Recently Dr. Wayne Grudem, a prominent theologian, professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, and author of more than 20 books (best known for his tome, “Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine”) wrote an article for Townhall titled “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.”
It’s a headline that practically begs you to click on it, and I did, expecting this article, like so many with click-bait headlines, to appear more provocative than it actually is. But the headline is apt: Grudem lays out a 5,300-word case for why he thinks voting for Trump is not only morally permissible but is morally good—even imperative for Christians in 2016.
Grudem appeals to his fellow right-leaning Christians, people like me—many of whom have told him they cannot in good conscience vote for Trump and will thus be voting third-party, voting down-ballot, or excusing themselves from the ballot box this November—arguing they can vote for Trump in good conscience. “Now that Trump has won the GOP nomination,” he writes, “I think voting for Trump is a morally good choice.”
With that, Grudem joins the ranks of other opportunistic evangelical leaders who are backing Trump not because of who he is as a leader but because of what he might be able to do for the cause. Grudem goes beyond making the pragmatic case for Trump—that he’s ostensibly better than Hillary and could stack the Supreme Court with conservative justices—and presents voting for Trump as a kind of moral good. Well, I’m not buying it.
Like many other Christians, I have found this election season very distressing. I have grimaced watching people who share my basic political values, as well as my faith in Jesus Christ, jump on the Trump train. (I am also ever grateful to those who have not, such as Dr. Russell Moore.) Grudem is a very intelligent man and, having taught Christian ethics for 39 years, is much more knowledgeable on the topic than I am. But I find his piece troubling and, to be honest, a bit frightening. As a person of orthodox Christian faith, I wish he hadn’t published it. But this is a strange election season, and he has. Here are the qualms I have with what Grudem has to say.
Minor Flaws Are Different from a Persistently Bad Character
Grudem calls Trump a “good candidate with flaws.” This is an understatement. A good candidate with flaws has a past DUI charge. A good candidate with flaws says “binders full of women” in a presidential debate. A good candidate with flaws tells constituents, “Read my lips: no new taxes” and then can’t keep his word. Trump is not a “good candidate with flaws” but a bad candidate who lacks character and makes no apologies for it.
He has bragged about being unfaithful in his marriages. He has said he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose voters. He has called illegal immigrants rapists. He has creepily suggested that if “Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
Grudem writes these off as “careless statements” exaggerated by a “hostile press.” But who can honestly believe all these statements are merely gaffes? A few weeks ago, the Clinton campaign released an ad called “Our Children Are Watching.” The Clinton campaign should never have been able to gather footage for such an ad, but it had plenty to choose from.
Grudem glosses over Trump’s words and actions, saying “I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.” If the aforementioned statements as well as threatening to bomb the families of terrorists, hesitating to distance himself from white supremacist supporters, and treating with derision the parents of an American soldier killed in the line of duty are not disqualifying flaws, one wonders exactly what Grudem would consider a disqualifying flaw.
The End Does Not Justify the Means
Grudem says Christians have an obligation to seek the good of the nation, then states in pretty clear terms that voting for Trump is the way to fulfill this obligation in 2016. This is misguided. First, let me say I absolutely agree that Christians should be seeking the good of their nation, and second that voting is important. But in arguing that Trump’s America would be a better and more God-honoring America than Hillary Clinton’s, and in saying that Christians have an “obligation to vote in such a way that will ‘seek the welfare’ of the United States,” Grudem defines seeking the welfare of the nation much too narrowly.
He frames the question like this: “Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the election?” I am a devout Christian, a conservative deeply committed to the sanctity of life, and a citizen who takes her right to vote very seriously, and my answer to this question is yes. For my answer to another question—Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a candidate like Trump win the presidency?—is unequivocally no. I would love to see Roe v. Wade overturned in my lifetime, I would not mind a few more Antonin Scalias on the bench, and I desperately want religious liberty to be protected. But I do not believe we should pursue these things at any cost.
Trump has not earned my vote. He is not entitled to it as the Republican nominee. And I will not cast it for him. He has proven himself to be mean-spirited, uncharitable, reactionary, narcissistic, racist, misogynistic, and—to be a bit uncharitable myself—a buffoon. To elect a man who feeds off fear, calls those he dislikes “losers,” and has given us no reason to trust he will do what he says once in office is not, in my view, seeking the good of my nation.
Rather, Christians can seek the good of the nation regardless of who is in the Oval Office. Instead of voting for Trump, I implore Christians to seek their nation’s good on the ground: building civil society by being involved with ministries and initiatives that serve the poor and needy and cultivate opportunity for Americans, and by committing themselves to churches that welcome all brothers and sisters in Christ.
Grudem also invokes James 4:17 in support of his case: “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” This is manipulative, and if I were in the business of using Scripture like this, I could easily use this verse to justify my own position.
Voting for Trump Violates My Conscience
Grudem says many “I can’t vote for Trump” Christians don’t understand how different Trump’s America would be from Hillary’s America. This is patronizing. After arguing Trump is simply a “good candidate with flaws” and encouraging Christians to fulfill their obligation to seek the good of the nation by voting for Trump, Grudem spends the rest of his article outlining the differences between Trump’s and Hillary’s America: what will happen to the Supreme Court; abortion restrictions; religious liberty; Christian business owners, schools, and colleges; churches; freedom of speech; taxes and jobs; borders; etc.
In Trump’s America, he argues, all will be well. In Hillary’s America, there will be no turning back. At one point Grudem asks: “Is withholding a vote from Donald Trump important enough to pay this high a price in loss of freedom?” To that I respond: What kind of freedom are we preserving if we cannot practice that most basic of human freedoms, freedom of conscience, by withholding a vote from Trump?
Last Tuesday, Trump said the following at a rally: “They have no choice. Even if you can’t stand Donald Trump, you think Donald Trump is the worst, you’re going to vote for me. You know why? Justices of the Supreme Court.” Grudem echoes this point in his piece, writing of those who have told him they can’t vote for Trump because of conscience: “I wonder if their consciences have considered the gravity of these destructive consequences that would come from a Clinton presidency. A vote for Trump would at least be doing something to prevent these things.”
Indeed, right-leaning Christians like me, who are not voting for Trump on grounds of conscience, have considered these things. My conscience has still won out. In voting for Trump, I would be voting against someone, not for someone. I would be helping set a precedent that says character doesn’t matter in the White House, which I do not believe. I would be saying to the GOP: you’ll have my vote even if you put forth an unacceptable candidate.
I understand where Grudem is coming from. Christians are becoming a minority in America, and it’s uncomfortable. Or, as a seminarian friend of mine put it, “We as Christians are finally feeling our alienness in the West in a way we haven’t for 500 years.” Faced with myriad changes to our political and cultural life in the past few decades, it is tempting to adopt means-to-an-end thinking. But Trump is not going to save us from a society that is increasingly at odds with Christian morals and traditions and make our nation into a shining city on a hill. In fact, his brash tone and unprincipled manner oppose many of the things we hold dear.
So, this November, I will be voting my conscience, continuing to pray for my country, and hoping that come 2020, the GOP puts forth a candidate I can get behind. I don’t consider this an apocalyptic, self-righteous, or reductionist thing to do. Perhaps it’s because I believe the God I worship is bigger than 2016—and that in him my future, our future, is secure.
That said, I know that other Christians will make a different choice. But for me, it’s #NeverTrump, a choice I consider morally permissible, morally good, and imperative in 2016.