Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Bleak Choices for Evangelical Voters?

It's the day after, and many American evangelicals are apoplectic.

They're apoplectic at the apocalyptic choice that has suddenly been served to them by Ted Cruz quitting the presidential race.

Yet, for my part, I'm not particularly upset or worried.  Which is unusual for me, right?

Not that I've resigned myself to simply vote for Trump out of loyalist Republican solidarity, and pray that God can fix whatever he'll inevitably screw up.  I'm not a Republican loyalist, or a Democrat.  None of us should be loyal to any partisan schtick.  My loyalty is supposed to be to God alone.  Which means that I'm not voting for Trump because, like many Christ followers, I simply can't see how he himself - or my vote for him - brings any glory to God.

Ditto when it comes to Hillary Clinton, by the way.  And Bernie Sanders.  Suffice it to say that this summer, I'll be researching third-party candidates.  But I'm not expecting to find anybody I truly like.  It seems as though the competent and desirable people who'd make ideal presidential material have too much personal integrity to want the job.

So it will likely come down to choosing the lesser of two evils.  Hey - it feels like I've been doing that anyway during every presidential election after the first one in which I voted, which was for Ronald Reagan's second term.

Surprisingly, there remain a number of professing evangelicals who are enthused about a Trump presidency.  And there are likely still some professing evangelicals who - perhaps more begrudgingly - will be voting for Hillary.  On some levels, Sanders presents a curious choice, but only in an odd way.  His aww-shucks bluntness is refreshing when contrasted with Trump's bullying, and his sincerity seems to genuinely unnerve Hillary.  But everybody seems to be aware that at this point, his presence in the primaries is merely for intellectual stimulation, rather than electability.

Which means that a large percentage of Americans will be voting for somebody this fall who they really don't like.  A lot of evangelicals will be voting for somebody they're pretty sure is not saved.  And it will feel really weird.

At least voting for somebody we suspect isn't saved isn't a sin in and of itself.  There are precious few perfect politicians out there to begin with, and plenty of politicians have probably slid into office on false professions of religious piety at which our omniscient God was patiently rolling His eternal eyes.  Glib professions of faith by politicians have been enough to pacify evangelical voters in the past, but this election cycle should be enough to wake us up to reality.

But then again, this election has cast a pall on the legitimacy of many voters who claim to be saved.  It remains extremely difficult to take God's expectations of His people and their behavior and also be supportive of somebody who mocks the handicapped and Hispanics, raves about the sexual desirability of his own daughter, picks fights with others, and advocates for religious oppression.

Having said all that, however, I'm not convinced a vote for Trump or Hillary is automatically a sin.  Remember, man looks at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart of each voter.  Why you vote matters more than the person for whom you vote.  Indeed, if a particular candidate strongly advocates against principles God wants us to embrace, if we're going to honor Christ with how we vote, we need to be exceptionally discerning in how our vote impacts those principles.

After all, sin isn't just an action; sin is anything that dishonors God, and it can be a pattern of behavior, a desire, a worldview, or an attitude.  Do you have disdain for the poor, for example?  Do you think your economic prosperity is more important than somebody else's?  Do you pray for people in authority over you, or do you merely complain about them?  No matter the person for whom we vote, God is looking at our heart, and our motivations behind that vote.  He will know what you're hoping to achieve or deny with your vote, whether it's for a major party candidate or Donald Duck.

A lot of evangelicals say voting for either Trump or Hillary will be a disservice to a nostalgic concept some embrace called "American exceptionalism."  In addition, many evangelicals fear greater taxes, as if taxation is an unBiblical concept (which it is not).  Yet is it Christ-honoring to get our knickers in a twist over how great America should be, or how low taxes should be?

God is not a respecter of persons, which means He loves people in China as much as He loves Americans, and Brazilians, and Swedes, and Russians.  Yes, America has been tremendously blessed over the years, but then again, so have a lot of other countries.  Besides, how do we know the things we call blessings have come as a reward for our Christian values?  After all, plenty of wealthy people don't love the Lord, or walk in his ways, but they're still visibly "successful."  In fact, lots of people get wealthy by practicing a lot of unBiblical business methods.  Look at the breathtaking ascent of China on the world's economic stage, to the point where the officially-Communist country has more billionaires than any country except the United States - and they're gaining on us.  So to presume that America's wealth and influence in world affairs is strictly because we've been a "Christian nation" is a misguided assumption.

As far as taxation is concerned, Christ never argued for lower taxes.  We're to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's," right?  Some conservative pontificators try to add a lot of anti-government rhetoric to Christ's words, because they prefer independence over governance.  And frankly, who doesn't?  Nevertheless, such rhetoric ignores the passages in Scripture where God expects us to respect the officials under which He allows us to live.  Taxes, in God's economic system, become a discipline instead of merely a drudgery.  Republicans tend to overlook that, while Democrats justify bureaucracy because of it, even though God also wants us all to spend His money wisely, and not to waste it, or use it to enable bad behaviors like institutionalized poverty.

Granted, here in the United States, we citizens have the luxury of rigorously participating in the leadership and direction of our country.  And a lot of ethnocentric American Christians have fallen under the presumption that ours is the prototypically Biblical model of governance.  But the Bible never prescribes any ideal governance model for us Earthlings, and God, in His infinite wisdom, may now be showing us why.

The French counter-revolutionary Joseph de Maistre is credited with coining the phrase, "every nation gets the government it deserves."  And this year, perhaps, we evangelical Americans are being jolted by the accuracy of this proverb.  Our fellow voters are exploiting the democratic process to advance political candidates who engage the baser proclivities of pop-culture shallowness.  We're supposedly the most educated generation of Americans ever, yet so many of us can't think through the reasons why candidates like Trump and Hillary aren't good leadership material for our country.  Meanwhile, we're forgetting that the problems we think candidates like Trump or Hillary can correct have been created by folks we've previously voted into office... based on popular votes.

Can you see that our political candidates aren't the problem, but merely symptoms of the problem?

Even so, one of the good things about democracy is that it has a built-in self-correct mechanism, known as another election cycle.  Which means that despite all the negative things pundits fear either Trump or Hillary could do to us and our country during these next four years, we'll have that time to finally wake up and take more responsibility for our attitudes and expectations as voters who serve God and honor His king.

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