Let me say from the onset that I’m not looking for a debate with anyone. I’m not looking to sway anyone’s vote or to suggest that someone viewing things differently from me is in sin. I’m not wanting to pit my “moral outrage” against your “moral outrage” in a battle for “moral supremacy.” I’m certainly not interested in casting aspersions or receiving any. If you’re looking for that, then you’ve come to the wrong post. I’ll delete anything I think comes close to violating an Ephesians 4:29 approach to communication.
I’m interested in thinking out loud about a dilemma most Christians feel they’re in with this election: who to vote for or whether to vote at all. I’m going to write passionately. How can I not? But you take responsibility for thinking actively about this and making your own decision. I’m trying to share how I land where I do today (might be different tomorrow).
For personal context, you have to consider my argument over the past several years. I’ve argued on principled grounds that I could not vote for anyone in the last couple of presidential elections because I found their moral positions on vital issues unconscionable. In addition to my own principle, I found historical support in the likes of W.E.B. DuBois and others. The key question then, as now, is: “Why are you voting the way you are?”
For some people it’s a simple matter of disgust or repulsion with one candidate or the other. You sometimes hear that phrased as “the lesser of two evils.” This election more than any other that I can remember has many Christians seeing with perhaps equal clarity the evil of both options. Many, as I would have for the past decade or more, are opting to sit this one out.
So what’s changed for me? Or, to ask again the key question, “Why am I voting the way I am?” I’ll answer this question by considering three either/or statements attending this election.
Stalin or Hitler?
A good number of people liken the choice between Clinton and Trump to a choice between Stalin or Hitler. Some argue there is no lesser evil–only evil. For some, it’s the first time an election season has brought them to that conclusion. Again, for context, I’ve been there for some time. I’m no party loyalist. I think the Dem’s and the Rep’s both have been selling their constituencies a mess of porridge for a long time. But now, the slick marketing and colorful wrappers have fallen off. We’re staring directly at the contents of a rather ugly soup–whichever you choose.
But here’s what we know about both Stalin and Hitler. They both stampeded through their countries and neighboring countries destroying lives. If we’re not just being hyperbolic with the comparison, but we truly believe ours is a choice tantamount in our context to Stalin or Hitler, then the question is, How do you defeat them both? Both. Neither should rule. Either is bad for everyone.
Honestly, I don’t know how you defeat them both. If there were a viable third party candidate, I’d quickly vote for them. I’m stressing “viable” not as a means of simply lapsing into some party loyalty. Remember: I have none. I’m stressing “viable” because I think the threat of either candidate is real. I’m not using the Stalin or Hitler comparison to simply be provocative. I’m taking it seriously (if rhetorically) and taking it seriously means I can’t sit on the fence this time. For me, compelled by the brutal realities, I now have to act, play my part as an individual citizen. I have to vote. And, regrettably, unless there’s a third party tsunami, which I’d happily ride, I have to vote for either Clinton or Trump because one of them will win. While writing in and third party has the appeal of offering some protest, some symbolic demonstration, it doesn’t mean jack when it comes to who will be Commander-in-Chief for the next four years. It has little value for at least limiting the evil that will result.
I feel the need to cast a vote–a vote against someone. I respect others who differ.
A Troubled or Quiet Conscience?
Some have written to ask, “Doesn’t this cause you problems of conscience?” Or, they put it affirmatively, “You’re going against your conscience.”
I appreciate the concern. The honest reply is, “Yes. I have matters of conscience to attend. And I am.”
But let me hasten to add a couple of things. I don’t think the goal right now is merely a quiet conscience. I don’t see how such a goal can be met without abdicating a significant moral responsibility to oppose evil. It’s not enough to say, “I had no part in the evil.” We must actually resist the evil as best we can. We’re in that Bonhoeffer-like moment where we can choose peaceful exile in some Evangelical enclave or enter the fray bearing our cross. If we choose exile, like Bonhoeffer, we’ll have no right to participate in our Germany after Hitler. If we choose to bear our cross, we’ll have the right now and later to testify to what’s right in the sight of God.
Which brings me to a second point. If a person can sit by peaceably while evil progresses, then they have a conscience problem of a different sort. It’s not the problem of seeming to actively support some evil by a vote, it’s the problem of a dull conscience that ignores evil. To seek a quiet conscience by not voting seems to me an abdication of moral responsibility. Better is voting third party or writing in. But they’re better in a marginal sense with little potential for abating the present evils. I’m choosing the troubled conscience that engages over the quiet conscience that abdicates.
We must enter the fight with the tools we have, with our consciences either afflicted or comforted by the word of God. Personally, I feel more trouble of conscience in acquiescing to a political quietism given the choices than I do in voting against someone.
Status Quo or Revolution?
To summarize: I think the evil is real. Consequently, my conscience is aroused and I feel obligated to act in a way that attenuates the evil–in this case, vote. That leaves one question: Who to vote for?
At this point, assuming Trump and Clinton are my only options, I’d vote for Clinton. Okay… take a deep breath. Count to ten. Pray.
Here’s why: I prefer the predictable over the unpredictable. Whatever we might call Clinton, however we might evaluate her as a leader or her platform as a vision for America, we could say more or less the exact same things about Trump–with one glaring exception. We have no way of predicting Trump’s behavior from one hour to the next. None. Except to predict that the behavior will be vile and repulsive for any person who cares about civility, truth, and the dignity of the office.
Neither candidate represents any of my values. That’s just not on offer to any Christian of serious biblical intent. But Clinton represents the status quo, a steady state of affairs in that regard. Trump is the revolutionary, the rebel it seems without a clear cause. His prescriptions are not only draconian but also erratic. When I add the loathsome race-baiting, the misogynistic views of women, the isolationist foreign policy notions, the equivocating on abortion, the advocating of war crimes and escalation of conflict even with allies, I’m left looking at a revolutionary that would cast us in sentiment and law back to the 1940s at least. Or, to put it in the terms often used (which I don’t personally prefer), I regard a President Trump the worse of the two evils before us–and worse in a way that I cannot predict and on issues that there’s been so much blood shed over already (i.e., the rights of minorities, women, and the religious). I’d vote for the incrementalist over the revolutionary. For revolutions almost never lead to progress.
To be clear: Voting against Trump by checking Clinton does nothing to advance any of the issues I care about. So this is not a vote for Clinton or her platform. This is not an endorsement as some so ardently want to suggest. It’s one man’s vote for the status quo rather than the self-styled “outsider” whose first step in potentially destroying the country is destroying his party.
What About a Third Party?
Finally, let me think out loud about our present predicament with having no third-party candidate. Why is that?
Well, it’s at least due to our allegiance to the two-party system. Americans are sold real hard on the notion that there are only two parties in this democracy; everyone else shouldn’t be taken seriously.
But for Christians, I think there’s another reason. We’ve not taken seriously enough the dignity and necessity of public service as a vocation. And we’ve not discipled people for public service with nearly the kind of prayer and effectiveness the country needs. Why don’t we have a slew of serious Christians available for the highest office in the land? Why is principle in so short supply? Perhaps it’s because the Christian Church–especially the Evangelical Church–has sought to cozy up with Caesar in the hopes of currying his favor rather than oust Caesar in hopes of replacing him in selfless and sacrificial service.
I don’t mean that pastors should leave their pulpits for this demotion. But I suspect more individual Christians need to be discipled to follow Christ into this sphere instead of left to be discipled by the two-party system. It strikes me that an awful lot of the professing Christians in politics wear their faith as a selling point for their constituencies while they really tout Dem or Rep party lines. Few are the servants who tout Christ and have the scriptures shape their platforms. Consequently, we have Christians on both sides of the aisle blindly and uncritically equating their party’s platforms and ethics with Jesus himself. Meanwhile, many others tremble before the world, yelling, “We don’t want a pastor-in-chief but a commander-in-chief” (you see how that worked for Israel in 1 Sam. 8). All the while we risk betraying our Lord, ourselves, and our country.
To be clear about one more thing: I’m in no way putting hope in any candidate, in our election process, or any other election. My hope is firmly in Jesus Christ my Lord. He is my Master and I am His servant. I don’t judge His other servants in this matter and I don’t even judge myself. To Him will I stand or fall–and I’m trusting Him to make me stand. I know Who I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep me in this present evil age and keep me until that Day.
Again, none of this is written to aggravate anyone’s flesh or to create dissension between brethren. If that’s you, then please go elsewhere. And don’t act wounded if your comment gets deleted or you get blocked. Ain’t nobody got time for trolls. Otherwise, feel free to think out loud with me and others that we might help one another arrive at faithful conclusions for our time, this politically desperate time.
Note: The views expressed here are my own. They do not express or intend to represent the views of Anacostia River Church or any of its members.