Last week felt like a fire sale of evangelical Christian integrity as many of the old guard of Christian conservatives sold themselves cheaply at a meeting with Donald Trump in New York City. Trump didn’t necessarily walk away with many resounding endorsements, which repeats an interesting phenomenon. Many Republican leaders—for example, Mitch McConnell also this past week—are telling Trump, “Yes, Mr. [Not-Hillary], I’ll vote for you, but I’m still not ready to endorse you.”
James Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family, is on Trump’s newly-formed, so-called Evangelical Executive Board, this despite having written to the Washington Post last December saying:
“I am very wary of Donald Trump,” Dobson said in his email, citing Trump’s business in gambling. “I would never vote for a king pin within that enterprise. Trump’s tendency to shoot from the hip and attack those with whom he disagrees would be an embarrassment to the nation if he should become our Chief Executive. I don’t really believe Trump is a conservative.”
Later in the week, after Trump’s underwhelming performance in front of evangelicals on Tuesday, Dobson reported hearing from a friend that Trump had recently come “to accept a relationship with Christ” and was now “a baby Christian.” I take such pronouncements very seriously and refuse to disparage them. (I simply wish someone—Trump himself, an aide in Trump’s campaign, anyone!—would say something about it.) Regardless, it reminds me of something a local friend told a relative of mine, “We really need to pray that the Lord will touch Donald Trump, because a vote for anyone besides Trump is a vote for Hillary.” If God is in the business of “touching” and converting souls, and if prayer is a powerful force, then why, I wonder, couldn’t this person just as well pray for Hillary Clinton’s conversion additionally or instead? Elections (as in the US in 2016) apparently dictate Election (as in, the doctrine of . . .)
Michael Farris didn’t get appointed to Trump’s Evangelical Executive Board; he didn’t even get invited to New York. Farris is the chancellor of Patrick Henry College and one of the founders of the Christian homeschooling movement. This week, he published in the Washington Post under the headline: “I Helped Start the Moral Majority. Trump is the Opposite of What We Wanted.” His op-ed was subtitled: “’The lesser of two evils’ isn’t how principled Christians should vote.”
The leaders in attendance at Trump’s event know the Bible. It says we are to love God first and then our neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-39) Yet they seemingly ignore the childish ridicule that Trump heaps on many of our neighbors: the disabled, Hispanics and women just for starters. The Bible says a leader should not consider himself better than his brothers. But Trump’s arrogance — he said at one point that he’s “the most successful person ever to run for the presidency” — is the stuff of legend, and not the hallmark of a godly individual. He’s not seen as a man of his word — hundreds of vendors report that his companies have stiffed them after services were rendered. He has dragged our political discourse into the gutter. Even an implicitendorsement of Trump stains the character of the endorser more than it elevates Trump’s standing. So if my colleagues who met with him this week don’t want to leave this impression, I hope they speak up promptly and clearly.
Farris concludes by writing, “I understand completely the desire for a radical change, but up to now, we’ve fought, and yes, sometimes lost, our political battles from a place of principle. Now, we’re being asked to give up our character and just vote Republican. That may be the choice of many voters, but it’s not why evangelicals like me got involved in politics.”
Evangelical Leader Decides to “Bust the Ballot”
It seems like a good time to use Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore to remind evangelical readers that “Bust the Ballot” is a real option. The original article, “Bust the Ballot in 2016,” can be read here: Liberator Today 5/9/16. It is built around three simple ideas and three simple actions:
· It is good to vote.
· You are NOT bound to vote for whom the Democrats and the Republicans tell you.
· It is an evil to have to vote for the lesser of two evils.
· Register to vote (perhaps as unaffiliated)
· When you vote for President, WRITE IN the name of a candidate of your choice—but with this twist: write in whom you want to see run and win in 2020.
· Recruit ten other people to participate in Bust the Ballot.
Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and as such, helps inform how Southern Baptists engage politically—both in principle and process—according to how he understands a biblically-informed worldview. Moore is nothing if not conservative. On May 7, he gave an interview to Lynn Neary on NPR’s Weekend Edition and said:
I think evangelical is a good word, and it's a word that we need to reclaim. But when I use it, I find that I have to define it when I'm talking to people because evangelical has become so confused in our media discourse. And that's especially true when you have some evangelical leaders who have been doing things along the lines of claiming Donald Trump as a Christian. Now, I don't have any problem with people standing up and saying who they're supporting and who they're for. But when you have someone who has said that he has nothing for which to seek forgiveness from God, which is the very antithesis of even the most minimal evangelical definition of what it means to be a Christian, I think that's a problem for the Gospel.
On May 9, Donald Trump, the presumptive Tweeter-in-Chief, responded with a tweet:
@drmooreRussell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!
Apparently no one who knows Moore would say this. So what is Moore going to do now that Trump is the presumptive nominee of the party that he and his conservative constituents have traditionally voted for? Moore signaled his intentions long before Bust the Ballot even went to press. On March 2, he published an article in Christianity Today entitled“Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils? Even at the ballot box, morality is not relative.”
Given these moral convictions, there have been times when I’ve faced two candidates, both of whom were morally disqualified. In one case, one candidate was pro-life but a race-baiter, running against a candidate who was pro-choice. I could not in good conscience put my name on either candidate. I wrote in the name of another leader. Other times, I’ve voted for a minor party candidate.
Candidates from outside the two major parties sometimes win. Abraham Lincoln ran as a Republican in an era when the major parties were the Whigs and Democrats. Even when third-party candidates don’t win the election, they can introduce issues and build a movement for the future. Write-in candidates have occasionally won; US Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska won her re-election as a write-in candidate in 2010.
In the cases when I’ve voted for an independent or written in a candidate, I didn’t necessarily expect that candidate to win—my main objective was to participate in the process without endorsing moral evil. As Christians, we are not responsible for the reality of our two-party system or for the way others exercise their citizenship, but we will give an account for how we delegate our authority. Our primary concern is not the election night victory party, but the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The Atlantic reports that Moore intends to support Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse as a write-in candidate, but this seems based on a couple tweets from Moore, including:
May 3: Filling out paperwork for the kids' summer mission trip, but I keep writing in "Ben Sasse" on all the blank lines...
May 5: My kids arguing about Captain America vs. Iron Man in Civil War. I say a pox on both their houses, writing in @BenSasse to win the war.
Russell Moore (NPR)
Russell Moore (Christianity Today)