Divided Together: Trump and the Christian Vote
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
“Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
While the chasm between Donald Trump’s supporters and the Never Trump camp extends beyond religious and secular boundaries, I’d like to focus on the effect the presidential election is having upon Christians, particularly right-leaning Christians who have, in the main, voted Republican since the 1980s. The recently revealed audio in which Trump speaks approvingly about adultery and even sexual assault, has driven a wedge in what was already a deep divide: Should Christians vote for Trump because, in spite of his abundant character flaws, he’s pledged to appoint Scalia-like Supreme Court justices, “protect Christians,” work with Congress and support pro-life legislation? Or should we vote for a third-party or independent candidate (like Darrell Castle or Evan McMullin) whose character comes closer to our ideals?
Churches and even families are being divided on this matter. How should we treat Christians who reach different conclusions?
When Christians blast the Clintons for stonewalling sexual assault victims, but dismiss Donald Trump’s sleazy, predatory remarks as mere “locker room talk,” they lose credibility, which for the church is far worse than losing an election. Believers should apply the same standard to lecherous Donald Trump that they would to lecherous Bill Clinton. Acknowledge that Trump has horribly offended and possibly harmed women. Then make the argument that Hillary Clinton has done (or would) do greater harm to our nation.
Trump supporters are tempted to focus exclusively on the WikiLeaks revelations and bias in the media — while minimizing or justifying the flagrant faults of their standard-bearer. NeverTrumpers are tempted to endlessly blast Trump, proving that “they were right all along,” while failing to give equal time to the many shades of Hillary Clinton’s corruption.
We Christians know that “a false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1) We should reject moral relativism and hold all candidates to an equal standard of integrity, regardless of the letter after their name, and even if some of us ultimately give our vote to a candidate who falls short of this standard. We must retain our prophetic voice by calling a spade a spade, and by speaking out against speech and behavior that dishonors God and belittles God’s image bearers, regardless of the politics.
Present Your Case Fairly
Some Trump supporters have appealed to the example of Cyrus, a pagan ruler used by God for the good of his people. But the fact that God used a pagan ruler to accomplish good things doesn’t mean every pagan ruler can be trusted to do good things or that we should vote for such rulers. The Israelites didn’t cast ballots for Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar, another pagan leader referred to in Scripture as God’s servant. While Cyrus delivered restoration, Nebuchadnezzar inflicted judgment. So the “Trump is God’s servant” argument cuts both ways. It’s better to make the case for Trump on the basis of his policy positions, his party’s platform, the people he’d bring with him to the executive branch and the many ills that would come with a Clinton presidency.
Similarly, NeverTrumpers should beware of overreaching in their conversations with fellow Christians who plan to vote for Trump. It’s cute but not quite fair to say “voting for the lesser of two evils … is still evil.” Would you recommend someone for church discipline because they voted for Trump? Because if you wouldn’t, how can you call it evil? The flip side is that by keeping their own hands clean from an association with Trump, NeverTrumpers are arguably promoting the election of Hillary Clinton and all the dirtiness that will come with it.
In discussing an early dispute among Christians (whether or not to celebrate Jewish holy days), the Apostle Paul assumed the best about both groups’ motives: “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:6) We should assume that Christians voting for Trump, and those not voting for Trump, are doing so with the best of intentions. Seek to persuade, but don’t mock others for — like you — voting their conscience.
Listen to the Other Side
Resist the echo chamber. Refuse to surround yourself only with influences that reinforce your biases. Bad arguments for the other side may be the only ones you’ve heard, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones out there. NeverTrumpers should read Eric Metaxas and Trump supporters should read Albert Mohler and Russell Moore. Be able to fairly articulate the position you reject.
NeverTrumpers should acknowledge that a Trump win would mean the defeat of a “rules don’t apply to us” couple that has sold their political influence to dramatically increase their net worth and consolidate their power. Hillary Clinton did grave harm on the world stage as Secretary of State (Libya, the rise of ISIS, etc.). She put national security at risk with her decision to set up a private server in her home. Her career has been shrouded in secrecy, deception and corruption (going back to Travelgate in the 1990s). The WikiLeaked e-mails reveal the strong anti-religious impulses on the part of her team. That can’t bode well for groups like Little Sisters of the Poor. On the plus side, Trump could appoint originalist justices, enact pro-growth economic policies, institute regulatory reform, bring down the costs of health care and stand up for religious freedoms.
Trump supporters should recognize that a Trump win would be the validation of a slash-and-burn, insult-driven, incoherent, sleaze-and-gossip-oriented campaign and the inauguration of a President who (by his own admission) is not given to sober reflection but to “going with his gut.” We’d have elected a person who speaks of the Presidency as if it were a monarchy. And while Trump might shake up the status quo (which we can all agree needs some serious shaking), he could also sue journalists whose unflattering commentary displeases him, severely damage U.S. alliances with impetuous tweets, renege on promises to conservatives and advance all kinds of mischief.
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All of us must make the best decision we can with the limited information we have. May GOD help us work together for the common good, on November 9 and beyond, knowing that what eternally binds us together in Christ is stronger than what might temporarily divide us in the polling booth.
Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor at California Baptist University and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).