For months I have made my views about Mr. Trump’s candidacy known on my blog as well as on The Phil Vischer Podcast, and those views have sparked both applause and anger. I am also a founding member of Public Faith, a new coalition of non-partisan Christians seeking to be a voice for the common good. Public Faith has released a number of statements during the campaign on matters of religious liberty, racial injustice, abortion, and poverty. Last week we also issued a statement about Mr. Trump’s fitness for the presidency.
Some on my Facebook page have misinterpreted Public Faith’s denunciation of Mr. Trump as an endorsement for Mrs. Clinton despite the statement explicitly saying otherwise. As I have shared on the podcast, I cannot in good conscience vote for either major party candidate. (To be clear, I will be voting for the other races on the ballot just not the contest for president.) As we draw closer to November 8, however, the position of the conscientious non-voter is being attacked. “By not voting you’re letting her win,” they say as if she is the White Witch and we are woodland creatures terrified of being turned into stone.
Well-meaning Christians have argued that we ought to hold our nose and vote for Mr. Trump because he is “the lesser of two evils.” This is the central argument made by Eric Metaxas in his recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. I encourage you to read Metaxas’ full article. I disagree with him, but his argument should be prayerfully considered. He articulates the case for supporting Mr. Trump better than most. He writes:
“Many say they won’t vote because choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. But this is sophistry…. Not voting—or voting for a third candidate who cannot win—is a rationalization designed more than anything to assuage our consciences.”
First, assuming that a Christian’s conscience is guided by the Holy Spirit, why is following it suddenly unacceptable? Having a clear conscience before God is repeatedly affirmed by Scripture as admirable and essential.
Second, while the world sometimes presents us with scenarios in which we must select between two horrible choices, this presidential election is not one of them. No one is under any obligation to vote for only Trump or Clinton. Christians have the very real, and arguably faithful, option to select neither candidate. That too is our right as Americans. Imagine the testimony to our country if Christians withheld their votes en masse from both candidates. It would trigger a seismic political upheaval. Even more, it would declare to everyone that our allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ above all else. That would be, in my view, a very positive outcome regardless of who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Third, Metaxas’ argument appears strikingly similar to the devil’s strategy as described by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. He said the devil, “always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight between both errors.” (Thanks to Michelle Phoenix for bringing this quote back to my attention via Facebook.)
In this election we have the opportunity to “go straight between both errors,” and by doing so maintain the integrity of our faith in the public square. As Andy Crouch wrote in Christianity Today, supporting Trump is more than a violation of Christian conscience, it also betrays our witness and reveals our captivity to political idols:
“Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord. They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.”
Finally, let me address the knock out punch at the end of Eric Metaxas’ column against Christians like me who plan to withhold their vote for president. He writes:
“For many of us, this is very painful, pulling the lever for someone many think odious. But please consider this: A vote for Donald Trump is not necessarily a vote for Donald Trump himself. It is a vote for those who will be affected by the results of this election. Not to vote is to vote. God will not hold us guiltless.”
Rhetoric like this is why some Christians have come to believe that casting a ballot on Election Day is the highest expression of their Christian faith, and why they carry such anxiety about the outcome. To believe their fate or that of the world hangs in the balance reveals how distorted our vision of God’s sovereignty really is. And to say that voting for Trump isn’t really voting for Trump requires a looseness with logic and language on par with Bill Clinton asking what the definition of the word “is” is.
On one point, however, I do agree with Mr. Metaxas—we are responsible to God for our decision, but our guilt or innocence will not be limited to what we do on November 8.
Metaxas ignores the fact that Mr. Trump’s odious character was well known before the release of the horrific Access Hollywood hot mic recording on October 7. It was well documented before he accepted the nomination of the Republican Party in July, and it was on full display during the primaries when Trump could have been eliminated from consideration. Donald Trump’s name did not magically appear on the ballot. People put it there—including a disturbing number of Christians who voted for him in the primaries.
What’s most troubling is not Donald Trump’s odious character, but what his nomination says about ours. And for that God will not hold us guiltless.
Evangelical leaders who have enthusiastically supported Trump for many months, like Eric Metaxas, need to take responsibility for creating a climate of paranoia among Christians that allowed Trump’s candidacy to be deemed acceptable in the first place. Having freed this beast from the abyss, they are now asking the rest of us to join them on its back because they think the other beast is worse. Good luck, Mr. Metaxas, but I’m staying with the Lamb.