A dear friend emailed this morning and asked my thoughts about an opinion article on Fox News by Todd Starnes entitled Should Christians vote for Donald Trump? On the counsel of another dear friend, I have intentionally backed off on my #NeverTrump rhetoric, though I still hold to that viewpoint--I've just not been as public about my opinions. In response to my friend's brief question this morning, I ended up writing a 1500+ word essay about Starnes's opinion piece and some of my current thoughts. For those interested, here's what I wrote, adapted slightly.
Thanks for linking to this article. My answer will probably be much longer than you bargained for, but I had an hour to think on my way up to Rice Lake this morning.
[Another friend] and I have had some long conversations over the issue of “never Trump”. About a week or two ago, he and I spoke for over a half-hour about this issue. His primary concern was that I was getting too focused on the #nevertrump idea. He was right and so I have intentionally backed off on posting much stuff about Trump, though I do keep up on what is happening politically.
I would also want to say that who we vote for isn’t a jar one issue. Believers on different sides of this issue can be thoughtful and perhaps come to different conclusions. It is not something I am willing to divide with people over and, in confession, some of the things I have said about it have been divisive.
So, to the article. I have many thoughts about it, which I will try to communicate clearly, though I will also probably follow some rabbit trails.
First, the article was posted on Fox News, which for several months has been very pro-Trump. It is not necessarily a bad thing for them to take a position, but I think it is important to recognize that this pro-Trump piece is coming from what has seemingly become a pro-Trump organization. The Drudge Report, another conservative bastion, has also been very pro-Trump. On the other hand, several other conservative sources have been generally opposed to Trump such as the Daily Wire, the Federalist or National Review. So, there are different opinions amongst conservatives on whether or not casting a vote for Trump is a good idea.
Starnes stresses his concern that evangelicals will stay home on election day. There will be some who stay home; there always are. However, many of the people that I know that are #neverTrump still plan to vote, certainly in elections other than the presidency (e.g., congress), but even in the presidency but perhaps for a third party candidate. The author asks whether our only option is to throw in the towel, and I don’t think that is what any of us would say that we are doing. Citing Samuel Rodriguez, he wrote “it is silly to not talk of voting for either candidate, every single Christian should vote.” Perhaps. I know some Christians who would say that we don’t need to vote. I believe I should and so I will, but I also don’t feel limited to voting for one of the two candidates currently in the front running.
The author also cited Charles Spurgeon who famously said “of two evils, choose none.” I think those are wise words from probably one of the most respected gospel preachers in history. We need to pay attention to Spurgeon’s idea here, even if we disagree with it.
Franklin Graham is cited in this article, who also tells us to vote, reminding us to vote for the candidate who best supports biblical values and then goes on to say, “in some races, you may need to hold your nose and choose.” I wonder which biblical values he is speaking of? A commitment to life? At best Trump has been an inconsistent supporter of the pro-life movement. Building a wall to keep out foreigners? That seems to be less grounded in a biblical worldview, at least as far as I read it. Or targeting family members of terrorists. Also, from my vantage, not really a gospel-centric value.
But what about biblical character? Is Graham concerned about those biblical values or just the ones that fit the conservative-Republican agenda? For me, character matters, even if it seemingly hasn’t to some conservative commentators.
Interestingly, when he arrives at the question of “should Christians vote for Trump?” he speaks of an “all star panel,” though the entire panel is made up of those who are in support of voting for Trump. What about Russell Moore? Or Charlie Sykes? Or Ben Sasse? When a person seeks to put together a panel like this, it is unfair to stack the deck without any dissenting voices, in my opinion.
I agree with Richard Land (one of the all-star panel) who said that it is up to each Christian to decide who to vote for, but I disagree that we cannot consider a third party vote. Will it be successful? Probably not, but it will be a principled response.
Rodriguez said that he is voting “life, family ethos, religious liberty, limited government.” I admit those are important issues, but I don’t think that Trump has consistently supported them. For example, does Trump's support for religious liberty extend to Muslims or just Christians whom he is trying to woo to his campaign.
Huckabee? Ugh. I have been a fan of Mike Huckabee for a long time. I have a signed copy of one of his books on my shelf at home. But…but. First, the choice to include him on this panel when he is a “potential running mate” certainly is biased in favor Trump. If he thinks he might be chosen as a potential running mate, why would he speak against Trump? He wouldn’t. Huckabee described Trump as open to dialog. I haven’t really seen it, frankly. I’ve seen him attack the character of those who oppose him.
Further down in the article, the author asked this question, “what’s a good Christian to do?” (Interesting question, choosing to include the word good--who is good except God?). He then goes back to Graham who says “pray.” Indeed. Graham indicated that part of their “decision America” campaign is not to support a candidate, though earlier comments he made in this article would hint that he means Trump. I agree with Franklin about the necessity of prayer, while I still disagree about Trump.
Even though the author’s bias shines through the article, the final two paragraphs are frankly uncalled for. He wrote, “Donald Trump could walk the aisle at a Billy Graham crusade, while waving a King James Bible and singing ‘amazing grace’ and it still wouldn’t be enough to convince the holier than thou club.
“And for all you folks quoting Spurgeon—I would offer this rebuttal: not to vote is to vote.”
This conclusion is simply unnecessary. To refer to #neverTrump people as “holier than thou” is mean-spirited and does not help the case he is trying to make. I told [our friend] recently that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Not only does Trump have a history of concerning characterological and political viewpoints prior to the election, many of them have continued through the campaign cycle.
Regarding the statement “not to vote is to vote”: I’m getting tired of hearing it, frankly because it isn’t true. I understand what the author (and anyone else who has said it) is trying to communicate, but there is a difference between a principled decision to not vote and actually casting a vote for Hillary. The phrase is offered to shame those who, like me, are choosing to abstain from voting for either one of them.
Romans 1:29-32 says, “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” As Christians, I think we need to give heed to what Paul is saying here. Trump has shown himself to be malicious, slandering, insolent, haughty, boastful, an inventor of evil, and ruthless at least. I full admit that I have done these things and more. But Paul is pretty strongly criticizing those who “give approval to those who practice these things.” When we cast a vote affirming a candidate, we are giving approval, even if we say we are just choosing the better of two evils (a point I am not convinced to be true). For me, I will not be a party to that.
One of the statements that has repeatedly come up for those who are planning to vote for Trump is to state that he isn’t perfect, but that we are all sinners. I fully acknowledge the truth of that statement. Reluctant Trump supporters also rightly point out that we will never elect a perfect president. Again, I agree. But as I was driving today I was struck by this fact—I am not comfortable casting my vote for someone I am not comfortable calling my president. Although I disagreed with Mitt Romney on a number of things in 2012, I was still comfortable enough to accept him as my president, as the one who would represent me and my nation before the world, that he earned my vote. I cannot say the same about Hillary and I cannot say the same about Trump.