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.
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.
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.