Despite challenges on every side, we must not check out; we must not leave the city of man; we must not fail to see that it is the times when things seem darkest that the light shines brightest
1. Many Christians are wondering how to handle our current public moment. We need to say at the outset that it makes sense to feel this tension. Living in a fallen world often entails this sort of confusion.
2. Faithful Christianity involves not simply worshipping at church on Sunday, but thinking about the world around us on Monday. This is true of numerous issues right now—racial relations in America, with police-community interaction squarely in that conversation; Islamic terrorism worldwide; threats on numerous fronts to religious liberty; and much more. Aside from the directly political questions that confront us, it is good and right for born-again believers to think at a higher level, and ask what our role is to be in the city of man as members of the city of God.
3. The preceding means that our upcoming American presidential election is a gray area. By this I mean that the Bible itself does not tell us the name of the candidate for whom we should vote. We need biblical wisdom on this matter. Further, we need to exercise Christian charity toward those who do not agree with our conclusions. The candidate one supports should not be presented as a test of gospel conviction, as if the proof that one is a Christian is advocacy for a given candidate.
4. Accordingly, we should not cast stones at believers who choose different paths in upcoming months. I know some who will vote for one candidate; I know others who have sworn themselves against voting for either candidate. It is imperative that we exercise Christian charity in such tense circumstances. Again, the church has often found itself in such straits. This is nothing new. It is merely the same tune played the hundredth time.
5. Here’s something valuable to remember: it’s hard to be a follower of Christ in this fallen world. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s always been hard (read Hebrews 11). It’s easy to mock millenarian movements, those who predicted the imminent end of the world and even dated that end. But here’s why many of them reached that faulty and unbiblical conclusion: they felt that things were falling apart. It couldn’t possibly get worse than this, they said out loud to one another. It must be the end-times.
Life in a thoroughly fallen world, with sin creeping over every inch of available surface like swarming bacteria, means that you might feel tempted to adopt the conclusion mentioned above. You may at some point say to yourself, The world has to be ending, and Christ will return in my generation. This sentiment is not silly. But here is what you must remember: Christians in most seasons of world history have felt like this. Sure, some times are better than others, and yes, I do personally believe that history is not trending upward. But regardless of these data points, the lived reality of a believer in a cursed realm is this: things fall apart. The world is coming unglued. The church is struggling. Society and civilization are on fire.
6. If you doubt the preceding point, think of how the church has struggled throughout history. Here is a limited sample: the persecution of the early church under various Roman emperors beginning with Nero and stretching into the fourth century (nearly three hundred years featuring waves of deadly attacks on Christ’s church); the struggle for sound doctrine in the fifth century amidst an impulse for libertarian theology and the sure decline of Rome; the evisceration of the North African church with the rise of Muhammad in the seventh century; the era of the Crusades, in which Muslims threatened to overtake Europe, and made major gains throughout that land-mass; the spread of bubonic plague, which halved the average age of European citizens in the fourteenth century; the Hundred Years War, which seemed a holy war, and caused slaughter on a widespread scale; the rise of the bloodthirsty French Enlightenment, which led to the deaths of thousands of Christians; America and Britain practicing the slave trade, causing the destruction of countless families and individuals; the world wars of the twentieth century; various campaigns of genocide in Germany, Cambodia, China, and elsewhere.
It’s not that the world is now awful. This world has always been flooded with sin, evil, and awfulness. This is nothing new.
7. This historically-alert perspective allows believers to take a deep breath and not jump to hasty solutions. It is better in terms of American politics for evangelicals to pray, take stock of their situation, and play the long game rather than the short game, whatever that ends up meaning. It is noteworthy to me that the younger generation of evangelicals seems on average concerned about Donald Trump, while the older generation in general seems to support his nomination for pro-life reasons (predominantly). Here we must step carefully and not throw stones at one another or divide over non-essential matters. But it is remarkable to me to see a great hunger among my peers for long-term strategy, not short-term action.
8. It is said by some, with undoubtedly noble desires, that failing to support Trump will mean a loss of opportunity to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices. Others wonder whether the Republican party and its nominee will indeed prove willing to champion evangelical concerns. Will Trump take such action? He has nodded in this direction, yes, but is he trustworthy? If evangelicals support him and he ends up winning the presidency and then does little to advance the pro-life cause, have evangelicals then helped to guarantee that future presidential nominees need do little more than tip their cap toward the pro-life movement? This is a real and present danger. My suspicions here may not come to fruition, but I am deeply unsettled by the lack of clarity in Trump’s positions. What of religious liberty? What of marriage and the family? Trump has said very little about these subjects, and that should leave us watching him closely. We cannot forget that our actions in the short term will surely bear on the long term. If we are a cheap date at the polls now, we will be a cheap date later.
9. We cannot miss that the Republican nominee presents us with various quandaries, not the least of which are ethical. Let me personalize this. I teach theology and ethics. This is a live issue for me (and surely for pastors): can I on the one hand support a misogynistic, xenophobic, adulterous, dirty-dealing narcissist for public office, and on the other tell my students that character matters in public? We must all reckon with this question: what capital in the moral bank do we potentially forfeit by supporting such a nominee (to say nothing of supporting Clinton)? What do we tell our children on this front? What kind of witness do we want to leave to them? I do not ask these questions with bias, but rather with the gravest possible concern.
10. Nobody thinks we are electing a pastor-in-chief. That’s over and done. But some will have the same concerns with Trump as a presidential candidate as they would for much less significant office. In other words, character matters at every level, not merely the executive branch. We do not look for perfect people to elect to office, but we must think this one through. If in our local community a candidate was running for office who had been married multiple times due to adultery and had bragged in public about his sexual conquests, would we put that matter aside based on the perceived ability to get things done in our district? Many of us, at least, would have considerable concerns about such a local candidate. How then can we not have such concerns about a candidate for presidential office, the highest office in our land?
11. This one is sticky and uncomfortable for diehard pro-lifers like me. Even if Trump did support pro-life judges, we must square with an uncomfortable reality: our fight to overturn Roe v. Wade at the federal judicial level has not gone very well over the years, and this is due in large part to unforced errors. We should still do all we can to see this piece of judicial fiat wiped off the books; the gravest moral issue in America is the destruction of helpless infants, and it is this issue—borne of a surging sexual paganism in American cultural life—that ranks us as barbaric. We are not in truth a civilized people, at least not at our core. We have accepted tremendous evil as a matter of public life.
Thankfully, pro-lifers have made many great gains at the state level in fighting the culture of death. While hoping and praying for the repeal of Roe, we should continue our campaign for life in every nook and cranny of America. We should be careful, though—even a bit chastened—about making seats on the Supreme Court the sum total of our pro-life efforts. This is a miscalculation for numerous reasons. Much as we hope beyond hope for the end of legalized abortion, we must be realistic on this front, and fight the fight where it can most directly be fought. This does not by any measure mean giving up at the federal level; it does, however, mean that we avoid thinking that the federal level alone matters, for it surely does not.
12. We are in a strange cultural moment. America feels like one big twisted reality-TV show. We are increasingly led by scoundrels. Our colleges and universities are in many cases lost (especially at the elite level), and now teach an intellectualized, intolerant paganism. Our common cultural life is fractured, and our entertainment is shockingly coarse. The family has suffered major reconstructive surgery; countless children grow up in riven homes, a father nowhere to be found.
Such a world confronts us with many hard questions, as I have noted. The question of who to vote for is one of the toughest. I urge, as noted, prayer, deep thinking, and charity. I cannot and would not tell brothers and sisters which vote to cast. This only their Spirit-informed conscience, shaped by sound doctrine and buttressed by a local church, can do. There is no exegesis to give us the perfect answer in such times.
13. Despite challenges on every side, we must not check out; we must not leave the city of man; we must not fail to see that it is the times when things seem darkest that the light shines brightest. If it has not been clear in years past that the New Canaan is our true home, and not America, many Christians will surely see that this is the case in coming days. Now is not the time for despair, at least ultimate despair; now is the time for faith, and hope, and love, for against these things there is no law, and they can never be destroyed or defeated.