To Vote, or Not to Vote

Evangelicals Disagree

President Franklin D. Roosevelt is reported to have said, “Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”  I agree.  I also agree that the upcoming presidential election presents one of the most difficult choices for American voters in history.  With that understanding, I have seen many Christians struggling with what to do on November 8th.  Even on this blog, there has been a variety of positions on what is the right thing to do.  For most evangelical Christians, Secretary Hillary Clinton stands for and has stood for political positions that run counter to Biblical principle.  She has attacked the notion of “religious liberty” when it comes to holding positions that run counter to liberal political orthodoxy.  This was apparent in her recent speech to the Human Rights Campaign.  I have heard some compelling arguments related to the Democratic Party’s concern for poverty issues, race issues, and the environment from Evangelicals, but while those issues are important, I have often found that the means Democrats seek to use to address them to not only be problematic biblically, but also lacking when considered in light of historical, economical, sociological, or ethical factors.

 

 

voting

There are some Evangelicals arguing that Christians ought to vote for Sec. Clinton.  Thabiti Anyabwile has written in support of this notion on The Gospel Coalition’s webpage.  While he is thoughtful in his argument, I believe most Evangelicals will not be convinced.    First, he says Sec. Clinton has the experience to be president.  Second, he finds her predictable whereas Mr. Trump is not.  In short, he prefers the status quo over what he calls a potential “revolution.”  Finally, he lists the litany problems with Trump including his vitriolic response to inquisitors, his pejorative comments on women and minorities, and his general arrogance.  I found it interesting that he mentioned Trump’s equivocation on abortion, a legitimate critique, but not when one is making the argument to vote for an opponent who has unequivocally supported the practice.  More compelling was his concern about Trump’s foreign policy, but unfortunately, there was not much more.  His support of the status quo was very intriguing to me given that it simply is not sustainable.  In short, the crux of his argument was an anti-Trump argument not a pro-Clinton argument.

On the other side, Wayne Grudem has argued that Evangelicals should vote for Trump.  While recognizing Trump’s many failures, he noted that all candidates are fallen and that some of the charges against him have been overblown by the media.  In a comparison with Sec. Clinton, Grudem finds Trump more palatable.  Referencing Jeremiah 29:7, Grudem notes that Christians ought to seek the welfare of the nation, and Trump will be better for the nation than Clinton.  He concludes with a brief discourse on a long list of issues, arguing that the Republican platform is more in line with biblical principle than the Democratic platform.

Interestingly, both Anyabwile and Grudem rule out not voting as an option.  Both note that we cannot absolve ourselves of evil by doing nothing, even if we think both candidates are evil.  Some might maintain a clear conscience by stepping out and not participating, but Anyabwile says, “ [I] would feel more trouble of conscience in acquiescing to a political quietism given the choices than I do in voting against someone.”  Grudem cites Obadiah 1:11 where Obadiah rebuked the Edomites for doing nothing while evil prevailed.  Interestingly, the evil that both are talking about is not the same evil.  Do they then cancel each other out?  Many would like to wash their hands of this great mess, and I can understand that sentiment.   Our primary election system is failing us rather dramatically in producing quality presidential candidates.  (Perhaps our Founding Fathers knew something we did not.)  It is enough to make one want to join the homesteaders up in Alaska and escape all of this, but alas, the long arm of government closed off that escape long ago.

Some Suggest Voting for a Third Party Candidate

Some Evangelicals suggest that voting for a third party candidate can be an important expression of preference for the two major parties.  I get this concept and there is some truth to the notion that third party movements impact the two parties.  I would take issue with the idea that one needs to vote for such a movement, however, in order to impact the two major parties.  The very notion that they exist causes the two major parties to take notice and to seek to entice their potential voters with platform revisions.  We saw this in the Progressive Era (1900-1915 or so) when both the Republican and Democratic Parties adopted Populist Party ideas in their platforms.

My friend and fellow Berean, Dr. Haymond, posted a video entitled “Voting Schmoting” in which a Public Choice expert called into question whether our vote really matters.  I believe that our vote does matter.  The presidential election of 1976 between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford was quite close.  It is estimated that a shift of 100,000 votes, or approximately one vote per precinct in the country, would have changed the outcome.  More important in my mind, however, is the responsibility we have as citizens in this country.  The vote is a precious right, one that had to be fought for and one that should not be taken lightly.  Perhaps I am being too pragmatic, but our system is built for two parties.  It is designed to perpetuate those two parties and as a result, a vote for a third party has consequences that cannot be ignored.

Some Suggest Not Voting At All

Other Evangelicals have rightly noted Trump’s many flaws and I cannot argue that Trump is a good candidate.  I do think that Grudem has a point regarding some of the accusations about him, however.  Many pundits have called Trump xenophobic, for example, because of his plans to enforce immigration laws and build a wall, but those accusations are embedded more in political rhetoric than in evidence that he fears foreigners.  Yes, he has been careless in his comments in some moments, but if carelessness is a reason not to vote for someone, Sec. Clinton’s carelessness with her classified emails should surely rule her candidacy out.  Trump’s platform statement on the issue does not suggest he is xenophobic.    46% of Americans want to build a wall.  Are they all xenophobic?  I do not think so.  What all Americans learned on 9/11 is that there are some in this world that want to do America harm.  While perhaps less important, having over 11 million undocumented aliens in the country calls into question the rule of law.  Something has to change.  A country that cannot, or will not, control its borders will not long survive.  We have to be able to discuss important issues in this country without short-circuiting dialogue by throwing around pejoratives.  Immigration is only one issue in which this tactic is used by the political left in the current election.  But I digress.

The result for many Evangelicals is to conclude that since they cannot support Sec. Clinton, and Trump is so badly flawed, they should not vote.  I am reticent to embrace the no vote option.   Currently, the Democratic Party is the majority party.  As a result, if someone tends to vote Republican and does not vote or votes for a third party, their vote has a residual benefit for the Democratic candidate.  I get the critique that suggesting that not voting or voting for a third party is actually a vote for the opposition party is self-defeating as it could apply to both sides, but it is more complicated than it seems.  When the two parties do not have comparable support, it is only true for the side with a smaller base.  No historian or political scientist worth her salt would argue that Teddy Roosevelt’s run as a third party candidate in 1912 had no impact on William Howard Taft’s chances for the presidency.  Between the two of them, they gained 50.6% of the vote to Woodrow Wilson’s 41.8% who won the election.

Finally, there are very compelling arguments against voting for Mr. Trump.  Evangelicals rightly worry about the impact on the Christian witness if the evangelical community mindlessly and uncritically supports Trump.  I agree, and though I plan to vote for Trump, I would never suggest that Trump is something he is not.  He does not represent the quintessential candidate from a Republican perspective, and he certainly does not represent the ideal candidate from a Christian perspective.   Christians who plan to vote for him must be circumspect in how they publicly support him, but that does not mean they cannot vote for him.  If voting for an imperfect candidate invalidates our witness, then we could never vote for anyone.  For those who cannot bring themselves to vote based on the candidate, I encourage them to vote based on the platforms.  My evaluation of policy positions is predicated on biblical truth, and in the platforms, I find much more clarity in this election.  Fortunately, our system does not give the president carte blanche.   He or she must work with Congress and can be checked by the Supreme Court.  Within the parties, there are means that can be used to encourage the president to implement the platform.  Neither of these systems is perfect, but it does provide some assurance of what a candidate will pursue as president.

Conclusion

In the end, I believe we have a stewardship responsibility to vote.  It is a right and a privilege.  In a democratic system, the imperatives on government apply in some sense on voters.   If we bear some responsibility for implementing justice as we see mandated to government in Romans 13, then we need to be about pursuing justice.  The means at our disposal is voting.  Not voting makes a statement, but it does not allow us to wash our hands of responsibility for the outcome.  For most evangelicals, not voting will have the unintended consequence of benefitting the Democratic candidate.  There are plenty of options for Evangelicals to address their concerns with the Republican candidate.  They can communicate with the party through letters, calls, and leveraging financial support.  In addition, should Mr. Trump be elected, they can work to keep him accountable to the party platform.  Not voting in the presidential election may result in some not voting at all. That would be the worst case scenario.  Even if one cannot bring oneself to vote in the presidential campaign, there is no reason to not vote in congressional, state, and local races.

I do not pretend to have the solution to our current conundrum and I respect my fellow Evangelicals in their arguments.  I just think we cannot step back and wring our hands.  Doing so has consequences.  We bear responsibility for those consequences.  I do not know that it will make a difference, but gauging whether or not my action will or will not make a difference cannot absolve me of responsibility.  I have not been able to whole-heartedly support a candidate in my vote for many years.  This year will not be any different, but the system is designed to provide some checks and balances.  We do not know what kind of president Mr. Trump will be, but we know what kind of president Sec. Clinton will be.   I can make a principled case for many of the Republican platform positions.  I cannot do that with the Democratic platform positions.  In the end, that is what will impact my voting decision.  It is a stewardship responsibility I cannot ignore.

36 thoughts on “To Vote, or Not to Vote”

  1. “We do not know what kind of president Mr. Trump will be, but we know what kind of president Sec. Clinton will be. I can make a principled case for many of the Republican platform positions. I cannot do that with the Democratic platform positions. In the end, that is what will impact my voting decision. It is a stewardship responsibility I cannot ignore.”

    Thank you Dr. Mach for saying so clearly what I think but have myself been unable to find the right way to say it. Goes for the whole post, but especially the last paragraph. :)

      1. Clinton doesn’t terrify me. I simply prefer Trump over her. Two key words: “Policy differences”.

      2. Two key questions:

        1. How can you have any confidence in Trump’s policy?

        2. How does the mere possibility of Trump’s policy aligning with yours outweigh his numerous lies, racist statements, grotesque comments, and all-around-bad-character?

      3. 1. It’s more of a question of whose policies I have the least confidence in and for me the answer is Clinton. I don’t trust either of them, I simply distrust Trump least.
        2. It just does. You obviously disagree, and that’s fine. Maybe we see Trump a bit differently or take some of the things he has said differently, or maybe weigh things differently, I don’t know. I admit Trump is far from perfect but I would just ask you to respect that for me “it does” and I will respect that for you “it doesn’t”.

        :)

      4. 1. What polices of Trump’s are you most confident about, and why?

        2. I don’t think I’ve communicated any disrespect. And yes, we clearly see things quite differently.

      5. No, you haven’t communicated any disrespect. I didn’t mean to suggest you had. :)

        As far as policy… I think it would probably take a post rivaling the length of a full article to fully expound the “whats” and “whys”. I am not trying to be flippant or anything, I am just trying to avoid getting into lengthy back and forths as I have been wont to do in the past.

        But since you asked, I will give a few examples:
        I like several of his healthcare proposals such as HSAs, allowing insurance purchase across State lines, etc. Giving States and individuals more freedom to tailor what is best for their specific situation is also something he supports that I believe would be beneficial. I also support his proposals for VA reform.

        I also support a number of his positions on corporate regulations and taxes. The US has the third highest rate in the world (behind Chad and the UAE) and that needs to come down. I believe that, if anything, will be a major factor in keeping companies in the US and helping the job situation (which will also lessen the desire for protectionist policies that I tend to oppose).

        I could mention several more but like I said above, to fully get into it would require much more time and space.

  2. Dr. Mach – Thanks for writing out your thoughts. Two questions for you (same as what I wrote Dr. Clauson)! :)

    1. Would your choice be any different if Bernie Sanders were the DNC nominee? Or Joe Biden?

    2. Conversely, what would a GOP nominee need to do or say in order to lose your support in a national election like this?

    1. It’s extremely foolish but I’m still hoping for Biden 2016. I find that false hope is the best course of action. To actually face reality right now would be to step into depression.

      I’m mostly joking. But I am honestly sad that we have five unelectable candidates to choose from.

      I want to vote for the candidate that won’t destroy the country. Can we get a pet rock in office?

  3. “I can make a principled case for many of the Republican platform positions. I cannot do that with the Democratic platform positions.”

    As a lifelong independent, I support some of the GOP platform positions, as I do many of the Democratic party platform positions, but are you saying that cannot support ANY of the Democratic platform positions in 2016?

    Not one?

  4. Thank you for this informational article. It’s always nice to hear all our options. I just can’t see myself voting for Sec. Clinton because I know she’s a liar. For me, Trump is a lot of nonsense talk but he is a man of action and I believe can be swayed compared to Sec. Clinton. As for third parties, I do want to believe and vote for them but I don’t know if it will have any real impact. This is definitely a tough election.

  5. Party platforms provide clarity?! So, it really didn’t matter to you WHO was running for either party…you would elect the Republican nominee REGARDLESS of what they say or do? What WOULD it take for you NOT to vote for the Republican nominee?

  6. Where is forgiveness that he who is without sin cast the first stone when people dump on Trump. They seem to forget it’s by Grace we all are forgiven that are believers. The other point I agree with your commentary is we have a right and freedom to vote. Not to vote is a vote for continued down fall of America.

    1. That genuinely makes no sense. It is possible to give “grace” to a person and still hold them accountable for their actions. And besides, I would imagine you’re not quite so willing to give “grace” to Secretary Clinton and her mistakes and moral failures. Or am I wrong?

    2. When did Trump apologize or ask forgiveness? If anything, he doubles down on bluster and ignorance. He is like the guy in over his head and asks for an anchor instead of a life preserver.

      Did you check out the sex tape that the Donald tweeted about at 3 am?

      Why not?

  7. Thanks so much for not being afraid to go out and vote for an imperfect candidate, and to say why. It is a breath of fresh air.

    1. This is why I struggle to understand conservatives. Trump is merely an “imperfect” candidate? For Christians?

      This is the same man who recently encouraged his followers to check out a sex tape, who talks about women and minorities and handicapped persons with extreme disdain, who lacks any measure of character, who misrepresents his charitable actions and misuses donations, and who lies repeatedly.

      Why Grudem, and why commentators here, describe his flaws as mere “imperfections” is just BEYOND me. Christians need more men, like Phillip Yancey, willing to speak truthfully about this man.

      “I am staggered that so many conservative or evangelical Christians would see a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs,” explained Yancey. “I can understand why maybe you choose these policies that you support, but to choose a person who stands against everything that Christianity believes as the hero, the representative, one that we get behind enthusiastically is not something that I understand at all.”

      http://www.christianpost.com/news/philip-yancey-dumbfounded-evangelicals-support-trump-who-stands-against-everything-that-christianity-believes-170126/

  8. Well stated, Tom! I agree we should vote—thoughtfully and prayerfully. It is certainly rational to vote based upon a party’s platform, vice presidential running mate, stance on SCOTUS nominations, et. al. even if we have misgivings about the presidential candidate. We can be very grateful for the checks and balances built into the political system our country espouses—-regardless of who will occupy this position. Thanks again.

    1. Alright, Lyle, let’s put your ideas to the test: if Bill Clinton were a conservative, running with the GOP, and had conducted himself in all the same ways – particularly with other women as a married man – would you still say the same thing? And if so, are you willing to criticize all of the outspoken Christians who condemned Clinton – according to them – solely on grounds of character rather than grounds of policy?

  9. Articles and comments such as these just baffle me. The mental gymnastics that are evidenced here in order to make an argument for Trump trouble me so much more deeply than someone who just admits…”I’m voting for Trump b/c I’m a Republican, I’m scared silly of Hillary, and I don’t know what else to do.” Although I would differ in opinion with them, at least I would appreciate the transparency. Rather, as this article/comments illuminates, we try to make what is rational/pragmatic the same as what is right; we use words like “misgivings about the candidate”, “nonsense”, and “not ideal” rather than “lifestyle antithetical to the gospel”, “lies”, and “unethical”. We highlight areas in which the media has perhaps over-reacted (xenophobia) while completely ignoring multitudes of areas in which the candidates own words and behavior have created the media stir in the first place (sexual impropriety, over sexualization of women for personal gain, personal attacks). We throw around words like “grace” and “forgiveness” without an apparent understanding of its theological significance and implications. We use silly arguments like “no candidate is perfect” and “voting is a responsibility” as if serious readers of this blog somehow got mixed up between Ted Cruz and the Holy Spirit and/or are unaware of our rights and privileges as citizens. We try to make the Supreme Court nominees the salient issue without really attempting to address the serious flaws in that position from a historical perspective…(https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/evangelical-history/2016/09/29/the-supreme-court-and-the-convoluted-case-for-trump/). If this is our best effort at integrating our faith into the public sector, I admit to feeling more discouraged than ever. I believe (hope??) that we can do better. There is no doubt that we (speaking of evangelicals) are in a difficult place this election year, but at the very least, we have to be more honest, critical, and thoughtful about ourselves and our positions if we ever hope to impact our culture. (And somebody ought to answer Anonymous because he/she has some great questions that maybe would help me better understand the perspective represented here too!)

  10. I agree completely! We are privileged to be able to vote and I don’t think it should be taken for granted. God has given us the ability to vote for leadership and we should take full responsibility of that. I am definitely not super excited to vote though, especially since this is my first election to vote in. I really appreciate this article and feel that it will better help me decide who I should be casting my vote for!

  11. I think that Nathan D. makes his point excellently in relation to looking beyond the candidates to the policies and the platforms. I find it immensely humorous to listen to those supporting Clinton endeavoring to pick away at Trump’s character and unpredictability. Trump is an amazingly flawed candidate; yet, I do not think that the American public has ever seen such a morally and legally reprehensible political unity as that of the Clintons. How do we forget so easily? Voting for her goes so far beyond “holding the nose” as to render it impossible. With the Republican platform, we can at least find “hope” in some of its planks – something that is basically non-existent in that of the Democratic party. Excellent article Dr. Mach with good analysis by Nathan D.

    1. Robert, why in the world would you believe that Trump will do anything he’s said he will do? Trump lies about things that are so obviously verified, AND he lies about things that will never be verified because they never happened. And you’re hoping upon hope that’s he going to be honest and do what he said he will do? On what basis can you possibly have that hope?

      And how on earth can you claim that Clinton – who’s never been charged of any crime – is *worse* than Trump (who has been charged with several)? I mean, Clinton’s no angel, but Trump is worse in both the quantity and quality of his dishonesty, biogtry, etc.

      And for the record, people like me don’t really have to pick away at anything regarding Trump…we simply have to restate his own words. It’s more like uppercuts and knock out punches rather than jibs and jabs.

  12. My husband and I have just returned from attending an American Family Association Seminar held at The Cove. This is indeed an organization of Christian believers that endeavors to uphold in culture that which is right, true, and good according to Scripture, motivates people to take a stand on cultural and moral issues at the local, state and national levels, and encourages Christians to bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ as they live their lives before the world. I had determined before attending this conference that it was necessary to vote for Donald Trump in spite of his imperfections. Listening to Tim Wildmon and other speakers whose mission is to activate individuals to strengthen the moral foundations of American culture and give aid to the church here and abroad in its task of fulfilling the Great Commission, I felt great confirmation concerning my decision to vote for Donald Trump. We were informed that he has surrounded himself with several known conservatives for advice. His stand on abortion alone makes him the candidate of choice. To vote for Clinton is to endorse abortion. To not vote is refusing to assume one’s responsibility. As I read Tom Mach’s well thought out comments and the comments of Robert C. Mach and Lyle Anderson, I thank God for the support of others whose decisions have been based on clear thinking as a result of much prayer. Lyle Anderson’s comment concerning the vice presidential candidate is well taken, as it is comfort to know a true believer will be at Trump’s side. This itself gives us HOPE. Thanks, Tom, for providing me with further confirmation !

    1. DMK – I have to admit that this is one of the saddest and most discouraging blog comments I have read in a long time, and that’s saying something.

  13. I don’t think Dr. Haymond was questioning whether or not our voting matters. Instead, he was saying that it does matter, to the extent that it expresses our preferences, and not to the extent that it could single-handedly change an election. As a result, I agree with him.

  14. I do agree that we have a responsibility to vote and to try to pick out the lesser of two evils, but sometimes its very hard to see which candidate is a lesser evil. I thought Mr. Trump was the lesser, but the more I hear about him the more I wonder. Keep writing the articles! That way, in the very least, I’ll have heard the issues considered a bit more.

  15. I quibble with a few of your points and generalizations (I don’t believe our government was set up for 2 political parties. I think George Washington’s farewell address has something to say about that), but as a whole, I appreciate your thoughts. I’m having a hard time finding a balance between Dr. Haymond’s post about voting for a third-party and your counterargument. However, I felt as though there were far fewer generalizations in his stance, so until I understand (because I’m sure I don’t) the specifics, I will continue to wrestle with who to choose.

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