This is a letter to my brothers and sisters in Christ defending why I won’t be voting for Trump this coming November–better, why I will be voting against him with the hope of voting him out of office. Given many of my fellow Christians have strong convictions that they are stuck voting for Trump, allow me to offer some context / clarification / credentials.
I am socially conservative–I gladly identify as pro-life (from conception to natural death), and I am staunchly pro-traditional marriage. I do not believe Christians in good conscience can attend a gay wedding (or one in which a Christian marries an unbeliever…but that’s beyond the scope of this essay).
So, what are my reasons to take a stand against Trump? I can point to two main reasons, both of which have biblical mandate. There are, of course, a host of pragmatic reasons not to vote for Trump–he has proven over the course of four years that he is mentally unstable and unfit to lead America, and he is a catalyst for polarization and fans (or is gasoline to) the flames of division among Americans. I also believe that Trump is a detriment to the conservative cause. That is, a Biden 2020 may help conservatism in the long run–better a chastened, introspective Republican party ready for 2024 than one out of steam and out of favor with the American people. A Biden 2020 sounds better than a Democratic-controlled Senate and presidency for potentially 2024 and 2028.
But I’m neither a prophet nor a political analyst. My main reasons are not pragmatic–they are about much more than the conservative political agenda for America. Instead, my Christian calling compels me to (1) love my neighbors and (2) witness faithfully to a Christ who is not only love itself, but King and Judge.
1. Loving Thy Neighbor
The recent protests sparked off by the killing of George Floyd have refocused the country on a pervasive, chronic, happily-ignored injustice plaguing the United States: the ongoing demeaning and dehumanizing of black lives and bodies. I cannot go into detail to defend this in my essay, but I do commend this monologue (language and graphical advisory!) to invite those who “don’t get it” (but want to) to listen (not even condone–simply listen) to the cries of our fellow Americans. The video above spurred me on to empathize–again, not necessarily condone–and not to assume racism, dehumanization, prejudice, brutality don’t exist simply because this has not been my life story or that police have always treated me fairly and respectfully. I confess that even as I have sought to listen and be a safe space for my black friends to decry racism and share their hurt, I was still all the while happily ignoring their cries and enjoying the status quo, even as the human dignity of fellow image-bearers continue to be questioned and challenged day after day.
In the weeks and months of protests, I kept coming back to this mental crossroads of a decision: do I write off these protestors and looters as extremists, since they are making something a bigger deal than it is–thinking, “let’s just get on with the status quo, with some minor modifications” since America works well enough for me—OR do I offer the benefit of the doubt and expend mental and emotional energy to listen, with the assumption that others have genuine and valid grievances, that there may in fact be a systemic or systematic oppression devaluing the lives of African Americans for centuries, in a country whose history is marked by slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, and segregation? Now of course, I am not giving blanket approval of or condoning the entire Black Lives Matter movement. After all, no movement is perfect, right, just as no presidential candidate is perfect, as some like to say.
But we must not give in to the knee-jerk temptation to silence and invalidate real concerns simply because our life experiences are different. In fact, it is precisely because our African brothers and sisters experience a different America that they must now defend their shared humanity before the wider world. Until black lives matter, it is patently false that all lives matter.
Trauma as a Helpful Lens
At different times, in different ways, and with varying levels of intensity, black (and minority) Americans have been traumatized by the repeated devaluing of their lives, their bodies–their personhood. If we can grant that slavery and racism leaves behind an enduring legacy of trauma, much like how military personnel who have sought to rejoin civilian life still bear the scars of wartime trauma and experience recurring PTSD, then is it so hard to believe that both the continuing experience of dehumanization/racism and the continuing denying, dismissing, and minimization of the existence of racism continues to traumatize and re-traumatize our black neighbors? Now the existence of trauma does not negate the possibility or hope for long-term healing–but it reminds us that the failure or unwillingness to diagnose trauma for what is will make genuine healing nigh impossible.
If we grant that dehumanization and devaluation of black bodies and lives exists and is felt keenly by many Americans, we should find it harder to stand silently by the wayside while President Trump (and his apologists/supporters) continue to write off and bully Americans for seeking however imperfectly to speak out about the traumas they bear (and have born as a people for centuries). Understood in this light, Trump isn’t simply politically-incorrect or pro-law-and-order, he is an integral participant in the ongoing traumatization and re-traumatization of black Americans (as well as other people of color). His “antics” and “toughness” are not simply character flaws–they silence the voice of traumatized Americans doing their best to verbalize their pain and suffering. How can we ask our black neighbors to heal and toughen up when our President functions as sandpaper over an open sore?
Trump’s apparent willingness to overlook the trauma of black Americans means a vote for him is incompatible with loving one’s neighbor. And this leads me to my second reason–I believe that my neighbors ultimately need Christ and his Gospel, not simply social justice in a free America.
2. I am a citizen first of the Kingdom of God–I am Gospel Christian, not a “Social Gospel” Christian
At the end of the day, my primary allegiance is with Christ my Lord. The main enemy is not the Democratic party, it’s the Devil, Sin, and Death. I am pro-life, but life is more than the chance to live here on earth. It’s a life to be lived with Christ in the new heavens and new earth that will replace this earth that is passing away. What Americans (and all peoples) ultimately need is a life that is found in Christ–one which comes from repentance of sins, forgiveness from God, Spirit-empowered faith in Christ, and new resurrection life.
I love America–I can even say that I’m a “proud” American. I am indebted to and honor the lives that paid to secure my rights and freedoms. However, I must first honor the one who died for my sins. All other allegiances must fall away before my first allegiance to Christ and his Kingdom, one that is expressly not of this world nor tied to the rise or fall of America. But how can I testify to my Gospel priorities in the City of God over the City of Man if I vote for Trump?
Consider how our Savior and King, though he upholds the universe by the power of his mere word, took on lowly human flesh to be crucified willingly by his creatures. Or consider how Paul gladly bore chains to testify to the Gospel. Or consider our many Christian brothers and sisters in Iran, Africa, China (such as Pastor Wang Yi), North Korea, and elsewhere who gladly bear chains or give up their lives, not because they do not value their religious freedoms, but because they value Christ and the Gospel hope for their fellow human beings!
We worship a God who loves his Gospel and the salvation of the lost more than the religious freedoms of his children. Paul gladly bore his chains for the sake of his Gospel ministry:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.Philippians 1:12-14 ESV
Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because it made the Gospel known (Colossians 1:24-25). Whether we want to or not, many non-Christians have linked Christ’s name with Trump’s, in large part because of Christian support for him. Whether or not this is fair is besides the point. In the minds of most Americans, Trump is the Church’s choice. This allegiance between Trump and Christ’s body is precisely the stumbling block Paul warned about in 1 Corinthians 9:12, where Paul would gladly give up any right and “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (ESV). Or for the sake of our black sisters and brothers already in Christ, we “decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13 ESV)
It is for specifically Christian reasons that I cannot vote for Trump. I think of Matthew 16:26, where Jesus challenges us, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” To paraphrase our Lord, what will it profit a conservative if he gains America and forfeits his neighbor’s soul? Or what shall a Republican give in return for his Christian witness?
Even if a vote for a 3rd-party candidate or Biden means losing America to Marxism, even if it means we lose Supreme Court decisions (though the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Louisiana’s law shows that a vote for Trump is no guarantee for short-term progress for the pro-life cause), we must vote first as Christians, then as Americans. We need to testify to the watching (and dying!) world that we care not only for America and religious freedom, that we care not only for unborn babies, but that we care as much if not even more for our neighbors. We are called to love our neighbors and pray not only for their material well-being and religious freedoms but even more so for their right standing with an everlasting God, whose Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.