Like My Friend Says
A friend of mine, Justin Scott, has written a passionate, well-reasoned article on the upcoming US presidential election. (Who knew it was an election year, huh?) In particular, he invites conservatives to re-consider their embrace of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump—and to re-consider their vote this November.
For many American Christians, including most evangelicals, Justin's fervent plea is an absolute must-read.
(As is anything on Mr. Trump by the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks has been strongly critical of Hillary Clinton yet still argues: "Some conservatives believe they can educate, convert or civilize Trump. This belief is a sign both of intellectual arrogance and psychological naïveté." Furthermore, he bleakly warns conservatives, "Trump is not really changing [the Republican Party] as much as dissolving it.")
Whether or not a person/conservative/Republican can stomach Ms. Clinton or her policy positions, Justin ultimately determines that that should not necessitate an embrace of Mr. Trump.
Here's a taste:
Many conservatives have claimed that Clinton is just as bad or worse a candidate than Trump, but this is just not true. Clinton does not overtly promote the use of violence, bigotry, exclusion, absolute power, and arrogance. She doesn’t advocate for explicit evil, such as bombing innocent women and children, torturing people, or beating up people who disagree with her. She doesn’t mock women, veterans, the disabled, or the weak. She doesn’t employ sexism and racism to gather votes. She doesn’t brag about herself constantly. She doesn’t glorify wealth. She doesn’t boast about being an adulterer. She doesn’t use childish nicknames for people who question her. She doesn’t threaten to abandon our allies or use nuclear weapons.
He goes on to admit: "Hillary Clinton is far from a perfect candidate. She has been guilty of dishonesty and deception." Of course, for more than a few conservatives, this statement will sound somewhat dismissive or somehow understated. But it is neither. In the end, Justin assesses, "The scandals associated with her do not justify electing Trump.”
Simply put, I agree.
In fact, after reading Justin, I can only arrive at a few possible reasons many Christians, especially conservative evangelicals, are continuing this desperate Republican charade of supporting Mr. Trump.
And here they are—
Reason #1: They (willfully) persist in willful ignorance about the man.
For emphasis, this reason comes by way of the Department of Redundancy Department. But how else could a person/conservative/Republican absorb and engage an argument like this, then, with full knowledge, knowingly vote for Mr. Trump?
I tend to think conviction is admirable. Obstinacy, however, is not.
Reason #2: They feel compelled, emotionally or viscerally, to vote the party line.
Naturally, we could put this down to the insanely polarized political landscape in the US. For years it has been building to this noisy crescendo. Sadly, intensifying the polarization is reason enough to sustain certain partisans on either side.
Additionally, the old adage never fails: Love is blind. Or perhaps there is another dynamic gut-calculation involving identity, loyalty and allegiance. Either way, when you sprinkle a heavy dose of fear into the mix, the cocktail goes down easy. And the stomach's concerns are assuaged.
I tend to think loyalty and allegiance are quite a sight to behold. Impaired vision, however, is not.
Reason #3: They can't pause long enough to stop hating her.
Justin concluded his article by quoting Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who in June famously quipped of conservatives, "There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary." I remember thinking at the time: Well, maybe. But maybe not. It certainly depends.
Will November reveal that the erstwhile Republican senator and committed Christian was especially prescient this summer? After all, love is stronger than hate.
Then again, hate is incredibly strong.
Reason #4: They are in it for the Golden Calf.
Here, I am thankful for leading-light conservative evangelicals, a la Russell Moore, who have publicly spoken/written out about Mr. Trump, his character, his candidacy. Last September, in a New York Times Op-ed, Moore seemed astonished: "Most illogical is his support from evangelicals and other social conservatives. To back Mr. Trump, these voters must repudiate everything they believe."
On the other hand, much to my chagrin, this campaign season has seen numerous conservative evangelical leaders—Eric Metaxas, for instance—give new meaning to the word alarm-ism. In June, Metaxas called Mr. Trump "the last best hope" for America, lest our country find itself in "the abyss, the dustbin of history." (Apparently without any sense of irony, some Christian voices argue for a return to virtuous political leadership all the while shilling for Mr. Trump.)
But by throwing their significant religious weight behind Mr. Trump, many evangelicals have shown—not for the first time—that they really have it bad for power. There is an a-moral willingness to "break bad," if you will, for political power.
In fact, it appears idolized and worshiped. Some have given themselves over to it. Still others find their ultimate desires and hopes caught up in it—"the last best hope" for cultural influence and social dominance.
Call it a re-make of the ancient story of the Golden Calf. Except, in this modern story, political power—presidential, judicial, legislative or fill in the blank—is the veritable sacred calf. And nothing glimmers like gold.
UPDATE: October 7
For some Christians in the US, especially those concerned with and interested in redeeming what it means to be evangelical (from the weighty chains of ideological politics), I came across two notable story-lines yesterday (October 6). Significantly, one came from a national direction, and the other from a global direction.
Story-line #1 | The American Story
The above is a Change.org petition initiated by, well, American evangelicals, and concerning Mr. Trump. Check it out. I believe it's a hopeful reminder that American evangelicalism is not one-dimensional—notwithstanding where the cultural power-centers lie.
As the petition says:
The media’s narrow labels of our community perpetuate stereotypes, ignore our diversity, and fail to accurately represent views expressed by the full body of evangelical Christians.
We are Americans of African and European descent, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American. We are women and men, as well as younger and older evangelical Christians. We come from a wide range of denominations, churches, and political orientations.
Toward the end of the petition comes this explicitly Christian appeal:
No matter what other issues we also care about, we have to make it publicly clear that Mr. Trump’s racial and religious bigotry and treatment of women is morally unacceptable to us as evangelical Christians, as we attempt to model Jesus’ command to “love your neighbors as yourself.
Whether we support Mr. Trump’s political opponent is not the question here. Hillary Clinton is both supported and distrusted by a variety of Christian voters. We, undersigned evangelicals, simply will not tolerate the racial, religious, and gender bigotry that Donald Trump has consistently and deliberately fueled, no matter how else we choose to vote or not to vote.
Story-line #2 | The Global Story
Appearing in August on the blog of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Deborah Fikes, a previous executive advisor for the World Evangelical Alliance, challenged the majority of American evangelicals who have an "unquestioned political alignment with the G.O.P." Having worked with the WEA and its global constituency of over 600 million evangelicals, Fikes has been fortunate to observe diverse evangelicals engaging their contexts in politically diverse ways.
To give you a taste, she writes:
Only in the United States is climate change a controversial and politicized issue. Evangelicals in 129 countries support their government’s efforts to face this challenge.
One of the highest priorities for a majority of evangelicals around the world is for their governments to combat poverty and hunger, improve public education and provide clean water for ALL citizens, even if this means paying more taxes.
Globally, evangelicals disapprove of torture being used by their governments in any form.
Our evangelical brothers and sisters cannot comprehend that American evangelicals are so overwhelmingly opposed to any gun control reform.
Whether abortion is legal or illegal, a majority of evangelicals in other countries have not prioritized this in their politics. Where abortion is illegal, evangelicals are more concerned about the high rate of maternal deaths that result from "bedroom abortions."
Nuclear disarmament and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons is not even questioned among the vast majority of evangelicals in other countries.
Evangelicals in other countries working to help refugees and internally displaced people have questioned if Americans who support Mr. Trump are reading from a different Bible, because theirs is very clear that "welcoming the stranger" is a Judeo-Christian priority.
She concludes: "Our evangelical brothers and sisters around the world cannot understand how or why the majority of American evangelicals support Donald Trump."
Here, I can only say for myself as for other evangelical Christians:
Where our hope and allegiance are, there will our heart be also.
May we be within our national story and among a world of nations, a truer, fuller people of the gospel of Jesus Christ. May be embrace this theological or spiritual identity first, as over against ideological or sociological identities which, ultimately, are much smaller than Christ.