It’s almost midnight on November 7th, and soon one of the most divisive and controversial presidential campaigns since the Civil War will finally be over (hopefully). Within the next twenty-four hours somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred million of us will cast our votes for the nation’s highest office (on top of nearly half that number who have already voted). No matter who wins, it will take a long time for the nation to recover. Early in his public career, Abraham Lincoln observed that democracy requires three things to flourish: a people who are united among themselves, have faith in free institutions, and are guided by reason. If he was right, we’re in trouble.
Many of us will go to the polls deeply troubled for the future of our country. Some of us will also carry a burden for the future of Christ’s Church, fearfully convinced that the outcome of the election will determine its future as well. Early this summer, I wrote an open letter to evangelical leaders in which I implored them to share the theological principles and scriptural precepts that guide their thinking about politics, in particular their decision to support the Republican nominee. I am still waiting.
On one hand, we’ve been told that a twice divorced casino mogul known for his bigotry, adulation of power, and contempt for constitutional constraints is a wonderful father and faithful Christian, which should make our decision simple. Conversely, we’ve been told that character doesn’t matter—we’re “not electing a pastor,” after all—and that a host of pragmatic reasons dictate that we ally with a scoundrel to bring down a villain. I can imagine Winston Churchill saying such a thing. I’m not so sure about Jesus.
I’m not qualified to offer a set of systematic theological principles to guide our thinking about the mess that we’re in—that’s why I have so genuinely longed for our leaders to teach us. Like many of us, I think we’re faced with a set of awful options when we go into the voting booth tomorrow. It occurs to me that these extraordinary circumstances have exposed the theological shallowness of my own thinking about politics until now. In years when one major candidate seemed clearly superior to the other, no very deep thinking was required. But now that we effectively face a choice between the two most unpopular presidential nominees since the beginning of polling, each deeply if differently flawed, I find myself groping for scriptural principles upon which to make a decision.
If Donald Trump had a particle of integrity, and if I thought he truly cared remotely about the sanctity of human life and the importance of religious freedom (instead of stumbling on both positions just recently while reading “Two Corinthians”), and if I thought he could be trusted to make wise nominations to the Supreme Court, and if I thought he possessed the political acumen to steer genuinely sound nominations through a bitterly divided, dysfunctional Senate (which will soon either be almost evenly split between the parties or have a slight Democratic majority), and if history showed that ostensibly conservative nominees to the Court reliably espoused conservative positions once on the bench (which it doesn’t), then we could have a really good discussion about whether the ends justify the means and God would have us ally with someone as morally offensive as Donald Trump to accomplish some greater good.
In case you missed the italics, however, there are way too many “ifs” in that long sentence to base a decision on. I know that many evangelicals have concluded that a Trump presidency—however distasteful and even frightening—is simply the price we must pay for a conservative Court for the next generation. Their motives may be honorable, but I fear their reasoning is dreadfully misguided.
So here is what I am meditating on these last hours before voting myself. I’m suspecting that, however we vote, our decision will say something about our view of divine sovereignty and human identity, that is, how we understand God and how we see ourselves. In church this past Sunday, our congregation sang a familiar praise chorus with the words “Our God is an awesome God / He reigns in heaven above / with wisdom, power, and love / our God is an awesome God.” And before I knew it, my thoughts were on the impending election (confession: my mind sometimes wanders in church—sorry), and I found myself asking whether we really believe this when we go into the voting booth. If so, in what ways will a robust confidence in God’s sovereignty and power inform the votes we cast? And how, exactly, might our faith in God’s sovereignty and power square with the conclusion that we must support the “lesser of evils” to promote a “Christian” outcome?
And then our pastor began his sermon. While preaching on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, he took us briefly to a relevant passage in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. The verse that caught my attention was chapter 13, verse 14. In my New King James translation I read, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come,” and again my thoughts turned to Election Day. When we pull the curtain behind us and cast our ballots, will our actions reflect our identity first and foremost as Americans—more specifically, as Republicans or Democrats—or will we self-consciously remind ourselves, as the apostle Paul taught the church at Philippi, that “our citizenship is in heaven”?
Will we think of ourselves as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” to return to the language of the book of Hebrews, or will our identity and motivation be grounded elsewhere? Will we see the election as our “last chance” to save America or make it great again, or will we believe the Scripture’s assurance (in Hebrews 12:28) that “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken”?
In context, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is combining assurance with admonition. The full verse reads, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear.” The full truth of this passage is beyond my comprehension, but the writer seems to be telling us that a key to serving God acceptably is realizing where our identity is grounded and where our hope lies. You should read these verses in context and decide for yourself how they may apply. As for me, I’m having a hard time squaring them with the pervasive pragmatism that so many of our leaders seem to have adopted.
I’ll be voting tomorrow, but not for either major candidate.