If you are even a lukewarm follower of the public discussion on faith and politics in America today, you’ve likely lost count of the number of commentaries written on how some Christians voting for President Trump was a serious mistake because doing so was a hinderance to the Gospel itself. That concern is still being voiced, post-Trump.
Newsweek published an editorial earlier this week in which a professor of public policy at Davidson College in North Carolina confessed that his own personal, life-long Christian “faith is in tatters because” so many pro-life Christians voted for President Trump. He cannot fathom how “the death and destruction left in Trump’s wake didn’t horrify them the way it did the rest of us.” The professor says his faith is in such critical condition because, “If Christianity can convince so many to follow a man like Trump almost worshipfully…what good is it really?”
This is a profound question, on so many levels, and it is worth addressing. First, it matters because it questions the historical legitimacy of Christianity’s truth claims. That should always be answered.
And beyond that, it questions the reliability of 2,000+ years of the world’s largest religion based solely on how people voted, many of them Christians, in one country’s two most recent and deeply contentious presidential elections. That seems like giving one relatively small and fleeting thing more power over a much larger, transcendent thing than it should ever deserve. This from a professor of public policy who otherwise understands better than most the messy nature of politics itself and the profound complexities of how and why citizens choose to vote as they do in a democracy.
Good, faithful Christians can and do disagree passionately on politics and the choice of one candidate over another. People of all faiths do this as well. This is not a function or failure of that faith, but of the very nature of what politics is. Politics is the art of strategic compromise. In a democracy, it calls on all citizens to find a way to give up some things in order to reach more important goals. No one is ever a zero-sum winner in a democracy as contrasted with dictatorships which are terribly efficient but distasteful.
To be a citizen means we all have the right to the purity of our faith on one hand and the difficulty of political calculations and compromise on the other. Each thoughtful, reflective person votes for a candidate having sacrificed some measure of personal conviction in the process, for no candidate is pure. That’s the way the world works, unfortunately. The candidate is often conflicted within him or herself. Such is politics. A professor of public policy should well appreciate this.
Yes, Christians vote for candidates, support public policies, and believe things at the community level that other Christians have every right to believe are wrong. This very uncomfortable tumult of politics is to be expected and has no impact on the logical truthfulness of Christianity itself. If anyone is expecting the validity of Christianity to rise or fall based on how some people in one country in the world voted in 2016 and 2020, that is a pretty small view of what Christianity actually is. It is a pretty small view of how truth works.
The truth or falsity of Christianity rests in a few fundamental facts. Does God exist? Is Jesus His only divine Son? Did that Son come to earth as an actual human being, die a real death on a cross and rise again three days later in order to forgive the sins of all of mankind so that we might live in the love of the Trinity forever? Why does evil and suffering exist and is the extraordinary gift of God’s beloved Son the best available answer to this dilemma?
These are the questions this good professor and all other people should be struggling with, for they are the questions our faith lives and dies upon. To determine the true or falseness of something based solely on what others do is never a good idea. It makes you a slave to their behavior and choices. To determine the truth or falseness of one’s own faith on what others do in the ballot box is more tragic still.
Citizens of all faiths throughout the world who have the right and freedom to vote for the leaders of their respective countries will do so. They will go through a hundred different and personal calculations for why they will cast their vote for this candidate over that one. They might cast that vote with great reluctance in some events, and enthusiastically in others.
Christians know better than anyone that every candidate has damnable flaws, because every person does. It is a fundamental Christian truth that each of us are miserable sinners, desperately short of the glory of God. Therefore, every candidate any Christian has ever voted for is so desperately fallen that his or her sin alone would have sent Jesus to the cross. Yet, we still vote. And we must. That is how democracy and civil society work.
Anyone set on basing their appraisal of the validity of Christianity, or any other religion or philosophical system, on who a profoundly miniscule minority of its adherents voted for at some moment in time is using a woefully inadequate measure to determine ultimate truth. Be sure of this: Truth is so much larger, robust, and durable than the last political cycle of any country and Christianity will easily survive it.
Fallen humans didn’t create Christianity. Fallen humans won’t destroy it. It exists because of, and in spite, of them.
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