Bad candidates, Big Pictures, and false prophets.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 October

Woe to you when you call evil good. Even in election years.

I live in California. My state is two-thirds Democratic. Only liberal Republicans get elected to statewide offices anymore. Otherwise we elect Democrats, same as we have in the last six presidential contests. Barring some freak occurrence, we’re electing a Democrat to the Senate this year, and all our 55 electoral votes are going to the Democratic nominee for president.

So it’s out of my hands. Doesn’t matter whether I vote with the Democratic supermajority or against it.

I suppose I can concentrate on the other elections—which stand more of a chance of affecting my daily life. Got a city council race. A congressional race. State propositions.

But I keep coming back to the presidential race. Mainly because the candidates are so galling. The “third party” candidates are barely worth mentioning: One is greatly uninformed (and probably useless every day after 4:20 p.m.); one has demonstrated she’s more interested in being right than in making deals and bringing people to consensus, which is half the president’s job.

As for the institutional parties: The Democrat is largely competent, though I disagree with her in many areas. But she has a significant character defect: She’s willing to make serious ethical lapses, and justify them to herself because her intentions or goals were good. Let’s also not forget the level of grace ambitious people will automatically grant themselves—even though they’ll seldom grant it to others.

In any other election year, I’d easily lean towards her opponent. But it’s not just any other election year. She has great flaws, but her Republican opponent is vastly worse.

I likewise disagree with him in many areas. Particularly his xenophobia, his lack of knowledge of international issues, his tactless forms of diplomacy (and how he dropped his bluster during a trip to Mexico, demonstrating how he can’t be consistent in that either), his opportunistic switch to the prolife movement so as to appease Evangelicals, and his unproven economic and military beliefs. That’s in the areas where he’s expressed a coherent opinion. In most other situations his opinion is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

I mentioned the Democratic candidate’s ethical lapses. The Republican candidate has the very same problem. But there’s more. Time and again he expresses little to no respect for the value of others; women in particular. Disagree with him, or challenge him in any way, and he responds with ridiculous insults, holds the grudge far longer than reasonable, and fires you if he can. If he doesn’t know, he lies; if he does know, he exaggerates; if he has to admit he’s wrong, he pretends he was never wrong to begin with. He makes foolish statements on a whim, holds no counsel with anyone but toadies, takes no thought no care to the international fallout.

He’s a manchild. His immature character renders him wholly unfit for any leadership position.

As the scriptures indicate when it comes to church leadership. Yeah, people will argue, “Paul only wrote that passage about elders and pastors.” I agree it absolutely applies to Christian leadership. But subtract the bit about orthodoxy, Tt 1.9 and why doesn’t it apply to leadership in every case? Shouldn’t our leaders always be people of good character? We elect people of poor character all the time—so how’s that working?

Lest you think this is all an endorsement for the Democrat: It absolutely is not. I endorse none of the candidates. None. Not one of them is worthy of leading the United States. Their running mates might be, but they’re not on top of the ticket. In the 2016 election, what we have is an obvious case of choosing the lesser of all evils. All will do harm; which will do the least harm?

In the entire field, the Republican candidate is without question the greatest evil. And since the two institutional parties have the only real shot at winning, once you reduce it to the two main parties—the Democrats and the Republicans: By any metric the Democratic candidate is the lesser evil.

Yes, even by the abortion-politics metric. Concern for women, children, and the poor, besides being mandated in the scriptures, Jm 1.27 does far more to reduce the number of abortions, than merely banning the practice. More importantly it changes attitudes, which is what we need for long-term societal transformation.

I expect her to win, but I’ve been wrong before. Regardless, let’s pray all the more for Christ Jesus to return—and overthrow her. (And I can’t help but think she’d be far more amenable to that scenario than would her Republican opponent.)

Big Picture compromise.

As I wrote previously, I know a lot of single-issue voters. They’re prolife, by which I mean they want to reduce or eliminate abortion. And many of them have forsworn themselves—much like the Judeans who swore to neither eat nor drink before they murdered Paul Ac 23.12-24 —to never, ever vote for a candidate who’s not prolife.

How’s that work in practice? Well, some of them honestly do mean it. Never ever. They’ll actually cross party lines, and vote for prolife Democrats.

The rest… well, it’s more accurate to say they’re hardcore Republicans than hardcore prolifers. Ran into them myself, back when I was a hardcore Republican. They focused on the Big Picture: Get a Republican majority in the statehouse and the Congress. And if that meant voting for a few pro-abortion-rights Republicans, and voting against a few prolife Democrats… hey, it’s not compromise, it’s the Big Picture. ’Cause if you’ve got a Republican majority, by default you’ve got a prolife majority. Right?

Of course, the ulterior motive of the Big Picture isn’t the actual motive of the Big Picture. The actual motive of politics, all politics, is power. Big, humming, crackling, copper-coated power. If the prolife agenda means they might lose power in the next election… well, put off the prolife agenda for another two years till we’ve solidified our position. Or put it off for four years. Or 40.

Or string ’em along forever, ’cause God forbid they discover the party’s platform looks nothing like the Sermon on the Mount, and go elsewhere once their prolife goals are achieved. Nah; best to delay gratification, blame and demonize the opposition party, and distract ’em with talk about tax cuts and scary foreigners. But I digress.

I know a lot of single-issue voters. Their single issue isn’t abortion any more. Used to be, back when they got started. Since then, as they got more and more involved in the party, it’s become the party. About promoting the party’s platform and candidates—right or wrong. Because it’s no longer about electing candidates of good character, hashing out their legitimate disagreements for the common good. It’s all about the Big Picture. And to achieve it, and win victory for the party, we’ll overlook character flaws—some minor, some profound—and focus on, “Will they win?” ’Cause Big Picture.

Here’s the flaw in this logic. Every district compromises, and sends a flawed candidate. We figure, “Our one bad apple won’t spoil the whole basket”—and wind up with a Congress and statehouses full of corruption. And can’t figure out why all those idiots in those other districts keep re-electing those ninnyhammers.

Big Picture thinking actually encourages us to overlook a whole lot of problematic people. ’Cause the end justifies the means—although we’d never, ever phrase it that way. Even though that’s precisely what we’re doing.

Christians who justify Big Picture compromise.

We can’t look at the presidential candidates and conclude any of them are morally good. They’re not. I don’t just mean in the “all have sinned” Ro 3.23 sort of way; they’re just not good people.

Naturally, partisans will disagree. Oh, not about the other candidates. Just their own.

I know a few. Got a friend who looks at the Democratic candidate as if she’s the second coming of Jesus. (She’s not Christian, so of course.) I understand her being jazzed about having a woman finally become president of the United States; it’s still pathetic half our Congress isn’t female. I’m not saying we should fill any demographic quota; I’m just saying way more women should be running for office than are, and the only reason they’re not is because of institutional sexism in both major parties. ’Cause the women are definitely out there, but the power-brokers keep overlooking ’em.

It’s understandable when pagans become so partisan, they’re willing to overlook their candidates’ obvious flaws and stick ’em on pedestals. Ultimately everyone’s looking for something or someone to worship. Candidates make handy idols, and their promoters are thrilled when they can find someone who’s willing to devote their souls to ’em.

It gets downright scary, though, when Christians get that way.

A couple months ago, Christian theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem of Phoenix Seminary wrote an article explaining why voting for the Republican candidate “is a morally good choice.”* His argument is

there is nothing morally wrong with voting for a flawed candidate if you think he will do more good for the nation than his opponent. In fact, it is the morally right thing to do.

I did not support [the Republican candidate] 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. Grudem ¶4-¶5

I’ll call all the candidates evil, but Grudem won’t. Why not? ’Cause he’s thinking about the Big Picture:

That is why this election is not just about [the Democratic candidate]. It is about defeating the far left liberal agenda that any Democratic nominee would champion. Liberal Democrats are now within one Supreme Court justice of their highest goal: Gaining permanent control of the nation with a five vote majority on the Supreme Court, and then relentlessly imposing every liberal policy on the nation not through winning elections but through a relentless parade of one Supreme Court decision after another. Grudem ¶18

Followed by a list of conservative issues, which Grudem fears the Court might change in ways he doesn’t like. Some of these concerns are understandable. Some wholly illegitimate.

Nope, Grudem’s primary concern isn’t the character of our president. It’s what a Supreme Court might or might not do. History has proven they won’t do as Republicans assume they will. (As I already wrote.) When you pack the court with non-activist justices, they’re not gonna be all that active for your causes either.

Shouldn’t the primary concern of a presidential election be what sort of president we wind up with?

Yet Grudem doesn’t care what an awful president the Republican candidate would make. He’s only thinking about the president’s ability to nominate Supreme Court justices. Never mind the fact our current president nominated a justice back in March… and thus far the Republican-led Senate has ignored the nomination, and held not one hearing to consider it. Seems this presidential ability to nominate justices can be stymied mighty easily. This being the case, should it even be a secondary concern?

For the sake of argument, assume the Court is a primary concern. This being the case, the Republican nominee ought still be considered the compromise you gotta make in order to be within spitting distance of your goal to pack the Court with conservative justices. Figure your best chance is with this not-really-all-that-conservative candidate. Again, a necessary evil.

But he simply won’t call the Republican candidate evil. At all. Ever. Simply won’t. As for character: Well, screw character.

In addition, if someone makes doubts about character the only factor to consider, that is a fallacy in ethical reasoning that I call “reductionism”—the mistake of reducing every argument to only one factor, when the situation requires that multiple factors be considered. In this election, an even larger factor is the future of the nation Grudem ¶74

Instead focus on the worst of the worst-case scenarios Republicans can invent. ’Cause that’s why we’ve gotta focus on the Big Picture of a Republican majority.

But the most likely result of not voting for [the Republican candidate] is that you will be abandoning thousands of unborn babies who will be put to death thousands of Christians who will be excluded from their lifelong occupations, thousands of the poor who will never again be able to find high-paying jobs in an economy crushed by government hostility toward business, thousands of inner-city children who will never be able to get a good education, thousands of the sick and elderly who will never get adequate medical treatment when the government is the nation’s only healthcare provider, thousands of people who will be killed by an unchecked ISIS, and millions of Jews in Israel who will find themselves alone and surrounded by hostile enemies. And you will be contributing to a permanent loss of the American system of government due to a final victory of unaccountable judicial tyranny. Grudem ¶77

Basically what the Republican candidate claims America is already like.

But here’s what I expect if he becomes president: That stuff isn’t gonna change.

  • Abortion’s still gonna be legal, ’cause Congress gutlessly won’t touch it, and conservative justices notwithstanding, the Supreme Court permits it.
  • The Republican candidate isn’t as good a businessman as he claims. (Really, if he only stuck his inheritance from his dad in a simple mutual fund tied to the Dow Jones Industrials, he’d be four times wealthier than he is today. You heard me. Four times. The real estate and casino biz is just him slowly but publicly pissing his money away.) So the economy won’t improve. In fact, his protectionist schemes will make things far worse. Serious inflation. Especially if he ever installs any of his yes-men at the Federal Reserve.
  • Inner cities? No improvement.
  • Healthcare? No improvement.
  • Fighting terrorism? No improvement. Carpet-bombing Syria is only gonna get us sanctioned.
  • Israel alone and surrounded? Even more so if we’re perceived as their anti-Muslim ally.
  • Unaccountable judicial tyranny? Meh; that’s the complaint of every conservative who knows the states will never pass their ridiculous constitutional amendments.

I pick on Grudem, but he’s hardly the only Christian who’s willing to compromise his standards of good and evil in order to push for his candidate. Not even the only one willing to try to hide it behind the fact he “taught Christian ethics for 39 years.” Grudem ¶2 Plenty of Christians are pastors, who’ve preached for decades against the very things the Republican candidate flaunts on talk shows, but are totally willing to endorse him ’cause of partisanship.

Partisanship is a work of the flesh, folks. Ga 5.20 Yes it is. Splitting the body of Christ over the worldly pursuit of power? Trying to establish God’s kingdom through elective office and money instead of the Holy Spirit’s power? Tolerating the anger and unrestrained zeal, and even justifying it because of our righteous anger? This is not the lifestyle of God’s kingdom. Ga 5.21 Especially not when you call evil good Is 5.20 for the sake of your party.

Most of the time, when Christians are looking out for false prophets, they’re watching out for heresy. But that’s not what Jesus told us to be on the lookout for. False prophets produce bad fruit. Mt 7.15-20 They teach bad fruit, or teach us to ignore the bad fruit in themselves and others. To them, the Big Picture justifies any fruitlessness, so focus on that instead.

Christian radio pundit James Dobson claims the Republican candidate’s blatant fleshliness is because he’s a “baby Christian.” In other words he only recently turned to Christ. Or at least said the sinner’s prayer. Anyway, this is Dobson’s explanation for the candidate’s utter lack of the Spirit’s fruit. The cynic in me suspects it’s more like the candidate thinks he’s Christian… but no, let’s be optimistic. Maybe he is a newbie. If so, we oughta see improvement in the next few years. That’d be great. Still, just because the baby’s getting better at hand-eye coordination doesn’t mean you let him drive your car for a bit. He’s still not got the temperament to be president. He’s still as totally depraved as ever.

Or, as I put it, evil. All the candidates are. Still not endorsing any of ’em. Even though I think any of them would be better than he. Yep, even the stoner.

Now, though I consider the Democratic candidate the least of the evils, I fully understand if a fellow Christian doesn’t or can’t agree. I even understand if they figure the Republican is the least of the evils—that he’s awful, but the Democrat’s character is worse. I think they’re wrong, but we’ll agree to disagree.

Still, if a Christian insists the Republican candidate isn’t merely the least of the evils, but is in fact good—that’s where I’d worry about ’em. Clearly we’re dealing with one of those partisans who are willing to call evil good for the sake of the Big Picture. And if we’re talking a Christian in church leadership, woe to that poor church. They should start worrying about their leader’s character.

*Update, 10/9. Grudem’s article is no longer online where it was originally posted (but thank God there’s always the Wayback Machine). It’s because Grudem recanted it today in light of a recent exposé of the Republican candidate’s behavior. Correctly, he began his new piece, “There is no morally good presidential candidate in this election.” Grudem ¶1

He noted, “Some may criticize me for not discovering this material earlier, and I think they are right. I did not take the time to investigate earlier allegations in detail, and I now wish I had done so. If I had read or heard some of these materials earlier, I would not have written as positively as I did…” Grudem ¶3 It took humility to say this, so good on him.

Character matters more so than one’s political position. Because a person of low character cannot be trusted to uphold any position they claim to hold.