Thoughtful Christians will come to different conclusions on this, but it is clear in Scripture that God’s people often do what is right and leave the results to the Lord of history. We know good consequences normally tend to follow right action, yet it isn’t our duty to control history. Besides, if we consider the consequences of actions, we should consider this: How much damage is being done to the credibility of Christian leaders who have long insisted character matters, yet have recently reversed themselves with no more rationale than the commonplace assertion “all candidates are flawed”?
More than ever, the 2016 presidential election has troubled and divided evangelicals. Many have long supported the Republican Party but find it impossible to vote for a candidate who seems to glory in his moral flaws. According to others, his stated social views and promise to nominate conservatives to the Supreme Court make it imperative to support him.
I recently saw the discussion play out at a dinner with evangelical leaders. After the main course, the hostess said, “Okay, everybody, who are you voting for and why?”
The first to weigh in said something along these lines: “I cannot vote for Donald Trump. The argument that he’s ‘flawed-but-acceptable’ implies he’s a normal candidate, but he isn’t. He’s morally reprehensible. He boasts of his sexual conquests, and regularly makes sexist and racially charged remarks. He (partially) owns gambling casinos with in-house strip clubs, so he profits from addiction and vice. He’s inexperienced and willfully ignorant of foreign policy. He voluntarily repudiates treaties as fundamental as NATO, and admires dictators like Putin. His domestic positions are sound, but he took the opposite view on almost everything a few years ago, so no one knows what he really believes. Beyond all that, he’s erratic, belligerent, and too unhinged to control nuclear codes.”
Someone else disagreed: “Even if everything you say is true, a point I don’t concede, Hillary Clinton is worse. She’s the most pro-choice candidate in America’s history, a congenital liar, financially corrupt, and guilty of the self-righteousness that makes healthy self-doubt impossible. She’s committed to the ongoing destruction of the family as God defines it, and is so wedded to Wall Street that she cannot govern for the people. Under her, taxes will rise, government will grow, and the Supreme Court will become more liberal. Except for her feminism, she’s a raw pragmatist. She will continue Obama’s assault on the American system of government by ruling through presidential regulations that supplant the role of Congress.”
A third person said, “I agree with the analysis of both candidates, which is why I won’t vote for either. I’ll either abstain or vote for a third-party candidate.”
This caused the anti-Trump spokesperson to protest, “To not vote for Clinton is to vote for Trump.” To which the anti-Hillary advocate countered, “No, to not vote for Trump is to vote for Clinton.” Finally, the abstainer replied, “So I vote twice by doing nothing? I didn’t realize inaction was so powerful!”
Limits of Consequentialism
The nomination of two historically unpopular candidates prompts the anguish that yielded this Clinton “endorsement” from columnist P. J. O’Rourke: “I am endorsing Hillary, and all her lies and all her empty promises. . . . She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” By endorsing Clinton as “the second-worst thing” that could happen to America, O’Rourke assumed, with most Americans, that voting is a forced choice, guided by pragmatic principles. The goal is to do what’s best for the country (or my portion of it) by choosing a good president—or at least thwarting a bad one.
Is this the right perspective?