I despise nearly every statement and policy position of Donald Trump. But even as I oppose his candidacy, I can’t join the chorus of those who equate voting for Trump as support for injustice.
A recent statement by Christian religious leaders says that we are now in “a moral and theological crisis.” Normally, Christians cannot agree to disagree about political choices. Not so this year. Now is a time when “political realities…threaten the fundamental integrity of Christian faith and the well-being of society itself.”
Religion News Service columnist David Gushee helped draft the letter. Gushee wrote that the signers felt that “the Trump phenomenon challenges Christians at a core moral level, such that faithfulness to Jesus Christ is at stake in how American Christians respond to him.”
Gushee says that the letter draws upon the tradition of confessional resistance that occurred during Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. The letter does not compare Trump to these two crises. It does, however, present the Trump candidacy as a crisis in which Christians should oppose Trump; to do less than to resist Trump is to support evil and injustice.
Personally, I find Trump’s positions antithetical to the Christian faith (as well as to Judaism, Islam, and every other major faith tradition). Outside of First Baptist Church in Dallas, few religious leaders see Trump as the moral choice.
But is this a moral and theological crisis? Is the Trump candidacy something so repugnant that Christians must oppose it, just as they were morally obligated to oppose the Nazis or apartheid?
Trump isn’t Hitler. As the Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt persuasively argues, comparisons of anyone to Hitler falls short. While the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) decries Trump’s statements, they recognize the order of magnitude difference between a bigoted candidate and a genocidal dictator.
As in years past, religious leaders should oppose positions and candidates while recognizing the complexity of a political decision. There is a difference between voting for a candidate who holds unjust positions and voting for a candidate because of those positions.
I’m not an ethicist like Gushee. Nor am I a religious leader (thank God). I’m a political scientist who has spent way too much time thinking about why people vote.
People don’t vote based on reasoned arguments or theological positions. For most people, a vote is a decision based on their partisanship and the national economy. They care about how the candidate will help or hurt groups to which they belong: race, gender, ethnicity, and religion. And then throw in candidate characteristics and idiosyncratic reasons.
I know good people who object to Trump’s bigotry who may still vote for him. Unlike most of the signers, I live in one of the poorest parts of the country.
We’ve lost manufacturing jobs that have moved Mexico and China. We’ve lost even more jobs as coal mines have starting closing in response to new regulations. Many see NAFTA as a trade agreement that did far more harm than good.
Our families have taken the heaviest cost in recent wars. We all know men and women who have been deployed to Iraq (my university even had to create a special withdrawal grade for students who were deployed during the semester).
And, being in a rural area with few police, the gun issue is truly seen as a right to protect oneself.
Would it be wrong that one of my neighbors, decides that despite Trump’s bigotry that he is the candidate who is the better choice as president?
These religious leaders should recognize that politics, even this year, is a mix of good and evil, justice and injustice, civility and vulgarity.
It could be worse. We could have a candidate who calls for the destruction of synagogues and the banishment of Jews from Christian neighborhoods. We could have a candidate who prints vulgar attacks on opponents, calling them “shitters” who need to “eat shit.” And don’t even ask about his views of the Pope.
I’m not talking Hitler. This is good old Martin Luther—Republicans should be happy that Luther is not their candidate this year.
I don’t expect any of the letter signers to reject Luther as antithetical to the Christian faith. They know that it’s one can praise Luther despite his anti-semitism and vulgarity. They certainly appreciate the good from Luther’s life and work while disavowing his bigotry.
Religious leaders are right to denounce the many, many policies advocated by Trump that they find unjust. It’s too far, however, to treat this year’s vote as a test of one’s faith. I’ll be standing against Trump, but I expect I’ll be spending my Sundays with some Trump supporters with stronger faiths than mine.