Political idolatry?: Proposing a new single-issue voter

images-washingtonpost-comTwo days ago, I posted a link to a recent Christianity Today editorial (Speak Truth to Trump). Christianity Today, established by Billy Graham and other evangelical leaders in 1956, is as close to an official evangelical magazine as you can get. Andy Crouch, writing for the editorial board, begins by noting that Christianity Today has always remained neutral in past elections. But, like many pastors and leaders, they feel the need to speak out this year:

“Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent.”

He describes the absolute rulership of Christ, and the implications for his followers:

“The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.”

Crouch reminds us of the danger of being so involved in worldly rulers that it becomes idolatrous.

The editorial then briefly reviews the problems with the two major party candidates, beginning with Clinton and then continuing with Trump. Crouch observes that, while criticism of Clinton is very common among evangelical Christians, many have not “shown the same critical judgment when it comes to the Republican nominee.” He lists again some of the obvious red flags regarding his character (which I’ve briefly described here, here, and here), and then concludes of Trump:

“He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.”

Crouch notes that most Christians who support Trump are doing so “with reluctant strategic calculation.” This strategic calculation is focused on the appointment of Supreme Court justices and the impact on vital constitutional issues such as the sanctity of life and marriage, and religious freedom. Crouch then returns to the danger of idolatry in our current situation. This key point is so crucial, I’m going to quote the entire paragraph. I would encourage all of us—especially evangelical supporters of Trump—to consider this carefully:

“But there is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength—the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome—at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.”

A question I have repeatedly asked is: Does God need Donald Trump? By insisting that we must vote for Trump for the sake of the unborn children (and to preserve religious liberty), are we not implying that—at this time—Donald Trump is necessary, that he is needed? Are we claiming that unless we vote for this morally vile candidate, there is no hope for the children or the church? What does this say about our trust in God?

Are we claiming that unless we vote for this morally vile candidate,
there is no hope for the children or the church?

What does this say about our trust in God?

Here’s the view of the editors of Christianity Today:

“Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord. They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.”

Please notice the wording in that last sentence. If voting for Trump is imperative for evangelical Christians, then we are putting our trust in his rule. Such trust is tragically misplaced. And as these editors, I, and many others have warned, this will have devastating consequences to our witness to the world. (Anyone paying attention to social media will see that it already is.)

A new single-issue voter

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of a “single-issue voter.” These aren’t people who are concerned with only one issue, but those who view one issue as of paramount importance. This doesn’t mean hasn’t meant they’ll vote for just anyone who expresses support for their key issue, but they refuse to consider someone who doesn’t share their viewpoint. Not supporting their position on this single issue is seen as a deal-breaker, distinguishing candidates they can support from those they cannot. For many evangelical voters, this single issue has been the sanctity of life and opposition to legalized abortion.

I’m proposing a new single issue. I say we shouldn’t even consider supporting a candidate who doesn’t have a basic personal decency, who isn’t an essentially moral, trustworthy person. Bad character should be automatically disqualifying regardless of the positions the candidate claims to support. If a candidate seriously lacks good character, their claimed positions are worthless. Treating the claims of dishonorable, unprincipled people as if they are worthy of serious consideration—even defending them!—lends credibility to unscrupulous people and makes us co-conspirators in their duplicity. I say if a candidate is someone who even the world widely views as a person of poor character, then we should not even consider such a candidate as worthy of evangelical support . . . . . . unless we are more trusting in the American political system to protect us and bring about societal change than we are the power of God.

In times of trouble, Israel often looked to earthly powers for help rather than relying on God—and God judged them for it. Christians have also misplaced their trust in worldly rulers before, whether it was the early church putting their trust in Constantine or German churches putting their trust in Hitler in the 1930s. We need to be very clear about our Christian priorities, and with whom we can and cannot ally ourselves. As Peter Berger once wrote: “He who sups with the devil had better have a long spoon.” Or as Scripture itself makes so clear:

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers.
How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness?
How can light live with darkness?

2 Corinthians 6:14

Are God’s people trying to advance the light by partnering with darkness? May it never be!

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

Psalm 20:7-8

Speaking truth to [and about] Trump (from the editors of Christianity Today)

This morning I reread this excellent editorial from Christianity Today (long considered the flagship publication of the evangelical movement). These thoughts are timely ones for us to consider as we draw closer to this election.

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Patrick Semansky / AP

As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.

Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. . . .

Finish this article here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october-web-only/speak-truth-to-trump.html?share=8zSGgP1pMb8F3tcGaT86AnjYoxtbEmnx

For my thoughts on this article and related issues, see my next post.

2016: Shaming our nation

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins

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

By now you’ve heard all kinds of views on the election. Many pastors and leaders are claiming neither candidate is an honorable choice for evangelical Christians. So what’s wrong with these candidates? Let’s take a look. (Note: I’ll only be using well-known observations about both candidates, and briefly at that. If you need documentation or more details, you can find plenty online.)

Things they have in common
Both candidates are plagued with scandals that would ordinarily sink any campaign. Both are obsessively secretive about things the public has a right to know. And both blatantly and repeatedly lie about practically everything. They lie about their past positions. They lie about what they said; they lie about what they didn’t say (even when we have recordings of their statements).

Some might cynically reply that all politicians lie. But this kind of deceit goes far beyond anything we’ve seen from others. Hillary Clinton has been described for years as a habitual liar (even by some of her associates). Fact checkers have awarded her an unprecedented number of “Pinocchios” over the years, showing her difficulty with the truth. Unprecedented, that is, until Donald Trump came along, who is decidedly now “winning” in this particular competition.

Even by itself, such obsessive secretiveness and blatant deceit should be sufficient cause to reject a candidate. It definitely means no Clinton or Trump supporters should be pointing their fingers at the other candidate and calling her or him a liar or questioning their integrity. To do so is hypocritical. Both are lacking the basic integrity we look for in a political candidate.

US-VOTE-DEMOCRAT-HILLARY

HILLARY CLINTON

What else is troubling about Hillary Clinton? Other than the huge integrity issues noted above, there are four issues that raise grave concerns. She was at the center of the Benghazi fiasco, and then lied to the American people and to the families of the victims about the nature of the attack. She knowingly and secretively violated US law regulating the handling of classified information while she was serving as Secretary of State, recklessly putting national security and human lives at great risk. The financial dealings of the Clinton Foundation are highly suspicious, showing a likelihood of political favors being given to donors, even from potentially unfriendly nations. Any of these scandals should have effectively ended any chance of Clinton being elected. Of equal or greater concern to most evangelical Christians is Hillary Clinton’s outspoken support of abortion rights.

Donald Trump Addresses GOP Lincoln Day Event In Michigan

DONALD TRUMP

Because more evangelicals seem to be struggling with whether to vote for Donald Trump, I’m going to spend more time describing what is unsuitable about Trump as a candidate for president. Because Trump is running as a Republican, I’ll weigh his positions from a Republican perspective. And, again, this is in addition to the lack of integrity I noted above.

Business history
This may seem like a strange thing to start with, but the more I’ve read about Trump’s so-called business acumen, the more I’m appalled at the idea of him as president. Trump is a master at self-promotion, blustering his way into getting a lot of press, but he has a very checkered past when it comes to any true success at running healthy businesses. If you think he’s a good businessman, you need to do your “due diligence” and check him out a little more thoroughly. His business practices have been unethical and hurtful to a great many people.

National security
This is a key responsibility of the president, and Donald Trump is already making us less secure just as a candidate. His extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric is inflaming Islamic radicals and alienating friendly Islamic nations. His irresponsible statements concerning NATO, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, etc. are deeply concerning to our allies and threaten US leadership in world affairs. His admiration for Putin is alarming, and he seems to have taken on a role as Putin-apologist. He disagrees with his own running mate about the right approach in Syria (and virtually every Republican leader agrees with Pence about this). There’s a reason why an overwhelming number of Republican foreign policy experts have warned us in the strongest terms of the dangers of a Trump presidency.

Economic policies
Donald Trump is going to magically lower taxes, increase spending, and lower the debt, all while threatening devastating trade wars with our trading partners and refusing to address entitlement spending. His economic policies bear little resemblance to those of the Republicans who are supporting him.

Lack of political principles
As many have observed, Donald Trump could just as easily have run as a Democrat. His candidacy has never been about policy. He ran from the beginning as a populist, a George Wallace-style demagogue who coined catchy phrases that got the people to cheer, but who couldn’t be bothered with discussing policy details. He’s not interested in being enlightened by those who are knowledgeable on the issues, but arrogantly insists he knows more than the experts, while often displaying an appalling lack of awareness of these issues.

Instead of policy content, Donald Trump seems to rely on . . . conspiracy theories. Remember, this is the man who gave us the birther movement. He’s also floated conspiracy theories about Obama being a Muslim, Scalia being murdered, Fox News being in cahoots with the Saudis, and, of course, that Ted Cruz’s father was part of the Kennedy assassination (not to mention scores of other conspiracy theories).

Lack of personal character and judgment
Pat of the problem is that we’ve become so familiar with Donald Trump we forget how shocked we should be at his behavior. The recent outcry over his lewd and abusive tape is understandable, but some of it is a little disingenuous. Is anyone really surprised? This is just Donald Trump being Donald Trump. This is the man who’s been married three times, who boasts about how many adulterous affairs he’s had with married women, and who divorced his first wife because her breast enhancements “didn’t feel right.”

To the people who are now suddenly outraged, why were you not outraged when he cruelly and childishly mocked a handicapped reporter? This would have ended anyone else’s campaign, but Trump’s supporters just cheered him on. Why were you not outraged when he crassly and demeaningly insulted other women (calling them “fat pigs” and worse), or insulted Hispanics, Blacks, his political opponents, his opponents’ families, journalists, judges, etc., etc.? Trump displays the behavior of a weak, insecure playground bully. His pettiness and immaturity would be unacceptable in an elementary school. You wouldn’t allow your children to act this way. But Trump casually insults people in the most cruel and immature ways . . . and we laugh? . . . admire him for ‘not caring what people think’?

Trump’s approach is not to win with sound ideas and logic, but through intimidation, outshouting anyone who opposes him, and even encouraging violence. This is someone who can’t seem to resist a feud, no matter how petty. Remember, this is the man who got in a very public war of insults with Rosie O’Donnell. Do we really want a cruel, childish, bullying, reality TV drama king as president of the United States? Coupled with his expressed interest in actually using nuclear weapons(!), the possibility of this man becoming president is frightening.

Racism
Trump’s campaign has fanned into flames a resurgent racism that is evil and ugly. And, as many of us warned during the primaries, this is affecting our children. Educators are now talking about the “Trump Effect” that is becoming more and more widespread in our schools. A high school from a predominantly Latino community sent their basketball team to play a mostly white school in Indiana. They were greeted by Trump signs and belligerent chants of “Build the wall!” In Virginia, two third-graders were singled out by classmates as “immigrants” because of the color of their skin, and told that when Trump becomes president they would be sent back home. These are not isolated incidents, but are becoming epidemic.

The anti-Semitic tone has also become rampant. Many Jewish people who dare to oppose Trump are being bombarded with phone calls and online messages threatening to “throw them in the ovens” or to send them to “Camp Trump,” with photos of Auschwitz attached. Conservative Republican Jews who refuse to support Trump are being ridiculed as “Kikeservatives.” This anti-Semitism is being fueled by Breitbart, an anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, pro-white “news network” controlled by Stephen Bannon—whom Trump chose as his Campaign CEO.

Divisive and destructive
In 1996, when it became clear Bob Dole couldn’t win the election, the Republican Party began focusing on the Senate and House of Representative races. Dole understood and supported this decision. Now some have suggested the GOP should focus on keeping both houses of Congress and not allow their leads to be lost. Donald Trump has responded by petulantly declaring war on the Republican leadership. He has destroyed company after company (and many lives along the way), he is in the midst of destroying the Republican party, and he wants us to entrust the leadership of the nation to him? With his repeated claims the election will be rigged, he is already recklessly endangering the nation.

Obsessed with power
Donald Trump frequently sings the praises of thugs and dictators. He admires the way the Chinese government brutally crushed the protests in Tiananmen Square (what most call a massacre), he tweets quotes from Mussolini, criticizes Mikhail Gorbachev for not being firm enough, compliments Saddam Hussein, and repeatedly praises Vladimir Putin, even defending Putin’s killing of political opponents and journalists. Which leads to the next point:

Abuse of power
Many people are so offended by the lewdness of the recently released Trump tape, they miss another disturbing aspect of this recording. Trump shows a cruel enjoyment of abusing his power as a celebrity—kissing women without their consent, grabbing them in grotesquely inappropriate ways. This isn’t just about juvenile, frat-boy over-sexed, filthy language; it’s about his delight in abusing power, about doing to women whatever he wants to whether they want it or not. Is this an anomaly, a phase he went through as an immature, 59-year old man?

Trump has openly expressed his intention to abuse power. If soldiers won’t commit the war crimes he demands, he’ll make them. He says that as soon as he has the power, he’ll exact vengeance on those who’ve crossed him: political opponents (most recently Paul Ryan), the judge who wouldn’t dismiss a case against him, journalists who wrote articles he didn’t like, etc. He hasn’t hidden any of this,  openly planning to corrupt his role as Commander in Chief and violate the constitutional separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as the constitutionally protected freedom of the press.

Regardless of our political views, we must be very clear about this:

Legitimate leaders of democratic nations do not threaten the freedom of the press.
Leaders of free nations do not threaten to imprison their opponents.

(This actually sounds strangely like Putin, who Trump admires so much.) If Trump is somehow elected president, no one should be shocked when he does exactly what he’s always said he will do.

Extreme egotism
This is another case of us becoming so familiar with Trump we might shrug off statements that should serve as huge red flags to us. Over and over again, he’s told us that he is the only one who can save America, he is the only one who can make us great again, he is the only one smart enough and strong enough to get the job done. He keeps telling us we need to believe him, to trust him, that he knows. And this is exactly what Ronald Reagan warned us about when he accepted the nomination as Republican presidential candidate:

“Trust me” government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us.  My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties.

Ronald Reagan (July 17, 1980)

Donald Trump is not about transcendent values. Even his own team-members debate what he actually believes in. Donald Trump is about one thing—Donald Trump. When you put together the bullying, the obsession with power, the cruel delight in abusing power and the extreme egotism, what you come up with is not a great leader. It’s a perfect recipe for either a cult leader or a dictator.

At this period in history, the Republican party needed leaders with the conviction and resoluteness of Winston Churchill. What they have instead (with a few notable exceptions) is a party of Neville Chamberlains. So they are reaping what they have sown and their party is being ripped apart.

The future doesn’t look much brighter for Republicans. They’re beginning to hear of conservative young people who ordinarily would become Republicans, but are instead looking to the Democrats or considering themselves independents. They say it’s because they won’t be associated with Donald Trump or leaders who put party interests above the good of the country, weakly acquiescing to a destructive madman rather than having the courage to take a stand even if it costs them an election. It’s been sad, but educational, to see Republican leaders attempt all kinds of logical contortions to suddenly support positions they always vehemently opposed. And this just confirms that if the Republican party won’t stand up to Donald Trump now, there will be no one to stand up to him if he’s elected president.

So why do some evangelical Christians still say we should support Donald Trump? We’ll look at some of their reasons next.

 

 

Again, I’ll note this even though I shouldn’t have to:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.

2016: Who do we vote for?!

confusionLast year, my wife and I returned to California after almost 14 years in Puerto Rico. As residents of Puerto Rico, we didn’t pay federal income tax, but we also weren’t represented in Congress and we couldn’t vote in presidential elections. Before moving to PR I hadn’t missed a single election, so I was excited to be part of the process once again. Soon after we moved back, someone asked me what I would do if the choice was between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I laughed and said I’d see that as a definite sign of an impending apocalypse!

And now here we are. Americans are faced with an abysmal choice, two candidates distrusted and despised by most US voters. The Republicans have nominated possibly the only candidate who could lose to an incredibly vulnerable Hillary Clinton. And the Democrats have nominated possibly the only candidate who could lose to Donald Trump. It’s as if the World Series featured the worst two teams in baseball. It might be darkly entertaining if the consequences weren’t so terribly serious. Many Christians are dismayed to find themselves in this kind of dilemma. What in the world are we going to do come November? How should we vote?

As a pastor, I’m careful not to publicly promote any political party or ideology. Until this election cycle, I had never publicly commented on specific details or candidates during an election. But earlier this year, during the primaries, I—along with other evangelical leaders—appealed to and challenged evangelical supporters of Donald Trump. We were so concerned, we felt it would be irresponsible for pastors and leaders to not speak out. (I also expressed these concerns from the pulpit.)

In the months following the parties’ conventions, people have asked me if I still feel the same. I’ve been intending to write on this for some time, but my time has been consumed with the revitalization process of the church we serve (The Orchard). But even after the recent vile revelations concerning Donald Trump, there are still evangelicals defending Trump and urging the rest of us to support him. So . . . I’m writing. I’ll address this issue, as best I can, in two separate posts:

 

I shouldn’t have to write this, but I will:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.