It’s no secret that American Christians are conflicted about this election. What should we do when faced with two candidates who fall so radically short of basic decency, honesty, and integrity? Continue reading . . .
Article by Joe Rigney (first published at www.desiringgod.org on 10-21-16)
Professor, Bethlehem College & Seminary
It’s no secret that American Christians are conflicted about this election. What should we do when faced with two candidates who fall so radically short of basic decency, honesty, and integrity?
To begin with, we need to remember that decisions about voting are a matter of prudence and wisdom. Biblical truths and principles must be brought to bear, but when we’re dealing with applying convictions in our twenty-first-century context, we’re making decisions upon which Christians can (and will) disagree. We may disagree strongly; we may try to persuade and exhort others to see things our way, but there is no “Thus sayeth the Lord” about what action to take this November. (For a fuller perspective, see the helpful article “How Should a Christian Vote?”)
But if voting is a matter of prudence and wisdom, we need to have as clear a view of our times as we can. To that end, here are a few observations about the choice we are facing in our present moment.
Recognize God’s Judgment
If you listen to Christians who support the Republican candidate, they’ll argue that the Democrat’s election would push this country over the cliff. She’ll undoubtedly appoint liberal activists to the Supreme Court who will further erode our rights and freedoms. Religious liberty will be curtailed, and more unborn children will die as abortion is further enshrined in our national culture.
Christian supporters of the Democratic candidate feel the same, in the other direction. If he is elected, they argue, then we’re giving control of our nuclear codes to a man with the self-control of a five-year-old. More than that, we’re treating his race-baiting, demagoguery, and treatment of women lightly; we may disapprove of them, but we’re still willing to overlook them and put him in office. In both cases, supporters of one candidate see the election of the other as pushing us over the cliff, as taking us past the point of no return.
But what if we find ourselves in agreement with both sides? The election of either candidate represents a colossal failure on the part of this nation. We could go so far as to say that the election of either one of them is evidence of God’s judgment on America. But that’s not the whole story.
The reality is that the fact that we’re faced with this horrible choice is divine judgment. It’s as though God is saying to us, as he did to the ancient Israelites in the book of Amos, “I sent you two grossly unfit candidates, and still you would not return to me. I sent vileness from one party and corruption from the other, and still you would not return to me” (see, for example, Amos 4:6-11).
God is holding a mirror up to America, as it were. He is showing us who we are as a nation. We may not like what we see, but the two major party candidates represent us well. Lies, corruption, selfishness, unbridled ambition, shameless sexual immorality — all committed with a high hand. That’s our nation. God is giving us the leaders that we deserve.
Manage God’s Judgment?
If the choice between these candidates shows us who we are, and if that is evidence of God’s judgment, then the one thing we must avoid is trying to manage or finesse God’s judgments. This was Israel’s temptation throughout her history: embracing Assyria to ward off Egypt or embracing Egypt to ward off Assyria.
When we attempt to manage God’s judgments, we become reactive. Out of fear of one evil, we embrace another. Instead of acting from a confident trust in God’s goodness in the midst of a cultural crisis, we panic and slide to one extreme or another. Instead, as Christians, we ought to embrace the judgments of God.
Embracing God’s judgments sounds odd to our ears. “How could we embrace something as painful and awful as divine judgment?” But this is because we misunderstand God’s judgments. As someone once said, “God’s judgments are not when things go wrong; it’s when God starts to put things right.”
Embrace God’s Judgment
What would it mean to embrace the judgment of God in our present moment? At least three things.
First, it starts with repentance for our sins. Judgment always begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). Sins that are celebrated without shame in the wider culture are almost always present and active in the church, even when they are hidden. Removing the log from our own eyes is the prerequisite to speck-hunting in our neighbor’s (Matthew 7:3-5). Heartfelt repentance for our sins is where we must start.
Second, embracing the judgments of God means drawing a line somewhere. Perhaps we could begin by expecting our candidates to measure up to basic standards of decency, honesty, and integrity. When Jethro urged Moses to appoint rulers in Israel, the list of qualifications was short: fear God, be trustworthy, hate a bribe (Exodus 18:21). By almost all accounts the two major party candidates fail that test. And what’s more, they fail it with a brazenness and persistence that is shocking. There is a high-handed shamelessness to the dishonesty, corruption, and wickedness that, in my judgment, renders them morally unfit to govern.
Third, embracing the judgments of God means that we refuse to peddle lies and falsehoods on behalf of disgraceful politicians. We refuse to use platforms given to us by God for gospel ministry to carry water for the dishonest and corrupt. It means we stop pretending “he is sensitive to the things of the Spirit” or, like King David, “a man after God’s own heart.” It means we stop pretending “she is deeply committed to the vulnerable” when she is an outspoken and persistent advocate for the legal killing of unborn children. Whatever prudential decisions we make in the voting booth, as Christians, we must refuse to sully the name of Christ by trafficking in falsehoods on behalf of wicked politicians.
What It Will Mean for Some
None of the above dictates how we should vote. But many Christians may find wisdom and prudence leading them to an independent or third-party candidate. At least three additional reasons may press them in this direction.
First, they want to maintain their integrity. They don’t think they could look themselves in the mirror if they voted for candidates that are as morally unfit as the two major party candidates are. They share the spirit of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who said, “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”
Second, for years, conservative Christians have been told that they are simply shills for the Republican Party. They’ve been told that they should vote for any candidate with an (R) after his name provided he pays lip service (however insincere) to the issues that matter to us: the sanctity of human life, religious liberty, and God’s design for marriage (among others). The present election may be a great opportunity to prove those accusations false.
It may also be an opportunity for progressive Christians to consider the same from their side; the fact that there is no comparable movement against the nominee of the Religious Left is saddening, given her adamantine support of unfettered abortion, her defense and enablement of her husband’s debauchery, and the overall mendacity and corruption of her family empire, from email servers to favor trading to covering it all up.
Finally, for some Christians, refusing to vote for the two major party candidates may serve as a signal. A large block of votes for alternative candidates might signal to the major parties that there are available votes, provided they nominate acceptable candidates. Or more importantly, it may serve as a signal to God that they see what he is doing. He is shaking America so that only the unshakeable will remain.
Whatever this present crisis proves to be politically, what we know for sure is that it is an opportunity for us to turn our hearts to God through Jesus Christ. He is exalted. He dwells on high. And he will be the stability of our times (Isaiah 33:6).
Joe Rigney (@joe_rigney) is assistant professor of theology and literature at Bethlehem College & Seminary and author of The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts. He is a pastor at Cities Church.