riginally, this was going to be an article about why we should vote for Gary Johnson. I was going to argue that Gary Johnson’s principled commitment to libertarian constitutional interpretation in the judiciary would lead to the nomination of a judge who would overturn Roe v. Wade. I was going to argue that, in a very narrow and odd set of circumstances such as these, a pro-life voter may vote in good conscience for an avowedly pro-choice candidate. I was going to encourage my fellow conservative Christians that their choice, however implausible, would still have a shot at the presidency due to the quirky details of our Electoral College system, wherein one third-party candidate winning one state could prevent anyone from receiving a majority of the Electors, thus passing the election to the House of Representatives and winning it there.
Unfortunately, I cannot make this argument anymore.
While I believe that my moral reasoning was sound and, in future situations (perish the thought) relevant, new facts have been brought to light that change the calculus. Most notably, Libertarian VP candidate Bill Weld declared liberal Justice Stephen Breyer and Obama SCOTUS nominee Merrick Garland both to be good examples of Supreme Court justices.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson parted with Weld in his statements on judicial appointments, thankfully stressing the importance of original intent. Consequently, there may be an argument to vote Johnson on the supposition that Johnson would be president and not Weld. Still, the historical record shows that sincere and on-message Republicans who consistently promise to nominate justices that would overturn Roe v. Wade have a poor rate of success.
Since the abortion ruling in 1973, Republicans have successfully nominated nine justices. John Paul Stevens (Ford) was a liberal. Sandra Day O’Connor (Reagan) upheld the fundamental right to abortion. Anthony Kennedy (Reagan) concurred with O’Connor’s pro-abortion decision. David Souter (George H. W. Bush) consistently voted with the left of the court. A court composed of only Republican nominees since the abortion decision would only have stopped Roe v. Wade by one vote (5-4).
It’s worth taking some time to wonder aloud why this is true. Some of it has to do with the more recent evolution of the Republican Party into a fully pro-life party (at least up until this pre-Trump AltRight Takeover). Some of it has to do with the pool of candidates being more liberal to begin with, simply because law school candidates tend to already be left-leaning. Still more may owe to conservative spinelessness and a lack of political preparedness in defending their nominees. Whatever the case, we know that this outcome has befallen a party that, in its core base, has become very deeply pro-life. But, consequently, when we detect a hint of waffling about the necessities for a Supreme Court nominee in a party -- no less on the party’s national ticket -- there is reason to believe this failure rate for the pro-life movement will grow even higher.
How should we then vote?
The answer isn’t as simple as I had hoped. I had hoped to offer a harebrained but reasonable-enough way of participating: Vote for Gary Johnson, and pressure your representative to elect him as president. But having learned of his running mate’s weakness on the issue of Supreme Court nominees, I cannot make this endorsement.
This leaves me with several fears.
I fear this will leave Christians feeling helpless and perhaps even desperate.
I fear this will leave Christians ready to accept moral reasoning that smells okay but tastes terrible.
I fear this will leave Christians looking for any way to do something about the horrifying state of the country.
I fear this will leave Christians, who are facing an increasingly hostile culture, ready to cast about blindly in the dark in the hopes of staving off danger.
I fear this will leave Christians reasoning this way:
- I know Hillary Clinton is committed to everything that is evil from her actions and words.
- Donald Trump’s past actions may be riddled with evil but his words sometimes promise something good (like the end of abortion and protection of religious liberty).
- There is a possibility that Donald Trump will bring about the end of abortion and protection for religious liberty.
- Given that the choice is between possibility and impossibility, it is better to choose the possibility, no matter how minute that possibility is.
- Therefore, a Christian should vote for Donald Trump for president.
As understandable as this line of thinking may be, it is perhaps surprisingly out of line with the way that biblically-grounded wisdom functions. In Scripture, the problem of a disjunct between actions and words always resolves in favor of the actions. This is true in the positive sense and in the negative sense (as with the two brothers promising to help vs. actually helping). This is because it is the time-extended actions of a person that are an extension of who that person is; mere rhetoric, in contrast, is cheap and does not require a change of soul (the tree and fruit). The problem of hypocrisy is a constant theme for this very reason (“You hypocrites!”).
There are two reasonable questions:
1. How can you tell true repentance from hypocrisy?
In the question of leadership of the Church, the Bible says this:
"1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.... 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil..." (1 Timothy 3:1-3, 6 NASB)
The best inference here, given the aforementioned data about the tree and fruit, is that an extension of time solidifies whether the actions are coming from the heart of a person or are a mere facade, ultimately unsustainable in the long run and when it counts. And if there has not been enough time to evaluate someone, they should not be considered for leadership.
While it is true that this strict requirement is for the Church alone, the wisdom implications for choosing leaders in general seem obvious enough to me. We cannot know a heart without seeing action over time. Until enough time and consistent righteous action have welled up, we should not advance anyone into leadership. There is no clear-eyed way of arguing that Trump’s life actions add up to being more pro-life than Hillary Clinton. Nor is there a plausible argument defending Trump’s campaign-season ideological “pivot.”
This is willful self-deception.
2. Should we really choose the direct, unrepentant sinner over the hypocrite?
You should not choose the direct, unrepentant sinner over the hypocrite. In a case where both candidates, by the record of their actions, have supported our country’s mass slaughter of children in no uncertain terms, you should refuse to participate in even a reluctant vote in favor of either. This is not because you need to keep your hands clean from dirty politics or because Christians are called to abstain from voting for people they disagree with on fundamental issues. No, our reason is much more pragmatic.
As it stands, the United States is constitutionally structured to only ever have two major parties in the long run. Sometimes a party collapses and a new party is born, but there are only ever two viable parties to choose from -- with a constellation of spoiler parties whose influence varies with the circumstances.
And as of 2016, the United States has one party that endorses the absolute right of a woman to have her unborn child murdered, and one party that is very seriously opposed to such unwarranted killing.
If Hillary Clinton is elected and Donald Trump loses, Trump’s power to change the party will collapse. He will be the loser he always mocked and he will likely return to his place as a laughingstock. If Hillary Clinton is elected, the United States will continue to permit the murder of millions of innocent babies, and justices will be appointed to keep this going for decades. The Republican Party will continue to fight against Roe v. Wade, and pro-life activists will have a direct line to funding and organizing power from one of the two major political parties.
If Donald Trump is elected and Hillary Clinton loses, Trump’s power to change the party will explode. He will be able to marshal the spineless and principle-free power brokers of the party by pointing to his electoral success. His libertinism combined with his demonstrated history of lying will culminate in a moral collapse for the party. This matters, not because the party bosses are so very moral (if that were true, they would have safeguarded the party from Trump), but because the party’s current structure empowers the pro-life movement. Trump’s judicial nominee would uphold Roe v. Wade just as much as Hillary’s nominee. The difference is that Trump would burn much of the political infrastructure the pro-life movement has built up over the decades, leaving pro-lifers even more disadvantaged than under a Hillary presidency.
I choose to focus on the question of abortion because for many Evangelicals, it rightly acts as a (brace yourselves) trump card in politics. The only things that may rank higher in moral priority could be the destruction of civilization through nuclear war, or the violent illegitimate overthrow of the U.S. government. But my argument is that even if we suspend all of the tit-for-tat problems with the two presidential candidates (blatant racism vs. criminal corruption, etc.), the issue comparison over abortion -- the most supreme issue of our day -- shows that one should support neither candidate.
The reason Christians are called to vote under normal circumstances is because we are called to be good stewards. But good stewardship is less about short-run investments and more about long-run accomplishments. I am not encouraging you to disengage. I am imploring you to be “wise as serpents” instead of letting old patterns dominate. The easiest thing in the world is to myopically focus on the evils of one candidate and slip into voting for the other candidate to give a sense of “doing something.”
The problem is that strategic voting is really more about blocks negotiating for power than about always voting for one of the candidates. As in any negotiation, if you pre-commit to doing a deal, you’re not going to get a good deal. In a normal situation, the marginal gain (which is so high given that the lives of millions of children are on the line) is worth the concessions. But in this situation, we are choosing between a liberal who is up-front about it and a liberal who has embedded himself in the conservative party and manipulated our voters.
To be faithful to our stewardship, we need to vote strategically by refusing to vote for any of the candidates who have a history of promoting abortion. That could very well mean voting for a candidate who is merely symbolic, and perhaps not even on the ballot in a state. But we still need to support those who are fighting the good fight and not bending the knee to the altar of Trump , particularly those candidates who are down ballot. On the question of president, though, neither Trump nor Clinton (nor, unfortunately, Gary Johnson) will do. Evangelicals must go down in history as a group that resisted this seduction.
Matt is pursuing an MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary and is the associate editor for Ecclesiam. He has previously managed projects for Epic Systems. He graduated from Wheaton College with a B.A. in Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy. His main academic interests include political theology and the role of morality in economics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.