It will soon arrive in your mailbox. Someone at church will hand you a copy in between services. Web links will proliferate on your Facebook wall. In fact, I received the first e-mail notice in my in-box this morning: “Pre-order Your 2016 Faith Voters Guide,” this from a creation care organization based out of San Francisco.
My wife was once at a Bible study where a friend said to her group, “I don’t bother keeping up with politics. I just vote for whomever Bob Reader tells me to.” Bob, a friend of mine, is a member of her church who once ran as a Tea Party Republican for the Kansas Senate. I don’t know in what year Bob first presumed to issue his own personal voting guide, but it has become a biennial publication and an influence on the Honest Republicans and Evangelical Christians here in town.
Today, I too am issuing the first of six short installments of a Voters Guide, not in opposition to Bob’s or anyone else’s guide, but in answer to the question: “Lowell, how should I vote in the 2016 US presidential race?” Rather than use my own name on the guide, I will borrow one from a character in the Old Testament (2 Kings 5, to be exact), someone who once faced a huge dilemma fraught with moral danger. Naaman was the commander of the army for the King of Aram. (I love the irony of having a “Syrian refugee” teach us how to vote in 2016.) Following the prophet Elisha’s instructions, Naaman is healed from leprosy and vows to “never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord,” but he is worried about one last thing. He has a dilemma. “But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing,” he asks of Elisha: “When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”
As we enter the voting booth in 2016, we will likely feel many different pressures bearing down on our arms. Voting for any of the above seven options may feel like we are being forced to our knees against our own better judgment. The consciences of most voters will likely tingle to one degree or the other. “May the Lord forgive your servant for this,” Naaman prays.
Elisha responds, “Go in peace.”
I present to you the first installment of Naaman’s Voters Guide for 2016:
1. Whatever you do, PLEASE choose any of the other six options; don’t vote for Donald Trump.
Naaman, having encountered the grace and mercy of the True and Living God, vowed to “never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord.” For centuries, followers of Jesus Christ have affirmed that Money, Sex, and Power can be the triumvirate of temptations, the three great sirens which call us away from pursuing God and the values of his kingdom. Now, in Donald Trump, we have a candidate who embodies each, who flaunts each, who makes no attempt to disguise each, who blatantly holds out power (at least) to evangelical Christians. (See previous Lib Today: “Thank you, Donald Trump, for Killing My Father.”) What the church has called temptation; Trump calls a campaign promise.
I’m grateful to Dr. Kevin Baird’s article, “A Response to [megachurch pastor] Dr. Jim Garlow’s Endorsement of Donald Trump” for summarizing my own head-shaking opposition to Trump’s insinuation among Honest Republicans and Evangelical Christians. Baird has four main complaints of his fellow evangelicals’s engagement with the Trump campaign: the suspension of biblical precepts, an eschatology of panic, the forfeiture of moral authority, and elevating subjective hope while devaluing objective fruit. I love these lines:
To his credit, Dr. Garlow is clear that Trump is no choir boy and his verbal antics are indefensible, but that, along with other features of Trump’s character, never seem to reach a level of disqualifying concern. Which leads one to the ask, “How bad must a candidate be in order to violate our biblically trained conscience?” Is there a line which a Christian simply cannot cross? Would these national leaders care to explain to us where a GOP candidate would be unacceptable no matter how bad the other candidate might be? This is important. We hear these platitudes that “one sin is no worse than another”, “we all have sinned”, “Jesus isn’t on the ballot”, and “if you expect perfection you’ll never vote”. It’s time for Trump supporters to step up and state clearly where some lines of concern should be if Trump is not near any of them.
But national evangelical leaders are as mute about that biblically trained line of unacceptability as Trump is about his tax returns. I despair of trying to un-convince the convinced. That’s why the Naaman’s Voters Guide for 2016 as a whole is designed for a specific readership, one which perhaps may include you. Unlike many of the unsolicited mailings, handouts, and e-mails which tell you for whom to vote, I can actually claim to have been asked by people: “Lowell, how should I vote in the 2016 presidential race?” Admittedly, most of these inquirers are not looking for an answer—as if my opinion matters more than Bob Reader’s—they seem to be looking for solutions, or rescue, or even a blessing. They are looking for a path forward. Here’s what I think some of these people are actually saying to me:
“Okay Lowell, I get it. You think Donald Trump is the worst possible choice in 2016. You have pleaded with me not to vote for him. For that matter, I didn’t vote for Trump in the primaries. BUT NOW, WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO INSTEAD? I really, really don’t want to vote for Hillary. In my opinion, any vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein is a vote for Hillary. Any write-in vote is a similar waste. And I’ve always considered voting to be a civic, even a moral, responsibility. To stay away from the polls is an empty protest. So how should I vote in the 2016 US presidential election?”
Fair enough. Voters guides, as a genre, must advise positively. By way of example, “Do not vote for Adlai Stevenson” would not have appeared in a 1952 Voters Guide but “Vote for Eisenhower” would have. The guide could then go on and explain why it likes Ike. So I too, from here on out, will obey the rules of the genre and tell you positively how to vote. If the above indented statement summarizes your own dilemma, in part or in whole, stop and and take a hopeful, cleansing breath. There is a path of freedom and grace forward for those people of God who like Naaman sincerely wish to take up the command, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21).
Next Week: from the Naaman’s Voters Guide for 2016
#2: Vote boldly with the fullness of freedom that you have in Christ Jesus.
*Editor's Correction-- In the previous publication of The Liberator Today (8/22/16), I mistakenly reported that "we evangelicals," led by William Jennings Bryan, "lost" the Scopes Monkey Trial to Clarence Darrow and the ACLU. In actuality, Bryan won the original case. The schoolteacher John Scopes was charged $100, which he refused to pay. In the end the Tennessee Supreme Court threw out the case on a technicality. For a fascinating discussion of why the general public, including myself, always seem to assume that evangelicals lost the Scopes Trial, I recommend Barry Hankins's chapter in his book Jesus and Gin: Evangelicalism, the Roaring Twenties, and Today's Culture Wars (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). In the end, win or lose, we were affronted indeed!