Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from a friend, fellow church member, and leader at Anacostia River Church, Nick Rodriguez. By day, Nick works in education policy and reform. But he’s a full-time husband and father who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. The views expressed here are Nick’s. They do not represent the views of Anacostia River Church or The Gospel Coalition. If interested in more of my personal views on this topic, see here and here.
Last week, Donald Trump officially secured the number of delegates needed to win the Republican nomination for president. And while it’s not quite over on the Democratic side of the race, Hillary Clinton is overwhelmingly likely to be that party’s nominee.
Trump’s nomination has presented evangelical Christians with a difficult choice: support Trump, support Hillary Clinton, vote for a third alternative who is unlikely to win, or don’t vote at all. To their credit, many evangelical leaders have ruled out that first option – they recognize just what an unacceptable candidate Trump is and what harm he would do to our country as president.
But these same leaders are divided on what the alternative should be. Some believe that while Trump would be bad, Hillary would be just as bad (or close enough that it doesn’t really matter). So they counsel no vote, or a vote for a third party. Others are undecided. But a very small minority, including my host on this blog, have decided (at least for now) to vote for Hillary.
I’m writing this post in Thabiti’s space both to add my voice to his and to make a claim that goes a little further: I think that evangelical leaders – in particular, conservative evangelical leaders – need to use all the influence God has given them to encourage thinking Christians to vote for Hillary Clinton. No dithering; no qualifications. The stakes are simply too high.
Let me back up for a moment and share a little bit about where I’m coming from. I’m a member of Thabiti’s church and a person of color. I’m also a lifelong Democrat. I became a believer just over 10 years ago, and while my views on life and marriage changed, most of the rest of my political beliefs – which align with those of the Democratic party – did not. So my voting behavior stayed the same, even after my conversion.
That was about to change with this election. Over the course of years and conversations with Christian friends who are active in politics, I became convicted that, for all my alignment with Democrats on other issues, a single issue – a Democrat’s endorsement of the right to kill unborn children – outweighed all the others. So I was getting ready to (reluctantly) pull the lever for Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio, or Scott Walker, or whoever won the Republican nomination, this November. Then Donald Trump interrupted my plans.
You might be thinking that it’s easy for me to say this – after all, I’ve voted for Democrats all my life. Maybe Trump is just an excuse for me to keep doing the same? This is precisely the reason why conservative evangelical leaders need to be the ones making this case. And I’m here to try to convince you. So here are 6 reasons why you should encourage all of us to vote for Hillary this Fall.
- Every election is a choice between different evils.
This point has been made before, but I just want to make it again, in case any of us are laboring under the illusion that past endorsements of “traditional” candidates were morally uncomplicated choices. Exhibit A is the 2012 election: four years ago, most of you had no problem telling Christians to vote for an avowed leader of a false religion – a person who had dedicated a substantial portion of his life shepherding souls down a path that leads to hell. When you endorsed him, I know you weren’t endorsing that; you just had a common cause that was more important. The same is true with endorsing Hillary. You’re not endorsing her views on abortion (and you can make that clear); rather, you have a common cause with her that’s more important. Which brings me to…
- Trump may be an existential threat to the Republic.
Plenty of observers have noted Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric, his megalomania and narcissism, and the literal cult of personality he has built. And they have painted a picture of just how real the threat of Trump could be. Andrew Sullivan captures the image well in a recent essay in New York Magazine:
“Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.”
Note that I didn’t say that Trump definitely is an existential threat. I don’t know that; nobody does. Hitler only rose to power because enough people believed that he wasn’t such a threat. There is no way of predicting in advance just how bad a President Trump would be. But if you’re an evangelical leader, this sets up a version of Pascal’s wager for you. If Trump turns out to be embarrassing but not all that bad, then your pride will suffer a bit, and you’ll have to say you were wrong to support Hillary. You’ll try to be wiser in the next election.
But if Trump turns out to be the “extinction-level event” that Sullivan predicts, and you fail to do everything in your power to stop him, then you will join a long line of evangelical leaders who have been on the wrong side of history – and judged harshly for it – at critical moments ranging from slavery to Jim Crow to abortion (in the early days of that debate). Your witness for Christ – our witness – will be diluted because we didn’t do everything we could to prevent this catastrophe. And there won’t be a next election to get it right.
- Trump is a threat to the unity of the church.
All of this is to say nothing of Trump’s racism and misogyny. As a person of color, I have to tell you that Trump gives me reason to fear for life and safety – for myself, for my mixed-race family, and for our immigrant parents – in a way that no political candidate ever has before. I hope that our conservative evangelical leaders, particularly those who are white, understand this: your stand against Trump, in solidarity with the people he hopes to marginalize, is critical to preventing that marginalization. If the movement against Trump is seen to be mostly a movement of people of color, then it will feed into the very narrative of white grievance that he thrives on.
I cannot speak for all believers of color, but I believe that many of us are remembering the evangelical church’s history on matters of race, looking to our leaders today, and hoping that this disappointing history does not repeat itself. Your actions to stop Trump should be so clear, so unequivocal, that you guarantee yourself a spot on Trump’s “enemies” list if he were to be elected president. Otherwise, the temptation to accommodate or to reconcile with a President Trump will be too strong for some of you in the aftermath of his election, and the church’s unity will suffer as a result.
- You may think she’s terrible, but Hillary Clinton is a conventional Democrat.
All right, you might be thinking: Trump is bad, but isn’t Hillary just as bad? Isn’t her support for abortion alone equal to all of the terrible things I’ve just described?
Perhaps – and you might spend all of a Hillary Clinton presidency opposing everything she’s doing at the top of your lungs. But I’m pretty sure you’ll still be able to oppose her in the context of the democratic republic we live in, and that you’ll be able to work to unseat her in the next election if that’s what you want. I cannot say the same of Trump. Fighting to protect life is important – but, with a candidate like Trump in the mix, it’s more important to protect your ability to fight for life over the long term. Due to his marriage of convenience with the Republican party, you might get a Supreme Court justice or two out of a Trump presidency. But it’s a Faustian bargain – eventually, Trump will do whatever is best for him, including appointing judges who help him overturn rather than protect the current constitutional order.
Hillary Clinton may do bad things as president – but as Thabiti said, they will be predictable bad things, and things that you’ll be able to oppose vigorously and with a clear conscience after the threat of Trump is past.
- Yes, you should vote strategically.
The next objection is obvious: Can’t I keep my powder dry by not voting or by voting for a third party candidate? Do I really have to vote for Hillary? Can’t I just not vote for Trump?
I recently had a conversation with a dear brother of mine who had read the Andrew Sullivan piece and was contemplating its warning of an “extinction-level event.” I asked him if that meant he would vote for Hillary. “I’d rather not,” he said. “Maybe if the polls tighten, and it looks like Trump might win, I’ll vote for Hillary.”
The problem is that it’s exactly this kind of thinking, applied en masse, that could result in a Trump presidency. The primaries were conducted sequentially; over time, we came to accept that Trump was commanding plurality (and eventually majority) support from Republican voters as the results came in. But we didn’t believe it before the first votes were cast, and lots of pundits have egg on their face from having predicted that Trump would fizzle out.
The general election opens us up to an even worse version of this error. It’s a one-shot deal, without opportunities to learn lessons from prior elections. If the polls get it wrong and we’re complacent, we don’t get to correct the mistake. And in any case, why gamble with something so important? Suppose that Trump only has a 20% chance of winning. If we knew there was a 20% chance that our loved ones would die in November, would we spend the next six months comforting ourselves with the 80% chance that they won’t? No: we’d do whatever we could to change the odds. So, too, with voting for Hillary: the best way to use your vote against Trump is to vote for the next most likely person to win.
- It has to come from you.
I said at the beginning that I’m not a credible messenger for this argument. I’ve voted for Democrats all my life. It seems obvious that someone like me would take advantage of an opportunity to declare my support for the candidate I’m more culturally comfortable with.
This is why it has to come from you – particularly those of you who have vocally supported Republicans in the past and are likely to continue to do so in the future. Conservative evangelical voters have to hear that it’s OK to vote for Hillary – just this once – from a source that they trust. This is your Nixon to China moment: a chance to take an unlikely stand that will get people’s attention and have an impact on the outcome.
More generally, I’d encourage you to look inside your own heart and ask why it is that you’re reluctant to support Hillary. I understand that there are good reasons for that reluctance. But are some of the wrong reasons sprinkled in there as well? Have you, like me, voted for the same party for so long that it seems reflexively wrong to vote for someone from the other party? Do you fear how you might be judged by politically conservative colleagues and friends? Have you spent enough time in their company that you’ve been convinced that she’s not just wrong on an issue you care about, but a cartoon villain of a politician? For the last generation, political tribalism has placed most evangelical Christians on the red team. Is that fact clouding your view of what you need to do?
These barriers mirror the ones I had to overcome in deciding to change my vote this year (until Trump came along, that is). And they are the same barriers that many evangelical voters – your congregants – are struggling with right now as they consider whether to vote for Hillary. By taking a public stand, you can help them to overcome those barriers.
My hope is that I’ll be able to vote for a candidate who unambiguously protects life in 2020. But until then, I hope that Christians throughout this country will work together to protect us from the threat Trump represents. Our leaders can play a big role in giving us permission and guidance within the law to do this in a way that preserves our witness and honors Christ. And though we strive for a particular result, I pray that we would ultimately trust God with the outcome, and that we would glorify Him with our actions both before and after the coming election.