Freedom or Integrity: Evangelicals, Choose One

By: Brian Mattson

As a public theologian, my paramount concern in the coming election is the public witness of the Christian community. I believe the health of society requires a strong Christian influence, and societies that lack it tend to be dysfunctional societies. Part of obeying the gospel call to love our neighbors is seeking to influence society with the claims of Christ.

I also believe the two major party candidates for President of the United States are both threats to Christian public witness. Whether they are equal threats is the matter we must decide.

Hillary Clinton: A Threat to Freedom

I will leave aside Hillary Clinton’s impressive history of scandal and the fact that I believe she will likely be the single most thoroughly corrupt President in our nation’s history. I leave it aside because the problem is even worse than that: Hillary Clinton belongs squarely to the brand of secular progressivism devoted to marginalizing Christian public witness.

This is the militant secularism that in recent years has led to the firing of competent people from positions of authority and influence simply because they believe what the Bible says about sexuality (e.g., Brendan Eich, Kelvin Cochran). The message is loud and clear: you will bow to the new orthodoxy, or else. Or else you cannot be a fire chief, or a CEO, or a baker, florist, or photographer. And do not be deceived: your church is on the hit-list. The day is coming when your pastor’s so-called “hate speech” while preaching the Bible is codified as such in law. The same goes for your non-profit organization or private school. Secular progressivism makes no secret of the fact that it wants Christian public witness silenced and driven out of polite society.

And Hillary Clinton will do a great deal of damage in this regard. She will appoint to the Supreme Court justices who share Justice Kennedy’s view that Christian sexual ethics has no rationale beyond animus and bigotry. Her army of bureaucrats in the Federal government (e.g., Department of Education, EEOC, Civil Rights Commission) will continue to revise thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations designed to reshape society according to the new orthodoxies of sexual liberation, the effect of which will be the silencing and marginalizing of opposition.

To put it succinctly: A President Hillary Clinton is a threat to the freedom of Christian public witness.

Donald Trump: A Threat to Integrity

I will not leave aside Donald Trump’s impressive history of being a fool. Now, I am not “name calling.” I am a Christian theologian, and the Bible teaches me this vocabulary and definition. It describes the “fool” in great detail: arrogant, boastful, and ignorant. Read the book of Proverbs and you will see Donald J. Trump on every page. And it isn’t on the “Righteous” side of the equation.

If Hillary Clinton is a threat to the freedom of Christian public witness, Donald Trump is a threat to the integrity of Christian public witness. I understand and sympathize with Christians privately and quietly voting for Donald Trump because they cannot cope with the thought of the Clintons back living on Pennsylvania Avenue. I do not understand or sympathize with promoting, cheerleading, and excusing Donald Trump. The spectacle has been personally horrifying to me, and I believe it should be horrifying to all of us.

I have heard it said that Donald Trump is the only thing standing between us and divine judgment. I submit to you that Donald Trump is himself divine judgment. God is holding a mirror to our faces. What better representative of contemporary America than a greedy, proud, boastful, narcissistic, and licentious man? Christian reaction to this man ought to be the opposite of cheering, much less enthusiastic cheering. God’s societal judgments come, Paul tells us in Romans 1, by “handing us over” to our sins. Has he not? Donald Trump is us. Indeed, we have been handed over to two perfect representatives of American culture in the early 21st century: corrupt fools.

I believe the promotion and support of Donald Trump by Christian leaders is just as damaging to Christian public witness as the prospect of a Clinton presidency. Under Clinton, we may eventually be muzzled. Under Trump, we might be free to broadcast from the rooftops, but everyone will ignore us. Rightly ignore us.

All our talk about character and virtue, all of the outrage we exhibited during the first Clinton presidency, all of that moral authority and capital utterly squandered. No one need listen (I myself would beg someone not to listen) to someone who wanted Bill Clinton impeached but somehow thinks Donald Trump is fit for the office. When the author of The Book of Virtues suddenly chides others for their “terrible case of moral superiority” in reaction to Trump’s vulgarities; when the founder of Focus on the Family laments that people are judgmental toward a bragging and unrepentant adulterer; when the son of the man who founded the Moral Majority poses proudly, thumbs up, with Mr. Trump next to his Playboy cover photo: this, brothers and sisters, is precisely what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of salt “losing its saltiness.” Jesus says it is good for nothing except to be trampled upon by men. These leaders will have their reward, but I fear that trampling is something of which Donald Trump is quite capable.

Which loss is worse? The freedom of our public witness, or the integrity of our public witness? I’m inclined to believe it is the latter, for at the end of the day our integrity is that for which we are most directly responsible. Our political freedoms rest on many things outside of our control; our integrity rests on something solely within our control. I believe we will be judged accordingly.

Yes, President Clinton may usher in her progressive utopia, complete with jail time for preaching Leviticus or Romans 1. But why should we fear she who can destroy the body? Much better is to fear God. To my mind, there has been precious little fear of God among the endlessly elastic and pragmatic Christian court prophets. That, too, is a sign of God’s judgment. Read First and Second Kings sometime.

I believe the Christian reaction to this election should be sackcloth and ashes. Revulsion and repentance. I have made my decision, and all I can do is commend it to you: I refuse to lend my name to either candidate. I will either vote for a third party candidate or write in the name of somebody I can sincerely imagine as an admirable, principled leader. I do not believe this is “throwing away” my vote. I believe it is, in the wise words of Bill Buckley, “Standing athwart History, yelling, ‘Stop!'” I am calling for the Christian community to join me. Fighting for the freedom of our public witness should not come at the expense of the integrity of our public witness. This is the corner into which the Republican party has painted us.

What kind of public witness is it to sacrifice our integrity for our freedom? The message is that all of the old accusations are true: evangelical Christians are, as Cal Thomas once called them, “blinded by might.” Princes, power, and politics are their true allegiances. They live in fear rather than trust.  God’s people should say, “No.” Forcefully and en masse.

If the exit polling were to show that both candidates lost a breathtaking majority of evangelicals, I think that would be a truly valuable public witness.

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