Election 2016: Evangelicals Should Reject the Left’s False Dilemmas

This election is about electing individuals who will respect the rights of Christians and others to live by their faith.

By Tony Perkins Published on November 4, 2016

As a Christian, how would you respond to the following choice: Pray for spiritual renewal in our land or vote in an election that chooses our national leaders?

You should bristle at the suggestion that you have to choose, because you don’t have to choose between those two options. There is a third option — do both! This is called a false dilemma, and it is usually designed to direct people toward the desired outcome of the one posing the question.

If forced to pick between the two, many Christians would take the choice that appeared more spiritual — pray for spiritual renewal.

This is essentially the same dilemma that Alan Wolfe, a professor of political science at Boston College, offered in a recent column.

I chuckled at Wolfe’s opening sentence: “Donald Trump’s words and actions have torn asunder whatever unity American evangelicals once possessed.” He has obviously never attended a Baptist business meeting. It’s been almost 400 years and the Baptists are still here!

Believers should beware of false dilemmas from the Left — usually designed to direct people toward the desired outcome of the one posing the question.

But back to his question. Wolfe asks, “Should people of faith aim to reform this world through legislation, lobbying, and court decisions? Or should their eyes be on creating a beloved community in the world beyond, honoring the Lord and living in accord with his teachings?”

Professor Wolfe should know, and probably does, that these two actions are not mutually exclusive. First, what Bible-believing evangelical has said that working to shape the outcome of elections or public policy is the means by which we can “reform this world?” I’ve never heard those words spoken by an evangelical leader. There is, however, a recognition that public policy influences the broader culture, so we certainly should not neglect our role in shaping it.

The Answer is Not to Retreat from Issues of Public Concern

This election, as with any election, is not about electing someone who is going to “spiritually reform” America. It is about electing individuals who will respect the rights of Christians and others to live by their faith and fully engage as citizens of this country so that through their faith they can reform society.

America’s political deficiencies are directly linked to our spiritual weakness. The answer is not for Christians to retreat further from issues of public concern into religious ghettos, as some on the Left would suggest. The answer is in rekindling our love and devotion for Christ that causes us to go and accomplish our spiritual (Matt. 28:19-20) and cultural commissions (Gen. 1:26-28).

Some on the Left are pushing these false dilemmas because they see an opportunity to confuse Christians after a few Never Trump evangelicals suggested Christians would become tainted by voting for Donald Trump. In the political world, this is called voter suppression — actively working with messages designed to dissuade individuals from voting for a particular candidate, in this case Trump.

Professor Wolfe subtly reinforces the message from these Never Trump evangelicals, “To the younger and more spiritual, [emphasis added] Trump is not a ‘good’ man, at least as they conceive it, and thus could not make a ‘good’ president.”

Most evangelicals that I know, with the exception of a handful, did not support Trump when there were other options available. But now the choice is between a Donald Trump presidency and a Hillary Clinton presidency.

So what would Mr. Wolfe and the Never Trumpers suggest evangelicals do now?

He provides the answer, quoting from Augustine’s writings in the City of God, that “they either try to change the city of man, and thus run the risk of endangering their purity, or focus on the city of God, and thereby concede influence on the present moment.”

So essentially he advises evangelicals to retreat from the public square. I would ask Mr. Wolfe, in a society that is governed by the people, how does that work?

Let me tell you how that works. It doesn’t. This is especially true when this may be the only moment you have to influence the city or the country. There may not be a tomorrow to undo governing decisions that make a permanent impact. This is exactly what is meant by the famous quote often attributed to British statesman Edmond Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Or in this case, the only thing necessary for Hillary to win the White House is for evangelicals to stay home or vote for a third party candidate.


Tony Perkins, an ordained minister, is president of Family Research Council Action.

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