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.
While Baptists are not as monolithic a group as some would perceive them to be, and while Baptists never vote for a single candidate as a whole, usually it is clear which presidential candidate the majority of Baptists are going to back (in fact, many have thought for years that Baptists are in bed with the Republican party).
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.
Be sure to sign up for the Baptist21 panel Tuesday over lunch at the 2016 SBC in St. Louis where our panelists will discuss these and other pressing issues.
This post will feature the first position of three to be covered in this series.
Approach 1: Baptists should vote for Trump because he is the best (most electable) candidate and would make a great president.
This is the approach taken by Dr. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Jeffress has been a strong supporter of Trump. Jeffress told the Dallas Observer that he thinks, “[Trump] would make a great president of the United States.” Jeffress is so impressed by Trump that he told the Christian Post that Christians who do not vote for him if he gets the Republican nomination are “foolish” and “prideful.”
Based on these interviews, here are some lynchpins to his argument that Trump is the best candidate for president:
- Donald Trump is not Hillary Clinton
Jeffress thinks we need to do whatever it takes to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House (see more on this in Approach 2: the lesser of two evils). Jeffress says, “It is absolutely foolish to do anything that would allow Hillary Clinton to become the next President of the United States … at least Donald Trump has voiced a belief in a pro-life movement, he has at least talked about religious liberty…you don’t hear either things coming from the lips of Hillary Clinton.” While some people doubt how pro-life and conservative Trump is, Jeffress points out that, unlike Clinton, Trump at least claims to be pro-life.
- Vote for the Republican nominee out of principle
In connection with the previous point, Jeffress seems to argue that Christians should vote for whomever the Republican nominee is when he says, “I believe any Christian who would sit at home and not vote for the Republican nominee … that person is being motivated by pride rather than principle and I think it would be a shame for people to allow Hillary Clinton four or eight years in the White House.”
- Trump is the best leader and the most electable
Jeffress makes the argument that Christians do not have to vote for a Christian candidate. After all, he voted for Mormon candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 over a professing Christian in President Obama. He argues “A candidate’s faith is certainly one consideration for choosing the candidate for who they are going to vote. It is not the only consideration.” After all, he points out that evangelicals overwhelmingly supported former actor Ronald Reagan over Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher Jimmy Carter. The reason being that Reagan “possessed the quality evangelicals felt like was most important and that is leadership.”
Jeffress thinks the criteria for choosing a candidate is: his faith, his character, his leadership ability, and his electability. Now, Trump’s faith and character have come into question, but what Jeffress majors on is Trump’s leadership and electability. First, Trump has demonstrated the ability to run something unlike other politicians. He thinks Trump is a proven leader who will be decisive. He says, “I think a lot of people are attracted to Trump’s temperament. They want somebody who is decisive and somebody who is actually determined to take care of the problems that we feel are pressing the nation. A couple weeks ago, Max Lucado, a very respected Christian, wrote an op-ed denouncing Trump because of his tone and because of his vocabulary. When I’m looking for a leader who’s gonna sit across the negotiating table from a nuclear Iran, or who’s gonna be intent on destroying ISIS, I couldn’t care less about that leader’s temperament or his tone or his vocabulary. Frankly, I want the meanest, toughest son of a gun I can find. And I think that’s the feeling of a lot of evangelicals. They don’t want a Casper Milquetoast as the leader of the free world.”
Finally, while the jury is still out on whether or not Trump is electable – given the unfavorability ratings he has among some groups – Pastor Jeffress argues that Trump is the most electable candidate. That is why he didn’t throw his support behind Ted Cruz because he thinks Cruz is too far right to get elected. Jeffress says, “I could very well be wrong about that, but I’m just saying that electability is one of the factors I would look at.” What do you think of this approach?