Trump or Hillary? How Can a Christian Vote? Remembering Where We Live (Fred G. Zaspel)
In my estimation neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton deserves to be president of the United States. Judged on character and behavior – matters such as morality, truth, and personal integrity – they both fail. I think one is worse than the other, but they both fail. Quite simply, their candidacies reflect the low tide of contemporary American politics. And it surely says something about us as a nation that these two – for the moment, at least – look to be our candidates. Neither deserves such a high office.
That raises another question: What kind of president does America deserve?
Well, I’ll leave that discussion for another time, but perhaps this question will remind us of where we live. I have often been surprised that so many Christians are surprised when the world behaves like the world. It seems many are still under the delusion of a “Christian America” and are in need of a reality check – if ever there was such a time, it certainly isn’t now.
Given this reality it seems to me that we could well adjust our political expectations accordingly. The high ideals of character and conduct that we prize and that we insist on in the church characterize the world in ever-decreasing measure. So then, should we now recuse ourselves from the political process altogether because it has crossed some line? Might we be dirtied by voting either way?
I don’t think so.
Relatively few Christians throughout history were given opportunity to influence government. We have that opportunity, and unless we would imagine that we live in a genuine Christendom there is strong likelihood that our votes, necessarily, will often be cast – according to conscience – for the lesser of two evils, for the candidate who is “not as bad” as the other. That is just the reality. We fully agree with the founding fathers that character matters, and so the reality is – given that it is “the world” we are talking about, not the church – we are often left to vote not so much for but against a given candidate whom we perceive to be “worse.” We cast our vote for the one who is “not as bad” both in terms of personal character and of public / political policy. This is just the reality.
Some Christians, attempting to vote “conscience,” refuse to vote for either of the two real candidates and instead vote for third party or perhaps write-in another candidate. Some simply refuse to vote altogether. And both will sometimes caution the rest of us that God “sees your vote,” that Christians cannot justify supporting this or that “evil” candidate. But of course that cuts both ways. Surrendering our influence altogether – or voting third party, which in reality amounts to the same thing – leaves the “worst” candidate with less opposition … and God sees that too. Our refusal to vote for the one ipso facto helps the other, and while we may feel good that we have “not endorsed a sinner,” it is also true that we have failed to use our influence to prevent the worse candidate from taking the office.
The world will always behave like the world, and the church should not be surprised by it. So long as we have influence it seems to me we would do well to use it in the best “preserving” way possible. And so in a given election we may be left, in order to slow the decline, to choose between two evils. This shouldn’t surprise us.
I realize that this opinion goes against some friends who have written otherwise, but for my part I will vote in this election against what I perceive to be the worse of two poor candidates, and for the one whose political agenda is not as evil as the other.
For just one example, we have one candidate who is very outspoken in support of killing of not-yet-born babies. That is a gruesome practice and an awful blight on our society, and I can’t imagine not opposing it. The other candidate at least says he would be more restrictive. That, it seems to me, leaves me with little choice. And we could say the same regarding freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and other important matters. I will not throw my vote away. I will use it in “support” of the lesser of two poor candidates.
I do understand and even sympathize with those who for conscience’ sake refuse to vote or otherwise throw it away. But I think it is mistaken. I don’t think it adequately recognizes the implications of the fact that we live in – as the apostle Paul calls it – “this present evil world.” I think it wiser – for conscience’ sake – to do what I can to slow the rate of decline as far as I am able.
And so, in the words of a dear young lady in our church, I will “just hold my nose and vote.”
Fred Zaspel (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam) is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also adjunct professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, and is the executive editor of Books At a Glance. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary andWarfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel.