Church & State

The battle for the White House

Donald Trump

American Christians are divided amongst themselves over who to vote for and in a battle with their very consciences.  The Republican and Democratic conventions are over. The stage is set for an election in November that will decide the future of America. The battle for the White House has begun in earnest.

There has never been a political campaign like it in modern history, perhaps ever in the history of the United States.

Two candidates; one a white female Democrat and the other a white male Republican are locked in fierce political combat, with the only thing they have in common is that they are more disliked and distrusted by the American public, but for different reasons, than any politicians in modern history.

The question for men and women of faith, is how then shall we vote?

The biblical injunction to lay hands on no one suddenly, and so participate in the sins of other men –  ‘keep yourself pure’  (1 Tim. 4:22) –  is easier said than done in these turbulent political times. American evangelicals are in a particular quandary, perhaps even a crisis. They want to vote for an electable presidential candidate who embraces biblical values, but in 2016 it appears they cannot. America’s patriarchal evangelist Billy Graham, without endorsing either candidate, has advised us to hold our noses and vote.

Hillary Clinton -1400x600For reasons that are painfully obvious—and that have been rehearsed ad nauseum—evangelicals realize that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is worthy of their enthusiastic support. Should they vote for “the lesser of two evils”? Should they vote for a third party candidate? Or should they vote Christian and conservative down the ticket, but not vote for president at all?

This matter is the nub of a great debate now transpiring between Christians of the “Never Trump” persuasion (who would, of course, never vote for Hillary, either), and Christians of the “Never Hillary” persuasion. The latter group feels that the only way to keep Hillary out of office is to vote for Trump. For them, Trump may be somewhat ‘evil’, but Hillary is the greater ‘evil’; therefore, we ought to vote for Trump, and if we do not, we are actually voting for Hillary.

On the face of things, the arguments of the ‘Never Hillary’ group seem quite compelling. However, upon closer inspection we realize that they almost always involve Mr. Trump’s recently declared policies, rather than the larger, longstanding issues of his character, conviction, and competence.

Thus, ‘Never Hillary’ Christians remind us that throughout the primary season Mr. Trump has consistently promised to protect the unborn, appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court, control illegal immigration, engage Islamic terrorists, and get the middle class back to work. Moreover, they remind us that he chose the conservative Mike Pence to be his Vice President; that if Mr. Trump should die in office, we would have a conservative in the White House; and that Mr. Trump will also likely appoint conservative cabinet members and advisors.

In the eyes of ‘Never Hillary’ Christians, these declared policies and recent decisions make Mr. Trump far superior to Hillary. Accordingly, they exhort the rest of us to overlook his flawed character, amorphous convictions, and manifest incompetence, and to focus instead on his recent decisions and declared policies. We are to hold our nose and give him our vote.

While this line of argumentation is understandable, it is fraught with grave danger for our conscience, our country, and our prophetic witness for Christ. Let us remember the clear admonition: “Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them…every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7: 15)”

What is the main point of this? Simply this: In a fallen world where wolves abound, and in which those wolves can temporarily look like sheep, we believers are commanded to test them by their track record: by their words, their deeds, and the fruit thereof, over the long haul.

His long-term pattern of impiety, self-centeredness, braggadocio, sexual promiscuity, marital infidelity, lying, deception, fraud, cruelty, impulsiveness, pugnacity, greed, and overall mental instability all “trump” any recent decisions or declarations he may have made. By his long term fruits we know him.

On the basis of character, conviction, competence and calling Trump fails all the tests even though a significant number of Evangelical leaders have embraced him, fearing that a Clinton win would see a liberal Supreme Court making and passing ungodly laws anathema to Christians. Roe v. Wade and homosexual marriage are now already enshrined.

If we are choosing a commander-in-chief and not a pastor-in-chief then Clinton has infinitely more experience than Trump whose only contact with the outside world is through his famous golf courses. She has been Secretary of State and Governor of a state, giving her more experience than her husband when he first entered the White House. Given the extraordinary complexity of government in our time, it is probably not unreasonable to think that a candidate should have first-hand government experience.

Her lies and inability to come clean and tell the truth about her e-mails are certainly handicaps, but that she has stood by her man whose endless adulteries would have had most women racing for the divorce courts, she did not. Evangelicals, whose divorce rate is equal to non-Christians in America can hardly point the finger at her especially when the Gores, (Clinton’s vice president) married for 40 years ended their marriage and found new partners.

Both Trump and Clinton are seriously flawed candidates but neither the nation’s founding documents nor, I believe, God himself requires that our president be a born-again Christian.

A candidate must have the gifts of vision, leadership, temperament, relational skill, administrative ability, and endurance that are all necessary for such a person to stand strong in what is arguably the most grueling job in the world. In none of these attributes does Trump excel or abound. He fails at nearly all levels and in argument reveals himself to be thin-skinned, seeing the only value as winning. He has no experience in law, politics, or elected office, migrating from a career in business into the presidency. Ironically his business practices have been condemned by other rich businessmen richer than he is, accusing him of being a fraud and worse. That he steadfastly refuses to show his tax returns speaks volumes.

If Hillary Clinton should win she will break through the glass ceiling and be the first woman president in American history. If Donald trump wins he will be the first non-republican Republican to win in American history. In a very real sense the Republican Party is no more, it is now the party of Trump, and no one knows for sure what that means for themselves or for America.

One of the most disorienting and disturbing features at the GOP convention was that Trump cut off the party from its religious, ethical and moral moorings. He appealed almost exclusively to anger at perceived wrongs and to feelings of economic distress. Endless hate and raging at the night (or Obama) is not ultimately a winning ticket for millions of ordinary Americans who care about Medicare and Social Security.

It has been the most unusual political theatre in American history if the pundits are to be believed.

How then shall we vote? Christians are clearly divided. Trump’s constituency are old White men watching their world slowly disappear before them – most we are told are uneducated evangelicals. Liberals, both Christian and non-Christian are firmly in Clinton’s camp as are Blacks, Hispanics and most minorities.

The ‘Never Hillary’ Christians remind us that throughout the primary season Mr. Trump consistently promised to protect the unborn, appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court, control illegal immigration, engage Islamic terrorists, and get the middle class back to work, but his other multiple rash comments might indicate that he cannot be trusted to follow through. He is simply too explosive to be trusted.

Her ratings currently have her firmly winning by double digit figures as Trump implodes with one outrageous statement after another including the most recent that Obama and Clinton are the founder and co-founder of ISIS. No one with half a brain really believes that. Insult and denigration, insinuation and wild accusation are not winning tickets. Trump has campaigned saying Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; Hillary Clinton may be guilty of murder; Mr. Obama is a traitor who wants Muslims to attack, and much more. Many now believe that the Republican Party has moved the lunatic fringe onto center stage, rendering normal discourse impossible and any kind of substantive debate upon which any civil democracy depends.

In 80 days or so the American public will tell us what and who is on their minds. Whoever is elected, it will be a transformative moment in American political history, the like of which we have never seen and will probably never see again.