It’s now a fait accompli—Donald Trump represents the Republican party. We’re now witnessing the Great Evangelical Predicament. For the last few months we’ve all condemned Trump (as we should) and built the case that Christians shouldn’t vote for him under any circumstances. Except now it’s Hillary or him. The Great Predicament will be the collective evangelical mind trying to figure out what to do, including possibly how to rationalize voting for a serially divorced, adulterous, self-absorbed casino owner. Closer reflection reveals four very bad choices.
Most likely you were bothered or maybe incensed by one or several of the above paragraphs. No worries—it was even more painful to write them. I still have no idea what I’ll do. Which is actually the point—there isn’t a good option. That leads to several insights.
- It may not be as dramatic a change as you think.
One of the fundamental tenets of the moral majority was that the Christian defeats on abortion and in the public schools were a colossal mistake—kind of a blip on the largely Christian American trajectory. “If all of the true believers would rise up and vote,” one rather tired maxim went, “we could take this country back.”
But reality is cold. Not all believers will vote, or it won’t be for the same guy. In democracies political realities represent political constituencies. The results we see before us are the beliefs and choices of the voting public. Our country is the way it is because enough voters wanted it like that. Occasionally there’s a punctuated equilibrium like Roe V. Wade and Windsor, but generally it’s just a slow, grinding process of decay that spans generations. This is reality, and we can’t wish it away.
- It’s entirely possible that there is not a single “right Christian response.”
There will be a total of four stages for the Great Predicament:
Stage 1: Denial and comprehension where we try to wrap our heads around what just happened. This stage will be accompanied with lots of extreme statuses and heavy use of those new little status faces—especially the mad guy and the one with his mouth hanging open.
Stage 2: Perplexity and befuddlement as we try to figure out what on earth we will actually do on November 4. This is where our minds start endlessly going through all the really bad options. (See the ill-loved chart above.)
Stage 3: Excessive confidence and crusading where we try to convince all of our friends that what we just decided on yesterday is the only thing they could possibly do if they call themselves Christians.
Stage 4: Starting over again where four years from now we go back through the “historic election, turning point for America” stuff all over again.
And I would suggest that historically the church has recognized that ethical conflicts like this don’t have simple, one-size-fits-all solutions. We’re all going through the four stages of political grief, but I’d encourage you to put the dampers down for the last two. It’s entirely possible that one believer might decide to vote the lesser of two evils because he believes it’s a stewardship; another might not vote or go write-in because the thought of putting his name down for either major candidate is absolutely repulsive. Don’t call your friend a liberal/heretic/moron because he didn’t agree with you. In fact, closer inspection would reveal that on difficult Christian decisions, differing conclusions are quite normal—even expected (Rom 14:2–6). Work through and reach your own conclusions, then recognize that other good viewpoints exist—because a messy world regularly offers us problems without any especially good solutions.
- There never have been good candidates; only less bad.
Never end a blog post on a pessimistic note. You’ll be pleased to know that I came up with at least one possible semi-positive outcome of the 2016 American election. This election could be (slightly) good if it finally helped American Christians rethink politics. For a few decades now, two-party politics made our decisions deceptively simple. Christians vote red. Red is good; blue is bad.
But red vs. blue isn’t light vs. darkness, and it never has been. In fact politics has always been much simpler. Blue is bad; so is red. If your hope was in the Republican party, you’ve been had. To use the figure of Daniel 7, every king, kingdom, and earthly authority is a ravenous beast prowling around to fill its belly. This is the dead-end of the quadrennial evangelical hope for a president-Savior.
Clearer than ever before, 2016 shows us just how broken the options are. Maybe we could still squeeze some good out of 2016 if Christians learned this year that the choices are always between bad and bad; that the problem with America is America, not its president; that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and Christians first before we’re Americans.
You’ll still need to decide what to do. That means you’ll have to spend some more time with the four painful options above. But if the hopelessness of the candidates erased our hope in the electorate, turned our longing eyes upwards, and our hearts towards sharing the truth with a broken nation, the story of the Great Evangelical Predicament might not have to end so badly after all.