Evangelicals, Don't Be Bullied Out of Voting Republican
As America become politically polarized, the church is no different. Recent numbers indicate up to 8-10% of the American population locate themselves in the political extreme—compared to 2-3% only a few decades earlier. This polarization has clear magnetic effects within evangelicalism. The political left and right have their champions within conservative Protestantism.
Trump has, in particular, polarized many political figures because he is such a clear win for certain evangelicals, and such a clear loss for others. But something surprised me about how evangelicals divided politically. In 20th century election cycles, evangelicals were united over their values and voted as a homogenous group. But I was surprised that conservative, Reformed evangelical institutions such as The Gospel Coalition and the Southern Baptist’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, personified in President Russell Moore, who was openly vocal about his opposition to Trump. Trump consequently tweeted: “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!”
There is a predictable sense in which Trump is correct—of course, Russell Moore does not represent evangelicals well as long as they are polarized about Trump (nobody could represent this fraying group well in the political space in our cultural moment). But there is also a sense in which Trump is incorrect, and I was surprised that this sense could come to manifest itself within evangelicalism—Moore’s opposition to the Republican representative indicates that evangelicals are willing to take a stance on personal morality over principled politics for the first time in such a public way.
The Story of Evangelical Polarization
In order to understand how this happened, we need to quickly tell the story of evangelical politics over the past 20 years. Let’s try to do this in less than 2 minutes (500 words).
Rewind 10 years, and you can identify many adolescent and 20-something evangelicals who softened to Obama-era politics in a way that allowed them to play with indulgence in intersectionality politics, LGBTQ alliance, and third-wave feminism without being forced to think too deeply about political identity or its theological consequences. Certain progressive, left-leaning Christian bloggers culturally normalized the notion that you could be a party Democrat and an orthodox Christian at the same time.
And then, when Trump was elected, all of these adolescent and 20-something evangelicals who played with Obama-era leftism actually started to disagree with Donald Trump’s conservative governance. And what was an objection to his personal character in 2016 curdled into an objection to his conservative policy by 2018. And what began as the adoption of leftist scripts by left-leaning evangelicals for the sake of campaign rhetoric in 2016—calling conservatives Racist, Sexist, Bigots, Homophobes—only increased in volume and moral outrage. All along, conservative evangelicals on the other end of this rhetoric who supported Trump in order to hold out for big conservative policy win on abortion, tax reform, big government, etc., become more than happy to vote for Trump for the sake not only of a policy win, but for a cultural win over leftists.
This is how evangelicalism became politically polarized. For the first time, this homogenous voting block has split. But it would be a mistake to presume that this split is all Trump’s fault. It is the product of a decade of evangelicals massaging their theology into cohesion with Obama-era leftist culture. And, in 2016, when you have a public intellectual like Russell Moore come along and decry Trump on the grounds of his character, there is a natural alliance there between Moore and that previously quiet contingent of evangelicals who had become comfortable to identify themselves with a leftist perspective.
Meanwhile, the moral critique of conservative evangelicals carried out by anti-Trump evangelicals became more and more heated. The basic line became: “If you vote for Trump, you’re putting your Republican party affiliation over your Christian duty to critique those in power.” The narrative that Moore and others presented was that if a Christian voted for Trump, they were acting in a way that was unbecoming of Christ, inconsistent with their faith, unprincipled, and morally compromised. One piece of evidence that the alliance between Moore, who criticized Trump on the basis of his character, and Obama-sympathetic evangelicals, who came to agree in leftist policies, was in fact an unholy alliance, is that Moore later apologized for critiquing the morality of conservative evangelicals, whereas the latter social group only increased the frequency and fervor of their moral outrage against evangelical Trump supporters.
In my opinion, the perpetuation of this narrative is what fortified evangelical conservatives in their support of Trump. In their eyes, they were the ones hold onto their moral principles during the Obama era when a large percentage of evangelicals waffled to the left in the form of progressive Christianity, the postmodernism of writers such as Rob Bell and Rachel Held Evans, and the departure from tradition Christian orthodoxy which had been codified and defended by evangelicals for the past century. Not only was the refusal by conservative evangelicals to compromise theologically scoffed at by so-called free-thinking evangelicals during the Obama era; it was now the object of the anti-Trump’s moral scorn against them.
This is how conservative evangelicalism in America became politically polarized.
Five Reasons Not to Back Down
The problem with the left is that it presumes that even to entertain a conversation about Trump, conservative values, or anti-left positions, is itself immoral and worthy of silence.
This is why if you ask any leftist how to enter into conversation with someone who holds culturally significant intersectionality cards—like talking to a gay person about sexuality, or a black person about race—the singular command to all white, cis-gendered, heterosexual men is the same: “Just listen.” Just listen. Anything more is considered a recapitulation, reenactment, and aggressive enforcement of colonialist, sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic rhetoric.
And here, I won’t argue for voting Democrat or Republican. That’s another conversation. Right now, I want to speak to conservative evangelicals who feel that they’ve been morally bullied by leftist evangelicals for worshipping political power over God just because they supported Donald Trump in 2016. You need to know a few things.
1. Electing Donald Trump in 2016 Was Not Evil
First, voting for Trump was neither a sin nor a per se conflict with the fundamental tenets of Christian orthodoxy and morality. You were within your Christian liberty to vote for Trump, and anyone who says otherwise—especially a self-named evangelical who capitulated theologically in the Obama era—is in bald contradiction with the Christian tradition and sound moral reasoning. You did nothing wrong by voting for Donald Trump. Evangelicals who argue that conservative governance contradicts Christian teaching, or that Christians should be big government, redistributionists by twisting philanthropic teachings of Jesus to entail cultural and economic Marxism, are very wrong.
2. Electing Donald Trump in 2016 Can Be Conceived as a Morally Praiseworthy Act
Second, there are many legitimate reasons to have voted for Donald Trump—most basically, the Roe v. Wade issue. It doesn’t matter what moral philosophical model you utilize to account for the evangelical support of Donald Trump. In every model, his election by evangelicals is a conceivably praiseworthy act.
In a utilitarian model of ethics, in the worst case scenario, the informal effects of electing a President with a history of poor moral choices is outweighed by the potential good effected by conservative policy changes. In a virtue theory model of ethics, if you are convicted that conservative, free-market, meritocratic, liberal principles best accommodate the flourishing of mankind—and best avoid its hinderance—then you have acted virtuously in voting for Trump. In a Kantian deontological model of ethics, again, if you believe that these same conservative principles best accommodate the production of a free-thinking, autonomous, liberated, and secure nation, then according to the rational application of your basic principles, you have fulfilled your moral obligation to God, neighbor, and self. In every scheme, from every angle, it is not only plausible—but straightforwardly factual—that the election of Donald Trump was a morally praiseworthy act by the evangelical collective.
3. Jesus’s Teachings Do Not Straightforwardly Translate to Public Policy
Third, the teachings of Jesus about philanthropy do not need to be turned into public policy. This is one of the worst ways that the left misuses the Bible to support its unbiblical agenda. The Bible has been used to argue for a Marxist agenda most famously in liberation theology, which argues that the Bible sets a precedent for the liberation of oppressed peoples, applied not only to enslaved societies but minority societies that share citizenship and social standing with the majority population.
Randall Reed, professor of philosophy of religion at Appalachian State University, argues that the fly in the ointment of Marxist interpretations of Scripture is that these so-called “Christian Marxist” interpretations of the Bible most commonly make use of apocalyptic texts to set a precedent for modern human political policy. For example, Marxist biblical interpreters attempt to manufacture political support from key texts concerning the kingdom of God and the execution of justice. But such rhetoric within Scripture is consistently tampered by an irrevocable sensitivity to the other-worldliness of the church.
The institutional church is not presented as the ideological proletariat which overtakes the bourgeois and middle-class. The Bible does not construe profit as theft (Matthew 25:14-30). All significant political movements presented as historical events in the New Testament are conceived as God’s acts, with his people as bystanders. Political revolution is a vision which can only be executed by divine intervention. These visions cannot be demythologized into redistributionist principles and baked into a big government.
This is a liberal hermeneutic, and it was invented originally as a way to find value in the texts of Scripture while denying the divinity of Christ. The method of interpretation that abstracts the philanthropic teachings of Jesus and the apocalyptic vision of the prophets and apostles, and intermingles those visions into a political agenda that enforces equality of outcome at gunpoint, is not only unbiblical, but guilty of twisting the Scriptures for political purposes that contradict the very vision of Christian life itself. Jesus said: “All who take up the sword, will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52) — and never has this been more true than in countries which have bought into Marxism whole hog.
This doesn’t mean that Scripture doesn’t speak to political issues. But it does mean that those who attempt to realize the peace of an eschatological vision through political action are overplaying the extent to which theological reasoning can take them politically. Don’t be bullied into thinking Jesus was a communist or a Democrat. The way the current values are aligned, with the genocide of hundreds of thousands of children per year being carried out as a consequence of the Democratic agenda, I have a strong sense that Jesus’s inner-utilitarian would have made him a staunch Republican.
4. A Republican Win Is a Mercy to The Left
Fourth, leftists will continue to spew this inexcusable moral vitriol against conservative voters until the snake of the Democratic party eats itself. Two years is not enough time to restore the cultural equilibrium from eight years of Obama’s normalization of cultural leftism and another two years of hysteria over Trump. Conservatives are the voters who are becoming more reasonable. Conservatives actually denounce radicals on their own side. Leftists don’t. Conservatives talk about principles. Leftists make morally charged accusations. We need to have a government that engages in dialogue about the ideas long enough for the left to regain its sanity. The longer the left radicalizes itself in order to cultivate and conscript a rabid donor base, the longer this polarization will continue on both the left and the right. A Republican victory in 2018 will be a mercy to the left.
5. Your Moral Reasons Still Apply in 2018
Fifth, the same moral reasoning that vindicates your 2016 decision holds even more strongly for the 2018 election. There are many good moral reasons to vote Republican in 2018. Again, I won’t argue here that you should. But if someone suggests that on the ground of Christian principles you are obligated to vote Democrat, that is both a lie and it is faulty moral reasoning. If you are planning on casting a principled vote for Republicans in the 2018 election and feel pressured by your Christian community to do otherwise, your community is very much in the wrong. Your vote buys the country two more years of sanity.
Your vote buys your community a closer shot at reversing Roe v. Wade. Your vote allows you the opportunity to perform your civic duty on the basis of Christian principles—that philanthropy’s proper domain is private charity, that free markets work, that there is a meaningful distinction between church and state, and that public policy does not need to carry out at gunpoint a moral standard that you believe God has called you to fulfill on the basis of Scripture. Don’t be bullied into changing your vote just because your Christian community has adopted a leftist script. If you actually change your principles, and become a convicted Democrat, then by all means, vote Democrat. But if you feel morally bullied into voting against your conservative convictions, that’s more of a sign that you need to vote for a party that doesn’t resort to calling every Trump supporter racist, sexist, and complicit in rape culture.
This sort of rhetoric is absurd, and you should see it as further confirmation that we need a more rational form of political discourse, which certainly won’t be accomplished by the sort of inflammatory moral accusations that have become the stock-and-trade rhetoric of Democrats over the past two years. Vote your principles. Vote your convictions. Don’t back down. It’s not unchristian or immoral to vote Democrat. In fact, in our cultural moment, I personally don’t think there’s a more Christian or moral decision than to vote Republican in 2018. But that’s just my uninformed opinion.
There are many for whom voting Republican has nothing to do with fear or panic. There are many for whom voting Republican is based on seasoned moral reasoning, sound ethical calculation, and critically practiced principles. It’s not Fragility. It’s not fear. It’s faith and reason combined in a single act of participation for the sake of public and private wellbeing of the American people. I’m not arguing that there’s no case to be made to vote Democrat. I’m saying that one side of the political aisle is saying it’s immoral even to entertain the notion of voting Republican. And that’s the side that has political polarization hardwired into the very engine of its ideology.
The only thing more Christian than voting Republican is voting your principles despite hollow moral accusations of the other side. And that’s a constitutional liberty that our baptist forebears afforded us that no communist citizen in the world gets to experience.
 Randall W. Reed, A Clash of Ideologies: Marxism, Liberation Theology, and Apocalypticism in New Testament Studies, Princeton Theological Monograph Series (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010).