The morning after the first 2016 presidential debate, Philip Yancey was trending on Facebook.
This is unusual.
Philip Yancey is an evangelical author and a former editor of Christianity Today. I first encountered his work when I was going through a spiritual wilderness in high school, and someone gave me his book Disappointment with God. He's been communicating the gospel of grace for decades.
And he was trending on Facebook.
Why? It wasn't, as I immediately feared, because he had died. No, it was because he had spoken up about the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
You see, Yancey recently did an interview with Evangelical Focus, where he was asked about how American evangelicals have been approaching the election this year. He responded that he was "staggered" to see evangelicals standing behind "a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs." He went on:
I can understand why maybe you choose these policies that you support, but to choose a person who stands against everything that Christianity believes as the hero, the representative, one that we get behind enthusiastically is not something that I understand at all.
You can see his full response here:
Yancey's not alone. Max Lucado, Albert Mohler (former president of the Southern Baptist Convention), Russell Moore (head of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), Lecrae, and others have repudiated Trump over the course of the campaign season. Just this week, a survey from Christianity Today reported that only 38% of evangelical pastors say they are voting for Trump, while 44% remain undecided.
Well, Yancey mentioned the "several wives and several affairs," which, in years past, would have been enough for a candidate to lose the evangelical vote. (Remember the end of Herman Cain's campaign in 2012?) Yancey also mentioned the casinos, though he failed to point out that Donald Trump introduced strip clubs into Atlantic City casinos in 2013.
Then, of course, there's Trump's praise of Planned Parenthood, which should bother strict pro-life evangelicals, his demeaning remarks toward women (just ask Megyn Kelly), that time he mocked a disabled reporter, his perpetuating made-up, racist statistics about black Americans, his remarks about not asking for forgiveness, and that Playboy softcore porn video he had a cameo in back in 1999 (not his only work with Playboy). Among other things.
I was struck, during the first debate, by Trump's reaction when accused of stiffing countless workers whom he had employed over the decades. He didn't deny it and was unapologetic, instead justifying his acts by simply claiming he wasn't satisfied with their work. This brings to mind James's warning to the rich: "The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts" (5:4).
Even if evangelicals decide that they no longer care about a candidate's faith and character, Trump's general tone and attitude raise other concerns. When Jon Bloom, from Desiring God, looked to scripture to try and describe a "foolish leader," his discoveries almost felt tailor-made for Mr. Trump:
That's not even half of his list, and, if you read on, it only sounds more familiar. This should be pretty unsettling to any Bible-believing voter.
The foolish look with haughty eyes (Proverbs 6:17). The foolish engage in slander (Proverbs 10:18). The foolish joke about their wrongdoing (Proverbs 10:23). The foolish make great boasts (Psalm 12:3). The foolish are stubbornly right in their own eyes (Proverbs 12:15). The foolish are quickly annoyed by insults (Proverbs 12:16). The foolish lash out in rash words like sword thrusts (Proverbs 12:18).
These are the sorts of things that lead many evangelical leaders to renounce the Republican candidate.
And yet Trump's support among evangelicals is just as strong as Mitt Romney's was four years ago.
Perhaps evangelical voters are indeed uncomfortable with Donald Trump, but they see Hillary Clinton as a greater threat. That seems to be why evangelical-favorite Ted Cruz recently took the shocking step of endorsing Trump—he did it to combat Hillary. It's a very pragmatic move. Many people feel that the most effective way to fight against abortion, to fight for religious liberty, is to fight the Democratic nominee. James Dobson of Focus on the Family recently penned an endorsement of Trump for Christianity Today to that effect, and Think Christian's 'Christian argument' for supporting Trump by Daniel Howell, a professor of biology at Liberty University, is little more than an argument against Clinton.
(Of course, some evangelicals would argue that supporting Clinton is precisely what Christians ought to do.)
The 'well... Trump's better than Hillary' talk brings us to the ever-popular "lesser of two evils" thinking about this year's election. The logic here is quite simple: we've only got two options, and you have to choose one, so choose the one that will do less damage. (Russell Moore wrote a nice article back in the spring asking "Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?")
Here's the problem with that logic: we don't have only two choices. Voting third party, writing-in a candidate, even abstaining—gasp!—are all options for evangelicals. "We only have two choices" is a lie. The fact that so many evangelicals are rallying nevertheless behind a man whose character is antithetical to their convictions and who, from a biblical perspective, lacks the wisdom to lead well reveals a stunning lack of imagination.
This year evangelicals could learn from our Mormon neighbors.
In Utah, that bastion of the Latter-Day Saints faith, Republicans always do well. They won the state in the last four presidential election with 66.8% in 2000, 71.5% in 2004, 62.2% in 2008, and 72.6% in 2012. Yet, as of the end of August, Donald Trump was polling at a dismal 39% in Utah. It's not because the Beehive State is supporting Clinton. Her numbers are just under Barack Obama's in 2012 and John Kerry's in 2004. The difference is in the third-party support. Those same polls from August show Libertarian Gary Johnson enjoying 12% of the likely vote and Evan McMullin, an upstanding and likeable young Mormon candidate with conservative policy positions, garnering 9%.
Many conservative Mormons in Utah are refusing to compromise their values to support Donald Trump and resisting the lie that there are only two choices. They're listening to the dictates of their faith and then acting differently than the rest of the world. You would think that is the obvious course of action for deeply-committed religious voters... and yet evangelicals are supporting Trump. If only we had the conviction that LDS believers are demonstrating. They're going to come through this election season with more credibility in the eyes of the watching world. I'm afraid just the opposite will be true for evangelical Christians.
But doesn't supporting a third-party candidate ultimately support Hillary Clinton? Maybe, although Democrats frequently sound the same warning: 'voting third party is a vote for Trump!' Regardless of how third-party votes affect Clinton and Trump, one thing is certain. Christians are not called to win elections. We're called to be faithful. We're called to take up our crosses and follow Christ, and, the last time I checked, crosses didn't get you any political power in Jesus' world.