With nothing but truly awful choices in this year’s presidential election, what should Evangelical Christian voters do?
During the Republican nominating contests, we, the editors of The Christian Post, encouraged Evangelicals to back away from Donald Trump. It was the first time we had taken a position on a political candidate. Given Trump’s claims that he speaks for and represents the interests of Evangelicals, we thought it was important to take a position during the primaries, given Trump’s potentially fatal flaws.
Now that the Republican Party has chosen Trump as its nominee, we, like Evangelicals across the country, are split on whether to support Trump in the general election.
While we will not endorse any candidate in this election, here are several factors we believe Evangelicals should prayerfully consider when thinking about what to do on Election Day.
First, Evangelicals should not vote for Hillary Clinton.
She supports taxpayer-funded abortion for any reason until the moment of birth. Given the importance of valuing life, this position alone is sufficient for an Evangelical Christian to disqualify her for the presidency.
But there’s more.
Clinton has repeatedly not told the truth. Throughout her public career she has been disturbingly unmoved when caught making demonstrably false statements, a pattern that continues to this day. Her emails, made public by court order, show she even lied to the parents of fallen heroes after the Benghazi attack, and later accused one grieving mother of not telling the truth.
As Secretary of State she shared top-secret information on her private, unsecured server, all to keep her records from public view (an act which she also denies). People have gone to jail for doing less. She should have been prosecuted for these offenses. That she wasn’t prosecuted illustrates what Trump, and many others, have been saying — the system is rigged to protect the wealthy and well connected. Her callous approach to our nation’s security — putting her own interests above those of the nation — is also disqualifying.
No doubt, Evangelicals are looking at third party options.
Given the difficult choices before us, this is not a surprise. But the main third party candidates, Gary Johnson for the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein for the Green Party, are also unacceptable.
While we disagree with libertarians on gay marriage, a true libertarian can be counted on to defend our religious freedom. Freedom of association is a bedrock principle for libertarians. As many have pointed out, though, Johnson is no libertarian. He’s an economic conservative and social liberal who doesn’t support religious freedom for conservative Christians.
Johnson supports the use of government force against Christian business owners who decline to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony and Catholic nonprofits that decline to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients. In one interview where he was asked about these two issues, he condescendingly referred to religious freedom as a “black hole.” We’re not sure what that means, but it doesn’t sound encouraging. Plus, in an op-ed for Deseret News “clarifying” his views on religious freedom, he repeated the false and damaging narrative that opponents of same-sex marriage are akin to racists.
While there may be a few areas of common ground with Stein, such as Common Core and immigration reform, she is much too liberal on a host of issues that should concern Evangelicals. She supports abortion rights, and her ideas about ending all fossil fuel consumption and vastly expanding the welfare state would have disastrous effects on the economy, hurting the poor and vulnerable the most.
(Side note: We do support having Johnson and Stein in the debates. The debate commission would do a disservice to our deliberative democratic process by excluding them.)
We believe the only options Evangelicals should consider are to vote for Trump or to cast a protest ballot.
Those who choose the not-Trump option must still vote. There will be other races on the ballot. Besides the entire U.S. House and one-third of the U.S. Senate, many state and local elections will be decided on that day. The not-Trump voters could signal their protest by voting for a write-in candidate or leaving that race blank while making selections for the rest of the ballot. Never-Trumpers might even have a ‘protest vote’ candidate on the ballot in their state.
This is a morally valid option. Indeed it must be considered a valid option, lest Evangelicals be considered a “cheap date” to politicians. If you don’t want politicians who woo you before the election only to ignore you after the election, you must signal your willingness to walk away.
Why should Evangelicals consider voting for Trump?
Politics is inherently a transactional act. Trump is offering Evangelicals something in exchange for their vote.
“Vote for me,” Trump is in effect saying, “and I will give you Supreme Court picks and abolish the Johnson Amendment.”
This is a tempting offer.
With one current vacancy and several justices seemingly near retirement, a few good Supreme Court picks can have a dramatic effect. It could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade and/or allowing states to outlaw abortion, or even the legal recognition of the scientific fact that life begins at conception.
The four liberals on the court have been on the wrong side of some, but not all, important religious freedom cases. More justices like them, which Clinton would assuredly appoint, would likely accelerate the current trend of using government power to punish Christians who seek to live according to their faith and to marginalize Christianity in the public square.
There is also the potential to eventually overturn the court’s redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Marriage is an important issue, important enough that we should have a public debate on how it should be defined and let our most representative institutions — legislatures — decide.
On a range of issues, the court has behaved like an unelected oligarchy rather than a neutral arbiter of the law.
This change alone would be a tremendous victory for Christians and the nation.
If you choose to accept Trump’s offer, however, don’t be deluded about the man you could be putting into the Oval Office.
Trump has questionable moral character — he has demeaned women, Mexicans, Muslims and the disabled; he has bragged about his sexual exploits and broken his marriage vows; he blurts out comments constantly and then denies saying the things he said (on tape); he said he supports torture and killing innocent family members of terrorists; when challenged, he deflects the issues by rudely attacking his opponents, often with untrue claims; he intentionally incites racial animosity and violence for his own political ends; and he’s so impulsive that he resorted to attacking the grieving parents of a fallen war hero.
Trump is entirely unprepared to fulfill the duties of president — he’s ignorant about basic economics and foreign policy; he has professed affinity for President Vladimir Putin, who seeks to restrict the religious freedom of Russian Christians, who invaded Ukraine and supports war criminal Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Trump’s support for the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons could lead to a global disaster and suffering unlike the world has ever witnessed.
Still, if not Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton will be our next president. That’s what makes this decision so difficult.
Some Evangelicals go beyond reluctantly supporting Trump as the “lesser of two evils.” They argue Trump would be a good president, and some have even called him a “morally good choice.” We don’t question the motives of these Evangelicals, but we do question their wisdom. How can such a man be a good president? Conservative Christians had it right during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton when they said “character matters.”
Full-throated support for Trump after claiming all these years that character matters for a president only strengthens the stereotype of Evangelicals as hypocrites. This is why the support Trump has received from some Evangelicals this election season has been an embarrassment and harmful to our public witness.
Evangelicals who state publicly their support for Trump should only do so with a high degree of consternation in their voice, noting that the only reason they’re voting for a person who is so singularly inappropriate for the office is that the alternative is so much worse.
Lastly, we encourage you to join us in praying for our nation. Absent some unforeseen circumstance, the next leader occupying the highest governmental office in the country will be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. God help us.
Richard Land is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and executive editor of The Christian Post.