John Piper, in an article last week exploring “Paths to Ruin” in the 2020 election, didn’t so much tell Christians who to vote for as much as he projected guilt and shame onto those who support Donald Trump for president. Piper is “baffled” that Christians could think one candidate’s immoral character is less deadly than another candidate’s pro-abortion policies.
The famed pastor and theologian’s purported purpose in writing the article was “to point to a perspective that seems to be neglected.” His musings, however, are far from a “neglected” perspective. They fill every column of NeverTrumper David French and litter the smooth rhetoric of Democratic Mayor Pete Buttigieg — and they merit a response, especially coming from such an influential evangelical figure.
Piper’s article was not explicitly about Trump and Joe Biden. In a tweet, he later declared he would not be casting his vote for either of the two men. Still, the implications of his writing weren’t ambiguous. He set up a clear dichotomy: One candidate displays the character traits of pride, vulgarity, and sexual immorality, and the other candidate supports the policies of abortion, LGBT, and socialism. I wonder who he could be talking about.
Piper later removes all doubt he’s contrasting Trump and Biden when he brings up the appointment of judges, one of Trump’s most notable accomplishments, and when he refers to the societal “infection” of the “last five years,” which is when Trump entered the political arena.
I’m “baffled,” Piper said, “that so many Christians consider the sins of unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai), and the like, to be only toxic for our nation, while policies that endorse baby-killing, sex-switching, freedom-limiting, and socialistic overreach are viewed as deadly.”
His argument boils down to this: It’s crazy for Christians to think Trump’s sins are less serious than Biden’s policies.
Piper Compares Apples and Oranges
Piper’s framing is at best problematic and at worst intellectually dishonest, for he doesn’t make an appropriate comparison. Piper doesn’t juxtapose Trump’s character with Biden’s character or Trump’s policies with Biden’s policies. Instead, he compares Trump’s immoral character with Biden’s immoral policies.
It’s here that he finds himself “baffled” that Christians don’t take Trump’s character seriously. Many Christians, however, refuse to equate these two unequal realms. Character should be weighed against character, and policy against policy. Piper’s value judgment comes at the disposal of Trump’s policy victories, many of which are advantageous to those pursuing godliness, and at the oversight of Biden’s demonstrably depraved character.
Perhaps Piper compares Trump’s character with Biden’s policies because his analysis is based on typical media characterizations rather than the men’s actual merits. In Piper’s article, Trump’s character is a caricature, and Biden’s character isn’t covered at all — on par with the mainstream portrayal. Although Piper insists it’s OK to disagree with him and concludes he will vote for neither candidate, his entire piece maintains the same flavor: condemnation for Trump and implicit commendation for Biden.
Everything Comes Back to Trump’s Sins
In one section, Piper signals he is about to cover the left’s errors when he asks, “Where does the wickedness of defending child-killing come from?”
Just as fast as he pivots to Biden’s pro-death policies, he returns again to Trump’s character. This “wickedness,” Piper says, “comes from hearts that are insubordinate to God. In other words, it comes from the very character that so many Christian leaders are treating as comparatively innocuous, because they think Roe and SCOTUS and Planned Parenthood are more pivotal, more decisive, battlegrounds.”
This is interesting. It reveals that Piper does, in fact, see a connection between character and policy. Instead of exploring the depths of Biden’s character unto death here, however, Piper immediately uses this as another opportunity to dunk on Christian Trump supporters for valuing pro-life policies too highly.
“I think Roe is an evil decision. I think Planned Parenthood is a code name for baby-killing and (historically at least) ethnic cleansing. And I think it is baffling and presumptuous to assume that pro-abortion policies kill more people than a culture-saturating, pro-self pride,” Piper says. “When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world. He points his nation to destruction. Destruction of more kinds than we can imagine.”
Notice once again that Piper isn’t using the discussion about Biden’s policy as a doorway to talking about the sinful hearts that led to those policies. Instead, he repeatedly juxtaposes the Biden, pro-abortion crowd with the evil character of the other side: Over here is Biden supporting baby-killing. And over here is Trump being self-absorbed and boastful. And Christians are nuts if they think the intentional killing of babies in the womb is more lethal than a single narcissist. It’s absurd.
If Piper Wants to Talk About Character, Consider Biden’s
Equally absurd, however, is that Piper overlooks or denies that the “pro-self pride” of which he speaks is manifested just as strongly in the party that champions pro-abortion policies. This is true based on what Piper himself acknowledges: Pro-death policies come from hearts that are insubordinate to God. Biden’s pro-death policies don’t appear ex nihilo. They are the natural byproduct of his abysmal character and wicked heart.
The Christian voter’s choice, then, is not between one man of bad character, Trump, and another of bad policy, Biden. It is a choice between a man with poor character and another man with both poor character and deadly policies.
Consider the sins Piper highlights as being biblically deadly: “unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai).” Now, Trump, a presumably unregenerate man, does display these qualities, among admirable traits. But is Biden above them?
We’re talking about a man who was also accused of sexual assault (porneia), who has spent an entire campaign boasting about his political accomplishments of the last 47 years (alazoneia), who told a voter he was “full of sh-t” and insulted others (aischrologia), and who repeatedly divides people into factions, specifically stoking racial strife (dichostasiai). This is just from the list Piper provided, and is to say nothing of Biden’s character as it relates to habitual lying, exploiting his positions of influence for personal gain, undermining God’s design for marriage and families, attacking people of faith, and instilling fear to obtain power, just to name a few of the many more obvious strikes against Biden’s character. For an example of “bad company [that] corrupts good character,” look no further than the woman he chose as his running mate.
It is conceivable that a Christian could say that she could not in good conscience vote for Trump because of his character. But what is truly baffling, to use Piper’s word, is that a Christian could, with intellectual honesty, say that Biden’s character is better.
Are Conservative Values ‘Baffling’?
In a final blow to the religious right, Piper trivializes their deeply held convictions to two simple catch-phrases: “freedom and life.” He writes:
Freedom and life are precious. We all want to live and be free to pursue happiness. But if our freedoms, and even our lives, are threatened or taken, the essence of our identity in Christ, the certainty of our everlasting joy with Christ, and the holiness and love for which we have been saved by Christ — none of these is lost with the loss of life and freedom.
Therefore, Christians communicate a falsehood to unbelievers (who are also baffled!) when we act as if policies and laws that protect life and freedom are more precious than being a certain kind of person. The church is paying dearly, and will continue to pay, for our communicating this falsehood year after year.
Is it not baffling, then, that so many Christians seem to be sure that they are saving human lives and freedoms by treating as minimal the destructive effects of the spreading gangrene of high-profile, high-handed, culture-shaping sin?
It is only “baffling” if one first reduces conservatives to pro-life freedom-lovers and then decides human life and freedom are dispensable. Freedom and life, however, are not abstract, and they are not simply a means to accomplish earthly goals or gain temporal wealth. Freedom and life are part of our Imago Dei. They are gifts from God that we are to steward, and we use them in myriad ways to advance God’s kingdom.
So is it “baffling” that a Christian would think God-given sex distinctions are important? Is it baffling that a believer would want to protect his family against the racially charged attacks of a violent mob? Is it baffling that a Christian would desire that his children learn truth, rather than government-sanctioned doctrine — not walking in the counsel of the ungodly? It is baffling that a Christian would desire for men to keep the hard-earned fruits of their labor, giving charitably to the poor and needy? Is it baffling that a believer would value the biblical family structure over the state? Of course, it’s not.
Furthermore, if Piper believes this immoral gangrene that spreads throughout our country is a result of one unregenerate man instead of the result of the wickedness in the hearts of every sinful citizen, he is a fool.
Vote with a Clear Conscience
Piper leaves us with an important question, one that all Christian Americans should ask regardless of who is in office and whether it is an election year: “Have you inadvertently created the mindset that the greatest issue in life is saving America and its earthly benefits?”
Eternity is more important than Election Day, but it is wrong to assume that Christians who would maintain a zeal for the preservation of the freest country on Earth would do so at the expense of eternal joys. It is likewise wrong to assume that the two cannot go hand in hand, for to save America and her benefits is to perpetuate a cultural climate in which the gospel can go forth freely, family structures are prized, children learn truth, and life is valued.
It should baffle no one that I will be casting my vote for Donald Trump on Nov. 3, and my conscience is clear.