Religious Manipulation in the Political Arena

american flag and bible

I have held my tongue for a very long time in commenting on something I believe is grievous within the evangelical church of America. But today I came across a 5,000+ word article written by evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, and it pushed me over the edge.

The article is entitled, “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.” Yes, just let that title sit there for a moment.

In it, Grudem lists a plethora (and I mean a plethora!) of reasons why Christians should vote for Donald Trump. More specifically, as the article title asserts, to vote for Trump is the morally good choice.

Hang with me for a moment as I process a couple of things, though not for 5,000+ words!

We already know that folk like James Dobson have iterated that Trump is a baby Christian or that Jentezen Franklin has asserted Trump re-dedicated his life to Christ 10 years ago. They are, in themselves, part of the problem. A major problem, I believe.

The problem is this: Certain evangelical leaders continue to employ power plays in order to get what they want with the empire. Yes, power plays and, yes, with the empire.

They want policies X, Y, and Z to remain part of the American landscape or certain ones to come back from a foregone era. These leaders see these policies as best in accordance with their particular understanding of Scripture and others as just general best practices for their country.

How will they ensure these policies for the future?

They herald Trump’s Christian faith, at least as best they can. That’s the ticket to get Christians on board. Just tell ’em the candidate is a believer and all is well. They might say, “Well, he is merely a ‘baby Christian’,” or, in an effort to actually dodge any actual assessment of Trump’s real moral choices, they might argue that he is not called to be “America’s pastor” (this from Mark Burns, the pastor who opened the RNC in Cleveland last week).

This, my friends, is manipulative religious power plays at their best.

Close your eyes, put your fingers in your ears, and sing at the top of your lungs. That’ll keep us from ever actually dealing with reality.

In enters Grudem’s article from yesterday.

Now, Grudem does not purport that Trump is a Christian. Of course, yes, I understand the “he could be” argument. We, evangelicals, love to argue the “but no one knows another person’s heart.” The only problem is Jesus, you know that guy we follow and are named after, said that we will at least know them by their fruit, and their love one for another.

Still, I am thankful Grudem doesn’t try and lay the card on the table that Trump is a Christian.

However, his whole article still directly falls into the manipulative power plays of evangelical leaders who desire to cozy up to the empire and emperor. Remember, there were religious leader groups in Jesus’ day who tried similar things and it didn’t turn out so well for them, at least in regards to the purposes of God. They aren’t around any more. It was the true Jesus followers that persevered.

Let’s catch some of Grudem’s words in his article:

grudemI did not support Trump in the primary season. I even spoke against him at a pastors’ conference in February. But now I plan to vote for him. I do not think it is right to call him an “evil candidate.” I think rather he is a good candidate with flaws.

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

I don’t know if he supported Cruz or Rubio or Kasich or Jeb Bush or whomever, but somehow he changed his mind, even in the midst of flat-out acknowledging the moral bankrupt choices of Trump. I imagine the change took place because his first choice didn’t get selected and so he is literally choosing between two choices at hand, perhaps what he believes is the lesser of two evils (though he tries to advocate that Trump really isn’t the “lesser of two evils”).

That is all fine and dandy. But don’t start pulling in the “moral choice” power play. It is of the same manipulative ways of Dobson, Franklin, Mark Burns and a massive amount of evangelical leaders over the past months.

Grudem’s politico-religious maneuvering continues with such words as these:

If this election is close (which seems likely), then if someone votes for a write-in candidate instead of voting for Trump, this action will directly help Hillary Clinton, because she will need one less vote to win. Therefore the question that Christians should ask is this: Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency? (emphasis his)

This is shame-ridden rhetoric!

Evangelical leaders and pastors are well-known for this, but I believe it makes Jesus actually weep. Or perhaps, even more, it deeply angers Christ. Pushing people’s conscience in this way when it comes to voting is, in my mind, a terrible and controlling act we ought to be ashamed of.

So here are two pleas I make to evangelicals:

1) Please stop with the manipulative power plays of pandering to Republican candidates to get your way.

Stop getting in bed with these politicians in order to have your plans pushed forward. It is atrocious in the eyes of God, I guarantee that. And this also shows a massive lack of trust in the one true God who oversees all – that either he can shape history as he desires or that, in the midst of bad political leaders, he is still working good for his people, and all of humanity and all of creation.

I don’t want to just type these words as a hollow “remember what Scripture says,” and then move on. I root this belief practically in what I find in the early community of Christ’s followers, especially in light of Rome’s atrociously evil leadership in that day. This kind of practice was never on their radar. It wouldn’t have been; there was never an option in an empire that was not a democracy. However, they were still able to properly live out the ways of Jesus.

By the way, I understand this manipulation happens with Democrats as well. Very much so. Every Democrat knows you’ve got to mention you are a Christian and have a deeply religious background, at least to pull in some sense of the “Christian vote.” And there are plenty of folk passing along money and getting into bed with politicians so they can get their way. It is part and parcel to the secular politics of the nations. However, I am deeply concerned at the moment with what certain “evangelical” leaders are doing and how they seem 110% oblivious to such.

Stop it and stop it now!

2) Stop manipulating people into believing they must vote Republican and, if they don’t, but decide to vote a 3rd party or write-in candidate (or even Democrat), that they are somehow wasting their vote.

We have created a democracy to allow people to vote according to conscience. To shame and emasculate people because they are considering a vote for someone besides Trump or Clinton is just another power play to get your way. Again, it’s despicable in the eyes of Jesus.

I’m even happy for folk to share why they are voting a certain way – even voting Trump if that’s where someone lands. But don’t start shaming folk if they want to vote Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or even write in another name.

Stop it and stop it now!

These two practices need to end if Christians are to actually ever be the salt and light they are called to be.

Many are committed to arguing for the best “moral choice” for November. And they’ll make it sound as black and white as can be. Listen: Make your choice; it’s ok. Really; it’s ok. We have created the space for democracy to do so. But . . .

We must dispense with exploitative power mongering of all types, including our playing of the best “moral choice” card. America continues to lead the way in this arena and it will fail, at least in being of any measure of faith in the eyes of the one whom we follow.

May God faithfully lead his people as we prepare to vote in November


7 thoughts on “Religious Manipulation in the Political Arena

  1. Fascinating to read about, so thanks for presenting your info and response to the article. To me, one’s religion is a qualification for eternal life, irrelevant to qualifications for election to office. A good president can have any religion, or no religion. It doesn’t indicate or define a person’s ethics the way past behavior does.

  2. Trump seems to me an irresponsible hothead and, were I American, I would never ever vote for him. It’s interesting that while, in the US, ‘Christian values’ appear to be associated by most people with the Republican Party, here in the UK they are strongly associated with the Labour Party (the rough equivalent of the American Democrats)! So if I were American I would probably vote Democrat on principle, but I would think twice if Trump were the Democratic candidate!

  3. Interesting take on attitudes and relational posturing. At first read, I agree. Strongly. However, I note you did not address any policy positions at all. Those are important, too.

  4. Telling people how to vote is not a good look for any church. It is God who decides the governing authority not pastors who think they are God. People have their own intelligence and the right to vote according to their own thinking. The church should stay out of political electioneering.

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