Yesterday I took the opportunity to address our congregation on what I feel are some spiritual dangers facing us in this current unprecedented election cycle. This is my first presidential election as a pastor and I have been struggling for close to a year with how to shepherd my people through it. I am still unsure of what I will do on November 8. I have reached the conclusion that when all of this is over I will not be able to fault anyone for his or her choice of how he or she stewards a vote. The options are impossibly difficult and there are valid arguments on all sides. Furthermore, I do not believe it is appropriate in my role to endorse any particular candidate. I have, however, become increasingly concerned by what Christ-followers are in danger of losing regardless of who wins this election.
In my message yesterday I highlighted five areas of danger that face us:
1) That we are being tempted to fear a political outcome in a way that betrays a trust in the eventual triumph of Christ's kingdom. It is the classic temptation to elevate a fear of man over a fear of God.
2) That we are being tempted to wield earthly power as a substitute for the vastly superior power of the gospel, with its attendant promise of the indwelling and empowering Holy Spirit who produces the fruit of lives transformed from wickedness to holiness.
3) That we are being tempted to yoke ourselves to the authorities of this world in a way that requires we compromise our allegiance to the cause of Christ. We cannot allow our valid co-operation with non-believers to ever co-opt the agenda of Jesus. Related to this and the previous point, I would refer you to an excellent recent article in The Washington Post by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. which surveys the history of evangelical involvement in "the Religious Right" to help illuminate how we got to this point. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/10/09/donald-trump-has-created-an-excruciating-moment-for-evangelicals/
4) That we are being tempted to view the act of voting as a moral absolute and one that is evaluated based on outcomes that we can only imperfectly foresee. Whether it is #neverHillary or #neverTrump, there is a dialogue that somehow there is a vote Jesus would cast and to cast any other vote would betray His cause. When Jesus was presented with these sorts of binary options, he responded in a way that reminded everyone that reality consists of only one binary choice: "he who is not with me is against me". There is the kingdom of Christ and then there are all of the other rival kingdoms of this world. We must never make the mistake of thinking that any of these "kingdoms" (whether nations, political parties, corporations or organizations) are on Jesus' side or that he is on theirs. He ruthlessly seeks His Father's glory through His church and so should we. Regarding ethical considerations we as evangelicals should consider when voting, I was helped by Dan Doriani's piece on The Gospel Coalition's website dealing with the notion of a vote for "the lesser of two evils". https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-i-dont-think-you-must-vote-for-lesser-two-evils
5) Finally, I am concerned at the way the moral failures of Trump, in particular, are being discussed (broadly speaking) among evangelicals. I fear that it is leading to a sloppy understanding of grace and the gospel, which is why I view this ultimately as a spiritual and pastoral issue, rather than a political one, and why I have chosen to address it so pointedly. Let me make it clear that there is plenty of moral corruption and degeneracy on both sides in this election and that in terms of corruption, deception as well as sexual immorality, it would seem that the weight of transgressions on Secretary Clinton's side of the ledger outweighs Donald Trump's many flaws and character deficiencies. However, evangelicals are coming to the defense of Trump in ways that concern me and which they are not doing for Hillary. So what follows is not an endorsement of either one or a validation of either candidate's character. Regardless of who wins, our next president will likely possess the worst character qualities of any of the 44 who preceded them.
Put simply, evangelicals cannot have it both ways. If in the late 1990s it was right and proper to make an issue of Bill Clinton's sexual misdeeds (and now Hillary's enabling of them through concealment) as a disqualification for office (and it was, because character matters), then it is imperative for the sake of integrity to hold Donald Trump to the same standard. We cannot excuse this new revelation simply because of his politics or credentials and I have been saddened and surprised by the ease with which many who claim the name of Christ are dismissing, minimizing and even excusing Trump's words. Frequently, I see a deflection of blame by immediately pointing out Clinton's flaws (which are also legion). While true, it ends up undermining any moral argument by suggesting that the only issue is someone's policies and not their character. That was the argument in defense of Clinton in the 90s. This is not to say that a Christian cannot in good conscience vote for Trump. The issue for us is not who will win the White House, but whether we will be able to maintain a consistent stand for truth as representatives of our Lord.
We have always insisted that character matters and I would submit that the way in which we engage in political discourse supporting any candidate is a reflection of our own character. On Sunday, I quoted Mike Wittmer who would remind us that we have been gifted with a position of authority in the Kingdom of Jesus, so we should never stoop for earthly power. The church is being tempted to compromise its witness and testimony in the interest of maintaining political influence. The history of succumbing to such temptations is not heartening. "When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan." Proverbs 29:2
Marcus Little is the Senior Pastor of Berean Baptist Church. This blog is a place where he can share his thoughts and reflections on how Scripture intersects with life, work, community, culture and the events of our times.