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If most of us American evangelicals are still flummoxed by the ethical dilemmas of the 2016 presidential election, we should be studying hard and getting ready. Things could be even more challenging in 2020.
The record shows that a significant majority of U.S. evangelical voters resorted to so-called “lesser of two evils” thinking as they headed to the polls in November 2016. Most of these folks weren’t ready to anoint Donald Trump as their choirboy conservative. But they were emphatically convinced that Hillary Clinton—with her 30-year record of radically liberal alignments—was much more objectionable.
It’s a sorry way to elect your leaders. “Your candidate is worse than mine!” is a pitifully bankrupt motto as we enter our nation’s 59th presidential election. But it’s pretty much where evangelical Christians within WORLD’s readership find themselves. It’s a race to the bottom.
I share the anguish. I’ve edited this column for 33 years—and never found myself harder pressed to suggest, “Here is a Biblically principled path. Follow it.”
The great God who rules sovereignly from His heavenly throne has always worked with flawed leaders.
Indeed, I’ve voted in 15 presidential elections, and have to admit that in almost every single contest there’s been some element of the “lesser of two evils” thinking in play. But never in all those 59 years has it dominated the discussion the way it does right now.
I’ll admit as well that I’ve been a polling booth partisan to the extent that only twice in those 15 elections did I wander across the line and vote for the Democratic candidate. (Yes, I felt a little guilty about that when both of them won!)
In recent years, though, the Democrats have made my choices easier, not harder. When all 26 of the originally registered Democratic candidates this time around warmheartedly maintain their support for abortion on demand, there’s not much sorting or ranking for me to do. Abortion may not be the “single-issue” cause that evangelicals have often been known for. But it is certainly one of the top three. For the Democrats not to give their rank-and-file membership a single opportunity to support a pro-life candidate seems incredible. (And maybe it’s not so astute politically. A pro-life Democrat just might provide the margin that party needs next year to unseat Donald Trump.)
So let’s switch parties, even at this early date, and consider the view at the bottom of that other barrel. Four years ago, there was a whole lot we didn’t know about Donald Trump, and some of what we did know was grievously distressing. Somehow, though, we learned enough to hand him a squeaker of a victory—and to open the floodgates to learn a whole lot more. For many committed conservative evangelicals, there’s been enough good stuff to accumulate some pretty long lists of Trump’s positive accomplishments. Such achievements—usually focusing on personnel appointments (especially judges), on religious liberty, and on undoing years of silly and costly federal regulations—WORLD has duly reported here.
Way too often, however—like in his visit to West Virginia just a few weeks ago—our president also manages to cloud these good things with behavior that is arrogant, untruthful, divisive, and even blasphemous. I know I speak for many WORLD readers when I say bluntly: If we had a choice in the matter, we’d take it.
But haven’t we just also said that all 21 of the Democratic candidates are also unfit—by their own testimony? (I know I said 26 earlier in this column, but some candidates have dropped out.) So I am simply reminding us that the choice apparently waiting for us as American voters next year will only minimally touch on clear-cut moral differences. It will be a bottom-of-the-barrel event. Everybody falls way short of our ideal.
All of which is to say we should stop fussing so much about the “lesser of two evils” approach to our electoral process. The great God who rules sovereignly from His heavenly throne has always worked with flawed leaders. Evangelicals might well decide through this process that Trump is again the lesser of two evils—or even the least of 26, plus or minus. But that doesn’t mean they should try so frantically to make him the hero he clearly isn’t.
My personal prayer is that a brand-new person might take the presidency a year and a half from now. That might be someone who hasn’t won the nation’s attention yet—from some unknown political background, or maybe an independent. But it could also be Trump himself, humbled and renewed by a sovereign God.