In case no one has told you, we have election coming up next Tuesday. Some people think it's a pretty big deal, so here are my pastoral guidelines for Christian citizens this time around.
First, Jesus is Lord. That is our whole political confession. Obviously, the implications of Christ’s lordship have to be worked out, but we are first and foremost not Republicans or Democrats but Christocrats. We believe Christ reigns. We believe Jesus is King. We believe all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to the incarnate Son of God. We do not worship elephants or donkeys; we worship the Lamb that was slain. We believe Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus holds the kingdoms of this world in the palm of his hand, to do with them as he wills. He is our Ruler and our Savior. We long for a society that conforms to his Word in all of life. We want to see him honored in every sphere. We do not put our trust in princes; we trust in the Prince of Peace (Ps. 118:9, 146:3; Isa. 9:6). We do not trust in horses, but in the Rider on the White Horse (Ps. 20:7; Rev. 19). Whatever else we may say about the upcoming election, this gospel truth is the fundamental reality we must always keep in mind. This is a truth that is not up for grabs on November 3. When you wake up on November 4, we may or may not have elected a new President, but we will most certainly have the same king: Jesus Christ.
Because Christ is Lord, his Bride, the church, is the central institution in history. Sure, the history textbooks will tell you far more about the activities of the state, but the church is always central. Any interpretation of history that does not center on the church is false. Civil elections are important in their own right, but they pale in comparison to the importance of what happens each Lord's Day when God's people gather for worship. The civil liberties we enjoy were not simply granted by the state to the church; they are the fruit of the church preaching the gospel to the state and thus transforming the culture. Many of the civil blessings we now take for granted are the result of the leaven of the gospel permeating the dough of Western civilization over the centuries. If we are concerned about the moral rot setting into our culture, the problem is not that we elected the wrong people. The problem is that the salt -- the people of God -- lost their saltiness. The political crisis that is the focus of so much attention today is really a symptom, not the cause, of the larger looming disaster we face. Our culture is spiraling downhill in Romans 1:18ff fashion not because of who we have chosen to rule us but because of who -- or what -- we have chosen to worship. If we want to restore our culture, it starts with repentance from our idolatry. John Calvin said that a nation generally gets the rulers it deserves. In our case, we might deserve even worse than what we have gotten. Our culture is immature and rebellious so it is not surprising that we see those same characteristics in our leaders. They are a microcosm of who we are. The only way forward is to turn back -- to turn back to the God of our fathers. This has to start with the church. Just as judgment begins with the people of God, repentance must begin with the people of God as well. This Christo-centric/ecclesio-centric framework sets the stage for everything else we have to say about 2020.
Second, we are really in a bad place as country. This is obvious, but we have to grasp the magnitude of the problem. Our elites are perhaps the dumbest in the history of Western civilization. Many of them are clueless about the very Constitution they have sworn to uphold; they do not understand basic economics or biology; they know embarrassingly little history, including the history that produced our nation. Our elites are almost certainly some of the most corrupt as well. In this election, the candidates in general leave a lot to be desired. But that does not mean the parties and their respective tickets are morally equivalent. If character is a major concern (as it should be), there is only one person on the top of either ticket with proven godliness and integrity, and that would be Mike Pence. If there is an opportunity to have someone of Pence’s quality near the center of power, we should not pass it up. I cannot see that Biden or Harris are morally superior to Trump in any way, even if their personalities or Twitter accounts are less obnoxious. Indeed, based on recent revelations, a case could be made that Biden is far, far more personally corrupt than Trump, as he has used his public office and political connections to make his family fabulously wealthy, at the expense of national security. The media’s opposition to Trump means his flaws and mistakes will always be reported, and almost always magnified; indeed, given the extent to which the media has lied about Trump for four years running, I think he has actually handled himself better than many of us would do under similar difficult circumstances. But the way the media covers for Democrats like Biden (and his son Hunter) makes it easy to overlook their problems; the reality is that Biden is a liar, a thief, a sexist, an abuser, a plagiarizer, and at least in the past a racist. Contrary to John Piper there is no reason to think the Democrats are the party of character in this election; indeed, when one considers that policies are really a function of character, I think the Democrats are sorely lacking. Whatever we think of Trump, there is certainly no one even remotely close to Pence’s caliber in Democrat party leadership. So if you are just looking at the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, trying to find a decent person to vote for, the choice is easy. Vote for Pence.
But I believe the key to wise voting in 2020 is found in comparing the party platforms and party trajectories more than the personalities of the candidates. While neither party is anywhere close to being fully Christian in its proposed policy objectives, one party is obviously much more hostile to the church than the other. This is how I would put it: for a Christian to vote Republican is an act of self-defense; for a Christian to vote Democrat is an act of self-harm. Why is voting Democrat an act of self-harm? Because the Democrats think all orthodox Christians (that’s people like you and me!) are bigots. “You believe that homosexuality is a sin? You are homophobic. You believe two men cannot get married? You are a hater. You believe only women can get pregnant? You are transphobic. You do not think of abortion as a form of health care and reproductive justice? You are a misogynist who wants to control women’s bodies. You want immigration laws enforced? You are a racist.” Do you really want to vote for your own enslavement? Do you want to vote for those who would silence your pastor, if given the power and opportunity to do so? There’s an old analogy: the Democrats are driving towards the cliff at 80 mph, the Republicans are driving towards the cliff as 50 mph. Frankly, I don’t want to go off the cliff at all, but if we are headed for a cliff anyway, I’d still prefer to have to more time to turn the car around, jump out of the car, or at least run into disaster at a slower speed. Electing Trump gives us those opportunities. Trump buys us time. Biden, by contrast, speeds up the process of national decay. If we want to be able lead peaceful and quiet lives (1 Tim. 2:2), Trump is the clear choice because he is far more likely to simply leave us alone. And I, for one, would like for the government to leave me alone. I do not expect churches to be left alone if Biden wins and the Democrats get their way.
In the past, I have recommended a threefold rule for the candidate who should get your vote. At a bare minimum:
Don’t ever vote for a pro-abortion candidate.
Don’t ever vote for a candidate who tries to bribe you with promises of free stuff.
Don’t ever vote for a candidate who is going to engage in social engineering to impose some ideology on us.
But some people believe this election is a little more complicated than most, so I will say a bit more. I am not going to try to build a comprehensive case for Trump in my own words here. Instead, I want to point to some articles I have found helpful over the last year or so, in contemplating how Christians can approach this election in wisdom and integrity. Here are some links to consider:
There have been several helpful articles responding to John Piper’s “moral equivalence” argument:
With Trump, it will always be difficult to sort out fact from fiction because the American mainstream media is no longer trustworthy. The same media that buried scandals involving the Clintons, Obama, and Biden has invented scandals for Trump. I believe Trump is owed a second term, in part because he has not really been allowed to have a first term. Democrats have spent the last 4 years trying to find all kinds of ways to contest and undermine the results of the 2016 election. What the Democrats did to the Trump administration is on par with the Watergate scandal, and yet the media has flipped the script. It seems that the Democrats have regularly accused Trump of doing the very things they are actually guilty of doing. While Trump's flaws (real and imagined) have been the focus of the media's narrative, his accomplishments are nevertheless not inconsiderable: peace treaties in the Middle East; a booming economy, with astonishingly low unemployment rates among minorities up until COVID; no new foreign wars and a commitment to get us out of long standing entanglements; new trade deals and a long overdue China policy that protect American workers and could (in the long run) produce something much closer to a global free market; rolling back some of the worst features of Obamacare, including the individual mandate and forcing nuns to pay for birth control against their religious convictions; a restrained approach to the lockdowns that respected state and local rule; opposition to the riots and looting, with the offer of federal help for cities that desired it; his appointment of numerous conservative judges; and so on. While Trump has been branded a racist, this is an unfair smear. His track record, friendships, and condemnations of white supremacy prove otherwise. No Christian will defend Trump's sexual history, but at least while he has been in office we have no credible accusations of indiscretions. Trump is far from the ideal candidate. He is no statesman. But in 2020, he is the best option we have.
It is certainly possible for me to imagine a Christian choosing not to vote for Trump because of the aforementioned character flaws. (Full disclosure: I did not vote for Trump in 2016, though I will this time around.) If there was a viable third party ticket with conservative candidates, I could see that being the way to go. But what I cannot comprehend is a Christian voting for Biden — or most any Democrat for any office at this point. I have read a lot of ostensibly conservative Christian leaders make their pitch for voting Democrat, and I just do not find the arguments convincing at all. The claim that Democrats are actually “comprehensively pro-life," in spite of being pro-abortion, because their polices help the poor, is simply false. To see what Democrat policies do to the poor, just look at those major American cities that have been under exclusive Democrat control for 40 or 50+ years. How has that worked out? Do you want the whole country to look like that? Democrat control of major American urban centers has been a complete disaster, creating horrendous dehumanizing cycles of crime, dependence, poverty, corruption, and violence. There is abundant evidence that Democrat policies actually harm the poor and minorities, especially by undermining the family and by strangling economic growth. But this is only part of the problem with the Democrat party as it exists today. The Democrats are the party that celebrates baby murder, unrestricted right up to the moment of birth (and maybe after birth in some cases); they are the party of genital mutilation for 8 year olds who think they are in the wrong body (and not even parents will have the right to stop their children from "transitioning" if the Democrats get their way); they are the party that wants to dilute the first and second amendments, as well as undo the electoral college; they are the party of the sexual revolution and the cultural revolution, including riots and looting; they are the anti-police, anti-law and order party, which has led to an explosion of violence and murder in many cities over the last several months; they are the party of identity politics and critical race theory, which will breed endless division in our nation; they are party pushing for socialism, which means more government intervention into the economy and fewer freedoms for the American people; they are the party of higher taxes which means more bloated government and less prosperity for working Americans as their hard earned money is stolen away; they are the party that sides with our technopolies, the mega-corporations that pose an even greater threat to our freedoms than the state; they are the party of radical environmentalism which would destroy America’s newfound energy independence and put an unbearable drag on the economy; and so on. They could also very easily become the party of persecution towards Christians. There is no question the Democrats will subject religious liberty to sexual “liberty” if possible — just look at the proposed Equality Act and Biden’s comments on transgenderism as the “civil rights issue of our time.” While Biden has tried to position himself as a more “moderate” Democrat to capture more votes, it seems rather obvious that the radical wing of the party will be pulling the strings if he gets elected. I am always open to conversation about this, but I cannot see a vote for the Democrats being justified on Christian grounds. However bad you think Trump is, Biden is objectively worse.
That being said, I think Christians who are voting Republican would be wise to temper their enthusiasm for Trump. We should not be beholden to any political party; our ultimate loyalty to Christ and his church relativizes any loyalty we have to a political party or leader. While I believe Trump genuinely loves America, is genuinely pro-life, and has tried his best to make good on his promise to appoint constitutionalist judges, I do not think he really qualifies as a conservative. He wants to “drain the swamp,” but he is committed to many of the same statist policies (e.g., stimulus packages and bailouts) that drew the swamp creatures in in the first place. While he seems ready to challenge Roe, he does not seem to be bothered by Obergefell or Bostock. While he has stood up for the religious freedom of Christians (including churches that want to gather for worship during the pandemic) and seeks to promote school choice/charter schools, he does not seem to be able to articulate coherent reasons for these convictions. Vote for Trump, but do not pretend he is something he isn’t.
I know many Christians have gotten uneasy with being “single issue” voters. They have tried to downplay the significance of abortion. Or they have grown weary of fighting the battle over abortion and so they have moved on to a different set of issues. But this is a huge mistake. If babies in the womb do not have the right to life, all our other rights are thrown into question. This is the big “E” on the ethical eye chart. It is a life and death issue. It must be the central issue in any platform claiming to care about “social justice” -- though interestingly those who talk the most about "social justice" have very little to say on behalf of the unborn and sometimes actually adopt a pro-abortion stance. What has happened since Roe made abortion legal across the land is nothing short of an American holocaust. If we believe that the Nazis were despicable for killing 6 million innocent Jews, what does it say about us now that we have slaughtered over 50 million innocent children? Abortion has become the bloody sacrament of a new American religion; our nation is full of Molech worshippers. It is true that re-electing Trump will not in itself move the needle on abortion. It may not even result in Planned Parenthood getting defunded (since it has not over the last 4 years). But I still believe America is far better off with a pro-life President as opposed to a pro-infanticide President in office. Having a pro-life President at least keeps the issue front and center in people’s minds, and the more we have to debate the issue in public, the better it is for the pro-life cause. This is because everyone now knows — or should know — that the child in the womb really is a child. Science and Scripture agree. It is a real child — a son or daughter — with all the rights that come with being made in God’s image. To destroy that child is nothing less than murder. Those who engage in abortion know what they are doing — and we should keep pressing that point. A vote for Trump is a vote in defense of the “least of these.” A vote for Biden most likely means your tax dollars will eventually be used to exterminate many of the “least of these,” here and around the world. Even if Trump cannot save the unborn, at least he cares about them. That should count for quite a bit.
Third, I have noticed quite a bit of confusion since 2016 over just what the act of voting means. A lot of Christians have invested the act of voting with meanings it does not actually have. Voting is a strategy, not a sacrament or an evangelistic act. Casting a vote is like making a move in a game of chess. You survey board to see the options in front of you and you choose the one that is most likely to result in the desired outcome. Voting for a particular candidate does not mean you believe he is a good person and it does not mean that you agree with everything he might do in office. It only means that, given the alternatives, this was the most strategic move you could make. A vote for Trump is not an endorsement of the man or his theology or his morals or his "locker room" talk or his social media rhetoric; it is just the prudent recognition that he is the less problematic alternative.
Those who refuse to vote as I recommend here because they do not want to sully themselves by association with a man like Trump are actually making way too big a deal out of the political. Precisely because politics is not that big of a deal, precisely because we are not voting for a messiah, we can vote for a character like Trump in an election like this with a clear conscience. Of course, I should add, Trump’s flaws do not mean he cannot accomplish many good things. Indeed, Trump compares quite favorably to, say, Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus, who were obviously flawed but also used in great ways by God to further his purposes and protect his people. (Analogies between Nebuchadnezzar/Daniel and Trump/Pence seem quite fitting.) The fact is, there is not, and never will be, a perfect candidate. I am not saying we just trade in our idealism for realpolitik; our biblical ideals and vision for the civil order must remain in tact and we should work to get better candidates on the ballot in the future. But sometimes you have recognize that there is no way your ideals will actually be accomplished and so you fill in the bubbles for the best available candidates, even as you recognize their shortcomings and hope for better choices next time around.
The notion that voting for Trump would hurt our witness was made by many evangelical leaders back in 2016, and it has made a comeback in 2020. Mark Galli, Tim Keller, Russell Moore, David Platt, David French, and a host of other bright lights in the evangelical sky have suggested this line of reasoning (though they have not made the voting criteria or principles they are employing clear). But the argument carries no weight -- or at least it should not. What this argument actually tells us is what we could have already guessed -- many evangelical leaders are obsessed with fitting in and not offending the secular elite. Because the secular elites, for the most part, look down on Trump with contempt and view his voting base as "deplorables," evangelical elites have tried to find ways for evangelicals to justify not voting for Trump. One way to do that is to tell rank and file Christians that a vote for Trump is a bad witness because he is a bad man. But this argument only works if [a] you are concerned about witnessing only to the secular elite, but not concerned about witnessing to the typical working class American, millions of whom voted for Trump because they finally believed they had found a candidate sympathetic with their plight, [b] voting for a pro-abortion, pro-transgender candidates can somehow witness to the truth of Scripture more than voting for the opposite, and [c] voting itself is understood as an act of witnessing, which seems like a real stretch to me. This entire way of thinking about the election is wrongheaded. It is easy enough for us to explain to whoever is interested that while we are concerned about Trump's character flaws, his policies more align with our objectives for the public square, and thus we find him to be the preferable alternative. Voting for Trump might actually give us an opportunity to witness to the teaching of Scripture on a variety of issues. Secular elites may not like this, but it is not hard to understand the distinction we are making; their issue is not actually with our vote for Trump, but with the content of our faith, so the approach of the evangelical elite really solves nothing, unless they are ready to jettison biblical ethics completely. But here is the real problem with what the evangelical elites are doing: they are misleading their sheep. It is really unfortunate that quite a few evangelicals will be lured into voting for a Democrat ticket, against their better judgment, because they have been shamed into it by church leaders they trusted (most likely with the help of a very one-sided mainstream media).
The evangelical elites -- "Big Eva" as they are sometimes known -- will have a lot to answer for after this election. It is hard to fathom that leading evangelicals would be more offended by Trump's lack of manners than they are by baby murder. But that seems to be the case. Sure, Trump is uncouth in some ways, but at least he is a fighter, compared to many of the spineless Republicans that Christians have helped send to Washington over the years. To suggest that Trump's style and swagger are more damaging than, say, full adoption of the transgender agenda, is just incalculably foolish. But that's where we are. I do not like Trump's past and I do not like his arrogance. But his sins seems rather small when compared to the agenda on the other side of the aisle.
Finally, go back to the first principle stated above: Jesus is Lord. For this reason, we really do not have to worry about what happens next Tuesday. We do not need to panic or despair if the wrong ticket wins. Jesus will still be in charge. He will smash ungodly rulers with his rod of iron when and how he desires (Ps. 2). He will inherit the nations (Ps. 2), and even if America becomes a train wreck in a dumpster fire in the meantime, his purposes remain sure. He loves the world, he died for the world, he will save the world, he rules the world, his kingdom will grow to fill the world. We need have no worries, no fears, no regrets. Do what you know to be right, and let the chips fall where God has ordained.
Neither President Trump nor a President Biden is able to wave a magic wand to accomplish a tenth of the things they promise to do. We have a governing architecture that makes it very difficult to do really big things, we have a political incentive structure that makes posturing and preening for the cameras and cable news shows more satisfying than, you know, writing bills and passing laws (an ironic silver lining of “Amusing Ourselves To Death”), and we have a highly polarized electorate, if you haven’t noticed.
Everything the next President is likely to do will involve tinkering around the edges of our major policy divides—think of a football game played between the 40 yard lines. Now, it is possible that the Democrats can take both houses of Congress and thus score a few big touchdowns, which is why I think your state Senate race is far more important than the Presidential race—if you’re a donor, that’s where to send your contributions. But if the Republicans can preserve their slim majority in the Senate, no one is going to be scoring touchdowns. At best, they might move the ball a few yards until 2024. Even if the Democrats obtain a slim Senate majority, it is not at all a slam-dunk that they can get their entire caucus to go along with whatever long bombs they want to throw into the end zone. Court-packing? Not very likely. Remember: they’ll have vulnerable Senators up for reelection, too. This country is like the Titanic; it doesn’t turn on a dime
While the election is certainly important in various ways, as far as the overall direction of our nation is concerned, no matter who wins, we will be facing the same set of problems. When the history of our civilization is written, this election will be no more than a minor blip. The forces swirling around us are far greater than this one election can address. Our biggest problems as a culture are not political and will not be solved through political means. So if Trump does win — and my hunch right now is that he will, assuming a fair election, though it will most likely be very close — Christians should hold their joy in check. Sure, a Trump victory will buy us more time, but we had better use that time to carry forward the mission of the church or we will have squandered a precious gift. And should Biden win, we have no reason to fear or despair. Our mission to disciple our nation remains exactly the same. Indeed, a Biden win may be just the thing God wants to use to sift out his people, to separate the wheat from the chaff. If hard times come for the church in our land, all we have to do is look back across past centuries to see that such hard times can actually serve to strengthen the church in the long run. We simply do not need to get worked up about this election, despite the way the media will spin it in in an attempt to get you to watch their coverage 24/7. The reality is, while voting is an important civic duty, it is one of the least powerful things we do. We will exert far more influence in the world by gathering for worship, proclaiming the gospel to all, living lives of sacrificial service, caring for the poor, singing psalms and hymns, and praying for the change we long to see. Keep those things in mind on November 3, and every day. So here is my advice: Cast your vote on election day, say a prayer for our country, and then get on with the real business of life -- serving and working, building up a household, singing praises to the Lord, caring for those in need, and being faithful to fulfill whatever responsibilities the Lord assigns you.