Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Noisy Republican Partiers

I'm noisy.

As in; I create distractions.

At least, that's what a friend of mine told me yesterday, as we discussed America's upcoming election.  This friend mentioned my blog, and then pointed out that my essays about our presidential race are part of the "noise" surrounding the choices facing America's evangelicals.

And he's right.  I am part of the noise.  There's an entire three-ring circus band banging away here, and across the United States.  Every conceivable noise is trying to make itself heard in the cacophony that is Election Year 2016.

It's part of what's both good and bad about our democratic republic:  People have the right to speak their mind about politics.  And while it's good that we have that right, it tends to get bad when so many of us exploit that right!  It's easy for us to presume that because we have the ability to form an opinion, our opinion is not only correct, but that we need to inform others of it.  And the thing with politics is that it's often hard to pick through opinions and discover what's actually true and factual, and what's merely rhetoric or spin.  Or outright falsehood.

After all, the reason there's a lot of noise at election time is that somewhere, in all of the racket, some things are true, while a lot of other things aren't.

My friend wasn't denying that reality.  He was simply pointing out that our political noise pulsates at the detriment of the Gospel when we talk more about the personalities than about Christ.  My friend never said my opinions are wrong (or correct, for that matter), and in fact, after our conversation, I still genuinely have no idea the candidate for whom he's going to vote.  But to the extent that we fall into an easy trap of overshadowing the Gospel by wallowing too enthusiastically in national politics, my friend has a valid point.

Don't you agree?

The Gospel remains true no matter who wins.

God is still sovereign, even as presidential contenders pretend like they are.

The Gospel is for all people in all times and epochs - and nations.

We are witnesses not of the rise or fall of the United States, but we are witnesses of Christ's mercy, grace, and holiness. 

The Gospel does not depend on America.  But America depends on the Gospel.  Every country does.

Nevertheless, despite me being part of America's political noise, there's still the question of who would advocate for the things of God if Christ's followers simply shut up during each election.  Sure, it would be nice if our votes were sufficient testimony of the Gospel, but shucks, we can't even agree on how to vote!

Witness the public calls by two evangelicals to support the platform ostensibly represented by the Republican presidential ticket in theoretical terms, instead of the literal Republican nominee many conservative Christians cannot abide.

First came an op-ed in the Christian Post by Dr. Jimmy Draper, a Southern Baptist minister who sternly warns evangelicals to look past Trump and vote for the Republican Party.  Draper's stance is a continuation of compromises many conservatives have been frantically calculating in their quest to continue the GOP's supposedly moralistic platform, a platform Draper guesses Trump will protect as the GOP's standard-bearer.

For Draper, abortion represents the key litmus test between our main political parties.  The Republican party platform currently opposes abortion, while the Democratic party platform supports it, and Draper expects Trump to promote a pro-life agenda.  So he says that God is honored when we vote for somebody like Trump because we're really voting for the Republican Party anyway.

Which, of course, is the stale old argument about the GOP being "God's Own Party", and that you're a heathen unbeliever if you don't get in line with God's politics.  It's a vestige of the failed Moral Majority's "I'll turn a blind eye to most everything except abortion" schtick that was as Biblically unsupportable in the 1980's as it is today.  Yet it remains a compelling argument because, well, abortion remains a crisis in our country.

Hey; I understand Draper's position, and it's one shared by many pro-life evangelicals.  Yet can one sin issue - even one as devastating as abortion - be the tipping point when temperaments as audacious as Trump's and Hillary Clinton's are concerned?  Abortion is not the unpardonable sin.  And even if it was, is politicizing certain sins an effective way to honor God?  Besides, especially in this election, with two notoriously duplicitous major-party candidates, isn't there more to electing leaders than the lip service they give to special interest groups such as evangelicals?  With all that Draper admits is unsavory about Trump, Draper still trusts the party that nominated him to act Biblically on abortion?

On the heels of Draper's widely-circulated plea has come another strongly-worded letter by an evangelical Washington Beltway insider of thirty years who is also calling on conservative Christians to vote Republican, if not Trump.  Mariam Bell started her DC career in the Reagan administration, so she's seen quite a bit through the rise and fall of the bombastic Moral Majority movement.  For Bell, evangelicalism probably seems like an integral part of the Republican party, and she sounds genuinely shocked that major evangelical personalities and publications like World Magazine don't support this year's Republican nominee.

Today, Bell wrote an op-ed for the Christian Post in which she supports Donald Trump's candidacy by, like Draper, supporting the broader Republican party.  Bell says evangelicals are wrong for calling on Trump to withdraw from the presidential race because we don't understand how much power a president wields behind the scenes in DC.  Think of all the political appointments, she writes, and all of the government departments each president controls.  These operational units of our vast national bureaucracy influence the daily lives of each American, and can set policies that reach far beyond the White House and Capitol Hill.  With Trump in office, instead of Hillary, Bell encourages us to imagine all the good, moral people and policies he can set in place, at least for as long as he's president.  And maybe even for long after he's left Washington.

Taken at face value, Bell's perspective sounds quite persuasive, at least in the big-picture view.  Yes, it's easy for us to forget that there's an entire administration that serves at the behest of the president, and that the daily workings of government rely on bureaucrats who have a lot more authority over us than we often care to acknowledge.

Nevertheless, the reason we evangelicals who disavow Trump believe we are acting in a manner pleasing to God involves the candidate's personal temperament, which is wholly unsuitable to the very sustenance of Biblical morality not only in the White House, but across our American government, and indeed, our role in world affairs.  How does what we know about Trump lend itself to the optimistic expectation that he will actively champion Biblical morality not only in his personal deportment as President, but in the choices he makes for cabinet positions, department policies, and - the big one for many evangelicals - Supreme Court nominees?

He says he'll support evangelical causes, but does he mean it, or is he simply currying favor with a favored constituency within the party whose nomination he managed to secure?  Can we trust his evaluation of other people?  In an interesting expose by Bloomberg News yesterday, Trump's hand-picked neighbors in Trump Tower hardly represent the most ethical and upstanding of our planet's moneyed elite.  Trump has boasted that there is no vetting process for ownership in his Fifth Avenue skyscraper other than his own savvy, yet his tenant roster glows not with moral radiance, but like the neon of a tawdry Atlantic City casino.

Trump denied 1980's insider trader Ivan Boesky because of his "lack of character", but he personally recruited a cocaine trafficker, two soccer officials indicted for racketeering, a loan shark, two Russian mobsters, a Mexican liquor king, a phony Italian count, and a debt-collection mogul who went to prison for running a Ponzi scheme.  Granted, Bloomberg's reporters didn't specify how much Trump knew about his neighbors' criminal histories before he sold apartments to them, but there have been enough crooks wooed by Trump into his signature tower to indicate that the presidential candidate is hardly a poster-child of Christian virtue.

Unless we're talking about mercy and forgiveness, right?  Unfortunately for evangelicals, however, Trump is on record as boasting he needs neither from God.

So is all this merely noise?  What does the Gospel of Jesus Christ have to say about it?  Is our government so powerful that the ends justify the means?  Do two wrongs make a right when it comes to electing our political leadership?

Both Draper and Bell say we should vote for the party, not the politician.  So why vote Republican, then?  For many evangelicals, the Constitution Party and a group calling itself America's Party have platforms that actually may be more appealing than the GOP's.  But then Hillary would win?  And abortion would continue unabated?

Things have gotten so noisy, perhaps you haven't heard that you aren't responsible for whomever wins.  You are responsible to exercise your ability to vote, and you are responsible for making a wise decision.  And you are responsible for making a wise decision based on God's principles for leadership.

But whether Hillary wins, or Trump wins, it will be by God's sovereign authority.  Not your vote.  Meanwhile, however, God is looking at each of our hearts, seeing the reasons why we're voting for whomever we vote.

So, turn off all the noise.  Even my noise.

Take a deep breath.

Bask in the silence.

Now allow this idea to wash over you:  Voting for Trump is not the unpardonable sin.  Voting for Hillary is not the unpardonable sin. Voting for anybody else is not the unpardonable sin.

It's not, really!  Look it up:  Mark 3:28-29

But the more discerning you are, the more confident you will be about the choice you prayerfully make.  Especially since we all know which candidate in particular will give us lots of noise if he wins... and if he loses.

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