Last Thursday Dr. Wayne Grudem wrote an article for Town Hall arguing that voting for Donald Trump is a morally good choice. And he makes a fair case (although in the interest of full disclosure, one that is unconvincing to me), and as one who has taught and does teach Christian ethics he is the right kind of man to make that argument. But in the wake of the publication of that article, I have noticed a disturbing trend online. Some Christians, seemingly emboldened by the Grudem piece, have begun to demand that believers who are convicted that because of his character they cannot vote for Donald Trump, abandon their convictions, transgress their consciences and just vote for the Republican nominee saying that the most important, really the only, consideration must be preventing Hilary Clinton from becoming president. I think this is wrong, I think it is sad, and I think we need to have a frank and honest discussion about eating meat in the voting booth.
[And in the spirit of Proverbs 18:17, if you have read Dr. Grudem’s piece I would recommend you read this piece from Dr. Andy Naselli, professor of New Testament and Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary as counterpoint and this direct response to Grudem from Dr. John Mark Reynolds, senior fellow in the humanities at The King’s College (New York).]
I have no interest in telling you how to vote, as a pastor that is not my job or my concern (2 Timothy 2:4). And quite frankly when most pastors and theologians speak about politics they sound foolish, and I’m not particularly interested in joining the club. The best piece of advice I ever received about discussing politics came from a man who has ministered faithfully in relative obscurity for decades who said, if you teach your people what the bible actually says, you don’t need to worry about how they will vote.
I can understand how someone with a consistent biblical worldview could look at the character, track record, public statements and associations and alliances of the two major party presidential nominees and conclude that they should vote for Donald Trump to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president. I can also understand how someone with the same consistent biblical worldview, could look at the same factors and reach the conclusion that they should vote for Hillary Clinton to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. And I can also understand how someone with the same consistent biblical worldview could look at the same factors and conclude that they cannot vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton with a clear conscience. In my memory, there has never been a political season like this, where there is so much debate and discussion about which candidate represents “the lesser of two evils” or even if one is the lesser evil. I am as baffled and flabbergasted at where we are as a nation as anyone else. I have no sage advice to give about what to do in the voting booth.
But as a pastor, I am very concerned with how I have seen professing Christians interacting with one another. Specifically, I am deeply concerned about professing believers telling other professing believers to transgress their consciences. I even read a lengthy facebook post by a local Northern Virginia pastor (and I’m not linking to it, or showing a screen shot, because my aim is not to embarrass him publicly or shame those who sit under his teaching) that accused those who say they cannot vote for Donald Trump because of character concerns of being like the Pharisees (yes those Pharisees, the ones who plotted to murder Jesus) straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). In essence he pronounced a divine curse on believers who didn’t share his pragmatic approach to American electoral politics. And I’ve read/heard others make similar arguments, that a believer following their conscience in this matter, who doesn’t reach the same conclusion they have must disregard their conscience. Simply put, this is shameful.
While there is no chapter and verse on how to vote, I think there one key passage that sheds light on how we should interact with one another in this most strange of political seasons. That keystone text about Christian liberty and conscience, Romans 14.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. – Romans 14:1-12
I understand that this is about eating meat, keeping kosher, and keeping the sabbath so this is not directly analogous, but I do think the principle is applicable. And I know this is about the weaker brother and being sensitive to him, and I am not saying that the pro-Trump or the anti-trump brother is weaker, I think arguments can be made in both directions.
But I think the principle here is important, in gray areas, in matters of conscience, believers are not to pass judgement on one another. What is more to encourage someone to disregard their conscience in the voting booth is to encourage them to sin. Consider how Paul concludes his discussion in Romans 14:
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:22-23
Whether you think that a vote for Donald Trump is morally good, or whether you think it is tantamount to voting for evil, I would encourage you to lovingly interact with your fellow believers, especially if you are trying to convince them of your opinion. But whatever you do, please don’t encourage other believers to disregard their conscience in the voting booth, because if you do you are promoting sin.