Let me first start by saying of course I’m offended by Trump’s words in describing women and some of the other statements he’s made (or maybe I should say many of the statements he’s made). His comments on women should be repudiated and are indefensible. And do I wish that perhaps there was a better banner bearer for the GOP this fall? Sure. Trump wasn’t my first choice, second, third, fourth, fifth. . . you get the point. There, I’ve said it. Now to get to the heart of the matter.
Many evangelicals are terrible at politics; awful, no-good-as-in-suck at politics. The first major problem is that evangelicals need to stop thinking that politics is about perfection; it’s about the art of the possible in that given moment. Some are thinking that they just can’t support people running for office that aren’t the paragon of principles and righteousness. I could go off on King David, and the very frail human being he and other heroes of the Scriptures were. But it has to be clear this isn’t the church we’re talking about. This is the public arena in a pluralistic society. And besides, can I just point out that as an evangelical, my belief set leads me to believe there is zero perfection this side of eternity save the man, Jesus Christ? So get over it. We are imperfect human beings in an imperfect world, and politics is about imperfect human beings waging “war” in the battleground of ideas.
Politics is a messy business. Life is messy, and politics is on the far side of the messy. Congressmen don’t beat each other with canes anymore on the House floor, but what happens beneath the surface can be seamy, to say the least. Some evangelicals want to say, “Thank you Jesus, I’m not going to get my hands soiled by this messy business.” Well good for you. Hope you keep your misguided conscience firmly shored up and intact as people in office continue to destroy every value you supposedly hold dear.
It’s really quite simple: someone is going to win in politics. You can bury your head in the sand, or as Ronald Reagan put it, give in to “the temptation to blithely declare yourself above it all,” but someone is going to win. Everyone in politics has a set of presuppositions and beliefs of the world about them. So those who win implement their ideas, based off that belief set, into policy. It is that basic. If you don’t want to get your perfect little hands dirty, that’s fine too. But don’t moan and groan and bewail when the State begins to crush you, taking away life’s decisions, destroying life, compelling you to fund things against your conscience and beliefs, and making a mockery of religious freedom. You had a choice, you made it, and in the words of Bonhoffer, “to not act is to act.”
Some evangelicals also struggle with the idea that politics really is binary when it comes to elections: there is Choice A and Choice B. What frustrates evangelicals, and others, is that sometimes Choice A is a bowl of hot gruel and Choice B is a bowl of cold gruel. In these situations, always go with the hot gruel because very rarely do you actually get the New York Strip option (and I love when people moan that there aren’t better choices when they’ve not put the time in to create better choices). Sure, you can vote for Choice C thru Choice Z, but that again is somewhat misguided. You’re voting “your conscience” but you’re not really playing the game of politics. You’re waving your hand at it, but wasting your time and are not effective. I mean, voting for Choice X, Y or Z might help you sleep better at night, but all your doing is soothing your conscience while denying reality.
Politics is about conscience only to the extent that your vote is moving government in the direction you believe is morally right. If you believe it is morally right to have someone in office who advances ideas contrary to your beliefs, fine. If you believe, however, that it is your moral duty to have leaders, no matter how “immoral” they might be, in place who advance your ideas, that’s fine as well. But your actions, and quite frankly, inaction, help move government one way or the other. We do not operate in a vacuum in which mistaken notions of conscience have no consequences.
It’s time for evangelicals to acknowledge and accept the reality of politics. It’s only then that they might actually have success. Until then most will just be wandering about the battlefield of politics, wringing their hands at the terrible ugly mess of it all. My suggestion would be to stop wringing the hands and bemoaning what an awful state things are in. And then go vote for Candidate Hot Gruel