3. Vote peacefully in the grace of God.
In an introductory Bible class, “The Gospel of John,” one of my classmates timidly raised her hand. “Dr. Goddard,” she asked, “is it a sin for women to wear make-up?” Dr. Goddard was an old time Baptist preacher from the South reconstituted as a Bible college professor. He huffed up into the lectern as if into a pulpit and said, “I think it’s a sin for some women not to wear make-up. I’ve always said that if the barn needs painting, paint it.” Dr. Goddard had no intention of answering this young woman’s question directly; instead, he wanted to address her earnestness. He was teaching from the Gospel of John after all. In a world immersed in the love of God, anchored in the fullness of Christ’s redemption, we can stand to be a little less uptight about sin. Dr. Goddard smiled gently down upon us in a benediction worthy of Elisha’s words to the troubled Naaman in 2 Kings 5: “Go in peace.”
Is it a sin to vote for Donald Trump? It could be; it all depends on the condition of one’s heart, that communion or rebellion which murmurs in the hiddenness where none of the rest of us can see it. Dr. Goddard certainly could have added the inverse to his answer--“It is a sin for some women to wear make-up”—but if he had been in a quiet pastoral counseling session and not in front of a rowdy class of freshman, he likely have looked this girl in the eyes and said, “But I’m not interested in ‘some women;’ I’m interested in YOU. What is your conscience saying about make-up?” I grew to know this young classmate as a friend over the course of the next three years. She loved Jesus and so badly wanted to “get it right.” But she was also so very, very afraid of getting it wrong. “Read on,” her loving Heavenly Father wanted to tell her, “read on. You’re only in Chapter Two of your study of the Gospel of John, and you are only in Chapter One of your adult life with me.”
Scripture is remarkably ambivalent on the subject of our consciences. On one hand, there is sorrow when we fail to let our consciences serve their purpose which is to focus our attention, warm us up, and lead us to the Cross. On the other hand, there is also sorrow when we fail to enjoy the great freedom that has been purchased for us in Christ Jesus. We can let our untrained consciences rule over God’s joy. All human beings, created in the image of God as we are, have a conscience. Only the regenerate in Christ Jesus have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Think of them as dance partners within you. The Holy Spirit wants to lead; the conscience has yet to learn the waltz steps and never quite achieves the same grace.
When Ted Cruz famously refused to endorse Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention, he told everyone that they should, “vote their conscience.” Fair enough. But what if our consciences are the very things tripping us up in this election? We genuinely want to “get it right” but there is an absence of clarity. When I read the endorsements of Trump by a Dobson, Grudem, Falwell, or Garlow, the Religious Right's argumentation seems so convoluted, so qualified, so caveated, so leaping in its logic, so tortured. In the absence of moral clarity, we switch from a longing to “get it right” to a fear of “getting it wrong.” We become so very, very afraid. We can empathize with Naaman’s predicament in 2 Kings 5. Naaman is aware, no doubt, that the Arameans, whose army he still commands, are not “God’s Chosen People,” are in fact still Israel’s enemy. God has just healed him of leprosy and he reaches a conclusion that he states publicly: “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel.” Naaman makes a vow: “your servant will no longer offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the Lord.” He even asks permission to cart off a load of soil from Israelite ground, so as to build an altar or hallow a portion of the Syrian ground on which he intends to worship Yahweh. Naaman so badly wants to “do it right.” But Naaman also has a dilemma: there will surely come a day, he fears, when his lord (little L), the King of Aram, will lead him into the Temple of Rimmon. Naaman is so very, very afraid of getting it wrong. When we read of his fear that the king might inadvertently put pressure on his arm which might inadvertently buckle his knee which might at that precise moment be pointed in the direction of the idol—it’s easy for us modern observers to smile bemusedly. For Naaman however, Elisha’s pronouncement of peace means the world to him.
Perhaps his background as a rule-keeping Pharisee makes Paul the most profilic of New Testament writers on the subject of conscience. When you consider the totality of Paul’s teaching on “Is eating meat sacrificed to idols, sin?”—primarily I Corinthians chapters 8-10—Naaman’s Voters Guide for 2016 is satisfied: if your conscience would be defiled if you exercised any other option than voting for Donald Trump, then by all means, vote for Donald Trump. Don’t shipwreck your own faith. But for most readers of the Naaman’s Voters Guide, the option of voting for Donald Trump leaves them troubled. It doesn’t allow them to “get it right.” But then when they turn to Hillary Clinton (troubled conscience), Johnson (troubled), Stein (troubled), any third party option in our system (troubled), any write-in option in our system (troubled), leaving the presidential ballot blank (troubled), not showing up to the polls at all (troubled.) I read one Facebook commentator who said, “Not voting makes me feel UnAmerican.” A friend responded to her, “There are worse things then feeling UnAmerican,” which is objectively true of course—but troubled is troubled. In the absence of moral clarity, we are so very, very afraid of getting it wrong.
I do believe that our vote, like any other affirmation we make in life, has the power to shape our souls, to define our values, and to chart out our journey. Votes have consequences, and sometimes individual votes become the deciding ones. But on those occasions when no choice seems “morally good” to you, when you struggle and suss and seek, but your conscience still refuses to settle, then you must simply believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid. There is nothing you can do that will make your Heavenly Father love you less, just as there is nothing you can do that will make him love you more. He loves you just as much as he loves his only begotten son Jesus Christ, not an iota less. You are in Christ, and Christ is in you, with a righteousness that is apart from the law.
Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you feel damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t, that’s when you remind yourself that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Of course, at that point, the temptation is to take on the persona of a swashbuckling British naval captain, yell out “Damn your eyes!” or "Damn the torpedoes!" and then go cavalierly do whatever you damn well please in 2016. No, the grace of God means that you take up the seven-optioned ballot again and push the guilt and shame like vapor out to the periphery. You engage your options, but you do so in peace.
Luther faced this in the case of Melanchthon, his brilliant coworker. Genius that he was, Melanchthon was more "inward oriented" than was Luther. In a letter to Luther, Melanchthon fretted, "I wonder if I trust Christ enough? Perhaps I do not? What then?" Luther fired back his famous letter, "Melanchthon, go and sin bravely! Then go to the cross and bravely confess it! The whole Gospel is outside of us!"
-Rod Rosenbladt, Christ Alone ( p. 41)
4. Vote quickly to rid yourself of distraction.