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I’ve made a mental start to this post more times than I can count. But each time I wad it into a ball of imaginary paper to shoot hoops into a mirage wastebasket. The problem isn’t so much writer’s block or not knowing what I want to say. The problem is attending to the easily predictable “outrage” and “disgust” and attempts at shaming for “even thinking such a thing.”
How do you write for an audience that really wants to ban any thinking other than its own? How do you make a case for something different with people who seem to accept their political orthodoxy as equivalent to gospel faithfulness? Is it possible to effectively engage people who think their Christian bona fides are shored up by assaulting yours?
Well, I’ve decided I can’t. So if those questions describe you, this post isn’t for you. You are, of course, welcome here. And I hope something here changes your mind about how to talk with others even if it does nothing to change your position. In fact, I’m really quite happy if my muddled thought experiment drives you deeper into your prior position with more reasons for it. That’s a win. That’s what public discourse has sometimes done. But if you feel like you need to drop the partisan equivalent of a rhetorical dirty bomb or denounce me as some kind of heretic, then I’m afraid you may live beyond the city limits of reason and this post isn’t for you. This would be a good time to write me off and head elsewhere.
This post is for that larger percentage of the Christian public that actually feels little threat from differing opinion, even benefits from it. This post is for folks who can affirm a brother as a brother while pushing back—even pushing back hard. What follows are ramblings for people who can keep the plot when it’s messy and think there’s virtue in civic disagreement. I don’t blog as regularly as I used to. I don’t have time and I don’t generally have interest. But for the entirety of my blogging life I’ve tried to talk with people, not at them or about them. If you’ve benefitted from that and want to share in that, then by all means join the conversation.
So on to what I want to say. I recently published a post from a Christian brother, friend and church mate who argued that the candidacy of Mr. Trump is so potentially catastrophic that Christian leaders should try influencing people toward Clinton. What’s remarkable about that post—besides the obvious “anti-Evangelical heresy” of voting for Clinton—is that the post comes from someone discipled out of the Democratic party precisely because he was taught and challenged about abortion. In other words, his story is the kind of story we conservative Evangelicals actually wish was more common. Don’t we?
Gauging Our Reactions
But the reaction to Nick’s post demonstrates at least three things for me:
- We actually have so little tolerance for political disagreement (not theological, which might be more understandable) that we eliminate room and patience for the kinds of conversion and growth we hope to see.
Our political vitriol becomes a barrier to our sanctification and that of others. From a Christian perspective, voting is above all a discipleship issue. But to disciple well, people have to be able to think out loud, risk enough honesty to reveal their weaknesses, and receive patience from others so they can grow. See 2 Timothy 2:24ff. Apparently Evangelicals ain’t there yet. There was zero rejoicing that a young man who all his life had been a pro-choice Democrat, actually grew in his knowledge of the scripture and conviction to the point that he became a pro-life independent. Surely angels in heaven were rejoicing, but not all of us on earth were. We’ve got to get better at engaging political difference so we can actually have wins in sanctification.
- Sometimes the way Christians represent others can be more abhorrent than the bad positions we rightly reject.
Some people call uncharitable (mis)representations “faithfulness” and “courage.” It’s not. It’s sinful. It fails the tests of Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6; Matt. 12:36 and a host of other texts. And many times it’s bearing false witness about someone (Ex. 20:16; 23:1; Prov. 12:17; 25:18; passim). Personally, I have to repent of the ways I’ve done this—even unintentionally (Lev. 4). Part of my repentance includes writing more charitably about others while challenging uncharitable (mis)representations. It cannot be the case that Christians deal with difference by attempting to shut down, shout down, or make others stand down through libel, slander, vitriol, etc. And it cannot be the case that we stand by while others do it.
- It may be the case we’ve used hyperbole and fiery rhetoric so much that we no longer take ourselves seriously.
Maybe we need to re-read the story about the boy who cried wolf. For example, when we say someone or their position is “evil,” do we believe it? Do we believe it to the extent that we feel our duty to act against it? Biblically speaking, it’s not enough to call something evil and then merely abstain from participating in it; we must also oppose it. We are to resist the Devil (James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9) and resist sin knowing that we’ve not yet struggled to the point of shedding blood (Heb. 12:4). There’s more for us to do than fire off tweets, bang out blog posts, and join in Evangelical gossip about the people “we can’t believe said that.” We ought not be sophists and mere rhetoricians. If we use words—especially serious words like “evil”—we should mean it and then act accordingly. In a sense, that’s the entirety of my position and at times it seems a quiet but major factor creating controversy with some who use the most flaming rhetoric.
Taking Evil Seriously
But what if we were to take evil seriously?
I tremble each time I apply “evil” to Clinton and Trump. And I do apply it to them both. Something in me draws back, alarmed. But I do so, I believe, with reason. While I do not believe they are the personification of evil (that’s the hyperbole of point 2 above), I do think their positions at numerous points are wicked when viewed biblically.
Hilary Clinton’s position on abortion, along with the official position of the Democratic Party, is an unquestionably evil policy. Her 80s-era comments calling young African American boys and men “super predators” was an ugly example of race-baiting in support of an utterly destructive criminalization of my people and my community. Her back-pedaling in recent months is hardly sufficient. Clinton’s penchant for bending the truth beyond recognition is more than standard fare in political races; it’s repeated breaking of God’s command not to lie or bear false witness.
Donald Trump is not a career politician. So we don’t have twenty years of history in political office to scrutinize. But, boy, he sure seems to be trying to make up time with several times daily displays of his sin. He’s no pro-life champion and has even been a contributor to the Clintons. He’s argued for Japan and Saudi Arabia to have nuclear weapons. That’s not only bizarre, it’s also potentially genocidal. Mr. Trump talks freely about registering Muslims, encroaching on a basic civil and religious liberty. His explicitly racist comments about Mexicans and others is no small sin. His comments about women are not only impolite but are themselves an evil affront to the image of God in our sisters. I don’t want my country to become again a place where open hatred is championed at the highest levels as I fear they are with Mr. Trump. They’re both guilty of pride (who of us isn’t?), but Mr. Trump’s campaign seems inordinately centered on him, his greatness and little else in the way of responsible public service ideas.
We could go on with regard to them both, couldn’t we? For every category of sin, it seems we could list flagrant instances for each candidate. And if we did, then we’d likely conclude along with many, many reasonable persons that this is an impossible choice. I have great sympathy for that view since for the last three presidential elections I’ve not been able to bring myself to vote for that very reason. I get that view.
But what if we use the word “evil” seriously and not as hyperbole? I know many of us are only being hyperbolical. If that’s you, I hope you’ll stop. I hope you’ll tone down the rhetoric lest we continue to be guilty of creating the very environment where flame-throwing politics thrive. But if you do think it’s actual evil, then keep using the word. Use it with meaning and use it with the godly force evil deserves.
But then we have to ask, “What is our biblical responsibility if we think their positions are truly evil?”
The thoughts below are for those who honestly think we are facing evil choices on both hands. If that’s not you, this won’t make sense or be compelling. But if it is you, I do hope it provokes further thought about pursuing active resistance in this election.
- We cannot simply palliate our conscience.
I’ve said this before, but a quiet conscience is not always a biblical conscience. Choosing a path that leaves us content by not voting doesn’t strike me as a biblical path if we believe we’re facing evil. Bystanders to evil are never given a pass for their inaction; they’re judged for it. And telling ourselves “we had nothing to do with the evil because we didn’t vote” is like slapping ourselves on the back because we managed to walk away instead of joining the crowd in bullying the weak kid. If your conscience has been awakened to the evil before you, you’re meant to actively oppose the evil the best way you can. We can arrive at different views of “the best way you can,” but that we must be active in resistance seems self-evident to me. There are always at least two ways to “quiet our conscience.” We may lull it back to sleep or we may take biblical action to inform and satisfy it. Only one will receive the Lord’s “Well done.”
- We cannot opt for the merely symbolic.
Symbols are great, necessary and sometimes powerful. But symbol is an inadequate response to substantive evil. So, while I think third party options are possibilities, I tend to think they’re viable as a response to evil only if you have a chance of winning. They’re great for fighting battles on or over principle; they’re lousy for stopping megalomaniacs and petite dictators who could care less about principle. Mr. Trump is not a principled conservative, so standing on principle is ineffective. Mrs. Clinton’s principles include slaughtering the unborn among other things, so her hand must be stopped with something more than the symbolic. We need a way of winning that’s more subversive of both agendas than either candidate could imagine. If a third party candidate with potential for defeating both Trump and Clinton emerges, they will have my most enthusiastic and happy support. But, for me, it’s got to be more than symbol because I’m convinced the evil is real.
- We cannot continue in blind party loyalty.
If your party—whatever party you choose—only gives you an evil option to support, then you cannot remain loyal to that party. Right now there are a lot of people putting party over principle, holding their noses, as the saying goes, and standing with someone most readers of this post will find unconscionable at least. Clinging to the party for party’s sake or even because you “don’t like the other guy” doesn’t seem to me to be an adequate redress of the evil that concerns us. It’s a tribal wink at such evil. It’s merely a preference for the sin we find least objectionable or most acceptable, depending on where you stand. So, it seems to me, it’s past time Christians with minds bound by the word of God forsake party politics for party politics sake. And if this election proves anything, it proves there remains among Christian people a lot of uncritical allegiance to the parties of men and even some idolizing of them.
- If we cannot make progress on cherished issues, we should not regress on other fronts.
We do not have a dedicated pro-life option in this election. Appeals to the nomination of Supreme Court justices, while hopeful, don’t strike me as realistic. If someone says we shouldn’t reject Mr. Trump because of the evil we imagine he might do were he elected, they shouldn’t then say support Mr. Trump because of the good they imagine he might do with Supreme Court nominees. We can’t or shouldn’t try to have it both ways. I think I see plenty of evidence for not trusting a thing Mr. Trump promises. But more than that, I think I see plentiful evidence that Mr. Trump represents a Dr. Who-styled transport back to a time when overt racist speech, physical brutality, mistreatment of women, and inter-ethnic mistrust were at an all-time high. And I’m genuinely concerned with the ways I see people already suggesting or stating, “racism isn’t as bad as abortion.” Where I sit, they’re both heinous evils and racism insidiously warps a lot more things than individual prejudice. Perhaps it’s a lack of faith, but I don’t think we’re going to gain ground on abortion with either candidate. So I’m asking myself how to hold the line on racism, sexism and other isms that seem so plentiful in this election. I don’t want to regress toward the 1950s even a little bit. And while many people would want to argue that Mrs. Clinton is as racist as Donald Trump, only one of the candidates is actually making policy suggestions that would enshrine that racism.
- If we can, we have to put forward our best defense.
If we think the evil is real and if we feel a unable to thwart both sides, then I think we have to field our best defense. I think that means putting the party with the best defense on the losing end of the general election. In other words, if we vote for the evil marked “GOP,” then we leave our weakest defensive players (Dems) on the field for a goal line stance. Democrats are lousy at defense and more than that wouldn’t be inclined to hold the lines I’d want to hold anyway. Republicans, like it or lump it, know how to shut a government down, hold up a SCOTUS nominee, and just plain dig in against a president. They don’t always win, but they’re the best defense out there. And they’re the only ones even pretending to care about what an Evangelical thinks. They would need Evangelicals more if they lose than if they win. And Evangelicals would gain more influence if the party’s dependence upon their vote couldn’t be taken for granted.
But put the GOP in the White House with a “President Trump” and not only are they no longer on defense but they’re being quarterbacked by a guy running plays from some playbook only he knows. You’d win the White House but probably lose down ticket elections and almost any credibility with a diversifying electorate (this year about 30% of voters will be from ethnic groups Mr. Trump routinely insults and angers). Electing Mr. Trump would be bad in the short and long term for the sides of me that values social conservatism and cultural pluralism.
Tomorrow, Lord willing, I want to offer another post. I’ve received quite a few comments alleging that “race” is an idol for me in this election and that I’m endorsing a baby killer and so on. Once again, I don’t expect everybody or even anybody to agree with me. But I want to address that misrepresentation and lay bare my own logic on such things. Until then, the Lord bless you and keep you.