On Citizenship, Voting, and Starbucks

Disclaimer: This post is about Trump and Hillary…

There… that probably weeded out quite a few readers. Who wants to read another post about the political and ethical mayhem and turmoil that is the 2016 election? Probably no one. But I thought I would add my 1.1 cents to the mix in the form of an honest appeal to the two or three people left in America who are open to changing their minds about some aspect of the election and our role in it. I also originally was going to post this in a series of three or four posts, but again, no one wants to read any more posts about the election, so I understand I have only one shot.

Many others have written on the subject of how the Christian ought to act in this election season, and have done a fine job to which I can add little (if you read nothing else, read Dr. Grudem’s latest post). My goal is simply to collate the relevant arguments and to add an observation or two of my own regarding the logical and theological weaknesses present in many well-meaning Christians’ ethical conundrums.

Live as Good Citizens

First: what, at the highest level, is our responsibility as Christians in the earthly kingdom to which we belong (for the purposes of the current discussion—America)? To be faithful ambassadors of the coming kingdom, and of the King who will establish His rule over all nations and one day demand their allegiance to Him (2 Sam 7:16; Isa 9:7; Lk 1:32–33; Rom 14:11; 2 Cor 5:20; Eph 6:20; Rev 15:4; 21:24). With reference specifically to our interaction with the nation to which we belong during our earthly sojourn, the fundamental responsibility of the Christian is to conduct himself with honor as a good citizen of that nation (Jer 29:7; Rom 12:18; 1 Tim 2:1–2; 1 Pet 2:11–17).

Christians are commanded by Scripture to live as exemplary citizens in whatever nation they find themselves, while waiting ultimately for the kingdom that will bring perfect justice and peace to the whole earth. Americans live under a unique constitution in which the American people have the position of electors of their leaders. Did you catch that? Voting is not simply a right we can exercise if we feel like it—a privilege we may take advantage of whenever it’s beneficial or convenient to do so. Our position—our role—in the governmental structure of the United States is that we have the responsibility of electing our leaders. In other words, participating in the process of electing our leaders is a way of fulfilling our duty to our nation and our fellow man, taking responsibility for the care of our land, and obeying the imperative of Scripture that we act to the fullness of our capacity as good and honorable citizens.

I am not advocating a jingoistic sort of blind nationalism—not in the least. But that is a topic for another post, and I hope my point isn’t taken the wrong way. I simply don’t believe that abstaining from the election process is a legitimate option for the faithful Christian—especially in a country that is not actually legally restricted to the two mainstream parties, and allows, within the freedom of third party options, for a true diversity of opinion and values to exist. I believe the responsible Christian must take part in the election process. [1]

The Third Option

Now that I have brought up the third party issue, let me address that recourse. Many Christians (and Americans in general) who feel (rightly) that they should participate in the election process, and yet do not feel that they can in good conscience vote for Mr. Trump, are turning to third party candidates for salvation from their dilemma. And by third party candidates, I mean they are usually turning to Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate.

The problem with this is that the Libertarian party is not, and has never really been, conservative, in the sense Christians should and usually do care about. Libertarians are fiscal conservatives and political non-interventionists—in the very narrow sense of wanting a limited government and zero government regulation, though with little understanding of the principle of subsidiarity. Modern libertarians have little in common with their intellectual ancestors—the classical liberals—and rarely have much  understanding of the philosophical foundation of the libertarian position as well. Apart from these two areas, there really is no consistent libertarian position, and the majority of libertarians lean away from social and cultural conservatism, of which Christians have historically been staunch supporters.

Furthermore, Gary Johnson’s stances on the various issues make it abundantly clear to me that for the Christian who is uncomfortable voting for Trump, turning to Gary Johnson cannot be a legitimate recourse. Gary Johnson supports Planned Parenthood and has always been pro-choice (because of his ideology of government non-regulation). He is, surprisingly, not as non-interventionist as most libertarians, believing we should stay in the U.N. (ie. continue giving up U.S. sovereignty); but he is still mostly non-interventionist, including his stance on Israel, which I have a hard time justifying biblically. He is not strong on border security. He is pro-gay marriage and will not protect Christians who refuse to celebrate gay unions. He is pro-legalization of marijuana (again, all because of the non-regulation ideology). In short, he’s a fiscal conservative, and a philosophical semi-anarchist, not a reflective, or classical, conservative. I don’t understand how a Christian can say their conscience won’t allow them to vote for Mr. Trump because he is a crude or immoral man (with conservative policies), but their conscience will allow them to vote for Mr. Johnson even though he has explicitly unbiblical, and non-conservative, positions on various policies.

On Voting Your Conscience

Speaking of the conscience… Please, brothers, don’t use your conscience as an excuse to avoid a difficult decision, or as a cop out for not voting for someone that rubs you the wrong way, or for not voting at all. The slogan of “voting your conscience” is catchy, but it often is used to mean “do what you’re comfortable with,” or “go with your gut.” But the conscience is not an external guide that tells you what you should do. The conscience is the moral faculty of man that passes judgment on one’s actions, condemning those actions one believes to be wrong, and approving those actions one believes to be right. What that means is that your conscience can be calibrated incorrectly. This is what Paul refers to as the weak conscience (Rom 14). We can think some things are wrong, even though Scripture does not condemn them, and we can think some things are permissible, though Scripture condemns them. Our duty then is to constantly feed our souls on the truths of Scripture so that our conscience is calibrated to the standards of Scripture.

The Responsibility of the Christian in Voting

If you believe your conscience would accuse you if you voted for Mr. Trump (which is different than simply being uncomfortable voting for him as a person), it is not necessarily because voting for him would be wrong. It is most likely because of what you view your responsibility in the election to be. You probably believe your responsibility is to only cast your vote for a good Christian, or at least a morally exemplary man.

But that is not the only legitimate position to hold. In fact, I would argue that the responsibility of the Christian in the election is not to vote for the most moral, agreeable, or Christiany candidate, but rather to vote for the candidate who will most effectively protect innocent life and punish evil (Rom 13), promote peace and tranquility (1 Tim 2:1–2), and preserve the welfare of the nation (Jer. 29:7). As Mark Snoeberger puts it:

[When it comes to politicians], I apparently can’t endorse a candidate unless I can also endorse him/her as a person—he/she is good, or even better, a particularly warm and gracious Christiany kind of good. Now this would be important if the candidate was running for pastor-in-chief. But that’s not the office under consideration. What I need to know is which is most likely to uphold the rule of law, punishing lawbreakers and praising law-keepers (Rom 13:4; 1 Pet 2:14), and which is more likely to be the kind of “king” who facilitates “peaceful and quiet lives” where “godliness,” “holiness,” and a robust gospel witness can flourish (1 Tim 2:2ff). That’s it.

At the end of the day, the decision (especially this year) is still not an easy one. That’s the paradox. No one is good. Still, objectively speaking, one of the credible options will rule God’s civil sphere better than the other(s). And so we vote for that person as well as our feeble analysis of the pertinent facts allows, irrespective of who is the better human.

But still, how can I possibly, as a faithful, conservative Christian, vote for such a crude, immoral man?

Well, it really does simply come down to your view of the Christian’s responsibility in voting. Those who say their conscience won’t allow them to vote for Mr. Trump believe so because they view their responsibility in the election process as only giving their vote to someone who agrees with them on spiritual and moral issues, or at least who loves God, or is at the very least a moral and ethical candidate. They are appalled at the notion that any good Christian could vote for such a man as Mr. Trump without their conscience eating them up. But what they need to understand is that not everyone views it as their responsibility to only vote for a good Christian.

I believe the Christian’s responsibility in our sojourn here in America is to seek the welfare of the nation (Jer 29:7). Many will respond, “don’t you think a good Christian man in office would be much better (assuming his competence) for the nation than a brash, crude, unmoored unbeliever?” Certainly. But is that good, competent Christian (e.g. Darrell Castle, currently) a legitimately available candidate (in the sense that it would be actually possible for him to gain the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election)? I don’t know, but I strongly don’t think so (and regrettably so).

Unfortunately, America has become inextricably entrenched in the two party system, which does not allow for the variety of positions that exist within the basic realms of “conservative” and “liberal” and “progressive.” I wish this were not the case, but it is for now. And while it could be legitimately possible for enough “democrats” and “liberals” in the classical sense of those words, to leave the Democratic Party and join the Libertarian or another third party, and for enough “republicans” and “conservatives,” in the classical sense of those words, to leave the Republican Party for the Constitution or another third party, the numbers, both of the general population and of the state electors, dictate that, at least for this election cycle, it would be so close to impossible as to be statistically insignificant for a third party to actually win the 270 electors needed to become president.

In other words, I do believe that the only two realistically available candidates are Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton. For this reason, my conscience would accuse me if I voted for a third party candidate simply because Mr. Trump disgusts me as a person or something, as I would be effectively taking a vote away from Mr. Trump, and tipping the scales slightly in Secretary Clinton’s favor (remember, though, that not voting is not an allowable solution in my view). To read more about other ways people’s consciences are affected by this election, read this, and this.

So, the question remains: between the two candidates that everyone knows are the only two who have a chance in this election cycle, which one will be better for the welfare of the nation? Or, put another way, which candidate will more faithfully execute the duties of government—protecting innocent life; punishing evil. Or, put yet another way, which vote will be a more faithful expression of my love for my neighbor?

Which is Better?

On that note: when considering who, between Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton, would be better for the welfare of the nation—who would more effectively slow the nation’s descent into economic, social, and moral chaos—there is simply no question. Any outcry at this point is rooted, I believe, in a dismay at the prospect of voting for a distasteful person, not in any real disagreement that a President Trump would be better for the nation than a President Clinton.

The matter of the Supreme Court alone is enough to admit that a Trump presidency will be better for the nation than a Clinton presidency. But there is so much more at stake than simply the Supreme Court. There are thousands of other appointments at stake when the new president takes office. There are the matters of religious liberty, abortion, border security, the national debt crisis, education, the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 10th amendments, and more.

Electing a President and Buying Coffee at Starbucks

Finally, I must make an observation regarding a widespread inconsistency among well-meaning Christian voters. If your conscience won’t allow you to vote for Mr. Trump, I think that means you can no longer drink Starbucks coffee or shop at Target.

See the connection? No? Well, if you think that your conscience would bother you to indirectly vote for a distasteful or immoral man for public office (indirect, because you’re sending your vote to your state letting your state know which electors to select, who are the ones who actually elect the president—and if you don’t like that, or don’t understand the electoral college, stop right now and watch this, watch this, and read this), please understand the inconsistency of your clear conscience as you walk into stores and give direct, monetary support to businesses that enable, practice, endorse, and celebrate immorality. If you cannot convince yourself to voice to your state your support for Mr. Trump’s policies, as Wayne Grudem puts it, how is it that you can, with a clear conscience, walk into Starbucks, Target, McDonalds, Apple, CVS, Walgreens, or a host of other businesses and hand them money and show your support?

Seek the Welfare of the Nation

The fact remains that we are not biblically prohibited from electing unbelieving men to public office, or from buying food or goods from unbelieving merchants (1 Cor 10:25–26). So, if your conscience is truly bothering you about Mr. Trump, it may be that your conscience is incorrectly calibrated (i.e. not in line with the precepts of Scripture). In the hazy past, America cared about wisdom and virtue, and Americans voted for presidents based on their competence, wisdom, and virtue, because that’s what they valued, and it’s with great sorrow that I acknowledge this is no longer the case. Today, we don’t value wisdom and virtue all that much, and few can articulate anymore what competence in the political realm would even look like. But the unfortunate reality this year is that we are left with only two candidates who have a legitimate chance at winning the electoral votes, and of the two, we must, both as faithful Christians and good citizens, vote for the candidate whose policies will most effectively preserve the welfare of the nation, protect innocent life, punish evil, and provide for a tranquil and quiet life for us and our neighbor.

If you get nothing else from this post, I urge you to click on all the hyperlinks, and approach this difficult election, as well as those who disagree with you, with humility, dignity, and conviction, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).


Footnotes:

[1] Now, the necessary implication of that claim is that Christians must be informed about social and political issues. A responsible citizen who wishes to participate in the election process to the best of his ability and for the good of his family, neighbor, and nation will take the initiative to be informed and competent so as to vote responsibly and from a position of wisdom and understanding. I’m not really advocating that every single citizen of the U.S. has the responsibility to go out and vote on election day whether they know anything about politics, economics, ethics, and morality or not. If you don’t know a single thing about politics, economics, ethics and morality, it’s hard for me to tell you that you need to vote. That being said, my solution is still not to say “ok, then just don’t vote.” The solution is to take responsibility and become informed. I’m not saying you need to understand everything there is to know about the differences between socialism, communism, feudalism, distributism, agrarianism, the market system, capitalism, and crony capitalism, or have a thorough grasp of the philosophical foundations of progressivism, liberalism, and conservatism. You don’t necessarily need to understand that the federal government is a creation of the states and not the other way around, or be careful to refer to the U.S. as a constitutional republic rather than a democracy. But you ought to know something of the basic structure of our republican government, why the founders thought it was important, why the market system of economics is valuable for the well-being of everyone involved, what the difference is between a classical and neo-conservative, etc. In other words, if you want to be a responsible citizen, you will want to be somewhat aware of the basics of politics and economics, stay relatively up to date on current events, and be able to evaluate these things through the lens of biblical truth.

virtus et honos

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About Tweed Tavern

We exist to exhort passionate followers of Christ to think more deeply about their faith, and to challenge deep thinkers to become more passionate followers of Christ. Throughout history, taverns have provided a venue for theological and political debate. Hoping to honor that tradition, welcome to the Tavern!
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