At St Bartholomew’s, my second parish, we celebrated Fr Charlie Martin’s 20 years of service while Bp Dorsey McConnell was there to visit. At St Francis we enjoyed a typical Sunday service. But we both, once again, focused on Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector who prayed in the temple. Either way, we all need divine forgiveness, as well as a genuinely penitent heart to seek it out.
Prayer is still on the table, as Jesus only gets thanked 10% of the time. Faithful, humble prayer can heal us inside and out, but if we don’t show gratitude, just what kind of recipient of God’s good gifts are we?
One of the challenges I never had to face in any serious manner until this year has been keeping my politics private and spurring my flock to vote with an informed conscience. Not only does this keep the IRS happy (no church/state problems), but it gives people the freedom to grow in Christ without worrying whether their politics are somehow the linchpin about whether they are faithful. Answers to societal problems proposed by candidates are rarely black-and-white, so liberty to interact ethically without human judgmentalism is essential to healthy spiritual development. Besides, in the recent past, political differences were never so vast as to threaten the very foundation of Christian ethics.
But now, there are candidates that conscientious people of solid Christian faith argue are so flawed as to be unelectable. In the past I have made clear here the difficulties I see with one candidate. Then I came across a recent post by megachurch pastor clearly advocating for the very same person I find beyond the pale of ethically responsibility for a faithful Christian to consider. In reading his blatant support for Trump, I realized the bulk of his arguments were problematic. Let me respond to his numbered points. (Please note, he makes 18 of them, so buckle up, it’s a long ride!)
Party platforms, are they important? Christians of good conscience have been able to support either Democratic or Republican party platforms. That has always been the case, and this year is no exception. Contentious issues often revolve around the perceived lack of compassion for the poor among Republicans, while the Democrats have often been seen as characterized as unethical in supporting abortion rights and gay marriage. Party platforms have been variously embraced or portions deemphasized/dispensed with as particular politicians saw fit to reach out to their local constituency. Both parties care about the disenfranchised but with different approaches to economics (which on the grand scale of economic theories are not very far apart). Neither party endorses either full run by the government like Soviet communism, nor the kind of anarchy and greed that some corporations try to pass off as capitalism. Both parties have hawks and pacifists, isolationists and interventionists in their midst. In the end we need to vote according to the character and track record of those running, not necessarily their political associates.
Does personality type matter? No. Does genuine character matter? Yes. Whether someone is blatant or secretive doesn’t matter. Whether someone is repentant or not does. In this regard, you can strike potentially count as a strike against both major party candidates, as the pundits do incessantly. Besides, who you feel you can out with at a birthday party (or who you can make headway with in pastoral counseling, as the case may be) versus who can actually build quality relationships with foreign leaders in order to secure a peaceful and prosperous world are two different things.
It’s pretty sucky form to pull in your deceased spouse as a political human shield to prove a point. The one who disagrees with you is thus forced to look like a patent douchebag. But let’s consider the point made about the “unknown” vs. the “known.” What do we know about the respective candidates. We know the Democrat has a long track record in the political world as the wife of a President, a Senator, and as Secretary of State, plus as joint founder/leader of a charitable organization that has done yeoman’s work in making a positive impact to treat AIDS around the globe. The Republican has a track record of being perceived as a good businessman and as a celebrity reality show star. Known strikes for the Democrat are a philandering husband (not her fault), a problematic preparation and response to a diplomatic tragedy in a hostile part of the world, and a ridiculously unnecessary security snafu regarding government emails. Opponents have tried to fan the flames of these troubles into something akin to legal malfeasance, but nothing has been found to rise to the level of a prosecutable offense. Both have had dealings in bad real estate deals. Known strikes against the Republican are multitudinous “pants-on-fire” lies on record, demonstrable allegations of bad business practice (usually settled out of court), accusations of philandering (overshadowed in a sexually free society), multiple divorces and remarriages (especially if one claims traditional marriage a virtue), failed businesses (from a “financial genius”), legal tricks to obtain economic advantage that leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths, demonstrably illegal intermingling of personal, charitable, and political money transfers, and the never-ending barrage of famously bigoted and misogynistic statement. Unknowns for the Democrat: Where are the emails? Does it matter since the overwhelmingly vast majority have proven not to be classified? Will she get overconfident and stick her foot in her mouth? Will she push a “liberal agenda,” and does it matter if that’s what the American public wants? Unknowns for the Republican: Will he respect the constitution? Will he allow personal grudges overwhelm common sense? Will he use nuclear weapons in a moment of spite? Will he really institute draconian, even fascist measures to “enforce the law” that are no better than expanded institutional racism? Both the unknowns and the knowns seem worse for the Republican in my book.
Is the difference really between a scandalous candidate versus a merely publicly inconsiderate one? Supporters on both sides diminish the sins of their favorite and exaggerate the sins of their opponent. One person’s malfeasance then simply becomes another person’s scandal. The Trump-endorsing pastor somehow is of the opinion that the “[t]he scandals just don’t stop” for Hillary. Yet he concedes Trump has string of sinful things he has done and said both past and present. And it seems that trend hasn’t abated for all the claims of a supposed string of Clintonian scandals. I’d be curious to know if he believes some sins are worse than others. Most Christians hold that sin is sin in God’s eyes and requires the grace of Christ to be forgiven. Yet in practice, most Christians hold to a tacit belief that some sins are worse than others in their societal effect. Thus, the question is not one of scandalousness but of effect. Clinton’s misdeeds seem to indicate issues that arguably threaten national security. Trump’s misdeeds seem to indicate issues that threaten personal civil liberty in addition to national security. Neither is great, but Trump’s got two strikes instead of just one on that tack.
Trump is supposedly “surrounded by increasingly good people.” Earlier, I advocated that candidates be judged qualified by their own merits, not those of their compatriots in politics. I stand by that statement. But one can question whether the reluctant support of current party bigwigs and the complete abandonment by the whole line of living former Presidents constitutes being “surrounded by increasingly good people.” The claim is illegitimate to make from my perspective, and questionable if you accept its legitimacy.
He claims (without citation) that Trump is “right” on 75% of the issues and Clinton is wrong on 100%. So the government shouldn’t address racial injustice, sound education for all children, access to affordable healthcare, the various threats to our national security, campaign finance reform, and keeping a strong national defense? Is Trump’s support of the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” police tactic and his support of a border wall with Mexico (when most “illegal aliens” are crossing through Canada right now) part of the 75% of what is right or the 25% of what he is patently wrong about? What issues has he addressed with detail sufficient enough to even make a comparison with?
Here’s the kicker: this pastor cites “globalism” (whatever that is?) as a demonic idea/force/thing that supposedly Clinton supports but Trump opposes. As best as I can tell, he means the view that some cabal of secret power-brokers inspired by the devil to form a one-world government in preparation for the anti-Christ. The recipe for that cocktail is 1 part conspiracy theory, 1 part dispensational premillennialism, 2 parts conjecture, and a dash of fear-mongering. History is replete with people speculating who or how some anti-Christ or tribulation might happen. None have panned out. Dispensationalism has only been around since the 1800s, plus it depends on an externally-imposed matrix of belief upon selected Bible quotes instead of being drawn naturally and exegetically from the whole of Scripture. So it’s of questionable orthodoxy to many Christians. The conjecture comes in by twice over by assuming one’s favorite supports your belief, while one’s opposition does not. Then the moment you call something demonic, you’ve made a theology into a ghost (just in time for Halloween, too!). The Bible however, does support a kind of globalism: that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord, that he is the Lamb of God who died for the sins of the whole world, and that Jesus will reign over a new heavens and new earth forever and ever. To a Muslim that does sound pretty demonic.
He discounts not voting as “not viable.” Sorry, fellow Anabaptist brothers and sinners, your conscientious objection to participation in worldly politics has been deemed “not viable.” A system in which voting is compulsory is not what the U.S. has. Freedom means the freedom to abstain as much as the freedom to choose. I may think not voting is a bad idea, but to call it “not viable” discounts the faithful practice of many Christians by conscience, and to deny the right of fellow Americans, Christian or not, to stay out of a fight they don’t want to be a part of.
Voting 3rd is a throw-away. Again, personal opinions do not count. The right to vote is enshrined in our baseline legal processes. It is up to the individual’s conscience to decide whether it is a throw-away. Statistically it may not help the cause of keeping your most disliked candidate out of office. But it does effectively demonstrate one’s dissatisfaction with all the other choices. If you are voting as a statement of your beliefs, regardless of the outcome, this argument is silly. If you’re vote is a strategic move to keep someone out you dislike most, then it may have some validity.
Trump is touted as “pro-life,” while Clinton is demeaned as “pro-baby killing.” One can argue Trump is only concerned about the issue of abortion because it is politically expedient. One can clearly argue Clinton isn’t “pro-baby killing,” or else she wouldn’t be a grandmother. There is a difference between holding that all life is sacred therefore one shouldn’t abort an unborn baby and considering someone “pro-life.” I know plenty of fellow anti-abortion Christians who believe in the death penalty and are hawkish on matters of national security. I likewise know plenty of pro-choice Christians whose hearts break when they hear of women who abuse Roe v. Wade as an excuse to obliterate an unwanted pregnancy for selfish reasons–having nothing to do with a saving one life instead of losing two, a traumatic rape, or addressing the sad reality of how to care for a life that may only live a few weeks outside the womb. Life is rarely as simple as the ethical choices we face in the moment. We may sin. We may make mistakes. But God has created a world where such freedom exists, for good or for ill. Our legal attempts to make sense of that freedom while stemming the most egregious of malfeasance needs to show that same kind of compassion. Calling names and suspecting ill of those with whom we disagree is no way to accomplish that. It’s one thing to like one candidate’s stance on this important issue. It’s another to smear the other candidate with whom we disagree.
The pastor claims Trump wants to defend our country (he better!) while Clinton is “beholden to those who want us dead.” The latter part is a specious claim at best. The supposed tit for tat re: the Clinton Foundation donations and favors for foreign leaders (who happen to be from a part of the world, as the pastor implies, where America’s stated enemies reside [but even there only a minority of people support such violent jihadist ideology]), is the same claim that can more credibly be made about illegal donations through the Trump charity to District Attorney campaigns where he hoped to avoid legal difficulties for his business. Any concurrence between State Department affairs and Clinton Foundation donations rise at most to the level of looking bad, not demonstrable illegal activity. Trump charity misspending, however, is being investigated currently by the State of New York.
Clinton is being accused of not understanding the gravity of the current American situation, whereas “Trump understands it is 11:59 on ‘the cultural clock.'” It don’t think Clinton is blind to the grave dangers we face. But there is a cultural change afoot. White privilege is being called on the carpet for what it is. Presuming America can be considered preeminent in the world without showing it cares for the world is now passe. America has done much good in the world. It has also caused a great deal of pain. We need to admit who we are in reality. Europe had to learn the lesson of their colonial misdeeds. We need to learn the lesson of our anti-communist overreach. What if the CIA didn’t undermine a democratically-elected leader in Iran by setting up the Shah? What if we recognized that the current borders of African and Middle Eastern countries do not represent the real demographic divisions of the world? There are plenty of past mistakes to say mea culpa for. But more importantly, how are we now helping to promote good solutions that not merely reflect our interest, but the interest of all.
As someone sympathetic to small government and fiscal responsibility, I have to call this one out. Neither candidate’s budget will take care of our current funding crisis. So let’s not pretend Trump is a fiscal conservative.
Now he claims things Trump has absolutely no interest in doing–tackling the “systemic evil” of crony capitalism and lobbyists. Trump spent the whole of his adult life as crony capitalist, building the system he purports to decry. Why change horses mid-stream? Clinton may not be an avowed enemy of Wall Street, she’s certainly not someone who essentially set up shop there.
Now the pastor reiterates the canard that Trump will stop “massive government overreach,” whereas Clinton will only make it worse. No citations to state why he believes this. No Trump policy exists that makes this explicit in hard numbers or demonstrable in past performance. I may not expect Clinton to stop government expansion, at least I won’t fool myself into thinking Trump will do so if a thoroughly Republican Congress didn’t this past decade.
Now comes the worry of the pastor about attacks on religious liberty. This is code language for the angst the bulk of Western Christianity feels as it loses credibility and influence in the society. The culture wars are one symptom of this angst. It’s highly unfair to cast American Christianity’s woes as a sign of threatened religious liberty. Let me know when the police shut down Skyline Church and force believers to meet in private homes for worship. Being “forced” to treat people equally in spite of your prejudice against their marriage, even for ostensibly religious reasons, is not grounds to claim loss of religious liberty. I can disagree with same-sex marriage, but I can still bake a gay couple a cake if I am a baker with no qualms of conscience.
Supreme Court appointments are loads of fun. Even generation is a new battle (since they serve life terms). Ostensibly, the judicial system is non-partisan, but partisans are asked to appoint them and confirm them. Some states elect their judges, but the federal bench does not function like that. The best way to address this is not with who is elected President but to amend the constitution to stipulate a time frame by which a justice is duly selected and seated, so everybody gets on board instead of plays the usual political games.
This is the only point where I can wholeheartedly agree with the pastor. Thus I quote him in full: “I make no excuse for wrongdoing or wrongful, hurtful words from either candidate. Candidly, I want King Jesus. He rules in my heart. And yours too, I suspect. And I want Him to rule here—now. But that day is not fully manifested—yet. In the meantime, we prayerfully, carefully navigate this challenging election season, with great concern that above all, we honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in every arena of our lives, including the voting booth. That is my hope. I believe it is yours as well.”
In serving two church’s, when the bishop is at one church, you still need to preach at the other. This provides a neat chance to compare and contrast how two different people approach the same Gospel lesson. The good thing to note, we both agree on the necessity of a vibrant faith and a deep sense of humility in following Jesus.