2016 is an extremely unique presidential election year in the USA, mainly because of the polarizing nature and character questions surrounding the two main candidates.
Usually it is clear which candidate the majority of Baptists will support. But that is not the case in 2016. Baptists are divided when it comes to supporting the GOP’s presumptive nominee – Donald Trump. Mr. Trump is a polarizing figure for many reasons that have been well documented. The question we want to raise here is, “Should Baptists vote for Trump?” Those of us in Baptist21 have been raised to believe that political engagement is important, and we want to think through these issues biblically. So, to help us think through rightly and biblically answering this question, we want to provide the three main viewpoints that Baptist leaders are taking on this topic.
If you missed Parts One or Two you can find them here:
Be sure to sign up for the Baptist21 panel Tuesday over lunch at the 2016 SBC in St. Louis where our panelists, Dr. Russ Moore included, will discuss these and other pressing issues.
Approach 3: Baptists should not vote for Trump if he is morally disqualified
The third approach is to suggest that Trump (along with Clinton) is morally disqualified from office. Several Baptist leaders have taken this approach. For example, Denny Burk argues that social conservatives should support #NeverTrump, and Bruce Ashford has argued that many evangelicals like himself “cannot countenance the thought of an Evangelical-supported Trump nomination” because of his numerous issues from ethno-nationalistic aggression to demeaning those who oppose him.
Russell Moore, President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has weighed in with principled arguments about what to do in a race if both candidates are morally disqualified. While Moore has stated that he’s not urging people to vote or not vote for any particular candidate and that Baptists must vote their own conscience, he has been critical of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s positions, and for those who want to carefully weigh these issues as they consider voting, you can find what seems to be Moore’s argument in articles here and here.
Here are what appear to be some highlights of this view.
- Christians should never vote for a morally disqualified candidate
Moore uses the examples of Christians in military service or medical service and argues that, if faced with two ethically horrendous options (i.e. performing abortions or assisted suicides), a Christian can’t simply choose “the least bad of these options.” Instead, the Christian “must conscientiously object.”
Moore reasons that Christians should not “vote for either nominee if both are ‘morally disqualified.’” This is not to say that Christians should abstain from voting; Moore argues that Christians must “take seriously their obligations as citizens, starting with the right to vote,” and that when it comes to the ballot box, “we must be more engaged, not less.” As an alternative, Moore has argued that writing in a third party candidate can be a legitimate Christian option. Additionally, he has argued that Christians must be consistent in what they demand of those seeking their vote and that if character mattered for Bill Clinton in the 90’s then it matters for Trump now.
- Christians always elect less than perfect candidates but should not knowingly elect a person with a pattern of poor character
Moore clearly recognizes the limits of the lesser of two evils logic. He argues that, of course, outside of Jesus being on the ballot every election forces us to elect a sinner. But, character patterns still matter. He states, “By the standard of God’s law, every person is a liar, but that doesn’t mean we should hire an employee we know has a pattern of lying. Jesus taught that all who have lust in their hearts are adulterers, but that doesn’t mean a woman should shrug her shoulders when she learns her potential new husband is a serial philanderer.”
Moore argues that in our system of government, the citizen bears responsibility for the government’s actions, so “just as the lordship of Christ made demands for public justice on office-holders in the New Testament (Luke 4:15), the same is true for those who rule as citizens.” Romans 13 says that God gives the sword to Caesar “to commend good and punish evil,” so in a democratic republic – in the voting booth – we “delegate others to swing the sword of public justice on our behalf. If we think of a campaign like a job interview, we cannot ethically contract someone to do evil on our behalf.”
Moore acknowledges that a candidate can make promises and do something different in office, and yes, a candidate can seem to have good character and later be proven a fraud. That happens all the time in every area of life, not just politics. But, Moore says, “that sense of surprise and disappointment is not the same as knowingly delegating our authority to someone with poor character or wicked public stances. Doing so makes usas voters culpable. Saying, ‘the alternative would be worse’ is no valid excuse.” So, yes, we will elect less than perfect politicians, but we should not knowingly vote for someone who has demonstrated a pattern of poor character.
- Not all political issues are the same
Moore argues that all political issues aren’t equal so the “lesser of two evils” logic can only go so far. He can vote for candidates that he disagrees with on things like immigration reform because he agrees with them on the sanctity of human life, but he won’t vote for some candidates that he agrees with on a number of issues if they deny the personhood of the unborn. On the other hand, he can’t vote for a “pro-life” candidate who supports racial injustice or war crimes or “any number of other first-level moral issues.” Therefore, when faced with the option of two morally disqualified candidates, in the past Moore has chosen to write in the name of another leader, or “other times, I’ve voted for a minority party candidate.” He argues that candidates outside the two majority parties can sometimes win. Abraham Lincoln did, so did Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in 2010.
- Christians are morally accountable for the ballot they cast
However, the issue for Moore is not the expectation that the candidate will win. He says, “my main objective was to participate in the process without endorsing moral evil” because we aren’t responsible for the two-party system or how others exercise their citizenship, “but we will give an account for how we delegate our authority. Our primary concern is not the election night victory party, but the Judgment Seat of Christ.”
- Christian witness is more important than winning an election
Moore is at least equally concerned with Christian witness in the culture as he is the outcome of the election. He understands that no matter what – with Trump or Clinton – the next four years will have negative consequences, but he says, “The question is what sort of witness will we be able to bear in the aftermath.”
What do you think of this approach?