Dialogue: Christian Witness, Trump, & Prudential Voting

Dialogue: Christian Witness, Trump, & Prudential Voting May 10, 2019

Words of my friend, Deacon Steven D. Greydanus will be in blue. This occurred spontaneously on my Facebook page, in reaction to a posted article, “Yes, Christians Can Support Trump Without Risk to Their Witness,” by Chris Buskirk (American Greatness, 5-8-19).

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Without risk? Ridiculous.

My witness isn’t compromised in the least. But the witness of pro-lifers who vote for childkilling advocates sure is.

What is compromising is a prudential judgment call, which means opinions will differ. Voting for pro-abortion politicians is not intrinsically wrong and may be justified in some cases. When advocating for any given politician is justified, when it is dubious but not scandalous, and when it is scandalous or compromises the witness of the advocate, is a question that no one can definitively answer for everyone.

The application of reason varies significantly even from one wise and holy person to another.

Yet you seem quite sure that no one can be a Trump supporter “without risk” to their witness. Why can’t you simply agree that good and honest Christian folk can differ on the question and leave it at that?

I do agree that good and honest Christian folk can disagree about Trump. I have often said so and have never said otherwise. 

But life is risk, and all actions, even the wisest and most prudent, have potential downsides and unfortunate consequences. Actively and publicly resisting any controversial evil from abortion to racism will enhance one’s witness with some and harm one’s witness with others. 

Certainly advocating for a politician like Trump will enhance one’s witness with some people — for, perhaps, both good and bad reasons — while harming one’s witness with other people, also for both good and bad reasons. 

In a word: If smart, thoughtful Christian people — people like David French, and, if you care to give me — believe that a given action may harm our witness, almost by definition a lot of thoughtful non-Christians believe the same, which is another way of saying that that action will harm our witness with those people.

What exactly were you claiming as “ridiculous”?

We have to follow our own conscience (including in matters of voting and political alignment), which ought to be formed consistently in the context of biblical and Church teaching, to the best of our ability, by God’s grace.

Whether some other people don’t like our own conclusions and actions or wish to judge us as a result, cannot be the final determinant of any informed opinion.

Hundreds, probably thousands, for example, don’t “like” me or have lost respect for me, etc., because I have defended the pope, as I again did today (and/or, President Trump). So be it. No skin off of my back. But it’s no reason to stop doing so, just because they are disgruntled with me.

You are now not addressing the specific topic at issue, which I addressed at length in my last comment.

I agree with all that. I want to be clear [about] what you were claiming was “ridiculous.”

I was claiming it is ridiculous to think that one can publicly advocate for a politician like Trump without risk to one’s witness. Advocacy for a politician like Trump will certainly harm one’s witness with some people, so obviously there is a risk of harm to one’s witness.

Okay, thanks. I would say that this is true in a subjective sense. I was talking about an objective sense: has a Trump supporter compromised his principles in any fundamental way? I say no: at least for a consistent, thoughtful Trump supporter who has taken pains not to compromise any of his or her bedrock Christian principles.

And the counter-example I gave: voting for pro-abortion politicians, does fundamentally compromise Christian and pro-life principle, if a pro-life candidate is on the ballot as a choice.

That’s probably true, for all practical intents and purposes, but it becomes false if by “pro-life” you mean only “candidate who says he opposes abortion.”

Again, there is a subjective and objective sense of “harming our witness.” When Jesus said that we would be “hated by all” for His name’s sake (typical Hebraic hyperbole, but we get the point), is that an instance of our witness being harmed? Objectively no; subjectively, yes.

But the objective sense is vastly more important, because that includes our principles and self-consistency. There will always be opposition and misunderstanding. We can’t avoid that unless we are chameleons.

Of course the objective is more important, though both matter. And, no matter how painstaking we may be in trying to arrive at sound prudential judgments, we may still make mistakes.

Then make it “candidate A who roundly supports abortion up till birth vs. candidate B who roundly opposes all abortion.” [or “B who opposes it except for rape & incest scenarios”] Which is the more Christian choice? Which one upholds a Christian witness?

Even if B supported capital punishment, there are exponentially less executions than there are abortions, so it is still a no-brainer choice. And capital punishment isn’t intrinsically evil, as abortion is.

Is “no-brainer” ever a safe choice?

Suppose B avidly supported the death penalty for women who procure abortions. Would supporting that candidate potentially compromise one’s Christian witness? 

Or suppose he just held any of a range of views antithetical to human dignity. 

Suppose he openly defended white nationalism and white supremacy, like Steve King and others. Suppose he said interracial marriage was against God’s will, like Jim Cleveland, a Texas politician recently in the news. 

Is there no point at which a politician simply becomes too odious to support in spite of saying some of the right things on abortion?

Yeah, there is such a point. I’ve seen that point for every Democrat candidate for President since (after) RFK, but not for any Republican one.

No one I’ve ever seen has supported death for women who abort, and I don’t believe there ever was such a law in the US, so that is hardly a live issue: scarcely even a hypothetical one.

KKK-type beliefs would be a dealbreaker, just as childkilling advocacy is. If the election were ever a Klan Imperial Wizard (like Dem. Senator Robert Byrd) vs. the typical Democrat childkiller, then I would either not vote or go third party.

[he linked to a recent proposed Texas bill that would punish aborting women with a possible death penalty]

That’s just one state; it’s not a presidential candidate, and most pro-lifers oppose it as atrocious and extreme. As this article states, the bill “failed to make it past a committee hearing this week.” There you go.

It still shows it’s possible. We agree now in principle that “candidate A who roundly supports abortion up till birth vs. candidate B who roundly opposes all abortion” is not necessarily, automatically a no-brainer.

Where and when to draw the line, then, becomes a prudential call. That doesn’t mean it’s subjective or that some positions aren’t more prudent than others, but people will disagree in good faith.

My hypothetical was strictly considering in isolation a scenario with two candidates and their views on abortion. I wasn’t considering other issues in that strictly limited scenario for the sake of argument.

I continue to maintain that the Hillary vs. Trump choice was easy as pie: as stark of a contrast as there has ever been in a presidential election: even clearer than Reagan vs. Mondale in 1984.

Abortion is the slavery-type issue of our time: the social issue that is far and away the most important. Therefore, it gets considerable weight, and more than any other issue, short of someone saying they would nuke China (or Iran or North Korea, etc.) off the map, which would be an analogous scenario of millions of innocent people being murdered.

I agree that abortion is the gravest social issue of our time. I do not agree — and neither do you — that merely making some of the right noises on abortion means nothing else you stand for matters. 

There are still many other lines that matter. Good people may disagree in good faith on when an ostensibly anti-abortion politician is too odious to support, even against a pro-abortion politician.

Of course this is true. The real choices we have had in presidential elections since 1968 have been no-brainers, I contend, from the perspective of a Christian who opposes abortion.

There are any number of complex hypotheticals which might make it actually a difficult decision, but I say that in fact they have not occurred since the elections of 1972 onwards.

Possibly in 1972 one could have voted for McGovern, since Nixon didn’t seem to be particularly pro-life (or conservative, for that matter).

Goldwater procured an illegal abortion for his daughter. That’s how “conservative” he supposedly was:

Although stemming from the opposite wing of the GOP, the Goldwater family of Arizona also supported Planned Parenthood. In his final term in the U.S. Senate, Barry Goldwater adopted a pro-choice position, voting in 1983 against a constitutional amendment that would have reversed Roe v. Wade and returned legislative authority over abortion to the states. Back in 1937, his wife Peggy had become a founding member of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, and the couple remained active in the organization throughout Goldwater’s Senate career. Though he initially rejected Planned Parenthood’s position on abortion, his long association with the group would ultimately make a convert of him, also as he personally approved of his daughter Joanne’s illegal abortion in 1955, as recounted in the HBO documentary Mr. Conservative. (“Planned Parenthood Republicans: A Decades-Long History”, Michael O’Connor, The New American, 3-16-11)

For any Christian who knew these facts, a vote for LBJ in 1964 could altogether be justified. The GOP has been afflicted with RINOs like Goldwater all along.

I don’t intend to get into a knock-down drag-out on the prudential particulars. I did not vote for Trump and never will. I also did not vote for Hillary or Obama, but you and I have mutual friends who are pro-life who voted for one or both of them. Their prudential choice seems clearly wrong to you. Your choice to vote for Trump seems clearly wrong to me. I don’t place you beyond the pale of understandable choices because I have more imagination and empathy than that. What you say about our friends or about me is up to you.

I voted for him primarily based on the abortion issue, and the choice has been spectacularly verified as the correct one, seeing what he has done in office. We know what a disaster for life Hillary would have been.

I’ve written scores of critiques of the whole “Christian Democrat / New Pro-Life” perspective on Life Issues web page, for anyone who is interested. What I do not ever do is deny that a left-wing / Democrat or third-party person is pro-life, if they claim to be, unlike how Mark Shea and many of his mind characterize us Republican pro-lifers.

That’s what the devil wants (unnecessary disunity) and I refuse to fall into that trap. But I’ll argue all day long that those liberal / left-wing political choices are detrimental to the pro-life cause.

That’s fine, Dave. I don’t expect you not to argue your prudential opinion. And they will argue theirs. Not anathematizing one another doesn’t mean that we don’t disagree strongly about important matters.

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Photo credit: [PublicDomainPictures.NetCC0 Public Domain]

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