This American presidential election cycle has downsides too numerous to list, but it does offer Christians a few blessings in disguise: namely, it allows us to clarify what kind of unity the church should be expected to demonstrate in regards to politics.
The last election didn’t necessarily lend itself to that discussion. Four years ago we had, in one corner, a man who was obviously pro-abortion and pro-same sex marriage, and in the other corner someone who was not. Concerning religious liberty, this was about as clear-cut of an election as it comes. Of course there were those who said things like, “Christians shouldn’t vote for a Mormon,” but those arguments were flimsy and didn’t lend themselves to substantial ethical thinking.
This election, on the other hand, presents us something much more complicated. We—as Americans—get to choose between a woman who literally had the president of Planned Parenthood speak at her nomination, and a man whose sole political conviction seems to be racial division. We have two serial liars, either one of which would be the richest president the US has ever had, neither of whom made their money ethically. “God bless America,” as they say.
So how are Christians supposed to have unity with these as our choices? The answer, quite simply, is that we are not. There is no “right” answer as to how Christians are supposed to view this election. Instead, Christians should respect political diversity as individuals seek to apply biblical principles to our current choices.
Don’t get me wrong; there are some political issues on which Christians should be unified. All Christians should agree that abortion is immoral, and that funding it with tax money is perhaps the greatest moral evil of our generation. Abortion is an affront to the image of God, and cultural acceptance of it is the most widely accepted form of violence against women still tolerated today. Legalized abortion presents not just an attack on society’s most vulnerable, but also a dereliction of the government’s duty to even do the bare-minimum required—to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
Christians should also expect unity on the identification of racism as a sin. Defining people’s legal status based on a presumed racial categorizations (which themselves have no basis in science) is America’s besetting sin. Christians should all agree that racism is destructive, an attack against the historical accounts of the Bible, and should have no place in our nation’s leadership.
And when I say “Christians should expect unity,” what I mean by that is that if a member of your church thinks abortion is morally good, or that racism is acceptable, then that person should be lovingly confronted in their sin, and encouraged to repent.
True Christian unity is seen in how Christians from diverse backgrounds are united in gospel convictions, gospel witness, and gospel community. We aren’t co-belligerent for a candidate, but instead united around holy living and evangelism. We don’t elevate political solutions, but instead amplify the gospel.
That kind of unity does not trickle over into how Christians should vote. Reasonable people with biblical convictions can make different political judgements about what is best for our country. Here are three examples:
A Christian could look at Donald Trump and see a potent combination of vice, arrogance, and love for personal power, and say “having this man as president would be dangerous and possibly spell the ruin of our country, so I’m voting for Clinton” (here is an example of a pastor making that argument).
A Christian could look at the shameless antics of Hillary Clinton and decide that her truthlessness and graft combine to make her entirely unfit to be president. Her wanton aggrandizement of Planned Parenthood simply make the concept of her choosing Supreme Court justices unconscionable. Therefore, this argument goes, we should vote for Trump (here is an example of this argument).
Vote anyone else/don’t vote!
A Christian could also astutely note that the arguments put forward in favor of the other two candidates are both based on the “not-quite-as-bad-as-the-other-really-bad-one” form of logic, and thus are not convincing. A Christian could make a compelling case that the best thing for our nation in the long-term would be Trump loss in the short-term, allowing Republicans to nominate someone who would fight for religious freedom and against abortion, albeit four years from now. This argument is essentially that a Trump victory gives us at least eight years of appalling leadership, while a Trump loss would limit that to four (here is that argument).
Notice that all three of those views are reasonable (to varying degrees). While you may disagree with any of them, none of them cross the lines into violating biblical principles, or would any of them do long-term harm to the church.
At the same time, let me note a few things that would violate biblical principles. A pastor who wants Trump to win so calls his character Christ-like, or who says that you don’t need to repent from sins to be a Christian—that kind of teaching would do more harm to the church than a presidential election ever could. If Christians find themselves defending gambling, pornography, sexual immorality, abortion, or lying for the sake of politics, then they are seeking unity by being for a politician, rather than by being against sin.
I encourage you to celebrate the unity in Christ that transcends political diversity, while remaining steadfast in opposing the deeds of darkness, and making no provision for the flesh. If Matthew and Simeon can share a table with Jesus, then you can share fellowship with someone who will vote for Trump. And when either Trump or Clinton wins, the church’s unity will still stand. If the gates of hell cannot prevail against her, neither can a Super PAC.
Christians have power in our world not because we are king makers, but because we are the King’s slaves, and if that task gets eclipsed for flawed political expediency, then we are poor slaves indeed.
There are some things worse than losing an election.