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The next post will discuss political arguments related to this issue in greater detail.
As a senior in high school, I portrayed John Proctor in Arthur Miller's The Crucible
. In the climactic final scene, Proctor is given a choice: confess to witchcraft, of which he is not guilty, or be hanged. Others appeal to Proctor to consider the "greater good." If he lives, then this storm will pass, and he may live to see justice done. If not, he'll have died merely for refusing to give such a tiny token of submission. Others in town have rejected this deal, and been executed.
At first, Proctor agrees. He mouths a confession, but balks when asked to sign it. A false confession is bad enough, but to sign it means living with the public shame of compromising his integrity for the sake of his own life. Wracked with emotion, asked why he refuses to make such a tiny concession, he explodes in a tearful cry of self-loathing:
Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
In the end, Proctor comes to realize that moral compromise always comes at a cost. Worse, compromise spits on the graves of those who have stood on truth and principle, at any cost. As Proctor had asked, moments before his outburst:
"I have three children, how can I teach them to walk like men in the world, when I have sold my friends?
I find myself now in an odd position where life imitates art. As a citizen whose first vote for president was in 2000, I've seemingly lived my entire life under the mantra of "the lesser evil." And, for the most part, the "lesser evil" was quite a bit lesser. At least, to the extent I could morally justify giving my assent to that person's authority.
Make no mistake: in human terms, false confession would easily have been the "lesser evil" for John Proctor. And yet, pushed to the brink, he realizes it is absurd to give power to evil, simply to prevent greater evil. He is especially convicted by the ghosts of those who made a more honorable choice, despite the consequences. So, Proctor chooses death, and truth, rather than a pyrrhic "victory" through moral compromise.
Peter and the apostles were willing to endure beatings, jail, and harassment rather than dilute their message. Paul never called on Christians to moderate their message in order to be relevant in Roman society. Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn't kowtow to Nazi demands to preach a more Reich-friendly Christianity. These men were willing suffer more than just death
— they were ready to accept defeat
Paul, Peter and Bonhoeffer knew that their choices not only meant personal loss, but forfeiting the good will of the powers that be. It meant, in literal terms, allowing the world to tear itself apart rather than bow a knee to "lesser" evil. It even meant letting "evil" win, for now.
Today, various Christians declare that voting for Donald Trump is necessary, as "the lesser of two evils," even while admitting that this evil isn't much "lesser" than the alternative. Like Proctor, I find myself torn between two desires. One is the desire to survive, to "win," to do whatever it takes to stop this particular menace. To fight
in my own power and manipulation. The other is the desire to do what my soul, my children, and my spiritual legacy will endure.
Lest we lose sight of the point, this is not about demanding a perfect candidate. Nor am I suggesting we not vote at all — quite the opposite. But there comes a time when supporting the lesser of two evils crosses a line from "tolerating flaws" to "giving power to evil." A vote is "for" whomever it is "for"; one is not endorsing candidate X simply because they fail to vote for X's most competitive opponent.
As a Christian, I am not called on to "win;" God is ultimately in charge of all that happens in this world. I am not asked to be relevant; some of Christianity's greatest moments have happened when the faith was culturally taboo. I am not tasked with victory; sometimes, evil prevails and service to God means suffering under that evil. Nor am I told that God's will for my life is to figure out the "least evil" way to get what I think is best.
In short, as a Christian, I'm called to be obedient, not in control.
I cannot, for the life of me, find anything in Scripture, theology, or my faith which tells me I am morally justified in voting for a patently anti-Christian, functionally godless, dishonest and truly dangerous person, no matter who he runs against. So, gallows or not, I will not give Trump my support. I will
vote; but not for either of the two major party candidates.
I understand the math. Functionally, if evangelicals abandon Trump, there's that much more likelihood that the Democrat party will win. I realize how many believers feel led to vote for Trump in order to resist an even more noxious candidate from taking office. And I'll be tackling some of those arguments in the next post. For now, suffice it to say that every argument in that vein hinges on one flawed assumption: that Christians are actually permitted to choose any
evil, as long as one we think of the alternatives is even more evil. But we're not. We're told to be staunch, not scheming.
Proctor's exemplar was never more powerful, more influential, and more impactful than when he was willing to accept worldly defeat. Paul, Peter, and Bonhoeffer did exactly
what their Christian faith told them was necessary: stand your ground, and let the world run you right over if need be. Christianity's greatest champions have never been those who played political or mathematical games with evil. They're the ones who refused to cross certain lines, and in so doing proved the power and resolve of the faith.
As believers, we're called to change culture from the soul on out, not from the White House on down. In other words, there are indeed consequences if Christians "lose" an election — and they have nothing to do with the eventual winner. Rather, they're related to the integrity we carry in seeking to make culture more Christ-like.
I will not give my approval to a Donald Trump presidency. Who he runs against is immaterial: he is not a candidate worthy of the support of Christian believers. That might well translate into an advantage, in one election, to a different candidate. So be it. I trust God to use my faithfulness and obedience according to His will. He won't do much if I cling to the reins. "Winning" one office is not worth sacrificing moral authority everywhere else.
Like Proctor, I can't justify lecturing my children — let alone my neighbors — how to live with faith and conviction if I can't even make that choice in the voting booth. The fictional Proctor faced death. So too did the very real Apostles and martyrs of the centuries. They accepted worldly defeat, both in person and as a culture, in order to take an immeasurably more powerful stand. We accomplish more for the sake of good, by refusing to sell out, than we do by lame and faithless attempts to out-politick God.
As believers, we need to reclaim our "name." If we falter in the face of defeat, and compromise our message trying to be in control, rather than simply being obedient, then we are not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang.
The next post will explain why, in this author's opinion, various well-meaning pro-Trump arguments fail.