In no political election of which I’ve either participated or followed since I began voting in the mid-seventies do I recall such publicly negative emotion being spewed toward Christian believers. Let me qualify that a bit, for I’ve certainly observed and, at times, personally experienced, the fiery wrath from those both to the political left of me and unbelievers outside the church. There was a time when those who did not know me would conceivably assume “fascist bigot” was my middle name since it was spoken so often about my more conservative political leanings.
What’s different about the present presidential election is, I (and others who’ve chosen privately or publicly to vote Trump in less than a month) am routinely slammed not just by the political left…not just by unbelievers outside the church…Rather, I am systematically slammed by those not only inside the church, but also by heretofore professed fellow conservatives inside the church.
What is more, while I can fully understand, and perhaps in some ways accept, “fascist bigot” by radical leftists and unbelievers—after all, we can’t expect them to either be tolerant in the best sense of that word, or just since they understandably possess no clear sense of Judeo-Christian justice, or righteous since their worldview ethic remains intellectually jaded and morally insufficient –I must admit I am puzzled, and in some significant ways, personally offended by the ceaseless condemnation heaped upon me (and those like me) by fellow conservative Christians. It is here that I find no comparison in earlier elections in which I’ve either participated or followed.
Here’s just two examples from my feed-reader today (many others could be cited):
Denny Burk: “Why More Evangelicals may need to follow CT’s lead.” Burk praises Christianity Today’s “scathing editorial” wherein Andy Crouch ‘makes the case that “Evangelicals, of all people, should not be silent about Donald Trump’s blatant immorality.”‘ For the record, I know of no evangelical leader who has remained silent about Trump’s character flaws but could list several who’ve weighed those flaws in the balance of reason and expediency and found them insufficient grounds to turn the country over to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Burk goes on to suggest:
“Many people are assuming that evangelicals in toto are supporting Donald Trump, that evangelicals are willing to turn a blind eye to disqualifying character defects, and that they are willing to endorse reprehensible character so long as the candidate is Republican and not Democrat. In short, it appears that evangelicals have no principle only partisan interest.”
But Burk offers no evidence that “people are assuming” evangelicals in toto support Trump. In fact, Burk’s point reduces to argument without evidence. Consider. While it may be true most evangelicals in more recent polls appear to support Trump, their support for Trump is almost identical to their support for Mitt Romney in 2012. What is also telling in the poll is that Burk et al place themselves in the 77% category of the “religiously unaffiliated”–the atheists, the agnostics, the nones–against Donald Trump. Talk about being out of touch with the American people! Perhaps this may explain in part why neo-evangelicals cannot get an electable candidate on a ballot—they can’t find one who identifies with average folks.
Burk goes on to suggest evangelicals for Trump “appear to have no principle only partisan interest.” In other words, the Trump voter has sold his or her soul to the Republican party and therefore no amount of principled behavior will upset that sheer, naked politicism. For me, this becomes the most awful kind of broad-brush criticism and remains abrasive and offensive to the core. It also demonstrates a completely-out-of-touch position with where grassroots evangelicals presently are, a sort of elitist, ivory-tower rhetoric which speaks to the proverbial choir (i.e. Burk’s close-knit circle of friends). These words do not ring of those attributable to a Prophet as we’re many times told. Instead they sound like the words of an egotistical bully who–intentionally or unintentionally–assumes others who do not believe like them are ungodly, worldly, and even unchristian.
Jared Wilson: “Shall We Endorse Evil That Good May Come?” Wilson curiously (and irresponsibly) exploits a rhetorical question found in Romans 3:8b: ‘And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.’ In context, Paul was reciting what his critics were accusing him of teaching; namely, fostering sin that grace may abound more and more (cp. 5:20; 6:1). Or, as NT scholar, C. K. Barrett says, “Why not increase God’s goodness by contributing as generously as possible to the stock of human sin?” Hence, Wilson turns the Apostle’s point on its head!
No, Trump voters are not suggesting either a) doing evil that good may come; or b) allowing the ends to justify the means; or c) “compromise what we know is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise if we think the result may be something good.” As Paul briefly responded to his vitriolic know-it-all critics, “Their condemnation is just” (3:8c). Wilson’s biblical butchery aside, he tacitly assumes apart from either argument or evidence that voting for a less-than-suitable candidate in a free election democracy constitutes, perhaps in the worst kind of way, an evil act in itself. Once again, we have provocative rhetoric but no genuine content. And the biblical content that’s there is horribly manipulated in a way undeniably forced upon the text by skewed quotation.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, if voting for a candidate for any public office requires full approval and support for all of his or her policy positions and all his or her personal morals, then the case is surely lost for Christian involvement in the public square when it comes to free elections. One fundamental reason this is so stems from the undeniable fact that citizens may only vote for whom the democratized election prelates allow. We don’t get to rig the choices the electoral process pitches to us. Thus, we cannot expect candidates with either our personal convictions, personal values, or public policies to always match up with our ideals. And, given the moral cultural meltdown of “Christian” America—a meltdown paralleling the loss of the so-called “Bible-belt” which is so strangely celebrated by the very critics who are complaining about Trump’s morals—we should not be surprised if more and more “repulsive” candidates are sent to evangelical voters to consider. I’m afraid even evangelicals can’t have their cake and eat it too.
If I am correct, the only options left to evangelicals like Russell Moore, Al Mohler, Denny Burk, and Jared Wilson to name a few, is to either sit the election process out all the while heckling other Christians for allegedly engaging the political process in an ungodly way (what they are doing presently), or sit quietly on the sidelines of our culture and watch the political parade march by without them (what many of them are suggesting we do in November by not voting).
For me, neither option makes much moral nor civic sense.
For at least a year or so, evangelicals who happen to believe voting for Trump is a greater good than either actively voting for Clinton or passively allowing Clinton to gain the White House (via a 3rd party candidate or a write-in candidate) have been routinely dissed and morally butchered, all the way from accusations of being naïve and dopey, to being idolaters and godless, to selling their spiritual souls for a bowl of political pottage, to giving up everything they’ve ever believed.
Please know those kinds of offensive attacks will not be easily forgotten.
Only yesterday someone I’ve heretofore considered a friend publicly indicated I was personally covering up Trump as a racist and rapist among other atrocious behaviors, something clearly false as anyone can check from my many criticisms of Trump. The fact is, I’ve criticized Trump more than I have Clinton! Nor were my careful thought-processes leading to the decision to vote for Trump cited. Instead, my oft-cited public reasons for voting Trump were grossly ignored; my personal motives were grotesquely smeared; and I was portrayed as being so much in political love with Donald Trump, that I was willing to cover over any and all his moral faults just to warrant my vote for him.
Brothers and sisters, it’s one thing to disagree, and disagree strongly and sometimes heatedly. It’s quite another to smear another’s character in the process, and especially so among Christian brothers and sisters in Christ, and even further among brothers and sisters in Christ who are actual friends.
The way I see it, the 2016 presidential election has ensured American evangelicalism will never be the same.