The presidential nominees from America’s two major parties have forced many evangelicals into a corner we wish didn’t exist. In past elections we may not have been able to agree theologically with either nominee, but we were able to make voting decisions based on policy and platform. We were able to easily denounce candidates who opposed beliefs crucial to the Christian worldview because there was typically a candidate who espoused, at least in rhetoric, positions that eased our consciences. Even on the most basic level, all evangelicals (and Americans in general) have been able to cast a vote for a presidential candidate who was at least morally decent.
I’m only 25 years old, which means I have only had the privilege to vote in one presidential election. In 2012 I was able to cast a vote not on the basis of full agreement with policy or platform, but at least for the candidate I believed would best lead on principles that at least somewhat mirrored that of a Christian worldview. I’ve never believed a presidential candidate has to be a Christian in order to lead well. However, in this election we have two professing Christians whose actions are eons away from Christian ethics or a Christian worldview. We are faced with two major nominees who have built much of their careers on lies, corruption, and positions that are morally abhorrent.
I could never vote for Donald Trump. His rhetoric and stated policies on everything from immigration, women, minorities, and anyone who publicly opposes him is deplorable. His outlandish statements are more than attention-grabbing ploys for ratings. They are a reflection of his heart. And while he barely appeases what conservative evangelicals desire in political policy–defense of the unborn and religious liberty–I simply do not, cannot, will not believe him. Trump clearly doesn’t care for many marginalized Americans who have been born, so I’m more than hesitant to believe he cares about those who are unborn.
I also cannot vote for Donald Trump because he lacks basic moral decency. While for now I’ll come short of labeling him a dangerous demagogue, he has used abusive, demonstrative, and demeaning insults to win the Republican nomination. And while I’m just as frustrated as my fellow Republicans with the recent track record of high ranking GOP officials and politicians, I’m unwilling to sell my soul for the vague promise to defend the unborn and appoint conservative Supreme Court Justices.
My opposition to Trump has led many of my conservative friends to counter with a few reasons they are able to vote for Trump:
- Even though I don’t love what Trump says, he is a lesser evil than Hillary. After all, we are electing a president, not a pastor.
- Even though I’m not the biggest Trump fan, voting third party or abstaining means a sure-fire win for Hillary.
I’m sympathetic if your conscience cannot allow you to vote for Hillary to the point that it will allow you to vote for Trump. But these reasons are not enough for me. In the first case, even if Trump is a lesser evil, to vote for him is to vote for great evil. The lesser evil in this election is not encouraging. In the second case, my voting decision cannot be based on the outcome of the election. To vote for Trump would be a direct violation of my conscience. Voting for a candidate is more than just pressing a button. It is an active and affirmative action. Voting for any candidate is an act of volition support of that candidate. Voting for Trump means that you willfully desire him to be president of the United States. I’m entirely unwilling to go there.
On the flip side, I could never vote for Hillary Clinton. She is a champion of abortion unlike other Democratic leaders. No one has championed the cause of abortion quite like her. And while she may have done great work for many marginalized Americans, for which she (and anyone) should be applauded, it all is for naught when she fails to extend this work to end injustice to the most marginalized among us. Plus, her character is no better than Trump. I lament with my Democratic brothers and sisters who have ardently opposed Clinton throughout her campaign.
While I’m no Bernie Sanders fan, the desire for a candidate who at bare minimum seems to possess decency and honesty is commendable. Her frequent lies and the whole email debacle is enough for even the most hardline Democrat to see a lack of trustworthiness. Most politicians are hard to trust, but we’ve never seen anything quite like Hillary Clinton. While Clinton may have some policies and rhetoric in support of some of the weakest Americans that may cause some evangelicals to vote for her over Trump, her blatant and unabashed pro-choice policies and lack of basic character make her entirely unelectable. I’m entirely unwilling to go there either.
So, here we are. The 2016 presidential election has already brought so much confusion, angst, and apprehension. We are left with two candidates who are more disliked than any president in the history of the United States. We have given ourselves two deplorable candidates for the highest office in the land. Many evangelicals like me are backed into a corner. Where do we (or at least I) go from here? Honestly, I don’t know.
I would never presume to hold another believer’s feet to the fire on his or her voting preference. After all, it is a matter of conscience. I would encourage believers to vote based on a conscience that is informed and transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, but the implications of this vary from person to person. Voting in the 2016 presidential election is not the basis of anyone’s standing with God. The finished work of Christ in the place of sinners determines your standing with God. You will be no more or less Christian after November.
I’m not certain how I will vote (or if I will vote) come November. I’m waiting hopefully and maybe naively for a decent and respectable candidate who espouses at least a resemblance of basic Christian ethics. He may never come. But one thing is certain: I will never vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
The good news for Christians backed into this corner with me is that the world’s most evil kings and dictators have seen their reigns come to an end. But the God who reigns with total and sovereign power, justice, mercy, and grace, reigns eternally. His kingdom will never end.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.