Friday, March 11, 2016

In Whom Do You Trust Your Vote?

Who wants to "vote for evil"?

Grieved by the choices facing Americans this election year, a number of our country's morality leaders say there's no good candidate to be our next president.  Especially if the vote is between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

That's no surprise, really.  Shucks, most Americans who profess loyalty to either party have major problems with who's running this year!  Democrats have come out in surprising force against the lies, machinations, and duplicity that characterize both Hillary and her husband.  And while the media has given Trump enormous publicity, making it appear as though the GOP has fallen in lock-step behind him, many conservatives are alarmed that he's commandeered so much enthusiasm from disenchanted Republicans.

Conventional wisdom - if there is such a thing anymore - says that although Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz have managed to front energetic foils to their respective party's front-runners, delegate arithmetic is adding up to a final contest between Clinton and Trump.  And if there have ever been two presidential candidates running to be The Leader of the Free World who both express so much that earnest Christ-followers loath, they're Clinton and Trump.

Much has been made about how eagerly evangelicals have reportedly flocked to Trump, and expressed adulation for him and his raucous pontifications, from wanting to ban Muslim immigrants, to his unabashed objectification of women, to his embarrassingly naive presumptions about presidential powers and America's tripartite system of government.  Indeed, even as he boasts about how uneducated his supporters are, Trump mocks them with his incessant outlandishness.  

Of all voters, then, with as much moral presumptions as evangelicals claim to leverage in the name of Almighty God, shouldn't these conservative church-goers be more discerning in their choice of presidential candidate?

If anything, the glee with which many Trump supporters ignore the facts about him, his background, his flip-flopping on basic Christian issues like abortion, and more political stances like crony capitalism have convinced a number of leaders within our vast evangelical industrial complex that the term "evangelical" means something different today than it used to.  Presumed kingmakers like First Baptist Dallas' Robert Jeffress and Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr. now represent a tainted brand of patriotic religiosity that splices bits and pieces of the Biblical Gospel with romanticized snippets of the United States Constitution, and view their creation as superior to both of its prototypes.  Throw in what's either a genuine cancer of Biblical illiteracy within the American church, or a willful ambivalence towards Biblical literacy, and flocks from congregations across the country now say Trump deserves their faith more than God does.

Into this bizarre tableau step astonished Gospel spokespeople like Russell Moore, a high-ranking official in the traditionally conservative Southern Baptist Convention.  In a recent editorial for Christianity Today, Moore stumbles around, as if in a fog, trying to explore this new dilemma facing however many American Christ-followers still remaining who want to honor God with their vote.

Obviously, there are significant problems with a Hillary Clinton presidency - and mostly, they're the same ones we faced when her husband ran so many years ago.  And even though many church folk - "evangelical" or not - want Trump to be their hero, Moore is correct in stating that Trump is not merely the lesser of two evils.  Evil is evil, even if we are tempted to gloss over that evil out of frustration for how the other political party has made a mess of this country.

"When Christians face two clearly immoral options," Moore argues, "we cannot rationalize a vote for immorality or injustice just because we deem the alternative to be worse."

His solution?  Don't vote at all, apparently.

"We cannot vote for evil, even if it’s our only option."

But is voting for evil our only option, as Moore claims?

First, let's acknowledge the obvious:  Years and years of indoctrination from blowhards outside of our evangelical industrial complex, like Rush Limbaugh, and political activists within, such as Jerry Falwell Sr., have created a warped perspective of ultra-religious conservatism that drapes the American flag across the Cross of Christ.

Frankly, it should be of little surprise that the Trump phenomenon eventually exploded onto such an unequally-yolked stage.  But now that we've arrived at this juncture, where right-wing expediency can no longer feign complicity with Biblical integrity, many church-goers see no problem with taking the path more aligned with their beliefs... beliefs based not in the Gospel of The Christ, but in the gospel of The Donald.

And Moore is correct in seeing Trump's fatal flaws.  

Yet there's more to Moore's dilemma.  Let's take a step back and look at this whole voting thing for a moment.  If Moore is telling us NOT to vote, then isn't he ignoring the reality that a vote not cast for somebody often is a vote for somebody else?  Not voting can still produce something we consider to be wrong.  

Meanwhile, since God looks at our heart, why not trust that He knows the processes by which we decide (enthusiastically or not) to vote for a particular candidate?  After all, He's the One ordaining our rulers, right?  

Our vote is a mechanical action; and yes, our actions matter.  However, don't those things in our heart that influence how we vote matter more to God?  He knows how much we love Him, and how much we love our neighbors.  He knows how much we admire wealthy and powerful people like Trump, and how much we disregard the poor and needy.  He knows our motivations, and whether we vote out of what's in it for us, or out of a desire to honor Him first and foremost.  

And what honors Him first and foremost, but our willingness to trust Him in everything?

"And without faith it is impossible to please God..."  That's Hebrews 11:6.

Therefore, which is better:   "Washing our hands" of the dilemma before us, or trusting in God's sovereignty?  Even as we exercise our liberty to vote?  Remember, God has blessed us Americans with the freedom to vote.  Does not voting demonstrate our gratitude for this privilege?

Consider this from its inverse.  Why do we NOT do some things?  When we don't do something, are we not committing it out of implicit love for God and His Gospel?  Or, when we don't do something, are we acting out of fear of that act's presumed consequences?  

On the surface, it may appear as though we don't do certain things because we want to be faithful to God's Word, but how often do we simply not do things for our own selfish reasons?  Is the fact that we don't do something a way to honor God?  Or our motivations for not doing that action?

See what I mean?  God looks at why we do things - or don't do things.  So why does Moore advocate that people of faith not vote?  Is it out of fear for the future?  Is it out of discomfort of voting for - horrors! - a Democrat?

Indeed, you'll note that I'm not telling anybody the person for whom to vote.  Some might interpret that to be an endorsement for Trump, but be assured:  It is not!  I agree with Moore that Trump is unfit to be president.  Even with Hillary running against him.

Instead, I'm currently exploring third-party options.  I'm even open to voting for Hillary, since Trump has voiced disdain for religious freedom - an audacity which Clinton, despite all of her liberalism, has never proposed.  Whether you're a marginal "evangelical" or a committed Christ-follower, Trump's stance on this one issue should be alarming for us all.   And he doesn't deserve my support as a pro-life voter.  Trump has said he'd nominate his pro-choice sister to the Supreme Court, which makes his stance on the issue obvious, no matter what he tells his supporters.

I'm not going to criticize voters who drag themselves to their polling precinct kicking and screaming, feeling compelled to vote for Trump.   And I believe that in this election, at least, conservatives should not fault Christ-followers like me for voting for somebody like Hilliary, a person who until a couple of months ago I'd have absolutely never, ever considered a viable presidential candidate.

What matters is whether we're attempting, despite all of the miserable obstacles in our way, to honor God with the vote He's allowed us to have in this election.  Man looks at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart.  And while it's true that our actions come from what's in our heart, other people can misinterpret our actions.

So, what's your motive for your vote?  For people like me, I should be able to find some comfort in knowing that the only eternal reality of my vote is how God sees it.

For people who are choosing any candidate based on criteria that is more patriotic than Christ-centered, however, I can understand their angst at the long-term ramifications of how they'll act come election day.

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