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Dilemma 2020

Candidates from the barrel bottom

Dilemma 2020

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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.

Comments

  •  SleeperSRT10's picture
    SleeperSRT10
    Posted: Thu, 08/29/2019 08:28 am

    Why not just pray for President Trump?   He is being used by God and can continue being used.  I personally think this country needs a non-politician who is not afraid to be blunt and step on people's toes.  We need to come together as Christians and support our president instead of wishing someone else was in office.

  • evertec
    Posted: Thu, 08/29/2019 09:09 am

    Isn't that exactly what Mr. Belz proposed? He said "My personal prayer is that a brand-new person might take the presidency a year and a half from now.... it could also be Trump himself, humbled and renewed by a sovereign God." Praying for Trump while ignoring his flaws isn't helpful to him or the country. We need to be praying that God changes his heart so he truly can be fully used by Him.

  • AlanE
    Posted: Thu, 08/29/2019 09:45 am

    Praying for President Trump is not the same thing as supporting our president. Yes, President Trump is being used of God, as every other president in American history has. Romans 13:1-7 doesn't offer us much wiggle room on that question. We may like more or less of how a particular president is being used, but no president escapes being used for God's purposes. "Not afraid to be blunt and step on people's toes" isn't much of a rudder to steer by. "Is Trump leading us closer to God?" would be a more important question. On that front, I don't think so. But maybe we differ on that. 

  • CJ
    Posted: Thu, 08/29/2019 10:33 am

    "Your candidate is worse than mine!" Great campaign slogan. I’d like a button or bumper sticker with that. 

  • Matt1344
    Posted: Thu, 08/29/2019 02:12 pm

    I too am praying for someone better, but I think better candidates will only arise and be electable when we have a better electorate. Our nation needs revival more than anything else. And if the body of believers is seeking our own good above God's glory and the good of our neighbor (ANY person we encounter in need), we are missing it.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Sat, 08/31/2019 10:05 am

    Joel Belz stays the following:

    “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.”

    I am so sad that you as a believer believe this and pass it along as Christian counsel regarding our president! When someone says they are the “anointed one” you have to take it in the context that they are saying it. Is Trump saying he is the Messiah? Of course not! It is common slang used to say that he is the one left to clean up the mess, deal with the issue, the called one, God’s ordained person, or some such language. In this case it is the China mess he was referring where we have funded the rise of China for years at the expense of our country! China is stealing our technology both in our country and from the companies that have gone to China. They have sent students and spies to America to steal our latest technologies. They have hacked our computers and stolen vast amounts of information from us! They even hacked into our government computers and stole the information on a large percentage of the government workers!   They stole the plans to our latest nuclear weapons some years back. They steer advanced technology companies to China where they exploit the tech for their military. 

    I highlight China’s aggressions against the United States and the world because the strategy for many years was to engage with China in free trade with the belief that China would eventually open up and allow greater freedoms for the people. Free trade was sold to us as the key! Unfortunately, this strategy has not worked and essentially we have funded China’s rise with the vast trade imbalance,  without weighing the hidden economic costs!  In fact, we can legitimately say the strategy was a disaster, where China is poised to overtake us as the world power if things continue as they have and the US continues it’s uncontrolled spending. The K Street business interests have been set as priority, where a few have essentially been paid off, at the expense of our nation! 

    Hong Kong today is a warning beacon where Great Britain was promised that the people would be allowed special rights if they gave Hong Kong over to China. Today we see the vast protests as China has essentially failed to live up to their end of the deal and the Hong Kong people see their rights being taken away. They are angry and realize that if they don’t act now they will be enslaved to the dictatorship in Beijing. 

    I highlight the “anointed” comment to show how Trump has acted with wisdom in addressing the China problem. Not only that, but it shows how even his Evangelical critics are dishonest in assessing Trump! I would challenge Joel to point out the “lies” Trump has said!  He speaks bombastically to emphasize points but as I have pointed out in other posts Jesus and Paul used such language too!  Would you call Jesus or Paul a liar?  You also call Trump arrogant but people from New York are often called this because they speak directly what they think. 

    Rather than criticizing Trump you should be thankful that God has given us Trump! He is the anointed one by God to lead this country! How shameful is your article!

  • TH
    Posted: Mon, 09/02/2019 10:36 am

    Personally, I am growing very tired of reading article and after article all based on the assumption that Trump is a much worse sinner than most. Who decides this? If we had the same information capability for the previous 44 Presidents how many would appear even worse - or much worse? I also believe that by far the biggest reason there is a dislike for Trump is nothing more than his presentation. His style. His tone. Nothing more than his personality. What a trivial and pathetic way to judge a person. How about some articles based strictly on what he has done as President. By their fruits - try that for a change. ;)

  • Laura W
    Posted: Thu, 09/05/2019 07:23 pm

    Style and tone are not simply a matter of personality. Especially for a public figure, they are choices that can, and often do, have moral ramifications. It sounds as if you are saying we should be unconcerned with what he says, as long as we generally like what he does. But speech is also very revealing of a person's character. "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."

  • DV
    Posted: Sun, 09/08/2019 04:26 pm

    Well, I’m disappointed again with your editorial of Sep 2019, “Dilemma 2020” article. I’m surprised how blind you can be. Trump is a miracle from God, no doubt about it! He’s done more for the conservative Christian movement than any president in the last 100 years or more! He’s had spies and a conspiracy and all the forces of the FBI, CIA, NSA, DOJ, State Dept, Fake News Media (FNM), Academia, RINOs, etc, and yet he still won!! And you still don’t get it and suggest that an 'establishment RINO' would be a better choice, or more palatable. Really? You say he’s unfit – how? He keeps people off balance (including yourself) intentionally as part of his negotiation strategy – read his book. It works. N Korea is at the table and hasn’t tested ICBMs and nukes since the talks began. You may not like his words, but his actions are perfect. Which of his actions and results do you disagree with? Where has he been untruthful? He’s been more truthful than any politician in the history of our nation! And the fact that the whole group of conspirators found NOTHING in over 2 years is even more remarkable. How many of us could stand the same scrutiny?

    God gave us a second chance (like Josiah) to turn over the tables – something Christians have not done against the party of Satan (Democrats, liberals, Atheists, Socialists, etc). Think for a nano-second of where our country would be if the FNM and people like you were actually behind and supported this great president, instead of undermining his every action, in front of the world – eager to return to politicians that will sell America out for money?

    Come on, wake up!