Stop Shaming Other Christians into Voting Against their Conscience (or “Am I Wasting my Vote?”)

baboon-655313_1920-pixabay-headerGiven this year’s choices for president, more people are seriously considering casting a vote for a third or minor party candidate. I think it’s important to address the question of the logic of what it means to “waste” one’s vote.

I think the worst thing about this contentious presidential election year is the degree to which Christians have been divided against each other. One major line of attack is aimed at Christians who say their consciences cannot permit them to vote for a crass, constitutionally-ignorant, opportunistic victim-blaming admitted sexual assailant by other Christians who say that any other choice means the first group is complicit in electing a manipulative, megalomaniacal, lying, corrupt, liberty- and family-hating baby killer. The internecine conflict is sharp, with a vitriol usually reserved for Old-Earth versus Young-Earth Creationist debates.

By the way, if you’re on either side of this debate, I encourage you to pause right now and go read this list of New Testament passages on how Christians are supposed to treat “one another.” Then come back. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now let’s talk about voting.

There are two major ways of thinking of your vote.

Seeing your vote as expressive reflects the most straightforward and historical purpose of the vote in any democracy or republic; that, when you cast your vote you are expressing a clear preference for one candidate over the others. That is, all things taken into account, you positively favor the candidate’s promises and the candidate him- or herself to hold the office of the president (or whatever office they’re running for).

Seeing your vote as strategic (also sometimes called instrumental) means that your vote is merely a means of accomplishing some other outcome. So when people say they are voting for Trump because they want to prevent Hillary Clinton from nominating pro-choice judges, they are being strategic; they don’t necessarily like Trump, but they are preventing Clinton’s nominations.

Let’s look at the logic of these two approaches.

Sincere Expressive Voting

Expressive voting is the most straightforward and historical purpose of the vote in any democracy or republic—expressing support for a candidate or party that, all things being equal, will lead your community or nation in the way that you actually think is good.

In casting a sincere expressive vote for Trump you are actually endorsing what Trump says, how he says it, and the candidate’s personal character. When another person votes expressively for Clinton, she is positively endorsing Clinton. A vote for Johnson endorses his policies and character, and so on.

This kind of vote is pretty simple to assess for Christians. As I have been teaching for decades: Look at the biblical texts and determine God’s purposes for civil government and society, and the character he expects of the civil authorities, and vote for the candidate who, on balance, best reflects those principles.

(Here is a link to one of my recent talks addressing Christian Citizenship; the section on what scripture says about God’s purposes for government begins around 30:00.)

Now, usually in the US there is at least one major party candidate who is relatively acceptable in these terms, even if not perfect. (You may think one of the major party candidates this year is acceptable in both policy and character terms.) This year, however, it is clear that a lot of Christians support neither Trump nor Clinton and all that they stand for. Still, I have come to the position that your expressive vote for a minor party candidate is not wasted, you just have to understand that you are taking a public stand for what you believe to be the right direction for politics, government and society and you are voting for someone who will not win. That’s okay, because theologically conservative Christians ought to have learned long ago that politicians will compromise on their promises (as two founders of the Moral Majority wrote in their 1999 book Blinded by Might) as even that paragon of conservatism Ronald Reagan did.

I have come to the position that your expressive vote for a minor party candidate is not wasted, you just have to understand that you are taking a public stand for what you believe to be the right direction for politics, government and society and you are voting for someone who will not win.

Strategic Voting

Weak candidates and their supporters want you to view your vote as strategic, and they try to convince their minions of that in order to gain the leaders’ favored outcomes or avoid disfavored outcomes. Democratic leaders, for example, proclaim to their liberal base that anything but a vote for Hillary is essentially a vote for Trump. President Obama said,

“If you don’t vote, that’s a vote for Trump, if you vote for a third-party candidate who’s got no chance to win, that’s a vote for Trump.”

Conservatives say the same thing. In one of the more sophisticated efforts Eric Metaxas argued,

“Not voting—or voting for a third candidate who cannot win—is a rationalization designed more than anything to assuage our consciences…[Those who choose to do so] would be responsible for passively electing someone who champions the abomination of partial-birth abortion, someone who is celebrated by an organization that sells baby parts.”

I find it fascinating that Metaxas acknowledges that our consciences might need assuaging when faced with the prospect of voting for The Donald. That is, our conscience tells us “You cannot vote for this guy!” or “That other person has the best policies!” and Metaxas patronizingly says that we must comfort our conscience when we actually vote on that basis. He thinks you need to somehow justify voting in concert with your conscience—your Spirit-informed internal compass for discerning right and wrong! (Who is doing the actual rationalizing here?!)

The strategic argument is that removing your vote from the Trump tally (note that folks like Metaxas assume it’s there in the first place!) makes it easier for Clinton to win, because she’ll then need fewer votes to win than she would if you voted strategically. The math of this position is pretty simple.

Let’s say in your state 42 voters say they’ll vote Trump, 40 for Clinton, 5 for Johnson, 3 for Stein, and 2 for Castle. If the election is held today, Trump wins. But suppose some of those are only reluctantly voting for Trump, and only because they loathe or fear Hillary; these are called “clothespin” voters. Let’s say there are three Trump “clothespin” voters who ultimately decide to abstain or vote for Darrell Castle; Trump’s votes go to 39 and Clinton wins with 40, assuming Clinton clothespin voters don’t also abstain or vote for Stein.

Just in case you think this is unrealistic, in a recent (10/18/16) Economist/YouGov poll, 43% of people who said they will vote for Trump say they are actually “mostly voting against Hillary Clinton.” That means nearly half of Trump voters are voting strategically. The same poll shows that about 35% of Clinton voters are “mostly voting against Donald Trump.”

The Metaxas argument, however, is that for Christians anything other than a Trump vote is naïve because your conscience will lead you to vote for someone that actually doesn’t have a chance of winning, like Evan McMullin or Darrell Castle. That is, voters must consider the practical effects of their votes. Thinking strategically, a vote for Castle may indeed have the effect of making it easier for Clinton to win, IF AND ONLY IF you would have otherwise voted for Trump.

An important part of this argument is that the US election system essentially constrains the winner to be either the Democrat or the Republican. I don’t deny that, and I have several fascinating political science lectures on this, if you’re interested! Since Trump is the only candidate with a practical chance of beating Clinton, strategic voting advocates say you ought to vote strategically for Trump if you want to avoid Clinton.

But this mindset only considers a vote a strategic tool, not as a positive expression of political preferences. What if you want your vote to be a positive endorsement of a candidate and his or her positions?

The other effects of voting strategically

Most of the arguments about wasted votes among evangelical Christians emphasize avoiding the effect of Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. But there are other important effects of voting strategically instead of expressively.

The other effects of strategic voting

  1. You have to vote against your conscience.
  2. How the candidate will interpret the vote.
  3. How society and history will judge Christians for their votes.
  4. Voting strategically might avert a Clinton win, but it might not.

First, as Metaxas subtly acknowledges, you have to vote against your conscience in order to do what he recommends. At this point, it’s worth revisiting what scripture says about the purpose of your conscience and the importance of living with a clear conscience. (To get you started here’s the BibleGateway link for the word conscience.)

Second, consider how the candidate will interpret the vote. Imagine a candidate who is so egotistical and un-self-critical that he or she will NOT view any votes they get as clothespin strategic votes, but as expressive votes, positive endorsements of his or her policy agenda, campaign tactics, and personal character.

Let me put it directly: Do you honestly think that Donald Trump will look at clothespin votes for him and humbly engage in self-reflection about why so many people didn’t like him but didn’t like Clinton more, and that’s how he ended up with their votes? Or will he say, “I won! Look at how many people love me!

Third, Christians cannot ignore how society and history will judge Christians for supporting a candidate like Trump. How Christians act, for good or ill, reflects on our King and on other Christians (Matt 5:16; 1 Peter 2:11-16; 1 Peter 3:16-17; Phil 2:15; Titus 2:6-8). Like it or not, we have a responsibility to the Kingdom of God and to the reputation of our King that goes beyond the consequences of the election.

This is already happening. Pundits and political analysts have been happily discussing the enthusiasm that nice conservative Jesus people have for Donald Trump. Here are just a few examples:

  • March 6: “Why Evangelicals Support Trump” (Politico)
  • June 10: “Evangelicals give Trump stamp of approval” (The Hill)
  • June 27: “Not keeping the faith: Donald Trump and the conning of evangelical voters” (Salon)
  • July 21: “How Donald Trump Divided and Conquered Evangelicals” (Rolling Stone)
  • July 21: “Churchgoing Republicans, once skeptical of Trump, now support him” (Pew Research Center Fact Tank)
  • October 7: “Evangelical Leaders Shrug At Donald Trump’s Lewd Comments” (Daily Beast)

Actual support for Trump among evangelicals is not nearly as strong as pundits would have us believe, as I and others have argued and demonstrated (see, for example, here, here, here, and here).

The upshot is that as churchgoing evangelicals vote for and stridently support Trump, our whole tribe will get associated with him and his style.

Finally, voting strategically might avert a Clinton win, but it might not. Imagine a scenario in which you violate your conscience, vote strategically for Trump and Hillary Clinton still wins your state (recall that the presidential election is decided state-by-state because of the Electoral College), and even the presidency.

So yes, voting strategically for Trump might keep Hillary out of the White House, if that’s what you want. But it might not. To get there, however, you might have to violate your conscience, send Donald the message that he’s just great, and link Christianity with this person’s electoral success.

And all of that still does not even touch the question of whether Donald Trump (a lifelong Democrat and not a conservative) can be trusted to keep his word to Evangelicals and other conservatives. But that’s another topic.

Conclusion

If you are a strategic Trump voter and have made it this far, thank you. But you’ve probably been arguing with me every step of the way, and feeling like I’ve been hitting you pretty hard, guilting you for your vote choice. That was not my intention. My intention was to starkly communicate what the other side is going through in their genuine conscience-informed struggle, in the face of a pretty ugly assault by other brothers and sisters in the Lord. And to encourage everyone to vote biblically, which may not be the same thing as voting strategically.

If you really like Trump and all his baggage, then by all means vote for him. But stop guilt-tripping your brothers and sisters in Christ. Seriously.

If you cannot in good conscience vote for Trump, find a candidate for whom you can cast a sincere vote expressing support for the direction of their policies and their character, and trust God with the rest in all of his sovereignty.

The only truly wasted vote is one that is not cast at all.

 

Oh yes, one more thing: We can and must do better when it comes to Christians and how we act if we’re going to be engaged in politics and  live out the command to “love one another.” This has not been an edifying year in that respect, has it?

 


Baboon image courtesy of Pixabay

Christian Citizenship and the Crazy, No-Good, Terrible 2016 Elections

A talk (October 16, 2016) at Cherry Creek Community Church providing a biblical perspective on citizenship, and how that perspective ought to affect Christians’ thinking about the 2016 elections. I link to some other helpful 2016 election resources below.

http://www.cherrycreekcc.org/guest-speaker-messages/

Here is the handout with the message outline: christian-citizenship-and-the-2016-elections (pdf).


Here is the outline of the whole talk. Below the outline are some election resources for the 2016 elections.

This is the outline of my talk “Christian Citizenship and the Crazy, No-Good, Terrible 2016 Elections,” but these principles are the same principles I’ve been teaching for many years, and can be applied to any election, any candidate, any time. Because these are biblical principles, they apply over time.

1. Philippians 3:20: As Christians, our true citizenship and homeland is in heaven.

2. 1 Peter 2:9-10: Our identity as Christ-followers is that we are a special, distinct, and holy people.

3. 2:11: Therefore, wherever we live, we are aliens and sojourners. That is, we are temporary residents, living among the native population wherever we happen to find ourselves.

  • Recent research shows that only about 18% of Americans believe Christianity is the one true faith; only 36% of White Evangelicals and African American Protestants believe this.[i] That means if you believe our faith the one true faith, 82% of Americans disagree with you. America is not your true homeland, and Americans are not your true people-group!
  • Looking at Christianity worldwide, American Christians (broadly defined, that is Protestants + Catholics + Orthodox) are only 11.3% of all Christians.[ii] 89% of Christians do not live in the US. As American Christians, the USA (as much as I am grateful to live here) is NOT our homeland, these people are NOT our people. OUR people are mostly non-Caucasian and do not speak English.

4. 2:11-12: Because we are aliens and sojourners, our behavior is to be “excellent among the Gentiles”…

  • 2:12: So that our actions will not reflect badly on our King and on our people group (see also Matt 5:16; 1 Peter 3:16-17; Phil 2:15; Titus 2:6-8).
  • Do you think this command includes our political choices? I think so.

5. 1 Timothy 2: 1-4: Our people are supposed to pray for those in authority.

  • What is the ultimate purpose for these prayers (2:4)? So that all people can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is our people’s true mission: spreading the Gospel, making disciples. We shouldn’t ignore political goals, but political legislation is NOT the primary reason our King has us on this sojourn, living as aliens here.

6. God establishes institutions of authority for humanity to govern human behavior, including the civil authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14; Romans 13:1-7; John 19:10-11; Daniel 2:20-21; Daniel 4:17).

  • Do you think God already knows who will win the 2016 elections? I do.
  • Do you think God has already taken the result into account in his plan for human history? I do.

7. Scripture tells us quite clearly that God has a number of assigned tasks for the civil authorities …

Romans 13:3-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14: Encourage people to live righteously. Punish people for doing evil. Paul and Peter certainly have specific ideas in mind when they refer to good and evil here, not some vague, morally relative, culturally-shifting concept of right and wrong.

Psalm 72, Psalm 82, Exodus 23:1-8 (see also Deut 16:18-20; Deut 27:19; Isaiah 1:16-17; Jeremiah 7:5-7, Ezekiel 34, and many, many more)

  • 72:1-2: The ruler’s character is to be righteous and just. Again, scripture is quite clear about what that means.
  • 72:3-4, 12-14; 82:3-4: The righteous and just ruler protects and rescues people from affliction, oppression, and violence. Which people? The weakest in society. In the biblical concept this includes the truly needy, and those who cannot provide for themselves and have no provider (usually grouped under the categories of widows and the fatherless).
  • These are recurring themes throughout the Old Testament. The prophets repeatedly have the role of proclaiming God’s judgment on the civil authorities (ie, the kings and princes and elders of Judah and Israel) for failing to act righteously and justly, and for failing to protect and provide for these groups, and even for profiting off of their desperate state.

A Checklist for Evaluating Candidates Biblically in any election year, for any political office

This list is based on the points above.

  • Prayerfully ask God to prioritize the importance of these items for you. (This list is simply the order in which I presented the material above, and is not in order of the priorities God has laid on my heart.)
  • Prayerfully consider whether each candidate’s proposed policies correspond to the biblical principles.
  • In the checklist I use the phrase “seem likely” intentionally. We should carefully assess whether the candidate’s promises are credible, given what we know. For example, in the 1980 elections, Ronald Reagan promised Evangelicals that he would appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices. They thought he was credible. Then, when given the opportunity to appoint those judges he ended up nominating Sandra Day O’Connor (pro-choice), Robert Bork (pro-life, but withdrawn), and Anthony Kennedy (pro-choice).
  1. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to encourage people to live righteously?
  2. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to discourage people from doing evil deeds?
  3. Can the candidate’s character truthfully be described as righteous and just?
  4. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to aid the oppressed and the weakest in society?
  5. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to protect the innocent?
  6. Do the candidate’s policies seem likely to promote treating all people justly and fairly?

 

[i] Source: 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, my own calculations.

[ii] Source: http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/


Here are some links to 2016 Election Resources for You

See your Michigan ballot: webapps.sos.state.mi.us/MVIC/VoterSearch.aspx

Here’s a Good Quiz for matching your opinions to presidential candidates: https://www.isidewith.com/

Here is a link to what prominent evangelicals have written about their evaluations of the candidates.


Presidential Candidates on the Michigan ballot (in the order they appear)

Democratic – Hillary Clinton & Tim Kaine        www.hillaryclinton.comRepublican – Donald Trump & Mike Pence    donaldjtrump.com
Libertarian – Gary Johnson & William Weld www.johnsonweld.com
Pro-choice, legalize marijuana, local education control and school choice, reduce federal spending and deficit, simplified tax reform, scale back US military commitments and spending.
U.S. Taxpayers/ Constitution – Darrell Castle & Scott Bradley www.castle2016.com
Very Conservative with focus on US Constitution’s specific division of powers (limit federal government involvement in the economy and areas such as health insurance, education, replacing with state government power). Pro-life, withdraw from UN, lower taxes.
Green – Jill Stein & Ajamu Baraka www.jill2016.com
Democratic Socialist. Very Liberal (extensive government planning in the economy, little regulation on moral issues, strong social welfare safety net), abortion on demand, Complete government-funded health care system, , legalize marijuana, focus on environmental issues, create publicly owned utilities and banks, full gay rights.
Natural Law – Emidio Soltysik & Angela Walker www.rev16.us/
Socialist Workers Party. All corporations, banks, insurance companies, and natural resources to be publicly and worker owned. Abortion on demand, full gay rights, full social welfare safety net, legalize marijuana. Complete government-funded health care system, steeply graded tax brackets. Full citizenship after 6 months residence, abolition of borders.
Michigan 6th Congressional District Candidates Republican Fred Upton: www.fredupton.com/
Democrat Paul Clements: www.clementsforcongress.com/Libertarian Lorence Wenke: http://votewenke.com

 

Michigan Family Forum Voter Guides: michiganfamily.org/index.php/michigan-online-voter-guide/

  • Currently only President (Dem, Rep, Green, Libertarian), MI Supreme Court, MI State Board of Education; Website says Congressional guide is coming soon (as of 10/15)

 

Readings from Christian Perspectives on the 2016 Elections

A number of Christian friends have asked me for readings to help them sort through the clutter of the 2016 elections. I’ve been compiling a variety of items that I think are useful, whether your branch of Evangelical Christianity is conservative or liberal (and yes, this difference is important). I think you ought to read selections from both sides. I have not specifically sought out representatives of Mainline denominations, but their views largely align with liberal evangelicals. I also have included a reading each from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspectives. I will be putting out my own thoughts soon, but I hope this is generally helpful.

 

Helpful Current Big Picture Evangelical Christian Arguments

Prominent Conservative Evangelical Christians and their Arguments

Prominent Liberal Evangelical Christians

A Roman Catholic perspective: www.ncregister.com/blog/msgr-pope/vote-as-a-catholic-with-a-catholic-moral-vision

An Orthodox Church Perspective: www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/08/04/christians-can-vote-for-trump-but-they-cant-do-it-in-the-name-of-christianity/?utm_term=.f55c5c6a4453