The title of this post is a bit disingenuous. “A Christian Voting Ethic” probably leads you to believe that in this piece, I’m going to offer a position on how Christians should vote, argue for this position’s merits, and then defend it against potential detractors, leaving you with absolutely no uncertainty about how you should approach the ballot box each November.
If you’re expecting that (and you’re probably not), you’re likely going to be disappointed. Actually, you’re definitely going to be disappointed. Instead of anything all that meaningful, this post is simply more of an appropriation of some thoughts I had in the car the other day while I was stuck in traffic on US-280.
I think Big Evangelicalism as a cultural movement at times has a tendency to oversimplify things. See, for example, the 2016 Presidential election as a test case. As we survey the landscape of evangelical leaders and their political alignments from a year ago, we see a few political gymnasts, leaping back and forth from Trump support to Trump non-support, and back to support again (e.g., Wayne Grudem), a few die-hard, blue-blooded Trump supporters (e.g., Jerry Falwell), and within perhaps the largest group we see a whole lot of lack of commitment to either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
This lack of commitment shows us that, for the Christian, the decision to be made between Trump and Clinton is not an easy one. Neither candidate was all that attractive. This is true not just for Christians but also for folks who aren’t Christians or are nominally so. Even if we concede the point that one will never come across a candidate who agrees with them on every issue, many of us still find ourselves in disagreement with Clinton and/or Trump on a fundamental level.
Consider, for example, the single-issue pro-life voter. Obviously, voting for Clinton is out of the question because of her staunch defense of abortion rights. For presumably the first time in this same voter’s life, the Republican candidate isn’t even a lock on the pro-life issue because he’s flip-flopped more than a pair of Rainbow Sandals. Now desperate, this voter looks to the Johnson/Weld ticket for relief, and finds another candidate who identifies as pro-choice up until viability. There is no rest for the single-issue pro-life voter.
All this to say, voting is not simple even for the Christian who places their flag on one position with which their ideal candidate must agree. Not even this person can find a political place of solace, for the waters are muddy all the way through. Just imagine then the Christian who has opinions on other things to which they believe their faith speaks, like civil liberties or taxes or state funding for foster care. For this reason, interactions between Christians in the pews in 2016 was rife with disagreement, and that’s okay.
I think some would have us believe that a vote against Trump essentially amounts to a vote against Jesus Christ. I understand the logic of people who held their nose and voted for Trump. I see why the “Trump choosing a Supreme Court Justice is better than Clinton choosing a Supreme Court Justice” argument is compelling for some. If one has chosen to stake their vote on that, then they’ve come out better than our friend, the single-issue pro-life voter. Even still, that statement is rarely made with any gumption. Usually, it came out sort of like, “Trump choosing a Supreme Court Justice is better than Clinton choosing a Supreme Court Justice…?”
Choosing the right option in November 2016 was difficult, and many of us, if pressed, probably aren’t any more sure that we made the right call in the ballot box than we were almost twelve months ago. I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, and when I see posts on Facebook arguing that Donald Trump was the “Christian” choice, I cringe a little bit, not because I don’t think Christians could have voted for him, but because I know faithful folks who voted for candidates across the spectrum after much deliberating. Even these people whom I have in mind would have made several caveats about their voting choice, no matter who they cast their ballot for.
With November 2016 a year in the rearview, I don’t know that I’m convinced that there was a thoroughly “Christian” option. Donald Trump’s character flaws are legion, and Hillary Clinton is hardly a shining star atop the moral high ground. The same has been the case in elections past, and will continue to be the case in elections future. I guess it just seems that within the Christian community, we should assume that folks came to their political decision with much fear and trembling. Whether that’s the case or not, only God knows.