- - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My friend Ryan Helfenbein has written for us before, on economic themes and theology. Another passion of his is thinking about issues at the intersection of politics and the pew. How does Christianity challenge and change our thinking when we talk about politics?

Ryan and his wife are very involved in front line work in pro-life causes. So, I’ve been very curious to know his thoughts on the pending Trump vs. #NeverTrump vs. Clinton dilemma facing Christian voters this fall. The following is his response.

“Should Christians let things burn, to prove a point?” by Ryan Helfenbein

Carly Fiorina came to visit my city of Louisville, KY for a fundraiser just last week. As an evangelical, I was very impressed with Mrs. Fiorina’s candidacy early in this election cycle.  Intelligent, confident and convictional, her message resonated with many voters and me.  During a CNN debate last September she stole the show in one dramatic moment by contending that abortion is really about “the character of the nation.” In many ways, her message was prophetic, because character is exactly what’s been under fire this election cycle.

On Monday, the character of the nation was put to the test again when in a 5-3 decision the Supreme Court struck down Texas abortion law H.B. 2 designed to regulate abortion clinics. This demonstrated once again that the nation’s highest court has the almost unrivaled power to strike down, redact or even revise the law to often suit the personal interests of unelected judges.  What we’ve learned in four long decades since the Roe v. Wade decision is that these landmark cases have devastating, generational consequences.  The Supreme Court has immense power to influence the political and cultural landscape of the entire nation.  It’s that power through law to inform our common values which shape the consciences of our at-large culture by judicial activism.

This is one of the major issues at the forefront of this presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  It has been 4 months since conservative judge, Antonin Scalia, passed away, leaving the nation’s highest court with a vacant seat that will undoubtedly be determined by the next president.  The entire future and balance of the Supreme Court, and, indeed, the character of the nation hinge in part on this appointment. As if that were not enough, the character of our candidates has also been a primary concern in this race.

For many evangelicals, Hillary poses a clear threat to religious liberty and to the sanctity of human life by pledging to be firmly committed to abortion rights, including partial birth abortion.  She undoubtedly will use whatever power she has as chief executive to craft public policy that will present a real danger to liberty, including an appointment of another liberal justice.  On the other hand, Donald Trump’s long and sordid career as an entertainment businessman and reality tv celebrity have left conservatives with little certainty of how they will vote.  With constrained consciences, many have already vowed to vote #NeverTrump and to simply write in a third candidate at the ballot box.

The entire future of the nation’s highest court is in jeopardy.  As an evangelical, the prospect of placing the Supreme Court in the hands of the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is unthinkable.  All things considered, this raises an interesting question in this race. With the prospect of surrendering nation’s highest court over the principle of not voting for Donald Trump, at what point does the character of the nation itself not outweigh the concerns for the character of one nominee?  Is the Supreme Court’s future really an issue that we should ignore because of the objectionable character of one man?

Several years ago a volunteer fire department in South Fulton, TN made national headlines by refusing to put out a house fire over a $75 fee that a family failed to pay to the local county.  As a result, the fire department decided to stand by and watch as the fire consumed an entire home until the last ember burnt out.  The fire department was concerned that if the principle were not defended, no one would pay their local dues.  A public outcry soon followed as many people identified with this Tennessee family over the loss of their entire home.  Few, if any, could understand the principle upon which the firefighters refused to render aid.  Their failure to offer aid was a deliberate choice, and while it was perhaps an important principle to defend, a local county due, the loss came at a much greater cost to the family that lost everything.

Stories like these often illustrate points that may seem like caricatures of reality.  No doubt we face a very complex election.  Many of our values and principles are being put to the test.  Certainly, the moral character of our leaders are important in any election, so too is the character and integrity of the nation itself.  Even our carefully guarded principles have the potential to blind us to greater concerns and risks.  With a nation in peril, do we hold on to a singular principle of not allowing Donald Trump to take office, while simultaneously allowing everything else to be destroyed? 

The argument over character in this race is neither trivial nor is it complete.  Whether the individual or the nation, all things should be considered.  Have evangelicals forgotten their values in this election?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Indeed, it’s shameful to see how quickly some have flocked to Donald Trump’s standard, some ready to congratulate him, others exonerate him and even others making outrageous comparisons to a type of Moses or King David.  But it is equally shameful to see other evangelicals signal to the rest that a third-party choice is the only righteous position, thereby judging any and all others who do not conform.  They would seem to trivialize the concerns and objections raised by some that include the Supreme Court in peril.  But there are good people on both sides of this debate.

The kind of rationalization that would assume to let things burn in order to prove a point could be more devastating in the long-run.  Count the cost even as character counts.  There is a thin line between righteous and self-righteous, and it may be too soon in this race to tell.  Wisdom ought to urge caution here.  If a fire arrives at your front door, you might even allow a huckster and a cheat to carry the hose.  Because while standing over the cinders of our nation may prove a point, it may not be the right one.

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