King of America

Tomorrow will see the inauguration of the next President of the United States. We will end the eight-year tenure of Pres. Obama to make way for (at least) four years of Pres. Trump. The people, as they say, have spoken. Even though Mr. Trump lost the popular vote, the rising tide of partisan politics ironically allied with an increasing distrust of the Washington establishment was sufficient to carry him all the way to the White House.

It’s true that Mr. Trump has been subjected to more media scrutiny than any other candidate I know of, and, given the ubiquitous bias of our news agencies, he has been the subject of more fake or horribly slanted stories than any other as well. However, I’m not here to vindicate him, nor am I here to condemn. Mostly I just wonder at how a man objectively questionable on many metrics made it to his inauguration day — and I marvel a bit at the role the Church played in his doing so.

In a time when the Moral Majority is now defunct and the Religious Right has lost all sway, it would seem impossible for the evangelical voting bloc to influence an election. Yet it did, due in no small part to the tactics and policies of the current/previous administration. Pres. Obama may have billed himself as a champion of hope, but for evangelicals and other Christians, he destroyed hope. His global advocacy for same-sex “marriage” and abortion struck a nerve for many of us, and the policies advanced under his watch created an America defined by liberalism and progressive mores: acceptance of the LGBTQ community and non-binary genders, expanded abortion under the guise of women’s rights (despite it resulting in the deaths of countless women), stronger emphases on scientism and rationalism, restricted religious liberties, major changes to the healthcare system, etc. Most Christians view these as moral issues, and that makes them religious issues. And religion votes if you make it angry enough.

That, to me, is the good side of the evangelical alliance with the conservative party, our commitment to holding the line on some of the things which are clearly taught in the Bible. But there’s a dark side to it, too. Just beneath the surface runs a jingoistic strand of nationalism masquerading as simple patriotism. While I consider myself a patriot, I do not believe every country is totally inferior to the United States in every respect, nor do I believe our nation to be infallible, and I don’t even think capitalism and federalism are sacred cows. So I reject the all-too-common xenophobia, racism, and isolationism of the Republican party. I dismiss its assertion socialized medicine will only destroy us but allowing pharmaceutical companies and hospitals to charge exorbitant prices for what we need to survive will save our lives. Unfortunately, these are evils frequently propagated by those bearing the name of Christ who seem to put party above church and earthly citizenship above heavenly citizenship.

When we re-prioritize state above Savior, we fall into the same trap as did the ancient Israelites in 1 Samuel 8. You can replace “king” with “president,” but verses 6-7 would otherwise read the same: “But when they said ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: ‘Listen to all the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their King.'”

To me, the 2016 election sounds an awful lot like 1 Samuel 8. Evangelical voters no longer trusted God to see them through the increased persecutions of a darkening world. Hope had been lost as influence waned, and they cried out for a new Messiah to save them from a shifting, sinful landscape. Prayers morphed to votes, and we elected a man who has yet to prove himself in political office or display the majority of the fruit of the Spirit despite reports of a mid-election conversion and baptism. Is it too early to offer decisive opinions on his presidency and a change of character? Absolutely. Only time can reveal both of those things, no matter how current indicators may appear. Is it safe to say he will do more in favor of Christian values than his opponent would have? Again, absolutely. Another Clinton presidency posed grave perils to evangelical beliefs and freedom of conscience.

But Mr. Trump should on no account be heralded as the new Christ come into the world to save us from the “pagan progressives,” either by name or by fact of attitude. There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6). Mr. Trump is none of those. The Republican party is none of those. Only Jesus can provide access to all of them, and so it is in him we have hope.

As always, I will obey just laws and submit to all governmental authorities; these are biblical commands. Evangelicals may have cried out for a king of America to rule them in this life — and we received one. And who knows; he may even have been chosen for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). But he is not a Savior, a crucified and risen Lord. So during the inauguration, remember this: Donald Trump will be my president, but Jesus Christ will remain my only King.

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The Reluctant Political Blogger

I tried. I really did. I even solidly succeeded until now, a mere four weeks out from Election Day. The last thing the American people need right now is a thirty-year-old minister writing another political blog about the Christian view of this wretched campaign, but an article began circulating today from another blogger, and it demands a response. As you know, I have criteria for this sort of thing, and anything I write of this ilk must meet three requirements: 1) it needs to be said; 2) it needs to be said by me; 3) it needs to be said by me right now. This meets those criteria.

And so . . .

As much as I love political theology, I’m an abstract thinker. I like talking in generalities more than nuts-and-bolts specifics. That’s why I deeply enjoy reading theological critiques of political systems and ideologies but remain loathe to tell people how to vote at times. Sometimes the choice is clear, and I can unabashedly support a policy or candidate because of my interpretation of the Bible. Other times it’s so murky — and I take so seriously my role as teacher and its associated stricter judgment — that I can’t tell people to vote one way or the other without great reservations. I don’t want to endorse the wrong candidate or position and falsely lead others into error. (That’s true for everything I do, but particularly applicable here, in a realm of deep division and ambiguity.) Where the Bible is clear, we are bold; where it is silent, we are cautious. I fully believe Scripture can give us a proper answer to any proper question, but sometimes that’s more a matter of digging and induction than it is a thing of citing chapter and verse.

This is one of the former moments. And yet it’s a monumental decision to make. The future, the fabric of our country will depend on the candidate who makes it into the White House. Don’t get me wrong, though: any president has limited power, and so those possible futures also depend largely on literally hundreds of other people. But the president leads the way. The president, too, has checks on the power of those people, most notably in the veto and the appointment of Supreme Court justices. All of these factors must be considered when weighing our options and evaluating the (inevitably false) promises of the ones running for our land’s highest office. So let’s keep our heads about us and remember we trust in God, not the president, for the good of our nation.

Short of some delightful deus ex machina rolling around in the next twenty-eight days which will remove both major party candidates from the running, one of the two of them will be our next president, the next face and voice of the American people. I say “one of the two of them” because, well, let’s face it, this is America. Our first-past-the-post, zero sum game of a political system makes it nigh impossible for a third party candidate to win. Third party candidates are extremely important, however, because they help gauge the attitudes of the public. The more votes a 3PC gets, the more the other two parties think about the platform of said third party and why so many people support it. In this election, the Johnson-Weld ticket is garnering support simply because many see it as a more morally acceptable choice than Clinton-Kaine or Trump-Pence. (I don’t, but that’s because I find the social policies of libertarianism are biblically indefensible.) Votes of conscience aside, we will have either the next President Clinton or the first President Trump come January.

[Brief Aside: your vote is a vote for your candidate, regardless of probability of success. Don’t succumb to the bully’s tactic of “a vote for not(X) is really a vote for Y.” It’s not. Your vote is counted for your candidate. By this failed logic, any vote for not(Y) is a vote for X, and so everyone is actually voting for every other candidate on the ballot other than the bully’s preference.]

If, then, I cannot support the Libertarians as a biblically and morally acceptable candidate, who can I? No one, as sad and as terrifying as that is. I realize we vote for both candidates and parties; both are factors in how we decide to cast our ballots. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating here: Christ is nonpartisan. You will not see an elephant, nor a donkey, behind the throne of God. Policies on both sides are frankly appalling from a biblical viewpoint, and we thus cannot delude ourselves into saying Jesus votes Republican/Democrat/Labour/Tory/Monster Loony/Green/etc. We are free, then, to say we align with a majority of a party’s beliefs, and perhaps even Scripture does as well, and that majority suffices to secure our endorsement/affiliation. For some, party allegiance is enough to make them vote for anyone the party puts on the ticket. For others, like me, party is a consideration, but it ultimately comes down to the personal policies of the individual running under the party banner. Sometimes the opposing party’s candidate seems more theologically sound, and thus my vote goes to him/her.

In terms of this election, well, it’s rough. Democrats stand in opposition to God on such things as abortion and marriage. Republicans oppose God in their treatment of refugees and promotion of private business above clear public good. The candidates themselves make the decision no easier. On the one hand, we have a hateful, egotistical pathological liar, and on the other hand, there’s a hateful, egotistical pathological liar. One candidate has committed indefensible atrocities and promotes horrific policies; the other has said indefensible statement and promotes something akin to the early stages of a nascent fascism. Godlessness abounds on both sides. Most Americans — and virtually all Christians — speak of voting for a lesser of the two evils. I’ll leave that logic to your own conscience, but remember this: the lesser of two evils is still evil, and your vote is an endorsement of that evil.

I think the most common Christian argument I hear for Mr. Trump (I’ve only heard one for Mrs. Clinton) is that “The Donald” has the potential for good. This sort of utilitarian “greater good” argument typically refers to the nomination of future Supreme Court justices. It’s true that a Court populated by Clinton nominees would have disastrous consequences, literally resulting in untold numbers of deaths (via expanded abortion) and a massive push to privatize religion in every way. But is the possibility of a more conservative Court, the hope of staving off these things worth a guaranteed Trump White House? Is the damage he is also likely to potentially cause a worthwhile price to pay for the potential good he could do? I’m not one for utilitarianism myself, and I quite doubt the ends always justify the means. Since I rather lack the gift of prophecy, I can’t tell you what the man would do; I can’t even guarantee what Mrs. Clinton would do. All I can say is I personally don’t believe nebulous possible futures are a sufficient reason to vote for an evil candidate — and the more idyllic, the more utopian those futures seem to be, the stronger my skepticism grows.

The enraging article serving as the proximate impetus for this blog called Mr. Trump a Christian far above the likes of a pastor/writer I admire deeply. Mr. Trump may now be a baptized Christian; he may not. I can’t judge his soul. But until I see the fruit of the Spirit displayed in his life — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — I will have my doubts. (For the same reason, I am skeptical of Mrs. Clinton’s claims to biblical Christianity.) And to play the “holier than thou” game with a deeply devout Christian makes me fear for the souls of some of Mr. Trump’s followers as well. I’m not sure of the criteria for holiness they used, but they are flatly unbiblical.

Similarly I find it difficult to digest the comparisons made between either candidate and some of the more colorful biblical figures such as Samson, Jacob, and Simon Peter. Does God use imperfect men and women to accomplish His divine purposes? He has to if He want to involve humans, as there are no perfect men and women to carry His standard. But each biblical figure who did great things did so in the name and fear of God, proclaiming His holy work in power and humility. Can anyone tell me either candidate is doing the same — that they will do the same? No. You can’t. Because they don’t and they won’t, regardless of whatever evangelical leaders endorse them for their thirty pieces of silver. Frankly I consider both candidates to be evidence of God’s judgment upon this nation, wicked rulers, not a hero(ine) in the name of Christ.

I apologize if I’ve seemed harsher with Mr. Trump, but more Christians endorse him. They make arguments in his favor, whereas most Christians recognize Mrs. Clinton is impossible to endorse from an orthodox Christian paradigm.

Where does this leave us? Well, I’m not telling you who to vote for. I’m not saying a specific wunderKandidat will singlehandedly keep Christianity out of the shadows (because they can’t, and the Church is healthier when it is costly). But I do ask you to examine Scripture — all of it. Search it and get a feel for the will of God for the world. Take the gospel of Jesus Christ to heart and openly apply it to all facets of the public sphere, including this election. Discover how the Holy Spirit would have you vote to seek the good of this land, our nation of captivity.

And may God have mercy on us all when we go to the polls.