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).

9231 reads

There are 183 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

dcbii wrote:

You do realize that in 2024 if the Lord tarries and SI is still here, that we will probably be arguing over whoever is in office then, right?  I remember all too well all the hand-wringing over whether any Christian could vote for Romney (a Mormon).  If he had gotten in, I suspect the arguments might not look exactly the same or be quite as vehement, but there would have been the charges of pragmatism, selling principle short, sacrificing the future for the immediate, etc.  I agree that Trump makes it a lot easier to make those cases, but it would have been done anyway, and will again in 2020, 2024, 2028...

This raises the question of what sort of qualities are necessary in a US President.... which I've written at some length about before (back when Romney was running). If we agree that being regenerate isn't a requirement, but that being a decent human being is a requirement, there is really very little similarity between the prospect of a vote for Romney and the prospect of a vote for Trump. Apples vs. oranges toasters.

Jay's picture

You do realize that in 2024 if the Lord tarries and SI is still here, that we will probably be arguing over whoever is in office then, right?  I remember all too well all the hand-wringing over whether any Christian could vote for Romney (a Mormon). 

So....will the last surviving member of SharperIron please let us know how the debate ends?  Smile

Seriously, I think some of this has to do with goals.  People voted for Trump because they want to preserve conservative values in law. Some of us think that the tradeoff of preserving conservative values by electing an un-conservative person was a bad idea.

If I can step back a second - there is a book put out by RAM titled "Preserving Conservative Churches" or something like that.  I have it, but haven't finished it because I disagree with the main premise.  Christians aren't here to preserve any kind of conservative / traditional values.  We're here to glorify the God who redeemed us, and to make disciples (1 Cor. 10:31, Matthew 28:18-20).  Preserving those values are the results of that work, not our goal.

As we glorify God and make disciples, we will by our very work establish conservative / traditional culture (as salt and light - they exist to do one thing, but the effects of that work do another - namely, purify).  I think that it's backwards to fight to preserve conservative / traditional values if / when it takes us off mission.  Leaning on politicians to preserve our rights is "off-mission".  That's why I referred to believers in China, North Korea, etc...they can't fight to preserve their values.  Most believers don't have the right to preserve their values.  We do, yes, but I think that it can be a major distraction to us and don't want to be distracted.  I have enough going on that I don't need more distractions.

When I tell people I'm an evangelical (they don't understand fundamentalist, so I don't use that term), the immediate response I have always gotten is "why did you vote for Trump".  My immediate reply is always "I didn't, because we don't agree on a lot of things and he isn't the kind of leader I want".  That does two things:

  1. It opens the door to further witness.
  2. It sidesteps a lot of the stupid arguments about politics.

Telling people that I voted against Trump not only sits with my conscience but allows me to minister to others and expand my 'reach'.  Maybe if I lived in deep-red Texas or in the heart of Trumpism, that wouldn't be the case...but I'm working with the field that God put me in.

As an aside, we called a new interim pastor this year.  He'd written, after he retired from his previous church, a blog post during the runup to the 2016 election that was critical of Trump.  It caused some serious fissures in our church and could have possibly cost him the opportunity to minister here.  Fortunately, it did not and the church dealt with it.  This topic has cost me friends and strained family relationships.  I'm OK with that too. 

I say that because I want to underscore that this is a serious topic with major ramifications, and I'm not taking it lightly.  I thought a lot about it and prayed a lot about it in the primaries (I was originally a Ted Cruz guy, IIRC) before I finally settled on #nevertrump stance.  But the more I see of President Trump (after seeing Trump the businessman in Atlantic City since my teenage years), the less I want to do with him or the 'benefits' he brings to the table.  This recent "send her back" chants at his rally is even more proof to me that he's doing much more damage than good, and it frankly scares me that he's feeding on that kind of animosity instead of suppressing it.   Others on Twitter are making the same points or better ones than I could.

"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

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

This raises the question of what sort of qualities are necessary in a US President.... which I've written at some length about before (back when Romney was running). If we agree that being regenerate isn't a requirement, but that being a decent human being is a requirement, there is really very little similarity between the prospect of a vote for Romney and the prospect of a vote for Trump. Apples vs. oranges toasters.

I absolutely agree with you that the two men are not at all similar.  I stand by my contention that if another candidate is elected who espouses conservative values but is not a Christian, and makes it obvious (whether more like Trump or more like Romney), the argumentation won't be a whole lot different even if the details will.

Romney might meet your "decent human being" requirement, and thus be on the list of people you could vote for, but I heard a fairly large number of Christians be just as against Romney as you are against Trump, though of course for different reasons.  They didn't have #nevermormon or #neverromney hash tags, times being what they were, but they might as well have.

Dave Barnhart

GregH's picture

dcbii wrote:

 

GregH wrote:

 

It will never be resolved but when will it stop? Hopefully 2020 but worse case 2024. Smile

 

 

You do realize that in 2024 if the Lord tarries and SI is still here, that we will probably be arguing over whoever is in office then, right?  I remember all too well all the hand-wringing over whether any Christian could vote for Romney (a Mormon).  If he had gotten in, I suspect the arguments might not look exactly the same or be quite as vehement, but there would have been the charges of pragmatism, selling principle short, sacrificing the future for the immediate, etc.  I agree that Trump makes it a lot easier to make those cases, but it would have been done anyway, and will again in 2020, 2024, 2028...

This is true. However I would say that Trump has managed to divide Christianity over politics far more than I would have ever thought possible.  Who would have ever thought we would have come to a point where a pastor that speaks against Trump is going to face big opposition if not people leaving the church over it? That kind of thing is happening and yes, the reverse is probably true too. It is sort of a hyper-polarization nightmare when two Christians with the same goals still get sideways over someone like Trump.

I am hopeful that whoever comes along next will not create that kind of conflict. In the meantime, in the case of Trump, I really do think there are at least a few legitimate ways to see things but many make it a hill to die on.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

GregH wrote:

It is sort of a hyper-polarization nightmare when two Christians with the same goals still get sideways over someone like Trump.

I am hopeful that whoever comes along next will not create that kind of conflict.

Amen.

Dave Barnhart

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
...It's a very different thing to say "Yes, I want this candidate in power" (a vote) vs. saying "Here's what I hope will happen when my vote is combined with everyone else's" etc....

This is our first area of disagreement. I don't think of a vote the way you do. It's not a platform or a statement. It's private. And to my thinking it's purely about which of the electable ballot options are preferable. 

Aaron Blumer wrote:
... A vote for a man of extremely poor character is a "how." This is the point I've been trying to make. The act of authorizing such a man to rule needs to be considered on its own, distinct form the alternative secondary consequences of not authorizing him....

This is the second area of disagreement. I have said for years that wanting to be president should be a ruling-out factor for being president (of course that would never work). They all have poor character. The difference is that Trump is not a lifelong politician. Obama knew when to lie - and he lied through his teeth through his campaigns. I think he's the worst president we've ever had but I have to admit that when he spoke, he was compelling. 

The skill of a politician is to say NOT what one thinks, but what the people want to hear or at least what you think the way they want to hear it.

Trump has opinions. Trump has character problems. He isn't great at hiding them.

Clinton had opinions. Clinton had character problems. He was really good at lying and acting.

My point is that when I hear someone complain about Trump's character, my suspicion is that either they:

1. Actually support democrats or socialists and want to throw mud

2. Genuinely cringe at some of the stuff Trump tweets (or at the way the press talk about it) AND long for someone who is better at hiding his character. 

ALSO, Trump's cringe-worthy tweets have to be divided into categories.

Personally, I have NO problem with what he tweeted about the democrat reps finding a country they like better. I don't find it the least bit racist. Finland is socialist, they can go there if they want socialism. It has nothing to do with race. Purely about policy, IMO. 

Darrell Post's picture

"Even if true, is it obvious that it's right to "have a say" under all circumstances or wrong to not have a say? (Or even morally better to "have a say" than not to?)"

Aaron, again, you appeal to morals in a situation of voting, which is not endorsing. Each of the two candidates offered a product. You have to take one of the products home with you, even if you don't like either product, and decline to have a say in which product you would rather take home. One of the two offered a product I found some value in, including life-long conservative judges, a more or less solid vice-president, and a host of department appointments that impact the average American far more than many realize. You did not find the same value I found and declined to participate in the outcome.

"It's not really true. If you reject both candidates as too problematic to authorize for leadership, you are having a say in the outcome."

Your appeal to Ross Perot was apples to oranges. Perot actually was polling fairly well. When his vice-president selection wasn't received well, he dropped some, but at least he was showing up in the polls as a possibly valid third party contender. So much so that many argued he siphoned off enough votes from Bush41 that it tipped the election to Clinton. Bill Clinton never got more than 50% of the vote nationally because of Perot.

No third party candidate was ever more than a statistical blip in the polling in 2016. This is an important point. If there was such a groundswell of people who adopted your view Aaron, that he was completely unfit, then why did no third-party contender ever emerge? The 2016 election seemed ripe for a third-party run, but no one made any traction in that direction. And I do agree with you that both candidates were more or less unfit for office. 

By having a say in the outcome, I mean casting a vote that added to the count for either Trump or Clinton, the two candidates whose outcome was victory for one of the two. No one else had the slightest chance of victory. 

Not casting a vote for either of these candidates was voting in a way to not have any say in the outcome of the election, which of the two would be the winner. 

You chose to not have any say in the outcome of the election, and as I said, that is your right. Even if I don't agree with your underlying rationale, I am not going to say you were wrong for not voting to affect the outcome. But I don't think you can make any valid argument that I was wrong for voting for Trump. 

Also, I certainly would be cautious to appeal to what God's will was in 2016. Obviously He permitted Trump to win the nomination and then the election. Some might see that as God's punishment on America, while others might see it as God's salvation through an imperfect vessel. I would argue for neither of those because I do not know the mind of God on the matter. 

 

Darrell Post's picture

When it comes to POTUS voting for the Christian, I have throughout the years listened to the arguments made every election cycle. 

In 2012, I recall a discussion involving a brother in Christ who argued passionately that no Christian should ever consider voting for Mitt Romney.

In 2008, I recall another specific conversation where another believer was adamant that no true Christian could ever vote for John McCain. He was no conservative, he had temper issues, and was a closet Democrat who loved to reach across the aisle because he longed to be there.

In 2004, I recall yet another conversation, how Bush was a sellout big spender who betrayed conservatism and should not receive the vote of any Christian. All he wanted was war and more war.

Throughout the years and the many discussions over politics, I have learned that everyone has a pecking order of specific issues. It is an unwritten list in mind of each voter that prioritizes issues in terms of importance and severity.

95% of all the voting debates, including this one here on SI, involve the conflict between the importance (ordering) and severity of the items on each person's list. I know of one voter who won't show up and vote at all until there is a party totally devoted to stopping abortion. I know another who won't vote because he believes both parties are exactly the same. 

There is usually value in each person's list, and each perspective, and often the differing severity on each person's list produces the most conflict between voters.

Adding to the complexity of voters' lists is the constant change going on in our society. It is possible for a voter to still be stuck on one obsolete issue (i.e. Free Silver from the tyranny of the gold standard!), while ignoring newer issues. 

Other factors that may influence voters' lists include beliefs about the relationship between church and state. If one believes the church has replaced Israel and we are a Christian nation, then one might think all that is needed is to get everyone to pray the 2 Chronicles 7:14 prayer, then poof, all the problems are solved.

So each Christian brings to the voting both his or her list with all its possible flaws from ignorance on issues, to misplaced severity of other issues, or faulty and or misplaced usage of Scripture.

Then add in the presupposition of many Christian voters that a vote is an endorsement, or that their vote is somehow analogous to picking a Christian leader of a ministry.

In summary, I am not surprised that there are widely differing opinions as to what to do as voting Christians. 

Much more so in the era of Trump because he is not a politician, and behaves like few presidents before him (closest analogies include Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson). 

Finally, the division over Trump is not unique to Christians. Some of the secular political blogs I have read have had closely allied bloggers, who were fully united around everything up until 2016, and have since parted ways, unable to be reconciled over Trump.

My voting philosophy is simply that...

a) We are not a Christian nation, but as Christians we still are allowed to vote for secular leaders. I do not wrestle with trying to figure out how 'Christian' the secular candidates are so that they have to pass some sort of threshold to receive my vote.

b) My vote is based on policy promises...which candidate offers policies more in line with the direction I believe the country should go, as governed by the importance and severity of my policy list.

c) Voting is not endorsing. It is simply picking the option that best has the chance of advancing the policies on my list.

d) I try, and probably often fail, at appreciating the perspectives of others whose list is different from mine and who come at voting with a completely different philosophy.
 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm trying to sort the pro-Trump arguments about a bit under headings, maybe for purposes of future efforts to answer them better.

To put it in terms of the question, "Do the ends justify the means?" ...

  • Arguments focused on the end: e.g. Trump is really not all that bad, Trump is so much better than the electable alternative, Trump is not much worse than some previous presidents, etc.
  • Arguments focused on the means: e.g. There is no need to justify a vote for Trump, there is adequate justification for a vote for Trump, a vote is actually an act of policy advancement--not an act of supporting a person, etc.

On the anti-Trump side...

  • End-focused arguments: Trump is far more damaging than people seem to realize, Trump is not clearly better than the alternative in the long run, Trump is far worse than previous presidents, etc.
  • Means-focused arguments: A vote is an authorization to lead, a vote is not merely about outcomes, etc.

Maybe someone can beef up the list and identify any other categories?

@Dan Miller: I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around your view of politics in general and voting in particular. It's been a area of strong interest to me for a lot of years, and I've read and thought about it a great deal. I just don't see any resemblance between your idea of what voting is about vs. the idea the founders of the nation had in mind, or their political-philosophical antecedents either. But I also don't think I understand it, so maybe hearing more will help me with that much.

As an example, I can't see how the vote being private changes anything. That is, it's still part of the process whereby citizens authorize the individual they'd like to rule over them. I'm a bit skeptical of social contract theory, but I do believe in rule of law--and this is what the law of the land, our Constitution, etc., declares: that the power belongs to the people, the States, and by their authorization, the leaders in Congress and the Executive.

As for what politics is, there's no question that it involves a lot of tactical rhetoric. So all politicians fail at times to be the statesmen they ought to be. They all transgress at times by saying things they shouldn't, failing to say things they should, failing to back the right policy or failing to oppose the wrong policy, etc. They're human, and the process lends itself to a certain amount of backstabbing and mudslinging. None of that changes what their duty is, or what standards they should be judged by... or makes it unimportant when one of them rises to the level of Executive and daily contributes to the accelerating decay of reasoned discourse in the country.

Darrell Post's picture

"a vote is actually an act of policy advancement--not an act of supporting a person, etc."

Further arguments that support this statement.

Much of the debate on this thread has been presented as though the POTUS voting was for an absolute monarch--one who exercises unlimited power of decision over all aspects of our society without any distribution of power or checks and balances. This is not at all the case. Yes, the president is the chief executive. But actual power to make decisions is not his alone. Far from it. Our federal government has a vast network of departments and agencies under the executive branch, and it is the executive who chooses the heads for all these departments. These departments have a great deal of freedom to regulate without legislative branch consideration. So whoever heads the EPA, the Dept. of Education, Commerce, and the host of other departments and agencies can have a major impact on how we live and what rules we must follow. So in 2016, when you voted for Trump or Clinton, or declined to participate in the outcome, your choice was also for the sort of people you wished to drive policy decisions in each of these departments. Trump is but one man, and did not (thankfully) have clones of himself to run all these agencies and departments. So he pulled from the stock of GOP members of congress and state-level Republicans so that all these departments have more or less conservative leadership to enact policy. Election for president then is not election of one leader, it is a team of leaders and the only way to get that team to be a conservative team is to vote for the POTUS selection more likely to appoint conservatives to that team. 

We have already spoken about the importance of having conservative judges in the courts. Both the supreme court and the lower courts always have vacancies, and the judicial branch wields tremendous power--especially given that liberals on the courts frequently legislate from the bench, usurping the role of the elected legislators. So when you vote for POTUS you are voting for the direction of the judicial branch of government. 

I know it has been a long time since a sitting president was replaced by his vice-president (Ford took over for Nixon), but the role of vice-president also should not be overlooked. This was especially true in 2016, given the possibility that Trump could go so far off the rails that he would either quit or be impeached. Then on the other side, we had Hillary Clinton who during the campaign demonstrated particularly poor health--at one point fainting. Tim Kaine was a hard-core leftist, while Mike Pence is a conservative. Furthermore, the vice-president breaks tie votes in the senate chamber, a fact that should not be overlooked given the tight margin for majority control. 

I have shown above that the vote for POTUS is much more than a vote for a single candidate. It is a policy vote for a team of leaders and team of judges who will enact policy and judge policy based on the direction this team wishes the country to go. 

 

 

Jay's picture

I'm sorry, but this is such a simplistic idea that it bears pushback:

"a vote is actually an act of policy advancement--not an act of supporting a person, etc."

Jesus mentions that it is out of the heart that a man speaks (Luke 6:43-45).  It's our sinful hearts and natures that propel us to be who we are.  You can no more divorce a person's behavior from that person than you can divorce white from white rice.

To choose to support a presidential candidate - to vote for him/her - is to say "this person is the best candidate to lead the nation".  Saying that you support a team of leaders to enact policy without endorsing their beliefs and values...is more than an oxymoron.  It's utterly divorced from reality.

I have shown above that the vote for POTUS is much more than a vote for a single candidate. It is a policy vote for a team of leaders and team of judges who will enact policy and judge policy based on the direction this team wishes the country to go. 

Also untrue.  When we vote, we vote for the POTUS/VPOTUS.  All of the other things that flow out of that vote - from the appointment of the Secretary of State down to the lowest judge - are dependent upon and determined after the election.  There is nothing stopping Trump from appointing liberal justices down the line if he so chose, other than the risk of alienating his own base and possibly losing the 2020 election.  We may think we know what they will do, but we don't always get that hope borne out.

"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

josh p's picture

Jay that is well said. Some of the people here have made the argument that they based their vote on Trump’s campaign promise to appoint conservative judges. That’s all well and good if you believe what he says. Obviously politicians are not known for their honesty so you have to make the call based on pressures you think they may give in to. Also, some of us applied this type of reasoning way before Trump so it’s not, in my case anyway, a reaction against him as much as it is trying (and sometimes failing) to apply a consistent method.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

"a vote is actually an act of policy advancement--not an act of supporting a person, etc."

Further arguments that support this statement.

Much of the debate on this thread has been presented as though the POTUS voting was for an absolute monarch--one who exercises unlimited power of decision over all aspects of our society without any distribution of power or checks and balances. This is not at all the case. 

Actually, none of the arguments I've put forward view the Presidency in this way. Unless I missed it, none of the others do either.

There's no question that the government is structured with checks and balances built in, and three branches that express the separation of powers principle. There is indeed a vast executive branch bureaucracy, and though I wish it were smaller and more restrained, the bureaucracy is, to some extent, a disaster-mitigating factor of the executive branch. It's so vast, that even in two terms it's impossible to replace everybody. And even the top level leaders can take a long time to replace. (I think there are still several "acting director" leaders of various federal agencies, and we're years into the administration.) 

Also beyond dispute: that the executive has a great deal of influence over appointments of judges. And so far, that appears to be a positive for the administration.

None of that changes any of the arguments I've made, though. I don't think a solid case can be made for completely separating the man from the policies. Here's why:

  • The government is designed to require substantial majorities to enact law. If the Pres. is a non-persuasive and alienating person, very little of that can be done, and the escalating hostilities make compromises increasingly unlikely.
  • Many of the "rules" of the exec branch bureaucracy can be changed by Presidential directive, but these are easily reversed by whoever is elected next.
    • 1. So once again a president who is the opposite of persuasive in his character and demeanor will motivate a stronger backlash in the executive branch when he is no longer in office.
    • 2. Because the executive branch is so powerful the character of the Executive is that much more important. He can do a great deal unilaterally.
  • Presidents have long been understood to have significant impact on both the moral sensibilities of the nation and, much more, on the quality of public discourse. Because he is also effectively leader of the party, the nature of the political struggle is greatly influenced by his rhetoric. The culture of both the administration and the party are pretty much determined by him. And that culture has a huge influence on the whole political dynamic in the country.

So I don't think the "vote = policy not a person" thesis holds up. They can't be separated that way. It's certainly not how the founders believed things should work. If they had, there would have been a national vote on a set of policies, a platform, rather than a person. But leadership doesn't work that way. It's always a uniting of ideas, personality, character, and action in a human being who must exercise some decision-making judgment.

Darrell Post's picture

"Also untrue.  When we vote, we vote for the POTUS/VPOTUS.  All of the other things that flow out of that vote - from the appointment of the Secretary of State down to the lowest judge - are dependent upon and determined after the election.  There is nothing stopping Trump from appointing liberal justices down the line if he so chose, other than the risk of alienating his own base and possibly losing the 2020 election.  We may think we know what they will do, but we don't always get that hope borne out."

Trump promised conservative judges Jay. Sure he could have lied about it...that's a risk no doubt. But there was no way Clinton was going to say she would appoint liberal judges, lie about it and appoint conservative judges. Furthermore all the secretary and agency heads. The spoils system has been the method for a very long time, and typically, these positions are never filled with people from the other side whose ideology doesn't match that of the winning party. So it IS true that when you vote, you are voting for an excecutive who leads a team of leaders from the party, from vice-president down to all the cabinet and department heads to judges. Voting for POTUS is the ONLY way the voter has any impact on who will be on the SCOTUS.

 

Darrell Post's picture

"So I don't think the "vote = policy not a person" thesis holds up. They can't be separated that way. It's certainly not how the founders believed things should work."

Sure it holds ups. If you want to vote so that good legislative policy is to be upheld by the SCOTUS, you vote for the POTUS that gives you a good SCOTUS. if you want to vote so that bad legislative policy is to be overturned by the SCOTUS, you vote for the POTUS. If don't want liberal activist judges on the SCOTUS, you vote for the POTUS.

If you want the department of education, commerce, etc. all to be run by more or less conservatives who will enforce conservative mandates, you have to vote for the POTUS candidate who is from the party that is home to conservatives. 

Its all about policy. One party's candidate puts out a set of policies and says vote for me and my team will look like this, and accomplish that. The other party's candidate does the same, but with a contrasting set of policies.

I show up and vote based on which policies I agree with more, and then go home and watch the returns to see which set of policy ideas won the election. 

Darrell Post's picture

"Saying that you support a team of leaders to enact policy without endorsing their beliefs and values...is more than an oxymoron.  It's utterly divorced from reality."

It is NOT endorsing. Everyone has their personal list of issues organized in terms of importance and severity. You look at the two parties, and the policy platform the parties presented (often done at the party's convention), and you vote based on which of the two options better accomplishes positive progress against your list. It doesn't mean you have to endorse any specific candidate, that candidates' values, or anything like that. You don't have to support a candidate with money. You might find yourself in agreement with only 6 out of 10 proposed policy issues in one of the two parties, but only 1 out of 10 policy issues in the other. There is NEVER going to be a perfect fit between you and any political party. So you don't have to endorse a person singularly, or a political party in general to vote for that party's POTUS candidate. 

You don't live this way in other areas of life. You don't have to endorse Home Depot to buy a 2x4 from them.

  

Darrell Post's picture

endorse

verb (used with object), en·dorsed, en·dors·ing. 

to approve, support, or sustain: to endorse a political candidate.

 

vote

verb (used without object), vot·ed, vot·ing.

to express or signify will or choice in a matter, as by casting a ballot: to vote for president.

 

I did not approve of Trump. I did not support Trump, and I didn't sustain him. But I did express or signify my will or choice in the matter of who I would rather have as my president, given the two options.

Darrell Post's picture

"Jesus mentions that it is out of the heart that a man speaks (Luke 6:43-45).  It's our sinful hearts and natures that propel us to be who we are.  You can no more divorce a person's behavior from that person than you can divorce white from white rice."

No one here is arguing that Trump is a man of character with a clean heart and good behavior. Character, clean heart and good behavior was not an option on the 2016 ballot for president. Either Trump or Clinton would be the president. Your only options were to pick one of these two if you wished to have any say in the outcome, or decline to participate, allowing others to choose which one of these two would be your president. 

 

Darrell Post's picture

"To choose to support a presidential candidate - to vote for him/her - is to say "this person is the best candidate to lead the nation"

Not at all. There were only two options, Clinton or Trump.  To vote for Trump or Clinton is to say of these two, I would prefer it be this one, and not the other. I could think of several names that could be the best candidate to lead the nation, but they were not on the ballot. And I did not support as in endorse Trump, but I did vote for him. And he was far from being the best candidate to lead the nation. Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and others would have been much better, but they were not options after the primary. 

Jay's picture

I'm not seeing a ton of difference between the two definitions that you linked to, Darrell.  They are:

endorse - verb (used with object), en·dorsed, en·dors·ing. 

to approve, support, or sustain: to endorse a political candidate.

vote - verb (used without object), vot·ed, vot·ing.

to express or signify will or choice in a matter, as by casting a ballot: to vote for president.

If by these definitions a person 'expresses or signifies their choice in a matter" by "approving or supporting" a particular candidate (which is the exact example that they use, no less!), then how can you argue that there is a difference between the two terms?  It seems like you're trying to split protons to make an artificial distinction. 

Sure it holds ups. If you want to vote so that good legislative policy is to be upheld by the SCOTUS, you vote for the POTUS that gives you a good SCOTUS. if you want to vote so that bad legislative policy is to be overturned by the SCOTUS, you vote for the POTUS. If don't want liberal activist judges on the SCOTUS, you vote for the POTUS.

Yes, the POTUS is responsible for appointing members to SCOTUS, but that doesn't always work out as expected - see Anthony Kennedy, appointed by Ronald Reagan, or even John Roberts, who was appointed by George W. Bush.  Furthermore, if you're voting for a President because you want good legislative policy to be upheld, you're doing it wrong.  You need to be focused on the House and Senate. That's their appropriate jurisdiction.  It is better to write good laws and get them passed than it is to brute-force SCOTUS into re-writing law.  That's what the liberals and progressives do with the courts, and we rightly hate that.

The President isn't all-powerful, nor should he be.  He can (and does) serve as a check on the legislatures, which is a good thing.  But he isn't singlehandedly responsible for ramrodding good legislation and policy through government, and if you're looking at him as the 'savior' of the United States because he appoints SCOTUS judges, you're looking at our government wrong.  That's not the way our Constitution is designed to work.

"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

Darrell Post's picture

"The President isn't all-powerful, nor should he be....That's not the way our Constitution is designed to work."

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. The office of president has become far more powerful than it was back at the beginning. I do not view Trump as any sort of Savior at all. But the fact is judges at the supreme court level and the lower courts are very important as the country is currently operating. It is not currently operating the way it was designed to. Throwing away my vote won't help fix that. Clinton would have put in there more judges like Obama's appointments, and the courts would have been lost for the rest of my life. And that's the point, yes, Reagan and the Bushes had some clunkers on the high court, but voting for them was the ONLY way to have a possible chance at conservative judges. Please provide me a list of all the federal judges appointed by a liberal president, where the judge unexpectedly turned out to be a conservative who believes in the authorial intent of the constitution. Trump came out late in the campaign and announced he would appoint conservative judges. Up to that point, I feared he might get his list of ideas from Chuck Schumer. But it was a promise, and a chance at good judges, and I am very thankful he kept his word on this.  

"It seems like you're trying to split protons to make an artificial distinction. "

And it seems like you're trying to join two distinct concepts represented by two different English words because you see endorsing the same as voting, while common usage as recorded by the dictionary says otherwise. 

Darrell Post's picture

Falwell endorsed and supported Trump. Many chose to sustain Trump through a variety of ways. Many gave money to his campaign. Many approved of Trump and stated so without any reservation.

I did none of those things. I didn't endorse Trump. He was 17th on my list of GOP candidates in the GOP primary. I did not support him and I did not want him to be the GOP nominee for president. I even spoke out against him. I even went to a rally for Rubio, and spoke out against a Trump supporter standing there holding a sign. 

Even after Trump won the GOP nomination, I did not send him any money, I didn't recruit others to vote for him, and I didn't put his sign in my yard, even though I have done that for other candidates in the past. But I did show up and choose between Clinton and Trump and decided that of the two I would rather have Trump. There is a huge difference between endorsing and voting. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Who would have ever thought we would have come to a point where a pastor that speaks against Trump is going to face big opposition if not people leaving the church over it? 

It seems more disturbing that there are pastors who would speak out about Trump. That, in and of itself, should be a reason for serious consideration of leaving a church. When a pastor gets into politics, it is almost certain he has left the Scriptures.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm not sure it's that simple. We would all agree, wouldn't we, that--at times--applying biblical principles to influential people involves naming names. Plenty of us talked about Billy Graham.

It's not obvious to me that "politics" is a sphere of life we should rope off and not talk about in a specific way.

That said, I don't think I ever found it necessary to endorse or denounce senators, congressmen, judges, presidents, etc. from the pulpit when I was a pastor. I usually felt that, when teaching principles that related to those things, the application was clear enough. I'm not really sure that's the case, though.

... and that was before the apparent majority of Christians went as low as they did in 2016. If I were pastoring now, I would definitely do some teaching on the topic and name him specifically. But I would handle it very carefully. I would not denounce him in a sermon, but I would teach the principles that compelled me not to vote for him and probably do the application in the form of a series of pointed questions aimed at stimulating thought about the ethics involved.

I would also affirm the principles that require us to "honor the king" and "obey ... the powers that be" in the ways those principles apply in a democratic republic.

As for voting vs. endorsing...

As I've probably already said, a vote is, under our Constitution, an act of authorizing/empowering an individual to be the Executive. It's never an expression of approval of all he thinks, says, or does. 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.

Jay's picture

First off, as I said before, the article was written on a personal blog after the pastor retired. It was hardly Trump-bashing from the pulpit.

It seems more disturbing that there are pastors who would speak out about Trump. That, in and of itself, should be a reason for serious consideration of leaving a church.

So let me get this right...you would consider leaving a church over concerns about the moral integrity of the leadership of the United States?  Does that apply to pro-abortion and pro-LGBT issues as well?  Did you have this position when Bill Clinton or Barack Obama were President?  Or when Hillary was running in 2016 for that matter?

I mean, part of the argument that I have made against Trump since this thread got going is the selective moral outrage we manifest.

So much for speaking the truth boldly and without fear on moral issues of the day.  Jesus needs straight shooters and truth tellers more than he needs Americans or Republicans.

"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

TylerR's picture

Editor

I didn't vote for Trump. I found him morally unacceptable. I liked Scott Walker, but he was destroyed in the early stages of the primary. I personally liked Rubio and Fiorina, but didn't invest time in actually researching their policies. I was waiting to see who the nominee was left standing when the primaries ended. I would have taken Cruz, but it was clear he wouldn't last against Trump. When Trump was the only one left, I didn't bother voting because:

  1. I didn't like him
  2. WA's electoral votes were going to Clinton anyway
  3. I thought Clinton would destroy him in the general election. I thought it'd be a slaughter.

I was wrong!

Two "I'll never forget it" political moments in my life so far:

  • Tim Russert with his white board during the 2000 election, describing the Florida madness on election night, thoroughly enjoying himself
  • Watching with a combination of horror and malicious glee as Trump beat Clinton in the electoral college in November 2016 - and the anguished reactions from the Left. 

I'm interested in what Nikki Haley will do in 2024. 

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

So let me get this right...you would consider leaving a church over concerns about the moral integrity of the leadership of the United States?  Does that apply to pro-abortion and pro-LGBT issues as well?  Did you have this position when Bill Clinton or Barack Obama were President?  Or when Hillary was running in 2016 for that matter?

Yes, please get it right. I said nothing about leaving a church over concerns about the moral integrity of the leadership of the United States. Pro-abortion and pro-LGBT issues are moral issues not political ones. I did have this position when Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton were running and/or president. 

Remember, I am not a supporter of Trump by and large. So this isn't about him. It is the same position I have had for 25 years since I began in vocational ministry. 

I mean, part of the argument that I have made against Trump since this thread got going is the selective moral outrage we manifest.

I have said nothing about selective moral outrage. I happen to agree that far too many show selective moral outrage, though I can't help but think that the anti-Trumpers here don't see it in themselves. 

So much for speaking the truth boldly and without fear on moral issues of the day.  Jesus needs straight shooters and truth tellers more than he needs Americans or Republicans.

I agree. 

The issue that you have missed seems to be the biblical mandate for churches and pastors. Pastors are to preach the word and to make disciples. They are not to use the pulpit to involve themselves in politics of any stripe. They are to stick to the text of Scripture. The absence of Trump (or any other politician) from Scripture should mean the absence of Trump (or any other politician) from the pulpit.

Jay's picture

The issue that you have missed seems to be the biblical mandate for churches and pastors. Pastors are to preach the word and to make disciples. They are not to use the pulpit to involve themselves in politics of any stripe. They are to stick to the text of Scripture. The absence of Trump (or any other politician) from Scripture should mean the absence of Trump (or any other politician) from the pulpit.

So then what, exactly, is your objection to what the retired pastor did?  As I mentioned, it wasn't in a pulpit or church service - it was a personal blog by someone who had retired.  And you responded to that by saying:

It seems more disturbing that there are pastors who would speak out about Trump. That, in and of itself, should be a reason for serious consideration of leaving a church. When a pastor gets into politics, it is almost certain he has left the Scriptures.

Am I missing something here?

"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

Larry's picture

Moderator

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?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

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. But I think it's important to clarify that there is no area of life and no public figure that is outside the scope of biblical principle... or, therefore, outside the scope of application and preaching. If 50% of people are put off by doing that, that isn't the preacher's responsibility. His job is to tell the truth.

Pages

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.