice for the 2nd and 3rd trimesters is dismemberment.  If babys survive the abortion, the Dems want the freedom to commit infanticide.  It is the Dems policy that is close to Hitler's extermination camps.  Pastors should speak up about it often.

Pastor Mike Harding

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I just wish they were a little less "fanboy" about it.

Agree.

The older I get, the more I realize humans are--in this life--doomed to excess. We so quickly slip into binary thinking, so it's all this and zero of that or all of that and zero of this. It's the tendency toward oversimplification. I get it. Life is so full of information and who has time to think everything through?

Part of what I hoped to help with through this article was to encourage a few more to see this "awkward alliance" (as Don called it... pretty generously!) as worthy of more careful/thorough reflection.

I can appreciate some of what Trump has gotten done and not approve at all of the alliance or of putting him in office--or pretend that his being in the role of President isn't also having many far-reaching negative consequences for the country.

Darrell Post's picture

"But, whether we mean it to be or not, [a vote] is always, objectively, a statement that he meets the minimum qualifications for office."

Says who? A vote according to common usage of the term is simply "to express or signify will or choice in a matter, as by casting a ballot." In 2016, of the two candidates who could win, I didn't find either particularly meeting the minimum qualifications for the office, but that didn't stop me from expressing my choice as to which of the two I would rather be stuck with. 

 

Dan Miller's picture

I have to say that I really hate politics. I know I owe you a response. 

But, whether we mean it to be or not, it is always, objectively, a statement that he meets the minimum qualifications for office. That's just, legally, what the vote is.

Hmmm... the absolute minimum requirements are 35 years old and born in the USA. I think a lot of our difference is in the definition of a vote. For you, a vote seems to mean “I really like this person for president.” And I think you light even tend to take that “really” to the point of an absolute. Like, “This person meets every requirement I could properly have.”

One could write in “Jesus” on his ballot. Short of Him, nobody will meet every requirement I could properly have.

For me, a vote is, “Between these choices, I prefer this one.” When I voted for Trump, I joked that if it was Hillary running against Darth Vader with Sauron as running mate, then I would have had trouble and probably stayed home.

What I said about private... later...

Dan Miller's picture

During campaigns I can do a variety of things as a citizen (or even not) that can influence who is elected. 

  • I can donate money to the campaign of a candidate I like 
  • I can stand in the street and I’ve speeches in support 
  • I can write on Facebook about who I like
  • I can engage in debates with friends about who is s better or best
  • I can go vote

In the end, the only really concrete thing I can do is vote. Also, of those things, the only one that is truly private is my actual vote. I could speak all day about X, and then go in and vote for Y. No one would know. That’s all I meant by private.

 I saw an interesting quote today from a far-left activist who was discussing the democratic field with her friends. They thought Biden was the better choice because he’s not as far-left. She said, “No. I can’t vote for a candidate I don’t think is the best just because he’s more electable. It’s a moral decision.” I thought that was interesting, given our debate here.

Larry's picture

Moderator

OK, this is getting sillier and sillier. I apologize for pointing out what I believe to be inconsistency. Regardless of whether I am right or wrong, it is certainly not anything to spend much time or keystrokes on. Have a good night.

What seems silly to me is that you seem to think you know what I mean better than I do. I don't have a problem with someone asking about an apparent inconsistency. But when I say I think you misunderstand me, and you say you didn't, I have a hard time processing that. It may not be worth spending much time or keystrokes on, but it's worth remembering that an author or a speaker is the authority on their meaning. So when an author or speaker tells someone they have misunderstood them, then that should end the discussion, or at least move it onto different ground.

But whatever ... 

GregH's picture

Larry wrote:

OK, this is getting sillier and sillier. I apologize for pointing out what I believe to be inconsistency. Regardless of whether I am right or wrong, it is certainly not anything to spend much time or keystrokes on. Have a good night.

What seems silly to me is that you seem to think you know what I mean better than I do. I don't have a problem with someone asking about an apparent inconsistency. But when I say I think you misunderstand me, and you say you didn't, I have a hard time processing that. It may not be worth spending much time or keystrokes on, but it's worth remembering that an author or a speaker is the authority on their meaning. So when an author or speaker tells someone they have misunderstood them, then that should end the discussion, or at least move it onto different ground.

But whatever ... 

Actually there is a third option that you can't seem to consider. You may be misunderstanding me. You might think about that. For example, you make it clear here and in the other post tonight that you think I am a liberal. You are wrong about that;  I have made my position on that clear a few times on this thread. Do you want to acknowledge that I might know better than you that I am a liberal? 

I said it was silly because I am not going to go back and forth on whether I misunderstand you or you misunderstand my understanding you or if I misunderstand your misunderstanding of my understanding you. It is a trip to no where. No offense; I think you are a smart guy. I just don't think there is much value to that line of discussion because it would never end.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Dan Miller wrote:

I have to say that I really hate politics. I know I owe you a response. 

But, whether we mean it to be or not, it is always, objectively, a statement that he meets the minimum qualifications for office. That's just, legally, what the vote is.

Hmmm... the absolute minimum requirements are 35 years old and born in the USA. I think a lot of our difference is in the definition of a vote. For you, a vote seems to mean “I really like this person for president.” And I think you light even tend to take that “really” to the point of an absolute. Like, “This person meets every requirement I could properly have.”

One could write in “Jesus” on his ballot. Short of Him, nobody will meet every requirement I could properly have.

For me, a vote is, “Between these choices, I prefer this one.” When I voted for Trump, I joked that if it was Hillary running against Darth Vader with Sauron as running mate, then I would have had trouble and probably stayed home.

What I said about private... later...

These are arguments I've already responded to several times, but I may be able to express my counters a little differently than I already have.

  • Agreed: there are no candidates who have all the qualities we'd like them to have. That's not what I'm talking about. (I voted for both Bushes, Romney, and McCain).
  • Agreed: the Constitution only specifies age 35 and US citizenship. However the reason there's a vote is so that the electorate can decide what else is required. Zero of us believe that every 35 year old US Citizen is fit for office. (Example: This serial killer might not still be 35 but he was in May.) I think this is implied in "...Hillary running against Darth Vader with Sauron as running mate, then I would have had trouble and probably stayed home."
  • Therefore, also agreed: That there could be such a thing as an individual who is of such poor character, he/she is not fit for office and it would be morally wrong to vote for him/her.

So, really, it might be fair to say, at bottom of all this there are maybe only 3 positions on all this, based on two sets of factors:

Factor A: Whether whether there is a bad-character threshold, a CT:

  • Position 1 (NCT): There can be no such thing as a candidate who is so morally reprehensible, it would be wrong to vote for him/her -- as long as he is better than the other electable candidate. (Does anyone really believe this?)
  • Position 2 (CT): There can be such thing as a candidate who is so morally reprehensible, it would be wrong to vote for him/her regardless of who else is on the ballot. 

I think it's pretty important to settle one's view on that question before jumping to particular election choices. It's so clarifying!

Factor B: Whether Trump is below the character threshold

  • Position 1: He is below the bad character threshold and so voting for him isn't right
  • Position 2: He isn't below that threshold.

In theory these pairs could be mixed and matched into 3 positions:

  • CTTF (Character Threshold, Trump Fails) view that there is a bad-character threshold that renders a vote wrong, regardless of who else is on the ballot) who believe Trump is below that threshold.
  • CTTP (Character Threshold, Trump Passes) same as above, but Trump is good enough to be OK to vote for (maybe only if the alternatives on the ballot are bad enough, maybe regardless of the alternatives--lumping these together here for now, for simplicity)
  • NCTVR (No Character Threshold, Vote is Relative only to the other electable candidates on the ballot)

It's probably possible to classify all the views in this thread as CTTF, CTTP, or NCTVR. Maybe throw in NRVJMG (no rational view, just my gut) as a fourth option.

NCTVR could be divided into those who believe the choice is all relative and Trump is better, vs. those who believe the choice is all relative but Trump is worse (or not clearly better).

I'm a CTTF. I'm also not persuaded that even if there was no character threshold Trump is--when all is said and done--going to have done less damage than the alternative, in the long run, all outcomes considered

On the privateness of the vote

Agree that people can say one thing and do another (publicly denounce, privately vote for, or vice versa). Still can't see how that changes anything.

Dan Miller's picture

That was well expressed.

Factor A: ...

Position 1 (NCT): ... (Does anyone really believe this?)

Position 2 (CT): ...

I think it's pretty important to settle one's view on that question before jumping to particular election choices. It's so clarifying!

I think that by prioritizing the question of the CT, you make your position more persuasive (a less kind adjective would be “irrational”). The problem of the CT is that it’s an undefined threshold. As previously asked, David, Abraham, Solomon, etc. - would they meet it? 

I think a better Factor A is: VR vs. VM (vote is relative vs vote is moral endorsement). Because if you believe that your vote is a moral endorsement of the candidate, then the question of an externally defined CT makes sense (but it would still need defining to be a useful concept). But if you believe that it is a choice between two candidates, then the CT is necessarily defined as the other candidate

Larry's picture

Moderator

Not to  belabor this, but a quick response to indicate why I said what I did.

You said, "I do find it ironic that your words condemn yourself though." 

My response was that if you think my words condemn myself, then you didn't understand my words. That does not have anything to do with me understanding you (so far as I can tell); it has to do with you understanding me.

Then your response to me after I suggested by question that you were misunderstanding me was to say, "No, I think I am quite capable of understanding your words and you have been quite clear."

That seems to mean that you thought I was contradicting myself in spite of me saying I wasn't, that you understand what I mean better than I understand what I mean. Again, I don't think that is my misunderstanding you. 

So I don't think my response was unjustified.

I agree that there is not much value, but I think it is important if anyone is going to have an intelligible conversation.

As for being a liberal, I don't recall saying that. I simply questioned whether you would respond the same way to a similar situation the other way.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

If believing an act can be wrong regardless of the outcomes is irrational, I'll happily confess to being irrational. I'm still doing reading in ethics, but I'm pretty confident that I'm in good company.

As for VR vs. VM (vote is relative vs. vote is a moral endorsement), this division doesn't work because the act of voting is moral in both cases. The controversy has to do with how the morality is evaluated.

As for "endorsement," I don't really get why we keep coming back to that. I've apparently failed to make an important distinction clear on that point. An act can be morally wrong regardless of whether it is any kind of endorsement of the individual. But it's a moot question anyway, for two reasons:

  1. It can't be credibly denied that a vote is an effort to put someone in power. It also can't be credibly denied that this is a moral act. Voting also can't properly be separated from the legal and cultural context in which we do it. i.e., regardless of what we think the vote means, it in fact occurs within a government system established by specific philosophies and laws. Those philosophies and laws define objectively what the vote means.
  2. The more fundamental question is whether there is such a thing as "too low to go." This point has already been conceded in the Hillary vs. Darth Vader & Sauron example. If, in fact, there is such a thing as a candidate who is so lacking that voting for him would be wrong, regardless of who he's running against, the only question becomes how low is too low? And this remains the pivotal question regardless of whether we think it's an endorsement or not.

On the how low is too low question... At this point, I'm not equipped to go to battle against the moral equivalence fog that sees Trump as the equal of Solomon or David. At least, I don't think I can do it persuasively. It might be helpful to some who are wrestling with all this to point out that in the case of David and Solomon, we aren't told in Scripture that if Israel had been a democratic republic under a constitution and two hundred plus years of election tradition, it would have been ethical to vote for David if we had the option of writing in a better candidate. There are several other factors that make the comparison with ancient Israel a strain, but for now I'll just mention one more: the kings of Israel and Judah were mostly evil and unworthy men ... the record we have is of what happened, not what of 'what people should have done.' 

I'm working on a piece that visits how the writers of The Federalist Papers viewed the executive office and the meaning of voting. It may be helpful to some.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've mentioned some of this before, but here's what I'm reading (or have read, or plan to read) in light of this curious evangelical relationship with President Trump:

  • "The Evangelicals" by Francis Fitzgerald. A book about how evangelicals have shaped America, with particular emphasis on Christian nationalism and the last 40 years.
  • "Believe Me" by John Fea. Book about how and why evangelicals voted for a man like President Trump.
  • "Fear" by Bob Woodward. Book about Trump presidency. Horrifying and frightening.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Dan Miller's picture

First, I’m sorry for saying, “irrational.” It was insulting and didn’t convey what I wanted.

As for VR vs. VM (vote is relative vs. vote is a moral endorsement), this division doesn't work because the act of voting is moral in both cases. The controversy has to do with how the morality is evaluated.

 I think I see what you’re saying and I agree. It’s really VR(elative) -vs- VA(bsolute). 

IOW, we agree that the moral standing of a candidate matters. The question is what sort of standard we should use to evaluate a candidate. An absolute standard doesn’t mean perfection; it means some level of moral character that is defined outside the election. A relative standard doesn’t mean that one thinks morality is relative; it means that each electable candidate ought to be evaluated by the standard of the other candidate.

So really perhaps it’s VME (external moral standard) vs VMI (internal moral standard). 

Implementing VME has the challenge of what the standard is. Each voter will have to decide. 

Implementing VR has the challenge of evaluating the moral standing of each viable candidate.

Larry's picture

Moderator

It can't be credibly denied that a vote is an effort to put someone in power. It also can't be credibly denied that this is a moral act. 

So what is the moral case for an approach to voting that enables more wrong and more bad outcomes than less wrong and less bad outcomes?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

So what is the moral case for an approach to voting that enables more wrong and more bad outcomes than less wrong and less bad outcomes?

The question makes assumptions I don't accept, namely that outcomes are always the primary consideration--or even that outcomes are always a consideration at all. Part of my thesis is that there are things that are wrong to do regardless of outcomes. That is, there is no outcome that can justify them. In those situations, the question of outcomes is off the table entirely.

So one way to answer the question is "there isn't one, but that's not really relevant... because right vs. wrong doesn't always work that way."

This is why I've tried to boil the debate down to a couple of key ideas:

Can there such a thing as a candidate so messed up it would be wrong to put him in power regardless of the alternatives? If the answer is yes, then what needs developing is a clearer picture of where the line should be drawn. If one's answer is no, there's an even more fundamental question: are there any actions that are wrong regardless of outcomes? If the answer to that is yes, then where work needs to be done is figuring out what kinds of things are in that category. If the answer is no...  I'd suggest starting over with a blank slate and building an ethical system from the ground up, starting with the question What are "right" and "wrong" and how are they determined? (For Christians, that question at least should be very easy to answer.)

If it's really in doubt, I'm confident I can make a strong biblical case that there is a category of "acts that are wrong regardless of outcomes." But I'm not sure anybody's really questioning that... at least in this conversation.

Dan Miller's picture

Can there such a thing as a candidate so messed up it would be wrong to put him in power regardless of the alternatives? 

Right, I get that this is your question. But I don’t think it is the proper question because the decision before us is not regardless of the alternative. The question is always (as I see it), Which is better? (A, B, or equal). And the respective actions are vote A, vote B, and waste your vote (either 3rd party or stay home). 

there's an even more fundamental question: are there any actions that are wrong regardless of outcomes?

(Yes, of course) 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

The question makes assumptions I don't accept, namely that outcomes are always the primary consideration--or even that outcomes are always a consideration at all.

I'd agree that outcomes are not the primary consideration, but I couldn't agree that outcomes are not a consideration at all.  Even things we do simply because God commands it (i.e. doing what's right) have an outcome.  We might not understand or know what it is, or have any ability to control it ourselves, but I think we'd all agree that God has a plan for everything he does, and he's told us, at least in generalities, about the final outcome.  I think we have to at least consider outcomes, even if we have to eventually give up on our desired outcome (since we have a flawed, finite perspective) to do what's right.

Dave Barnhart

Jay's picture

There was a fascinating story in today's Religion News Service twitter feed, and I think that while we're talking Trump in this thread, the unspoken debate that's really occuring between SI members is "what is our particular role or responsibility as Christians in the United States"?

At least, it's driving my thoughts.  I doubt I'm the only one.

(RNS) — A group of Christian leaders has condemned Christian nationalism in a new letter, calling it a “persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy.”

The letter, published on Monday (July 29), comes from a coalition of largely liberal-leaning Christian leaders and thinkers. Entitled “Christians Against Christian Nationalism,” it calls on religious Americans to push back against fusions of religion and government they say are distortions of their faith.

“Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy,” the statement reads in part. “Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.”

The letter also suggests that Christian nationalism treats other religions as “second-class faiths.”

“As Christians, we must speak in one voice condemning Christian nationalism as a distortion of the gospel of Jesus and a threat to American democracy,” the letter states.

I don't think I'll sign the statement, but I certainly understand where they're coming from and sympathize with it.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

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