I’ve noticed something troubling happening lately. Christians who refuse to support Donald Trump this election—or who even express reluctance about his fitness to be president—have been subjected to increasingly shrill “Never Trump shaming” by fellow Christians.
The shaming goes something like this: If you don’t vote for Trump, it will be your fault when Hillary wins and we get liberals on the Supreme Court for the next forty years. Or: If you don’t support Trump, Hillary will win and more babies will die, and you’ll be to blame. Or my personal favorite: This election could be the last chance we have to pull our nation back from the brink of [fill in the blank with some version of a dystopian future].
I understand that people on all sides of this election are passionate. This has been the most divisive election in my lifetime and barring some divine intervention, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump—the two most unpopular candidates in our nation’s history—will be elected president in November. There’s plenty of shouting going on, without much listening, and the attacks seem much more personal than in past elections.
I’d like to offer some assurances that things are going to be okay, even if Christians don’t vote for Donald Trump. Even if Hillary Clinton wins, it’s not going to be the end of the world, and it most certainly won’t mean the end of Christianity in America. Neither will America—or the Christian church—be “saved” if Trump wins. The kingdom of God is not dependent on the Christian vote on November 8, so Christians can stop shaming their brothers and sisters who cannot in good conscience vote for, arguably, the most openly immoral, unstable, narcissistic, and mean-spirited self-proclaimed Christian ever to run for president as a Republican.
The seismic shift in the GOP
It’s important to first understand that the divisions we’re seeing in the Republican Party have been a long time coming and they likely signal the end of the GOP as we’ve known it. John Ellis wrote here at PJM back in June:
A Donald Trump-helmed Republican Party will cast aside any pretense of caring about social issues that burden conservatives. Trump’s official installation as leader of the GOP in July may very well signal the beginning of social conservatives’ exile from the Republican Party and, hence, the national stage.
We’re now seeing events play out exactly as he predicted. Trump is not to blame for this, to be sure. He’s merely a symptom, or perhaps the result, of a culture that has been in moral and spiritual decline for several generations. The declining influence of faith in American life, the rise of secular humanism and a generation that worships the entertainment culture were bound to result in a tossing aside of the moral strictures of previous generations. Whether rank-and-file Christian Republicans realized it or not, the Supreme Court’s convoluted Obergefell decision ordering all states to legalize gay marriage struck a major blow to the GOP, knocking out one half of one leg of the traditional 3-legged stool that tied social conservatives to fiscal and national security conservatives. Suddenly, the already shaky GOP stool began to fracture, as many non-religious Republicans cheerfully accepted the new mandate, throwing the religious liberties of their Christian compatriots under the bus. Hardly anyone batted an eye when LGBTQ rights were more prominent than the rights of the unborn at the Republican National Convention, and no one even seemed to notice when Trump failed to even mention protecting the unborn or marriage at last week’s Values Voters Summit. The exit of social issues from the national Republican stage has been quiet but decisive. Christians who are trusting in Trump to promote a socially conservative policy agenda—or to nominate Supreme Court justices who would interpret the Constitution the way the Founders intended—need to understand that their values were ushered out of the GOP’s Big Tent last year. It’s clear Christians have lost all influence as a voting bloc when the GOP nominee doesn’t even bother to pay social issues lip service at a “Values Voters” event.
Next Page: The Johnson Amendment and the Gospel
The Johnson Amendment and the gospel
Trump has tried to allay Christians’ fears by trotting out the 1950s era Johnson Amendment, vowing to repeal the part of the federal tax code that, allegedly, bans pastors from discussing politics in the pulpit or endorsing candidates, lest they forfeit their nonprofit status. It should be noted though, that many pastors have been openly and flagrantly violating the Johnson Amendment for years with impunity, which raises questions about whether it’s a really serious issue or it’s a talking point bone being thrown to social conservatives.
“And I actually believe that’s one of the reasons why you haven’t seen Christianity and other religions within the United States going like a rocket ship – like our polls have been going in the last four weeks, a rocket ship, right?” Trump declared, explaining to the Values Voters Summit why the obscure section of the tax code needs to be changed.
The Johnson Amendment has nothing to do with the rise or fall of Christianity and it’s ludicrous to suggest that the federal government, rather than God Almighty, controls its fate. Anyone who is in possession of even an elementary knowledge of the history of Christianity knows that it most often grows, rather than falters, under persecution. It blossomed and spread under oppressive Roman rule, and even today, when we look at places with oppressive regimes like China and North Korea, Christianity is growing at mind-boggling rates. Even in Iran, there’s a growing underground church movement that the mullahs have been powerless to control, with some estimates putting the number of practicing Christians in the Islamic country at 1 million.
Followers of Jesus are told to expect persecution as the normal way of life, so the idea that the Christian faith could be extinguished by an obscure IRS regulation or that the gospel could be chained by bureaucratic hands flies in the face of both history and scripture. The decline of Christianity in America is arguably better attributed to our unprecedented prosperity and to unbridled freedom untethered from propositional truth than to the IRS.
Christians who believe Trump’s assertion that the Johnson Amendment is keeping the church down are demonstrating either a lack of biblical knowledge or an ignorance of history. And those who are voting for Trump because they think he’s the only one who can save Christianity from extinction have placed their faith in a false messiah. There’s only one Savior, and he’s sitting at the right hand of God the Father.
Turning churches into an arm of the GOP
While we’re on the topic of the Johnson Amendment (which is silly and ought to be repealed), Christians ought not to be eager to politicize their churches, which is what Trump seems to be encouraging. If this election has taught us anything, it’s that political alliances are fluid, not carved in stone, and even longtime political allies can suddenly divide because of a single candidate. As Christians our alliances to Christ and to one another must take precedence over our politics. Churches should never be beholden to one political party and ought to be very wary about endorsing and supporting candidates.
Churches that tell their members how to vote and that there is only one morally acceptable choice in an election had better be ready to back that command up with scripture—and perhaps even with church discipline. Such is the questionable territory churches and Christians can step into when they make such black and white declarations about candidates, implying that an election is a binary choice between right and wrong, good and evil.
The desire to weaponize churches against political enemies has a way of backfiring: someday you could find yourself looking down the wrong end of that weapon. And Christians who desire to follow Christ’s command to share the Good News with their neighbors need to be especially wary about erecting unscalable barriers to relationships with those who see partisans where they should see Christ.
Next Page: Trump and the End Times
Trump and the end times
Finally, I’d like to address the pernicious, apocalyptic “this is the last election before the end of America” warnings I’m hearing out of the mouths of Christians. These Chicken Little warnings have no place in Christianity, where we trust in the “Lord our God,” not “horses and chariots.” Regardless of your eschatological view, Christians, of all people, should never fret or wring their hands about what the future holds. God certainly isn’t in heaven waiting on the edge of his seat to see if Donald Trump is going to save America. The God who knows the end from the beginning and who raises up kings and deposes them by the sheer power of his will has not lost control, nor has he ceded it to Donald Trump. His will cannot be thwarted just because you decide to sit out this election after having decided that neither of the two deplorable candidates has earned your vote.
We are blessed to live in a country where we have the right and responsibility to vote and we should never make the decisions to abstain from voting lightly. We’re in desperate need of good leaders at all levels of government and almost always, there’s a candidate for which a Christian can vote without horribly violating his conscience. In the rare instances when that’s not the case, the only option may be to express an opinion by not voting. Such is the case for many Christians this election, where there seems to be no “lesser” of two evils.
I know the arguments for Trump almost always come down to, “But Hillary’s worse.” Literally, that’s the only argument that I hear “for” Trump from a lot of his “supporters.” For many of us who believe that Trump is unfit to be president—morally, mentally, intellectually, ethically, and ideologically—and could be just as dangerous as Hillary in many ways, our consciences will not allow us to cast a vote in his favor (though most of us would have voted for every one of the 16 other candidates). Nor can we vote for Hillary. It’s no more complicated than that and we won’t be swayed, no matter how much Never Trump shaming is heaped upon us. Thankfully, our refusal to vote for Trump will not deal the fatal blow to the pipe dream utopia he’s promising to usher in.
If you’ve prayed about this election and your conscience is clear voting for Donald Trump as the lesser of two evils I won’t fault you or judge you for your decision. Even if you are an enthusiastic Trump supporter (or vote for one of the other candidates) I’m going to leave that decision between you and God. This is an area of Christian liberty upon which believers will come to different conclusions—and we should not separate over it. I hope you’ll offer the same grace to those who won’t vote for your candidate. There’s no place for vote shaming in the Christian community.
At the end of the day, our country has a sin problem that won’t be solved by political leaders and elections. Both Trump and Clinton are woefully ill-equipped to stanch the spiritual and moral bleeding that we see all around us. Even a Bible-believing evangelical Christian like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, had he stayed in the race, wouldn’t be able to fix what ails our nation. These are problems for churches, families, and individual believers to attack, and they won’t be solved on November 8, no matter who wins. But regardless of how things turn out, we can trust that God is still on the throne and he’s not worried about the outcome.