Evangelical convictions for sale

This should be my last post on this tragic election cycle. I am definitely ready to focus on other subjects! But a report has been released that I find profoundly disappointing and disturbing, though not that surprising. People were asked whether an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life. This survey was conducted in June of 2011 and again last month. Here are some of the results:

73851As you can see the biggest change—by far—was in the responses of white evangelical Christians. In 2011, only 30% of white evangelicals agreed that an elected official could commit an immoral act in private but still behave ethically and faithfully fulfill their duties. In 2016, that percentage flip-flopped by 42%, going from 30% to 72% in five years. We went from being the demographic with the fewest yes answers to this question to the one with the most (even more than Democrats, who were at 61% yes answers).

As you might have guessed, the media are widely reporting that the moral character of political candidates is no longer an issue for white evangelical voters. And one would be hard pressed to fault them for observing this. What caused such a dramatic change in evangelical convictions this year? Donald Trump.

In 1998, it was revealed that Bill Clinton had been conducting an adulterous affair (amid widespread allegations of many more). Conservative evangelicals were virtually unanimous in their condemnations of these actions. A common refrain at the time was: “If he’ll cheat on his wife, he’ll cheat on the country.” In September of 1998, prominent evangelical leader James Dobson wrote a letter publicly expressing his concern for our nation. Here are some excerpts:

“As it turns out, character DOES matter. . . . How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. . . .

“I just don’t understand it. Why aren’t parents more concerned about what their children are hearing about the President’s behavior? Are moms and dads not embarrassed by what is occurring? At any given time, 40 percent of the nation’s children list the President of the United States as the person they most admire.  What are they learning from Mr. Clinton? What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men? . . .

“I am left to conclude from these opinions that our greatest problem is not in the Oval Office. It is with the people of this land! We have lost our ability to discern the difference between right and wrong. . . . We are facing a profound moral crisis — not only because one man has disgraced us — but because our people no longer recognize the nature of evil. And when a nation reaches that state of depravity — judgment is a certainty.”

James Dobson
September, 1998

Stirring words, aren’t they? Many of Bill Clinton’s defenders tried to downplay his moral problems by insisting we are “electing not clergy but political leaders.” Dobson quoted them in his letter, and made very clear he didn’t buy this defense. Now compare Dobson’s strong moral stance then to what he says about Donald Trump now:

“I don’t vote for candidates . . . Policy is what matters. . . .

“His rhetoric has been inexcusable, and I don’t defend it. . . . There are obviously characteristics of Trump that I wish I could change. However, I believe he is the best candidate available, period. . . .

“I’m not under any illusions that he is an outstanding moral example . . . It’s a cliché but true: We are electing a commander-in-chief, not a theologian-in-chief.”

James Dobson
September, 2016

Since the tape was revealed—with Donald Trump grotesquely boasting of sexually assaulting women—Dobson has affirmed his endorsement of Trump. But is he the only one who’s relinquished their previous standards?

Pat Robertson condemned Bill Clinton as being “debauched, debased and defamed,” said that resignation would be too easy for him and that, “We need to prove to the American people that our elected officials have the courage and the love of country to do what is right for America [referring to impeaching Clinton].” And what does he say of Donald Trump? Three days ago Robertson told Trump, “You inspire us all.”

Ralph Reed and Gary Bauer both led the charge against Bill Clinton because of his lack of character. Both are now publicly supporting Donald Trump. They, and many other evangelical leaders, made strong statements opposing Bill Clinton because of his lack of moral character. So it’s fairly easy to compile a list contrasting many of these evangelical leaders’ opposition to Bill Clinton because of his character with their current support of Donald Trump despite his character, often using the very same arguments used by Bill Clinton’s defenders. (The press has already published a few such comparisons, and you can be assured more are on the way.)

Of course, a great many evangelical leaders are refusing to change their views:

“If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”

Al Mohler
June, 2016

But, in their support of Trump, many others have gone from saying ‘yes, poor character disqualifies a person from elected office’ to saying ‘no, it does not.’ Ed Stetzer clearly diagnoses this problem:

“That’s the definition of selling out.”


28250-fullBut, why?

Many evangelical Christians see this current race as a “must-win” election . . . and that’s a problem. Because—as those who have placed our faith and trust in the hope of the world, Jesus Christ—there is no must-win election. The only must-win battle has already been won. Victory is assured. Christ will enact the victory when he returns. And let’s remember just what this victory entails. This victory isn’t merely about going to heaven or hell; no, this victory is the answer to everything wrong with our society now. Christ’s victory is the answer to injustice and corruption and immorality and fear. It’s the only real answer, the only real victory. That’s why it’s good news.

Does this mean we shouldn’t try to make things better in this life? Of course not. We’re to be salt and light. We should seek to make positive change wherever we have opportunity. But we must never expect that we are the ones who will make everything right. And we shouldn’t presume that God intends to win the victory now through us. We are to faithfully shine the light in the darkness, but we are not the ones who conquer the darkness. That is neither our responsibility nor our role.

God has placed us behind enemy lines. We are in the world. And don’t forget the United States is not a part of the kingdom of God; it’s a part of the world. There will be times when we’ll have a positive influence for good in our nation, and that’s a cause for rejoicing. But we shouldn’t be surprised or disheartened if the darkness is sometimes resurgent. It’s not our job to defeat the darkness, but to shine the light within it.

Could God put a stop to abortion immediately?

Could God put a stop to abortion immediately? Of course he could. Just as he could immediately stop all injustice, all corruption, all pain and suffering. Why doesn’t he? The extremely short answer is that he has a plan. His plan leads to victory over all evil. But at this time he allows the world the freedom to destroy themselves. This can be almost unbearably ugly and heartbreaking. So we do what we can to influence our society for good, but we realize these micro-victories are fleeting and easily undone. We know our victory will not be won now. Even in our sorrow for our society and for those who are horribly mistreated, we are not distraught or despairing. We don’t act out of frenzied desperation. Because our hope is not a temporary, heavily-contested victory now. Our hope is not in the latest “must-win” election. No, our hope is in God, in his plan, and in his victory.

We don’t have to win now.

But we do have to be faithful now, to remain who we are, to remain salt and light . . . to remain true to our convictions.

We must never sacrifice our convictions.

Not for anyone.

2016: Destroying our witness

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For an introduction to these articles on the election, see here.

For a description of why both major party candidates are dishonorable choices, see here.

So, why should evangelical Christians support Donald Trump? Here are the reasons I’ve heard:

“He’s not Hillary Clinton.”
Some people despise Hillary Clinton so much, they’re willing to do just about anything to prevent her from becoming president. But just because a candidate is throughly corrupt and deceitful, this isn’t a good reason to support another corrupt, deceitful, morally bankrupt candidate. This is similar to another defense we’re hearing more and more:

“Bill Clinton was worse.”
Maybe this is true. But it’s entirely beside the point. Even if Bill Clinton is Satan himself, that doesn’t magically turn Donald Trump into a good person or an acceptable candidate for president.

It’s ironic that in the days before this most recent scandal became public, the Trump campaign was focusing on the women from Bill Clinton’s past to try to discredit Hillary. They insisted that these stories were still relevant even though they’re decades old, and that victims should always be believed (despite Trump himself insulting and demeaning these victims of Bill Clinton back in the 90s). Now Trump and his people have completely flip-flopped. They now insist that the accusations about Trump are too old to be relevant, the women (more are going public all the time) are all liars who can’t be believed, and this is part of some vast, global conspiracy.

“If you don’t vote for Trump you’re voting for Hillary.”
What’s amusing is the other side says the same thing, that if you don’t vote for Hillary you’re voting for Trump. So, apparently by voting for neither, we’re voting for both! The fact is, voting for Trump is not just voting against Hillary Clinton. If you vote for someone, you share responsibility for what they will do as president—especially if we have clear warning now of what kind of person he is and what he will do with real power.

“We’re not electing a pastor/Sunday school teacher/pope.”
Everyone knows this. No one is suggesting that presidential candidates should be held to the same standards as pastors. But does this mean that character somehow doesn’t matter? Don’t we still have the responsibility to support a candidate who is trustworthy and has good character? And if character isn’t an issue, why is Hillary Clinton so despised? Does character only matter for her but not for Trump?

“But Trump apologized.”
Did he really? Trump said he was embarrassed. He apologized to those who were offended by what he said, and then immediately and repeatedly dismissed his words as merely “locker room talk.” (In other words, ‘I’m sorry if that offended you, but it’s really not a big deal.’) And he kept pointing to Bill Clinton during these “apologies,” saying that Bill Clinton was worse than him.

So let me ask you parents, would you accept this kind of “apology” from your child? Would you allow them to get credit for apologizing while they continue dismissing the seriousness of what they did, and point their finger at someone else who is supposedly worse? And what about apologizing for all the other horrible things he’s said and done to people? We haven’t heard any apologies for the rest of Trump’s reprehensible behavior. Do we really want to give him kudos for this kind of childish nonsense?

“What about grace?”
It’s certainly true that we are all sinners forgiven by the unmerited grace of God. And we should be ready to forgive anyone. But Donald Trump hasn’t shown any real remorse for what he’s done or any real desire for forgiveness. And just because we sincerely forgive someone, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly qualified for any job. If you forgive someone who’s mean to your kids—but you don’t hire them as a babysitter—does that mean you’re unforgiving? Is that a lack of grace? Just because we should forgive Trump (if he ever actually asks for forgiveness), doesn’t mean he’s suddenly a good choice for president. There’s grace, and then there’s gullibility.

“Trump is the only one strong enough to do what’s necessary for the country.”
If anyone seriously mistakes the bluster, boasting and bullying of Trump for real strength, then nothing I say will change your mind. Apparently, you must think Jesus was a real wimp. The idea that, “Sure he’s a total jerk, but he’s our jerk” just doesn’t work for followers of Jesus Christ.

“It’s all about the Supreme Court justices.”
This is the only argument that has any merit to me. Hillary Clinton will almost certainly appoint justices who will continue to protect abortion rights and erode religious freedom. Donald Trump has said he will appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. Isn’t this a good enough reason to hold our noses and vote for him? Here are some reasons why I don’t think this argument works:

We have no reason to believe that Donald Trump is sincerely pro-life.

As many have pointed out, Donald Trump is not really a Republican or a conservative. He hasn’t given any reason why he suddenly switched from being pro-choice to being pro-life (except his decision to run as a Republican). He hardly ever mentions abortion. The one time he said much about it, he seriously botched it and caused all kinds of problems for pro-life groups. He’s made it pretty clear that he doesn’t even understand the pro-life position. He defends Planned Pregnancy and makes the same exceptions for the health of the mother that Democrats routinely make. He also seems to lack any real awareness of the issues regarding the preservation of religious freedom.

Donald Trump is no “constitutionalist.”

Trump has an extremely poor grasp of the US Constitution, as he’s displayed many times. And he’s shown again and again that he intends to subvert the constitutional separation of powers, and meddle with the legislature and judiciary. Should we expect someone who’s expressed an intention to abuse constitutional power to appoint real constitutional conservatives to the Court?

We have absolutely no reason to trust Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a flagrant, unrepentant liar. He lies about his past positions on issues. He lies about his business history. He lies about the amount of money he donates. He lies about his lies. He flip-flops on issues when it’s convenient for him. He bails on his businesses, protecting his own interests, and leaving others to hold the bag. He even said he might appoint someone not on his touted list as a Supreme Court justice—and he said this almost immediately after releasing the list! He has demonstrated over and over again that he is completely untrustworthy. So I ask those who will vote for him: Why should we trust him?

And let’s consider how this would realistically unfold. Even if they manage to retain a majority, the Republicans will certainly be weakened in the Senate. So let’s say Trump surprisingly honors this commitment, and appoints a real conservative, say another Robert Bork. And let’s say, as is very possible, that his first choice is shot down in the Senate. At this point, all bets will be off. I tried to appoint a conservative; it didn’t work. He would then be free to appoint anyone he wanted. We would have sold our political souls for . . . nothing. Of course, this is if he actually tries to fulfill this commitment, which, again, I see no reason to believe.

This is ‘the end justifies the means’ thinking.

Are we really supposed to support an immoral, reprehensible, dangerous candidate for president of the United States, just because he mouths support of a position that he doesn’t even understand?!

How gullible are we?

And how low will we sink?

Will we support anyone if they pay lip service to our cause?

How bad does someone have to be before we finally say:
“No, I can’t be part of this”?

Does God need Donald Trump?

Would we vote for a Hitler or a Stalin if they promised to end abortion? If Bill Clinton had been pro-life, would we have defended him in the 90s? A huge number of evangelicals were outspoken in their opposition to Clinton, proclaiming loudly that his poor character had disqualified him from serving as the nation’s president. Now some of these same evangelicals are defending Donald Trump, using the same excuses Clinton’s defenders used, excuses these evangelical leaders ridiculed 20 years ago! How is this not hypocrisy? Do we have any convictions that aren’t for sale?

We’ve seen the hypocrisy of Republican leaders. Many finally spoke out against Trump after this vile tape was made public. But then—after his stronger showing in the second debate—they reversed their reversals. Apparently, it’s okay for the party’s standard bearer to be someone who sickeningly boasts about sexually assaulting women . . . as long as he looks like a winner!

When Trump supporters tell the rest of us to put on our “big boy pants” and support Trump too, what they’re saying is that we need to grow up and play the game like the rest of the world. When in Rome, we need to be like the Romans. (I seem to recall someone trying to persuade Jesus to put on his big boy pants and play the game like everyone else.) No, we follow Christ. And he instructed us to be in the world, but not of it. We do need to grow up, put on our big boy pants and take the harder path of resisting the pressure to be like the world.

Should evangelicals be guilty of the same hypocrisy we see in the Republican leadership? Shouldn’t we stand up for what we say we believe in? Students and faculty of Liberty University have finally had enough. Their president, Jerry Falwell Jr, was one of Trump’s earliest evangelical supporters, and defends him still. He recently said on television that even if he knew these accusations to be true, he would continue to support Trump’s candidacy. So these students and faculty-members had to speak out. Sickened at the thought of the reputation of their school, and their witness to the world, being ruined by association with this evil, they put out a public statement strongly repudiating both Trump and the inappropriate stance of their president.

Paul admonished the Corinthian church for approving behavior that even unbelievers condemned. Now, we see an almost universal abhorrence of Donald Trump’s vile abuse of women, and it’s evangelical leaders who are defending him on national television! Fortunately, most evangelical pastors and leaders are opposed to Trump’s candidacy. But a surprising number of evangelical Christians are supporting him. If, through our support, we associate the evangelical faith with this morally bankrupt candidate—who the world recognizes as reprehensible—we will destroy our witness for years to come. In the eyes of our society, we’ll be tied to Trump’s moral filth, and we will have no credibility.

So what do we do?

Donald Trump uses women and then discards them. He’s done the same thing in his businesses. He does the same thing to those who help him politically—he uses them and then discards them. He loves them when he needs them. They become ‘his African Americans’ or ‘his evangelicals.’ But we do not belong to Donald Trump or any other politician. We need to send a strong message that, as followers of Jesus Christ, our votes are not for sale. We can’t be seduced by lame lip service or a few insincere statements.

Imagine if a huge number of Americans vote in this election, but they don’t vote for either of the major party candidates. Imagine if the experts in the press discover that it was the evangelical Christians who refused to support these unthinkable candidates. We would be sending a very loud message to the political parties that we cannot be taken for granted. We’d make it very clear that believers in Christ will not vote for shameful, dishonorable candidates no matter which party supports them. Then they would know—and we would know—that we will not sell our birthright for a bowl of lies and corruption, even with appealing but fake promises sprinkled on top.

If we vote for this man, we share responsibility for him. And evangelical Christians must not be even partially responsible for Donald Trump. Our mission is too important and our witness too valuable to waste on a madman.

 

 

Once again:

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