The Hope & the Agony of Politics

I’ve never been a utopian when it comes to politics. I’ve always known heaven won’t be created on earth. Yet, along with that realization, I’ve maintained a commitment to instilling Biblical values into politics as much as possible. When government follows policies based on Biblical principles, I believe we get closer to the ideal, regardless of the pervasive sinfulness of men.

This past political season was a jolt to my hopes. Faced for the first time with two candidates for president who never should be allowed close to the Oval Office, I had to go another route with my vote. My conscience constrained me.

What bothered me most was what I consider a nearly wholesale abandonment of principle by those who call themselves conservatives, and even worse, those who are my fellow Christian believers who ultimately decided that principles no longer mattered in this situation.

Note: this is not an indictment of many who struggled with their consciences and voted for Trump because they couldn’t imagine the alternative. My concern is with those who have become unapologetic apologists for a man regardless of what he says or does.

Yesterday, I read a column by Erick Erickson that echoed what I’ve been feeling. I’m going to share some of his pertinent comments and intersperse mine. Erickson feels betrayed by politics and by those he thought were his spiritual/intellectual companions. He says that, although he’s always been a Republican, he no longer has a home in that party.

I understand how he feels.

On the right, a party that used to be centered around the idea of smaller government and individual empowerment is instead captured by its own personality that centers around a strong man in Washington and whatever he wants.

I have argued for a constitutional understanding of government for more than thirty years. I thought Republicans, on the whole, agreed with that perspective. Instead, I’m seeing far less concern for that now that “we” have a supposedly strong man in power.

Erickson then addresses the Christian community that has sought, like I have, to return Biblical principles into our governing (especially after the ill effects of the Obama tenure):

Christians are supposed to find some peace in the world by knowing that there is a last day and they are on the winning team. But right now a bunch of American Christians are looking to political solutions for spiritual problems and convincing themselves they’re making a Heaven on earth. . . .

So many people going to church on Sunday looked at Trump and called him a Cyrus, but increasingly this looks like a Maccabean revolt. Sure, they threw out those they saw as pagans and set about purifying temple America, but things did not exactly go well for the people or the kingdom thereafter.

Of course it was all downhill to Herod and the first coming, so maybe it’ll all be downhill from here to the second coming. That increasingly looks likely as the world goes mad, this country included.

Hyperbole? Not from where I’m sitting. That’s my perception also.

He then switches to what he would like to see in politics; I’ll share a few of his dreams:

I want a new party, and a conservative one where conservatism is not defined by beating the other side, but by pursuing the best policies.

I want a party that is pro-family and structures the tax code accordingly and fights for school choice so parents can get their kids educated instead of indoctrinated.

I want a party that is pro-life and that does not run from the Bible.

I want a party that does not define people by the color of their skin or where their families came from, but sees us all as part of the American experiment.

And I want a party that is beholden to ideas, not men.

I will add my “amen” to all of that. And with Erickson, I can also say that I, at one time, thought that existed. Now I’m not so sure. You see, I’ve not changed, but my party has. Ronald Reagan used to say that he hadn’t changed, but that the Democrat party he had always been a part of was the one that moved away from his beliefs.

What happened to a conservatism that was based on ideas, not nationalism? Caring for one’s nation is good, but there is a line that can be crossed. When does one’s devotion to the nation become a substitute for devotion to God?

Here’s one more short paragraph from Erickson’s piece that resonates with me:

To the extent that I have changed, though, I think I have changed for the better. I have a harder time reconciling my faith to my politics and see so many of my friends trying to squeeze their faith into their politics. I would rather go the opposite way and connect my politics to my faith, giving up those things that cannot be reconciled.

One of the key concepts I’ve tried to communicate to students, and to anyone else who will listen to me (I guess that’s why I write this blog) is that you start with Scripture and then make everything align with that. You never start with what others say is true and then do your best to inject Scripture into it, thereby making a false attempt to Christianize something that is not Christian at all.

I’m going to continue on the path of making God’s truth my cornerstone. I will not bow to the political gods who say I should set my Biblical principles aside for the sake of a few Supreme Court justices or some temporary victories via executive orders.

I want to look back on my decisions and not experience deep regret over my subordination of God’s ways to man’s ways. He calls us to be faithful, and that is what I intend to be.

The Adult on the GOP Ticket

Last night’s VP debate was very instructive, or at least it should be if anyone is listening to the lessons offered there. Mike Pence made a great case for himself being the presidential candidate and Tim Kaine did a fantastic impression of Donald Trump with his constant interruptions and overall boorishness.

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While thinking about how I would summarize what I saw, I read Erick Erickson’s wrap-up and discovered that he has already hit all the high points of what would be my summary. For instance, he begins by saying,

Mike Pence won the debate. The only people who dispute this are aggressive partisans. He won, in part, by coming across as the reasonable adult in the room with a calm demeanor and in part by pretending Donald Trump did not exist.

Pence had a tough job going in: trying to defend Trump’s outrageousness and lack of character. He did the best he could by ignoring the attacks Kaine made on the top of the ticket. In his pre-political life, Pence was a talk-show host and his comfortable manner in the public eye showed through clearly. In some ways, he reminded me of Ronald Reagan and his ability to communicate both ideas and warmth.

Erickson continued,

Mike Pence showed his command of issues, his ability to deflect criticism, and his likability. He defended conservative values in ways Donald Trump never could. He was an outstanding, articulate spokesman for life issues. He finally denounced a Russia that his running mate praises.

He then offered this interesting solution to the GOP’s problem and a prediction:

If the GOP could reverse the ticket, they should. Trump, no doubt, is going to passively aggressively attack Pence because Pence outclassed Trump in every way.

He ends his commentary with this bit of reality:

The only major hangup for 2016 is that when the pollster calls tomorrow, he is not going to ask about Kaine and Pence. He is going to ask about Clinton and Trump and that is still a proposition Donald Trump cannot win.

Throughout this campaign, many voters have had this reaction:

better-candidates

Well, at least one of the four fits the description of a better candidate. Too bad he’s not running for president.

How’s this for a hope? Pray for a Trump win, to be followed immediately by a Trump impeachment and removal from office, thereby putting Pence in the White House for at least the next four years.

Sounds like a wonderful dream-come-true to me.

An Evangelical Scarlet Letter?

Increasingly, there is pressure on those of us who have always identified with the Republican party but who cannot bring ourselves to support Donald Trump to lay aside our objections and come together for the sake of unity. And to stop the ultimate horror: Hillary Clinton.

Many who were quite verbal in their detestation of Trump early on (such as former Texas governor Rick Perry) have done a complete 180, now saying he’s just marvelous. Perry, who had said Trump was “a cancer on conservatism,” “a barking carnival act,” and who called Trumpism “a toxic mix of demogoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican party to perdition,” later said he would love to be Trump’s VP choice.

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Ah, principle! It’s so ennobling.

I can’t go there.

There are so many reasons why I cannot that it has become difficult to encapsulate them in one simple blog post. One of the first impressions I had of Trump when the primary debates began was his simple-mindedness, his elementary-level vocabulary, and his complete lack of knowledge on issues of utmost importance.

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Forrest Gump, though, was likeable and never had an insulting, rude bone in his body. Not so Donald Trump.

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His constant personal attacks on the other Republican candidates were legion. The ones that stay with me the most, of course, are those on Ted Cruz, who received the full treatment because he was the greatest threat to Trump’s ascendancy.

In case you have suffered from a type of political amnesia brought on by partisanship, let me remind you of a few of those. First, he questioned Cruz’s status as a natural-born citizen, despite the fact that Cruz’s mother was an American citizen and the fact that the law declares anyone born to at least one American citizen is a natural-born citizen as well.

This wasn’t Trump’s first time using this conspiracy theory. He was one of the leading proponents who questioned Obama’s birth. Now, I know many on the conservative side of the political spectrum still want to beat that proverbial dead horse, but it truly is dead.

Even Trump had to admit that a few days ago . . . sort of:

born-in-hawaii

Those in the know realize he was pressured into accepting it publicly by his advisors, but he continues to hint that it was purely a political move. What a surprise.

Did he ever apologize to Cruz for that foray into political manipulation? Right. Donald Trump apologizes for nothing.

He has never apologized for pushing a false story about Cruz having many affairs (never mind The Donald’s own personal life), nor for attacking Heidi Cruz (claiming he will “out” her for some deep, dark secret) and allowing a horrid photo of her to be placed alongside his model wife (third one, if you are counting—maybe more to come), nor for intimating that Cruz’s father was somehow involved with the JFK assassination.

And then he expects Cruz to endorse him?

I could also go into how he has taken positions contrary to traditional conservative policy; conservatives who used to oppose those positions now suddenly find them delightful because their nominee is proposing them.

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Ah, principle. It’s so ennobling.

Wait a minute. Didn’t I already say that?

In my view, those of us who will not vote for Trump are the ones holding more firmly to what the Republican party says it believes.

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Erick Erickson, a staunch voice against Trumpism, wrote an essay the other day that he entitled “Reconsidering My Opposition to Trump.” At first glance, that would lead someone to think he has now capitulated. Not the case.

The essay begins with a serious indictment of Hillary Clinton, ending with the words, “In short, I see the election of Hillary Clinton as the antithesis of all my values and ideas on what fosters sound civil society in this country. Further, she should be in jail.”

Then why not support Trump? While he goes into a lot of detail why even the threat of Hillary will not move him away from being anti-Trump also, these paragraphs get to the heart of it for me:

More importantly, while I think Hillary Clinton will do long term damage to the country, I believe Donald Trump will do far more damage to the church, which must be my chief priority. A Clinton Administration may see the church besieged from the outside, but a Trump Administration will see the church poisoned from within [emphasis mine].

I see it happening even now. This past Friday I debated the merits of Trump and sat next to a Christian who argued that because God chose sinners, we should choose Trump. She argued that a bunch of other Presidents were terrible, immoral people so we should be okay with Trump. She argued that God chose Abraham, Samson, and David, so we should choose Trump.

I do not recall John F. Kennedy writing books bragging about his affairs. I do not recall Bill Clinton telling a television audience he wanted to have sex with his daughter.

How far a Christian must fall to justify the low morals of one man by tearing down the reputations of others in sometimes exaggerated manners. And I do recall God choosing Abraham, Samson, and David and all of them repenting of their sins. That repentance stands in studied contrast to Donald Trump who has three times said he never had to ask for forgiveness and only recently said his advance of the church, if he is elected, might be the only thing that gets him into Heaven.

My priority is the same as Erickson’s. I want the Christian witness to the world to be consistent. Support for an openly immoral man who sees no need for repentance undermines that witness. By the way, it also doesn’t help Donald Trump. When he sees all those evangelicals lining up on his side and extolling his virtues, how will he ever be brought to repentance? Fervent evangelical support may have the opposite effect and ground him ever more firmly in his sin.

Potential short-term political gain must be subordinated to long-term promotion of the kingdom of God. I’m afraid that Christians who tie themselves too closely to Trump will, figuratively, have to walk around later with a scarlet letter emblazoned on their Christian witness.