As the saying goes, the two things you can bank on in life are death and taxes. Daniel Defoe, who wrote in The Political History of the Devil, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believ’d.” About 50 years later, in 1789, Benjamin Franklin said in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Franklin would be happy our constitution still lives. Hopefully, our nation survives this current election. Ordinarily, the first Presidential Debate falling on my birthday would have been manna from heaven, for a political junkie like me. But, so many moments in the back and forth between Trump and Clinton left me sick to my stomach. What is both fascinating and frightening about this election is that it defies all norms. Analysts and writers have tried to offer fact-based assessments. Conservative thinkers and writers, like David Brooks, have lamented the Trump candidacy for months. But, their warnings have little impact. I won’t try to succeed where so many have failed, but I will speak to how this election and recent debate impact me as a white, evangelical, female voter.
This election sits in the hands of evangelicals. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of self-identified white evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump in the fall (78%). These are my people. But, lately – not so much my politics. To be fair, they aren’t happy about it – this is more of a vote against Clinton than it is FOR Trump. Still, we are on the precipice of electing a candidate unlike any other – with the credit going squarely to people who I grew up with, go to church with, am related to…my people. Therefore, I think the role of faith, influence of money and desire for change are three factors worth discussing.
So, the faith ‘can of worms’ is an admittedly scary one to open, since folks feel so strongly. Most of us agree, neither Clinton nor Trump are saints. Period. But, since this election sits in the hands of those who have made faith a factor at the ballot box in so many elections to date (and are poised to do so again), I would say two things. Number one, I don’t know how Evangelicals can say with a straight face that Trump passes the character and morality tests they’ve applied to countless Democrats (and, many moderate Republicans too!) for decades. Philip Yancy joins many Never Trump evangelical leaders who are baffled by the evangelical allegiance, saying, “I am staggered that so many conservative or evangelical Christians would see a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs, that they would somehow paint him as a hero, as someone who we could stand behind,” Yancey said. “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.” Another voice from the Never Trump camp, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a recent interview with Jonathan Merritt, “If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.” Merritt lists the character and morality standards conservative Christians have employed for decades but in this election, have quickly abandoned. Guys, we look like hypocrites. Scratch that – we ARE hypocrits, as it’s no secret that Donald Trump makes Bill Clinton look like a Boy Scout.
Second, even if you believe Trump’s recent conversion to a deeper faith (sans repentance of sins) you still cannot deny his continued penchant for lying and his zeal for humiliating others. He is the most dishonest candidate in all of US Presidential election history, uttering complete falsehoods at a rate of once every 3 minutes. By comparison, Clinton lies once every 12 minutes, according to Politico. Fortune reported that during the debate, “Trump made more than 34comments that were either lies or mis-statements of fact during the debate. Clinton, by comparison, was tagged with four.” I guess we are somewhat used to dishonesty in politics, but what really distinguishes Trump is his disregard for others.
Conor Friedersdorf has a very thoughtful article just out, where he not only lists the usual examples of Trump’s cruelty, from mocking John McCain to attacking the Gold Star Family that spoke at the DNC, but he also shares examples from Trump’s own family; his
cruelty knows no bounds. Friedersdorf ends, writing, “Giving a cruel man power and expecting that he won’t use it to inflict cruelty is madness. To vote for Trump, knowing all of this, is to knowingly empower cruelty.” Ummmm….that doesn’t really align with Mark 12:28-31 or Matthew 22:36-40. (I’ll save you the time of clicking on the links….The greatest commandments are to love God and love others.) Even if GOP voters acknowledge they’re not picking a saint, the turnabout has not gone unnoticed by the general electorate nor nones (I’ll come back to that).
Okay, so he isn’t a saint – none of us are. But, please don’t tell me that it’s his policies, because Trump fails the policy test nearly as badly as the character one. The Hill recently published a list of 10 areas where the Republican nominee strays from the position of House Speaker, Paul Ryan. That list includes: 1. Ban on Muslims 2. Raising taxes on the wealthy 3. Trade issues 4. Easing restrictions with Cuba 5. Planned Parenthood 6. Immigration 7. Minimum wage 8. Eminent domain 9. Social Security 10. Medicare drug negotiations. And, we could even add to this list, if we wanted. CNN, The LA Times…many have documented the disparities between traditional GOP policies and the Trump platform. So, it’s not is strong moral fiber that makes him appealing. His positions don’t fit the traditional Republican mold. So, what then, is it?
Aside from the fact that he’s not Clinton, the number one reason evangelicals say they are voting for Trump is that they want change, according to Pew. To be clear, to desire change is fine. Heck, I want change too! And, democracy is inherently about the rights of citizens to vote….to have a voice for change. However, my years reading and studying history have taught me a few things. And, one of those lessons is that not all change is good.
China. Germany. Britain.
We can learn a thing or two from these countries. Let’s start with China. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) wasn’t just about the rise of communist power – it was also the decimation of Chinese education and culture. Mao expertly employed cruelty and humiliation. He attacked intellectuals and destroyed everything associated with academia/higher education. And, whether it’s on the massive scale of a country like China or in a small African nation, when knowledge and reason are sidelined in the embrace a strong man, we open the door to very scary outcomes. Millions of Chinese were brutally persecuted during this decade and the ripple effects can still be felt in China today.
Millions. We throw that word around without really thinking about what it means. My husband’s country of Singapore is roughly 5.3 million people. Under Hitler, more Jews were killed than there are people presently living in Singapore. What I find so shocking about Hitler, is that he was elected through a democratic process! Germans actually voted for this man. Why? Hitler came to power in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The more moderate political parties were not working together and people were genuinely frustrated. In came Hitler. His message, in the context of dysfunction and instability resonated. He sounded strong.
Fast forward to Britain and the Brexit vote of this spring. Voters went to the polls with legitimate frustrations and concerns. Nigal Farage and Boris Johnson channeled their angst, offering withdrawal from the European Union as a solution to the problems and means telling the powers that be that they were fed up. But, in the aftermath, as many as one million voters reportedly wished they could change their vote. There was a genuine sense of, ‘what the hell did we just do?’. In an article called, The Folly of a Protest Vote, Charles Blow writes of our own contest, “This election isn’t just about you or me, or Clinton or Trump. This election is quite literally about the future, all of our and our children’s and their children’s futures.” And, that’s what the British realized the day after their vote; their remorse, as they considered the future impact vs their past frustration was palpable, even on this side of the pond. Now that they’d made their protest vote, they were going to have to live with it. And, their children will have to live with it. Since the Brexit vote, the economy has shrunk, the currency has fallen, there have been no new trade deals and hate crimes are up. While the debate is still raging as to how the Brexit process will impact the UK and Europe over the next few years, most agree that in the best case, Britain will suffer only a little; in the worst case, there will be long-term economic hardships ahead. Either way, few if any of the pro-Brexit promises are coming true, and reality is proving to be rather harsh.
So, what does this mean? These cases share a common thread: they are countries that opened the door to change + a strong man while simultaneously eschewing reason/intellectualism….and, it did not end well. This combo has proven catastrophic in the past. Why would we be any different? Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” Trump has shown us many times who he is. Even if you are merely voting against Clinton, and for change, you cannot say that any change is good. Sometimes, change is bad. Sometimes, change = Trump. And, he is anything but benign. He looks a little like the men in China, Germany and Britain.
Right up there with, ‘he’s not Clinton’ and ‘he represents change’, people list Trump’s economic policy as reason for giving him their vote. And, if you listen, one of the most popular lines Trump used in the debate was that we need to lower taxes to stimulate the economy. I hate paying taxes like anyone else. I mean, really, who enjoys parting with their hard-earned income? It’s painful, whether you believe in the causes that our tax dollars support or not.
But, I also can’t help but feel this tug on my heart…this quiet voice that says that the loving others bit in the Bible wasn’t really a message about buying Hallmark cards at Christmas or dropping change into the Salvation Army bucket. It was about sacrificial giving. It’s about writing a check so that kids have schools and roads get paved and the poor get help. It’s imperative that those of us who don’t worry about a roof over our heads or where our next meal will come from, actually consider Jesus’ words in Mark to the rich man:
21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard[b] to enter the Kingdom of God.25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
We can talk forever about our values, but at the end of the day – the way taxes will positively or negatively impact our pocketbooks, is a factor for many at the ballot box. Put another way, Jesus says in Matthew, where your treasure, there your heart is also.
The Bible talks about taxes. And, while I’m not a Bible scholar, the Bible and the GOP/Conservative politics do not align in my mind. Yet, the message has been loud and clear for decades: a good Christian votes Republican. Still, we know from the Bible that Jesus paid taxes (Matthew 17:24-27). Mark and Luke BOTH record the famous line, when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus and he replied, Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Folks, Jesus did not have a love affair with the Romans. The Romans, when Jesus said this, were ruling with merciless brutality and extreme taxation. Ninety-seven percent in the Roman empire lived in poverty, while three percent enjoyed being in the economic elite. And, it was in this context that Jesus made his statement on taxes. The New Testament is clear, that Jesus taught his followers not only in words, but by example, to give to the government any taxes that are owed. If Jesus supported taxes, even in the context of injustice – don’t you think he would have also supported taxes that actually went towards helping the poor, educating children or assisting the elderly and widows?
In case you missed the debate, Trump says he’s ‘smart‘ for not paying taxes. (Gotta wonder what that makes Jesus plus the rest of us for giving to Caesar…) Let me be clear, lower taxes is a very legitimate fiscal policy stance, and we can have healthy debates over tax reform, economic growth, etc. But, do not paint low taxes with a religious brush. At the most macro-level, the Bible paints a picture of generosity that plays out on both an individual and societal level. It wasn’t a nice idea or optional practice – it was part of Jewish culture and governance. Hebrew law institutionalized assistance to the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10). Proverbs offers blunt instruction, saying, He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. (Proverbs 28:2) In the New Testament, this theme of giving continues. When crowds asked John the Baptist about this, he replied, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Just to clarify the math – that means giving half of what you have. (Luke 3:10-11) One of hallmarks of the early Acts church, was their willingness to give:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
I love the way Jen Hatmaker puts it. She says, “We cannot carry the gospel to the poor and lowly while emulating the practices of the rich and powerful. We’ve been invited into a story that begins with humility and ends with glory; never the other way around.” You may not love the politics or the values of the left, but studies are clear that Evangelicals are not known for mercy, justice, kindness or generosity – that mantle goes to the left. According to Pew, 52% of people surveyed believe Democrats are concerned with ‘the needs of people like me,’ compared to just 35% for Republicans. That’s a 22 point margin. And, for the record, this trend goes back to 1988, with respondents also saying Democrats are generally more honest and ethical. And, in nominating Donald Trump, the Right has solidified in the minds of many, a view of Christianity that does not look at all like Jesus. Jen Hatmaker goes on to say,
“Sometimes the best way to bring good news to the poor is to bring actual good news to the poor. It appears a good way to bring relief to the oppressed is to bring real relief to the oppressed. It’s almost like Jesus meant what He said. When you’re desperate, usually the best news you can receive is food, water, shelter. These provisions communicate God’s presence infinitely more than a tract or Christian performance in the local park. They convey, “God loves you so dearly, He sent people to your rescue.”
We are the people. And, we are officially MIA. This is partially why young people are leaving the church in droves. They look at the Bible and then they look at Christians and the two don’t align. So, they bail. As the GOP gets older and whiter, so does the church. And, this is wrong . We are losing elections AND we are losing believers. Evangelicals could learn a thing or two from Pope Francis, who has become increasingly popular in the US. Pew research indicated that his biggest jump in popularity came from liberals. When respondents were asked to describe the Pope, the most commonly mentioned words were “good,” “humble,” “kind” and “compassionate.” And, what a shocker – these are the very things that the Bible tells us we are to be…but, we are not.
I am a Christian because I believe that the credibility of the Bible and the personhood of Jesus are worth staking my life and eternity on. I do not blindly enter into this relationship with Christ. Proverbs warns, ‘Do not let a fool carry your message’, yet unbelievably Trump carries a majority of the evangelical vote, even while thoughtful people and institutions that have been staunchly Republican voice serious reservations – Trump’s record and personhood are not only wanting, but offensive. It leaves me wondering, are you blind? We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand. Some Republicans are waking up, looking around and taking a brave, unprecedented stand. The Arizona Republic just issued this statement on September 27th:
Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. This reflects a deep philosophical appreciation for conservative ideals and Republican principles. This year is different. The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified. That’s why, for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.
The day after that, The LA Times stated Trump ‘badly’ fails the Commander and Chief test. Over 110 Republican leaders have said they won’t vote for Trump. We have never had a moment or choice quite like this. Even still, evangelicals stay. Why do you cling to such a buffoon? You may not credit your faith for this allegiance, but many do.
I doubt that I’ll change any minds this election season. But, as a mother, I have to make the plea that folks take a moment to consider – what this means for not just our country today, but for young people tomorrow. These are young people who will live with the ripple effects of this next president’s policies for far longer than us. And, more importantly, young people are looking at the way our faith informs our world view, and then looking at the church through that lens. I’m sorry to say that many of the filters we have put on the lens have more to do with ideology than true Christianity. Christian millennial
blogger, Amy Gannet says, “Evangelical leaders are going to lose an entire generation of Christians in the wake of our current political and social climate.” She continues with a plea to Evangelical leaders, “It’s a request to leaders in our communities to speak out against the evils that surround and are supported by Trump. Because you’re losing us, and we don’t want to be lost.” If Trump loses, this will be the 3rd election cycle where the GOP has failed to win the vote of young people. And, current polls show Trump losing with women and minorities, as well. As a woman, I will never forget the way Trump has talked about women. And, I will never forget the way both the GOP and Evangelicals did nothing. No thank you. Not me. Unfriend me on Facebook. Take me off the Christmas card list. I don’t care.
While I may not escape death or taxes in this life, I will do whatever I can to steer clear of Trump. He has called women unattractive (inside and out), beautiful pieces of ass, fat, ugly, disgusting animals, pigs, dogs, slobs and more. In contrast, regardless of age, gender, nationality, political party, wealth or achievement – just as you are – God calls me chosen, beloved, His child, friend, His workmanship, His treasured possession, His daughter, His heir, the apple of His eye, blessed and redeemed. One day, my kids will ask about this election, this era. One day, my Savior will look at my heart, He will know my true treasure. I will be accountable. Damn it. I want to be accountable. Search me, Oh God. I may never have a perfect candidate, but I can choose the lesser of two evils.
Interestingly, there are roughly 40 days left in the election and 40 is a significant number in the Bible. It appears 146 times, usually associated with a period of testing or trial. The Children of Israel were in the desert for 40 years. Noah was on the ark during the flood for 40 days. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. You get the picture. God used these periods to test His people. And, in these 40 days till we elect our next president, we still have time to reconsider what this election means for both our country and our church. Nothing in this world will ever be blameless. But, everyday, we vote – for one thing or another. We consider our broken and flawed options, and we take a stand. Albert Camus said, ‘Life is a sum of your choices. So what are you doing today?’ With forty days to go, I look this election through the lens of my mission to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). And, the choice is clear: I am voting for Hillary Clinton.