I am becoming more convinced that the era of argument is over. Whether in the public sphere, or sadly, even among family and friends, or communities I have witnessed the very swift decline of exchange of ideas, benefit of doubt, and allowance of nuance. I have certainly been guilty of contributing to this decline, perhaps even as I sit down to write this blog post. But I think about this a great deal when I reflect on why I feel such a heavy weight about discourse on issues, on politics, on morality or ethics. Certainly “there is nothing new under the sun” and I have recognized there is a definite hubris in thinking of the current era as being more significant, better or worse, than others. However I must admit that I have felt the weight more acutely of the disconnect, the fog, the fear, in the past few years than I ever have before.
Something is in the air.
As I’ve reflected on the root of my own inner ‘barometer’ I am coming to realize more that, what I thought was fear, being afraid of ‘what might happen’ is actually deep sadness, a profound sorrow. What masks itself in me or comes out as anger is really confusion and hurt. Maybe that’s what many of us are operating out of, sorrow, confusion, and hurt, in the face of an uncertain future. Perhaps systems around us we see as clearly broken, decline in our perceived or actual security and ability to provide, and a shifting culture around us drive us to this. But instead of looking towards one another, admitting we’re troubled, confused, and hurt, fear makes us act out in displays of suspicion, anger, and defensiveness. I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like I can be totally open anymore. I’ve seen the unspoken (or spoken) “shut down” happen too often, the subtle shift in a community when someone who suggests something ‘off the agreed playbook’ gets quietly labeled and marginalized. The thing that’s most troubling is that it’s generally good-hearted people who end up doing this to each other, so I figure there has to be something else going on.
So, I’m not going to argue anything here. But I am going to share what is really going on in my heart and mind, as a Christian and a priest in the face of the ubiquitous election season, and specifically the Trump phenomenon. I feel I have to because my conviction says it would be immoral and denying my convictions to stay silent. But I want to be clear and speak in a way that is not rooted in anger, suspicion of anyone, or fear. I have felt these emotions, but I know those are not the truest reasons for what I have to say. Emotions are often unreliable, and reactions almost always so. I am convicted to speak because I am sorrowful, confused, and hurt. It is a weight I cannot bear anymore. I have considered the matter prayerfully and tried to make sure I’m not just taking some political position. I don’t believe that’s what this is. I have no interest in telling anyone how to vote, or, God forbid, use my position as a priest to manipulate people. As I have said before, I am not interested in controlling anyone. I left faith communities that handed out “voter’s guides” at the door and I don’t ever want to go back to that. Maybe that’s part of the weight I feel. It’s when I see faith language start to creep into the support of Trump, or any candidate for that matter, or even the suggestion that a Christian somehow “should” support him in opposition to a “greater evil” – that’s when it starts to involve me, as someone charged with leadership in a faith community.
Here is the distinction I draw:
Do I believe a person can be a Christian and vote for Trump? Yes.
Do I believe that a person can support Trump because he or she is a Christian? No.
I have long believed that no party, Republican or Democrat, holds a platform that a Christian can really, fully, support. It’s always a decision of priorities, a decision which I believe Christians of sincere faith can come to different conclusions on. Many Christians I know call themselves “single issue voters.” Often this single issue is abortion. It is rooted in the core conviction that all life is sacred, and begins at conception. These Christians will check what a candidate’s position is specifically on abortion and vote from there. Other Christians, equally pro-life, I would say, consider the “life” question as being more complicated. This Christian voter may even vote time to time for a “pro-choice” candidate that they believe has a track record for alleviating the factors that surround abortion: access health care and education or issues of systematic poverty. I think both of these voters can vote the way they do in sincerity. I do not, however, believe a Christian can take the stance of being “pro-abortion.” Some Christians are against any and all war, which they can use Scripture to back up. Other Christians see the issue of war as being complicated, and sometimes justified – these Christians can also use Scripture to back up their position. Both can sincerely come to this conclusion, I believe. I do not, however, believe a Christian can be “pro-war.” Christians of sincere faith come to different conclusions concerning issues of guns, health care, LGBTQ rights, taxes, immigration, and many other political issues. Some things I think a Christian cannot support: torture, oppression, greed, exploitation, blatant immorality.
This brings me to the conundrum many voters who identify as Christians, voters who may have aligned themselves more often with the Republican Party, find themselves in. Can they support Donald Trump? I need to put the disclaimer on before I go further. I am not a single issue voter. I do consider myself thoroughly pro-life, which for me includes the issues of abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia, but also overlaps into issues of poverty, health care, war, guns, immigration, and protection of minorities. I try to look at every issue through the lens of life being sacred, all of it. Again, no party has a consistent platform for me, so I don’t vote party line. I try to prayerfully vote for the best candidate keeping in mind that scripture we hear every Sunday at Liturgy “Put not your trust in princes in sons of men in whom there is no salvation.”
I’ve been following the Trump phenomenon since the beginning of the primaries. Let me share what I have observed. I have watched him insult female candidates, candidates wives, and news anchors, usually taking a crude swipe at their looks. I have watched him demonize illegal immigrants, calling for building a wall and making Mexico pay for it. I have watched him call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country “until we get this thing figured out” (actual reason given). I have heard him speak of his own faith, which, I would never judge the heart of any man, only God can do that, but I do recall him publicly making the point that he does not feel the need to ask forgiveness from God. I have watched him degrade and belittle those who disagree with him, not with substantive counter-argument, but with name-calling, personal insults, and the suggestion they are “losers”. I watched footage of a rally in Louisville, where a young black woman was insulted, pushed, and spat on by a group of full-grown white men. I recalled Trump mentioning that there was a time when protesters could “get roughed up” and I recall him suggesting he might pay legal expenses for those who get in trouble making sure “to get those people out of here”. I recall a moment right before that incident at the rally in Louisville hearing Trump look over at protesters and ask “Are you from Mexico”? and then stirring up the crowd with his usual “get them out of here” command. I have heard him condone torture, I have heard him suggest that the families of terrorists should be hunted down and killed. In a rally in Indianapolis I heard him point out the journalists in attendance and call them “the worst people, very dishonest”, and then as “do we hate the media”? This was met with a rousing cheer. I have seen this man, time and again, tap into emotions and reactions that I, as a Christian, have been taught are the very worst of our broken human tendencies, things which we are called to repent of: fear, anxiety, tearing down the ‘other’, defensiveness, pride, vainglory, mockery. It is for these reasons I morally cannot support Donald Trump, and do not believe one can support him based on one’s Christian faith. Again a Christian may support him for other reasons, but to blend a reason of faith into the equation simply does not follow. I do not believe it can be justified.
I have done my homework on how Donald Trump made his fortune. I know he bankrupted several companies, of course getting rich himself off of it, but at whose expense? Ordinary working people I’m sure. He has made his fortune off of casinos. I even read the arresting fact that, if elected, Donald Trump would be the first president to have owned a strip club. I think the character of the man matters. Of course, in the arena of politics, one could argue a virtuous man or woman is hard to find. I’m not looking for perfection, but, as a Christian I cannot see how I could trust the judgment of someone who has made his fortune in such a way.
I am further concerned, as a Christian, by the claims made by Trump to be the one who can make things “great” again. He has asserted not that his ideas, but that he is the one who can unite and bring greatness back to our country. At the event in Indianapolis he had the hubris to say he would personally “fix” the drug problem in our country. His rhetoric has taken on something of messianic proportions – he is the so-called “outsider” (how a multibillionaire reality TV star can be considered the outsider who can ‘relate’ to the common man is beyond me) who has come to shake things up and set things right again. But there is a dark side to his promise. It is at the expense of the “losers”. Who are the “losers”? Immigrants, outsiders and those who disagree with him, who do not buy into the need to unite around him. Not only is this historically the recipe for a fascist dictator, his promised “greatness” is quite at odds with the Gospel. Seriously, read what Jesus stood for, taught, and the way in which He lived. I cannot find any places where these two worldviews meet, which is, again, why I do not believe one can vote for Donald Trump based on any Christian values.
But what of the one issue voter? This past week I heard a report from a good friend that he had been told by some very devout, conscientious Christian friends that they had determined they must vote for Trump because the president of a well-known “pro-life” group, Operation Rescue, had written a letter to supporters saying while he did not endorse Trump, he could vote for him in order to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. Trump’s inconsistent position on abortion aside, I would ask the single issue voter to seriously consider the ramifications of voting for Donald Trump. I am not endorsing Hillary Clinton either, but I am serious in my call to not overlook what should be seriously troubling to a Christian, morally and ethically, about Donald Trump’s rhetoric, means of gaining support, and positions. He has not proven himself ever to be truly “pro-life”, whether in the single issue voter sense or in the “seamless garment” sense. Furthermore, we must ask what spirit he would bring to the leadership of this country. As Christians, of course, our ultimate authority and allegiance is to Jesus Christ. The example of the early Christians was to be good citizens, but to not believe salvation or the “answer” was to be found in civil authority. However, as citizens of a republic in which we are called to have ownership by way of our vote and our voice, we who choose to vote are called to vote our conscience, from the place of our values, our beliefs.
I want to ask all who are Christians who are voting this November to consider prayerfully and seriously what the Gospel and Scripture as a whole teaches about care for the oppressed, the fruit of the spirit, the trappings of wealth and pride, the characteristics of true Wisdom, and how one should see ‘the other’. Also reflect on Who it is that truly saves, and what kind of man He was. I am not saying that the president of the United States needs to be morally perfect and completely in tune with what we believe are the highest of values. But I do believe we as Christians cannot support someone who stands utterly at odds with what we hold true, and who has given such energy to the spirit of fear and pride, spirits at odds with the one Who has proclaimed “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear“, love which “is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, and is not proud.”
Read the follow up to this post: Opposing Trump: Six Months Later