Understanding Evangelicals and the 2016 Election

This short essay is directed mainly to my non-Christian friends and readers who stumble across this website. It was written a few months before the 2016 election.

As someone with literally hundreds of evangelical Christian friends (many of whom are very politically conservative), Election2016I can tell you that this has been an excruciating election season for Christians. In what follows, I want to try to explain why.

Many evangelicals are single-issue voters. That single issue is abortion. I can imagine that many non-Christians and perhaps even many Christians find this attitude woefully naive. In particular, given a candidate as unqualified, as morally unacceptable, and as unconvincingly pro-life as Donald Trump, why should we support him? Shouldn’t we be looking for a candidate who is “holistically pro-life”? And don’t Trump’s deplorable statements about women, immigrants, etc… demean the image of God that pro-lifers claim is so important? How then can an evangelical Christian even consider voting for Trump?

I think these questions are best answered by an illustration. Imagine that you were a Christian in 1860 who firmly believed that chattel slavery was morally abhorrent. Would you vote for a vehemently pro-slavery candidate who explicitly denied that slaves should have Constitutional rights? Would it be reasonable for you to say “that candidate tirelessly defends slavery, but his policies will decrease the number of slaves”, or “although he denies that slaves have value, he affirms the value of non-slaves”, or “apart from his defense of slavery, there are many good points about his platform”? Presumably, most of us would think it wholly acceptable and even requisite for us to be single-issue voters who could not -in good conscience- vote for any candidate who explicitly and vocally endorsed slavery.

Yet the more I have considered the issue, the more it seems that we are in the same situation today. In 1860, the entire slave population of the U.S. was around 4 million, which means that we abort the entire slave population of the U.S. every 4 years. 60% of all black babies in New York city are aborted. 80-90% of all babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome are aborted. If we insist that we would have been proud single-issue voters when it came to slavery, why not abortion? Obviously there is far more to Christian ethics than abortion. But by what moral calculus can we say that there are many issues are on par with the annual intentional killing of 1,000,000 innocent human beings?

Now, if you are pro-choice, you may view all of the statistics above as largely morally irrelevant. But I hope you can see why a person who views abortion as a grevious moral injustice finds it difficult if not impossible to vote for any politician who supports it. And that is precisely the situation that many evangelical voters find themselves in when they consider voting for Clinton.

So am I endorsing Trump? By no means! While I see the pro-life position as a necessary condition for my vote, it is not a sufficient for my vote. To put it another way, while I consider a pro-choice politician to be disqualified as a morally acceptable candidate, there are many other ways for a candidate to disqualify himself. And yes, in my view, Trump has disqualified himself many times over.

So where does this leave Christians? I don’t know. I’ve been careful to say that in my view both Clinton and Trump are morally unacceptable, albeit in different ways. However, I do not think that is the only possible view. I know Christians who detest Trump but are voting for him as the ‘lesser of two evils’ because -so far- he has not insisted that it’s morally acceptable to kill approximately one million human beings each year. I know other Christians who think Trump is capable through his incompetence and arrogance of starting a war which might easily kill millions and thus are considering Clinton.

Personally, I will be voting for neither major candidate, mainly as a matter of conscience but secondarily because I do not want my voice counted as an “evangelical who loves Trump” or as a part of “Clinton’s popular mandate.” But regardless of where Christians come down on this issue, I would absolutely urge them not to give unqualified praise to whichever candidate they vote for. It’s horrifying to me to think that non-Christians might see us lifting up either Trump or Clinton as a wonderful candidate who reflects Christian values. Our allegience to Jesus is immeasurably more important than our allegiance to any politician or any political party. So I hope that my fellow Christians will make every attempt to prevent our voting preferences from being a stumbling block that keeps people from the gospel.

Other resources:

  • If you have never really considered the morality of abortion, see more here.
  • If you are interested to hear both sides of the abortion debate, I recommend beginning with this debate between pro-life activist Scott Klusendorf and former ACLU president Nadine Strossen
  • For a fuller treatment of pro-life arguments from a Christian perspective, see ‘The Case for Life’ by Klusendorf or Beckwith’s “Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights” which is available free online
  • This is abortion (video) – a 1-minute video showing the reality of abortion. Warning: graphic content. If you are pro-choice, you need to watch this video and be honest with yourself about what you are advocating.

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