Friday, June 10, 2016

Presidential Elections & the Danger of Pastoral Endorsements


Every election cycle I find myself reconsidering several scriptural principles that offer crucial insight regarding our freedom and right to vote. Amidst this confounding election season, the intensity of this review has grown steadily each and every day:

1. The Disease of Ungodly Fear: The psalmist gives us a clear warning regarding ungodly fear: “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing” (Psalm 37:8:). David’s important instruction in the eight verse comes on the heels of his introductory commands where he says: “DO not fret because of evildoers, be not envious toward wrongdoers…” (Psalm 37:1). Contextually speaking, David is reminding us that ungodly fear is a deadly disease: one that only leads only to evildoing. We must not miss the force of the Hebrew asseverative particle (ak) which points to a certain outcome of evil (ak lehara’) – “only leads to evildoing.” This passage, and many others like it, reminds us that we are all distracted from the priority of fearing God when we give in to the fear of men. Such ungodly fear leads to internal division, confusion, and eventual compromise. However, godly fear brings unity and peace to our hearts when the majesty and sole authority of God remains our focus: “Teach me Thy way, O LORD; I will walk in Thy truth; Unite my heart to fear Thy name” (Psalm 86:11). The relevance and application of this principle should be quite clear. Our nation has been descending into a downgrade of evil with an unimaginable, accelerative force. However, should we focus on this deluge of evil too much then we will lose sight of the immutable sovereignty of our Lord and King (Psalm 29:10); and such a distraction as this will lead only to ungodly fear and fretting. In the end, whatever choices you make in the upcoming election, remember to fear God rather than men (Matt. 10:28), lest your thoughts and actions enter into the realm of evildoing.

2. The Danger of Human Presumption: Up to this point we have all heard, ad nauseam, the political pontifications and promises made by each candidate. What is so stunning about their confident promises is the fact that they all speak with such certitude about the future that you would think that they were claiming the gift of prophecy. While we can assume that their descriptions of the future are designed to convey a spirit of confidence and certitude, it really smacks of plain human presumption: James 4:13–16: 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.”16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” To be frank, American elections tend to degrade into boasting matches between individuals who haven’t the humility to say: if the Lord wills. Amidst the fervent contest of winning the American voters’ confidence, these candidates shamelessly trample over James 4:13-16 in their dusty Bibles. We shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers (religious or not) engage in such evil-boasting, but when professing Christians join the chorus and repeat the shallow boasting of such presidential candidates, they enter into a dangerous and compromising partnership.

3. The Danger of Evil Partnerships: It is one thing to enter the space of a voting booth and vote one’s conscience as a private choice before God, but when individuals make the decision to become a public advocate of their candidate, they enter into a form of partnership with that candidate. Clearly, there will be degrees of such affiliations, from those who join the campaign trail to those who remain grass-roots supporters. In the age of the Internet, we are only a click away from offering political promotions to the entire globe. Whatever the degree, such a choice of public advocacy means that an affiliation is being made in the public view and, for Christians, this choice must be taken seriously. While Scripture is silent concerning the matter of political elections (biblical history is filled with judges, kings, despots, and dictatorships – not democracies), it is not silent regarding the nature of our associations. When warning the Corinthian church regarding the danger of her worldly associations, the Apostle Paul issued this command: 2 Corinthians 6:14–15: 14 “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 15 “Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” This warning of Paul’s against the Corinthians’ flirtations with worldliness is not at all new. Of course, he is not arguing for a complete avoidance of the world, which is impossible (1 Corinthians 5:10); instead, he is arguing against entering into dangerous allegiances with unbelievers that will corrupt our Gospel testimony. John Calvin helps us to understand the scope and intent of Paul’s instruction: “[v. 14] ’Be not yoked’… The word that Paul makes use of means — to be connected together in drawing the same yoke. It is a metaphor taken from oxen or horses, which require to walk at the same pace, and to act together in the same work, when fastened under one yoke. When, therefore, he prohibits us from having partnership with unbelievers in drawing the same yoke, he means simply this, that we should have no fellowship with them in their pollutions. For one sun shines upon us, we eat of the same bread, we breathe the same air, and we cannot altogether refrain from intercourse with them; but Paul speaks of the yoke of impiety, that is, of participation in works, in which Christians cannot lawfully have fellowship.“ Calvin goes on to point out that many believers utilize this text as a warning against marrying unbelievers. While Calvin is quick to point out that this is not the particular focus of Paul’s instruction, the prohibition of unequally yoked marriage constitutes a valid application of the text, in view of the principle it teaches, that is, we must forsake any close association which makes us partners with idolatry. When considering the importance of such a passage as this, I must express great concern regarding the eagerness of some believers to partner themselves with ungodly men and women for political purposes. If our heavenly citizenry holds any precedence at all, then our earthly politics should reflect this. I sense the gravity of this principle especially as a pastor. If I made the decision to yoke myself with an unbelieving candidate, offering my advocacy in public and telling Christ’s sheep that they too should vote in alignment with my choice and preference, then this would be a most disturbing choice. As a minister of the Gospel, who is called to preach the word and nothing else, it would be an act of abject intemperance to pressure God’s people into making such an allegiance. Men who do this often seek to shame those who believe that their better choice is to vote for a third party, or not at all. Remarkably, Thabiti Anyabwile has recently promoted the idea of voting for the "predictable evil" of Hillary Clinton, while Steve Camp publicly confronts those who seek alternatives to Trump (e.g., Twitter):


Public shaming such as this is often followed by the desperate illogic of: your vote for candidate “C” equals a vote for candidate “A.” Such reasoning hardly merits a response, however, it should be clear that the believer who votes his conscience (despite the fearful pressure around him) is the one who is leaving the matter of election in the sovereign hands of Almighty God.

In the end, I am thankful that when I enter a voting booth, it is private. As a matter of conscience before God, I often have to make choices that are quite difficult knowing that I am voting for flawed and imperfect people whom I do not know personally. Even if I did know them personally, such knowledge is still limited. When Christ announced to the disciples that one from their number would betray Him, the disciples had no sense of who it would be. We should learn an important lesson from this. If the disciples could not discern that they walked with the “Son of perdition” all those years, we should be even more temperate in our judgments about people, especially presidential candidates whom we have never met.


Donald Trump is Mr. By-Ends

trumpismrbyendsAmidst all the unpredictability of the 2016 election, one certainty emerged very early on: The mindless utilization of Hitleresque-Ad-hominem arguments. When the primary season first began, an odd brotherhood of Democrats and Republicans engaged in the collective Hitlerization of Donald Trump. Those who were repulsed by Trump were eager to compare him with such an infamous figure from history. Perhaps this procedure made people feel good, however, I would suggest that it denigrates actual history while obscuring Trump’s actual danger as a potential president. For those who insist on utilizing illustrative language in order to describe the indescribable peculiarities of “The Donald,” I would like to recommend a more suitable parallel from the realm of classical literature: The proud and pragmatic religionist – Mr. By-ends[1] - from John Bunyan’s popular book, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Mr. By-ends was no Hitler, but he was a profoundly dangerous menace who was eventually rebuked by the main character of The Pilgrim’s Progress: Christian. For Bunyan, By-ends represented some of the most deplorable elements within 17th century English society: ruthless pragmatists who operated beneath the cloak of religion for their personal gain and prestige.[2] I personally find it difficult to avoid the association between Trump and By-ends, especially when I hear Trump bloviate over his support from “the Evangelicals.” In The Pilgrim’s Progress, By-ends is a wealthy, self-inflated character who came from the affluent town of Fair-Speech where people craftily used words in order to manipulate others.[3] His relatives reveal much about his pedigree: Lord Turn-about, Lord Time-server, Mr. Smooth-man, Mr. Facing-both-ways, and Mr. Any-thing. Bunyan also introduces us to several of By-ends’ childhood associates, all of whom had been trained in the “art of getting wealth”: Mr. Hold-the-world, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all. They all were “…taught by one Mr. Gripeman, a schoolmaster in Lovegain in the county of Coveting….[who] taught them the art of getting, either by violence, cozenage, flattering, lying, or by putting on a guise of religion…[they] had attained much of the art of their master, so that they could each of them have kept such a school themselves.” The church that By-ends attended echoed the shallowness of Fair-Speech as evidenced by their hypocritical parson: Mr. Two-tongues. When describing his lukewarm devotion to religion, By-ends boasted: “…we somewhat differ in religion from those of the stricter sort…First, we never strive against wind and tide. Secondly, we are always most zealous when religion goes in his silver slippers; we love much to walk with him in the street, if the sun shines and the people applaud him.” By-ends was not a man of his word, but he was skilled in the use of words in order to achieve his own by-ends.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is largely unknown in the modern day, but it was a common literary staple within the early American colonies. For them, a reference to By-ends would have evoked a profoundly disturbing image. Frankly speaking, the relevant parallels between Trump and By-ends are too numerous to list in this column, however, his bizarre and unending braggadocio concerning his riches; his apparent inability to admit his mistakes along with his unpersuasive efforts to associate with the Christian faith; and his bombastic self-marketing tactics which make him sound like an auto-repeating infomercial where he is both the presenter and product at the same time, collectively suggest that he was expertly trained in the city of Lovegain, of Coveting county. Whatever manner one wishes to think of the GOP’s presumptive nominee, it is quite clear that hurricane Donald continues to tear through the landscape of American politics and there are no known computer models that can forecast where this storm will end up next. And while he is not a murderous madman, his trail of failed marriages and businesses demonstrates that he does bear a dangerous resemblance to Mr. Two-tongues’ finest disciple: a blustering braggart who will say or do anything for his own personal gain. Bunyan’s allegory should remind us that history does repeat itself and that we are dull fools if we fail to heed its important lessons. In the end, if Donald Trump is elected as our next president, then our nation will have shamefully revealed itself to be the United States of Fair Speech – a land of selfishness, hypocrisy, and unprincipled people. Overall, not only am I concerned for the soul of Donald Trump, but I am especially concerned for the collective soul of our nation and it is my fear that we may end up getting exactly what we deserve.

May God have mercy on America

[1] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress: From this world to that which is to come, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).
[2] It is important to remember that Bunyan wrote his popular allegory while serving a jail sentence, and that his development of characters like By-ends gives us some historic insight into the religious dysfunction of 17th century England. Under the rule of Charles II, religion had become a means of power and prestige, and those who sought religious freedom were persecuted and imprisoned. Barry Horner gives an excellent summary of this point in history, especially as it relates to the persecution of pastors like John Bunyan: “Upon the accession of Charles II to the throne after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, opposition by independent churches to legally mandated conformity led to Bunyan’s immediate imprisonment as well as the ejection of about 1,760 Dissenting ministers from their pastorates.” Barry E. Horner, Pilgrim’s Progress – Themes and Issues (MA: Auburn, Evangelical Press, 2003), 295.
[3] Bunyan’s reference to the land of “Fair-Speech” is based upon Proverbs 26:25: “When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart.” The idea of Fair-Speech is that of smooth and flattering speech that is given in order to gain an advantage over others (see also Jude 16).