Two Titans in the Evangelical World Weigh in on Trump v. Biden Voting

Oct 30, 2020 by David Fowler

Two Titans in the Evangelical World Weigh in on Trump v. Biden Voting
Last week, I tried to encourage readers to consider the true nature of godliness and compare it to how they approached voting for either President Donald Trump or Joe Biden. This week, I want to explore two recent commentaries by well-known Christian ministers within the evangelical community, each coming to a different conclusion about how to vote in the presidential election. I hope I can contribute something I think both missed.
I respect both men, and so I will not name them. I also do not want what follows to be lost in fruitless and wrong-headed evaluations of their positions based on what we think of them versus the Word of God, as took place in the early church, where the dispute was over whether one was a disciple of Apollos, Paul, Cephas, or Christ (I Corinthians 1:12). 

Minister No. 1—Is godly character less important than more-Godly policies?

Minister No. 1 made this point in explaining why he would not vote for either Trump or Biden. It is worth stating, as it is a point I have not seen anyone else make:
Christians communicate a falsehood to unbelievers (who are also baffled!) when we act as if policies and laws that protect life and freedom are more precious than being a certain kind of person. The church is paying dearly, and will continue to pay, for our communicating this falsehood year after year. 
The justifications for ranking the destructive effects of persons below the destructive effects of policies ring hollow.
I find it bewildering that Christians can be so sure that greater damage will be done by bad judges, bad laws, and bad policies than is being done by the culture-infecting spread of the gangrene of sinful self-exaltation, and boasting, and strife-stirring (eristikos). 
How do they know this? Seriously! Where do they get the sure knowledge that judges, laws, and policies are less destructive than boastful factiousness in high places?
Minister No. 1 is saying what many of the self-righteous among the Never Trumpers (not all of whom are self-righteous) and the defenders of Trump’s policies have not said, namely, that the lives of our leaders can influence the lives, behaviors, and attitudes of others in negative ways. This cannot be overlooked.

Minister No. 2—How to weigh more godly policies with issues of personal character.

I believe these words from Minister No. 2 accurately summarize his position and reasons for why people should vote for President Trump: 
But a vote for Biden and the Democrats is a vote to empower a party that wants to impose an overtly godless agenda.  . . . 
Put another way, if voting for a boastful man can potentially save millions of babies’ lives, can that vote be justified? If voting for a man with a sexually immoral past can give support to persecuted minorities in China, can that vote be justified? If voting for a man who often lies and exaggerates can stop the rise of an anti-God socialism, can that vote be justified?
Minister No. 2 touches on what many Christians believe—that the good of certain policies and laws that Trump supports versus those of Biden outweighs Trump’s boorish behavior.. 
I respectfully submit that this is crass pragmatism and, indeed, consistent with this worldview, this minister says:
The political system itself is earthly and flawed, with all candidates being far from perfect. While it would be ideal for our presidents to be shining examples of morality and character, very few in our history would live up to that ideal. This is not to make excuses but rather to be realistic.
Am I being harsh in my conclusion that this is straight up pragmatism? No. Minister No. 2 ends his commentary with these words: “be pragmatic when it comes to casting your vote.” 
I submit that the Christian’s goal, one I too often miss, is to be godly as God defines godliness, not slip into being pragmatic realists.
But, in my view, this minister does get this point right, and it is consistent with what I said last week:
When it comes to Trump, we can vote for his policies while saying, “I don’t like many of the things he does and feel his example is often very destructive. I will therefore speak out when he acts wrongly and will model something different in my own life.”

In other words, like me, he does not want anyone concluding that his vote for Trump for policy reasons is to be confused with his views about Trump’s character or behavior, much less what Biblical godliness is.

A consideration that may be missing: What am I really being asked to decide?

I know my credentials as far as how we tend to grade theologians, ministers, and ministries pale in comparison to these two men, but I think there is a biblical consideration that neither of them may have given sufficient weight and that, for me at least, was critical—jurisdictionalism or what other theologians would have called sphere sovereignty.

What I mean is that I see the particular issue before us in an election as really one of law. This is the jurisdictional field in which I am being asked to make a decision. After all, politics is simply the means by which we select those who will provide critical direction in making the laws that govern civil society. So, while I am not being asked to vote directly for or against a law, I view the two candidates as “representatives” of that law we will move toward having.

This is very important to me, because the very nature of the law is that it teaches, and it teaches a certain ethic regarding God, man, and the world. I want the law to teach that which most harmonizes with what the Word of God says is true about God, man, and the world.

Taking my own counsel

With that as the focus of what I believe I am primarily being asked to decide—what do I want our civil laws to teach the broader society about God, man, and the world?--then, for me, the choice was made easier. I voted for Donald Trump in good conscience, because of what the laws he supports will teach in regard to issues most important to me. And in a peaceful conscience I rest, for “if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:21).

But, taking my own advice from last week, I will also say that I believe both of the major party’s candidates are ungodly as defined in 1 Timothy 3:16, though I can only say that based on the fruits of their lives that I can observe, whether it be Donald Trump’s manner and character flaws[1]or Joe Biden’s horrible policies and less prominent character flaws. I do not want anyone to be mistaken by my vote on what the bible says constitutes godliness. Godliness is not a sliding scale; it is not comparative except in relation to the sinless person of Jesus Christ. But I am not being asked to vote on the two candidates’ godliness or even their apparent and comparative godliness.

Parting thought.

I will close by affirming what Minister No. 1 said about the influence the exhibited character of our leaders can have on us. This was particularly important where, as with Israel, its king’s character should have reflected the fact that he was the civil leader of God’s chosen people. If I were not voting foremost on the direction in which I would have our civil law go, I would probably do as he said; I would not vote for either person. 

And finally, what I have come to believe from much of what I have read over the last two presidential election cycles is that we could all stand to think more about what godliness really is, and, as I tried to say last week, that is a point the godly ought not to overlook in discussing the candidates for President. Let us not be mere pragmatists. I pray I have followed my own advice.

[1]As far as I can tell, Trump’s comments about his past behavior with women was more worldly sorrow than Godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10), so please don’t, as some have done, bring that up as grounds for dismissing or minimizing his overall demeanor. 

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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