Why Can’t a Christian Vote for Trump? Article by Fred Zaspel (PhD, Free University of Amsterdam)(1-6-2020)
In his immediately famous/notorious departing screed, Mark Galli argues that it would be wrong, inconsistent with biblical morality, for a Christian to support President Trump. It’s a serious charge, although he acknowledges, at least subtly, that this is his “opinion.” But my question is whether that opinion is biblically warranted. It seems to me that Galli’s opinion goes beyond Scripture and reflects an inadequate view of the Christian in the world. I’ll explain just briefly.
Our Lord commands us to recognize that our governmental leaders are appointed of God and to honor them accordingly. Moreover, we are told that their God-given role is to commend good and to punish evil – to promote “public good” (Rom. 13:1-7). All this applies whether God raises up an evil Roman Caesar or a more respectable American president. And it applies to us as Christians in a democratic republic: when given the freedom to vote what ought to concern us is government’s God-given role of promoting public good. The concern is not whether the person claims to be an evangelical (cf. Jimmy Carter) but what policy he will pursue in office.
All this bears directly on the question of supporting Trump. I understand the Christian whose reflex is to oppose Trump because of his immoral past. But I have to ask–on what grounds could we argue that Trump’s past “disqualifies” him from office? We certainly cannot argue it on constitutional grounds. And I don’t know how we could argue it from Scripture.
Again, I understand the Christian moral revulsion to Trump’s past boasts of immorality; indeed, I share that revulsion–of course. But where do we get this notion that Christians cannot support a candidate for public / secular office unless that candidate sufficiently–in some undefined measure–resembles a Christian? This is not a “Christian” or biblical argument but merely an argument grounded in what we Christians would wish to see in our nation’s leaders. And I suspect it is our Christianesque past that has spoiled us on this score, such that we have certain expectations of our leaders that we cannot realistically maintain in post-Christendom.
Rather, we are obliged to recognize the obvious: the world is the world. The world is not the church, and we should never be surprised when the world behaves like the world. The old “We’re not voting for a pastor” argument may over-simplify matters, but it makes an undeniably valid point.
I am not aware of any biblical warrant for insisting that a Christian cannot support a political candidate unless that candidate’s personal life is markedly Christian in some degree. We may decry that person’s immorality and even warn him of hell as its consequence (following the lead of John the Baptist), but I don’t see biblical ground for saying he cannot hold public office. Did not Daniel support (wicked) Nebuchadnezzar’s administration in seeking the good of Babylon (cf. Jer. 29:7)? The world is the world. It is not the church.
Moreover, I wonder if those who argue that a Christian cannot vote for an immoral politician have forgotten our doctrine of common grace–a doctrine that teaches us, among other things, that God mercifully uses even evil people for general good and human flourishing. Cyrus, “the Lord’s shepherd” and “his anointed” is of course a prime example (Isa. 44:28-45:1).
This is not to argue that the immorality in question is now justified–God forbid! But it does illustrate that God can and does use even evil people for the good of others and to hold back the evil agendas of other would-be political leaders. For this we must surely be grateful–even hopeful!
It seems to me that all this leaves the Christian with firm biblical warrant to vote for politicians simply according to policy, to support those who will best advance the good of society. I’m thinking in terms of religious freedom, freedom of speech, the sanctity of human life, judges who will uphold the law in their decisions, general equity, economic goals that tend to general prosperity, national security, and so on.
Now, these in some measure are questions of wisdom, and so opinions may vary in certain specifics. But my point, I think, is firm: Christians are entirely justified in voting according to policy. With full recognition that the world is still the world and that God can use even immoral people to advance human flourishing. The wisest course of action is to vote to promote policies that will best advance the public good.
And Trump’s score on this level, it seems to me, is pretty good!