by Zen Hess
Seeking the Welfare of the Nation: Military and American-ism
My second concern, the one I said was more dangerous, is that Grudem’s reflections centered chiefly upon the welfare of America. Of course, choosing an American president must consider the welfare of America. There are several reasons, however, that we must also consider the welfare of other nations.
One reason comes from Grudem’s explanation of why we should be involved in politics in the first place. He quotes Peter saying that “we are exiles on this earth.” He then ties this point to the Word of God through Jeremiah to “seek the welfare” of the cities we are exiled in. This is a fine argument for why Christians should be involved in the political system. Unfortunately, it does not take seriously the fact that Christians in all nations should be advocating what is best for their cities and their people.
For instance, Palestinian Christians may roundly dismiss American political policies that support the secular state of Israel — especially when those policies include the use of American military intervention.
Another example comes from a popular question, throughout Republican and Democratic dialogue alike: Do we feel safe with someone who, as Grudem himself describes, is “egotistical, bombastic, and brash,” having his fingers on the nuclear codes? Do we feel “morally good” about having someone who condones torture and the killing of families presiding over our military? These concerns are some of the only things in American politics that receive (mostly) bipartisan agreement. When considering that “Trump has promised to rapidly rebuild our depleted military forces,” these questions of Trump’s character must be evaluated. We cannot, as Grudem has, merely accept Trump as a good candidate with flaws. Common sense tells us that we shouldn’t give a tantrum-prone child a weapon, for fear of harm coming to the child or those near the child. While Donald Trump may not be a child, he often acts like a child and is certainly tantrum-prone. We must not dismiss this. The welfare of our neighbors — exiles in other cities and states — is at stake.
Moreover, theological reflection on the military and violence in general should raise more concerns. We are not people of a militaristic empire. We are people of Christ’s body. This is not a body that preemptively strikes; this is not a body that strikes with retaliation. This is a body that heals the sick and raises the dead. This is a body that reattaches the ear of an enemy soldier. This is the body that casts not the first stone. This is the body that defies the confines of established political discourse to give power to the poor and blessings to the cursed. This is the body that carries with it Good News to all the nations and the Peace of Christ to the whole world. This body stands at odds with the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome that was maintained through violence; this body stands at odds with the Pax Americana, the peace of America that spends more on its military than the next seven largest militaries combined. A developed theological account of Christ and the Church must raise serious questions about Republican’s (and Democrat’s) infatuation with military and perpetual war.
Our Hands: Covered in Blood or Full of Mercy?
“When I look at it this way,” Grudem concludes, “my conscience, and my considered moral judgment tell me that I must vote for Donald Trump as the candidate who is most likely to do the most good for the United States of America.” I could not disagree more. I do not, however, concede that Hillary would do much better for America or the world. I am not inclined to support those who mock the disabled, nor am I inclined to support those who make a habit of lying. I think the evangelical Christian in America today is faced with the terrible question, “Should I choose the candidate who will leave me with less blood on my hands?” To that question, I must respond, “No.”Do not be deceived. Your vote, as Grudem helped us to see, is an action with incredible moral gravity. At the very least — and I mean the very least — voting for Trump is tantamount to saying “It is okay for you to lie to us, to degrade our people, to denigrate the democratic process, and to threaten the world with great evils. We support you.” At the very worst, voting for Trump implicates you in the blood he spills as a president — domestic and international. It is not moral to vote for a candidate just because they can, hypothetically, do more good according to a conservative (or liberal, for that matter) political platform. The hypothetical good that Trump could do does not negate the realized bad he daily displays on live TV. Voting for him based on hypotheticals does not make your vote moral. Voting for him only affirms and justifies his disagreeableness.
If you do vote, do not vote against your conscience. “For,” Martin Luther once said, “to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” Let your conscience be well-formed by deep, biblical and theological reflection on the issues. And vote with the same seriousness as if you were voting on whether or not we ought to go to war with Russia, China, or another country. There is a good possibility voting for Trump may lead us there.
If, after that kind of reflection, you do not feel you can vote, that is not bad or somehow immoral. Instead, you have become conscientious that neither party platform adequately represents the “moral goods” set forth by Jesus the Christ. You may then be able to see, once the scales of partisan politics have fallen from your eyes, that voting or America is not the primary vehicle through which God does good in the world: that vehicle is the Church.
Is this a cop-out? Is this disengagement? I do not believe so. The passage Grudem quotes from Jeremiah in order to support Christian involvement in politics was written for exiles — people with no power to speak of. When Grudem quotes Peter, he is quoting a man persecuted for his beliefs, who, according to tradition, was crucified by the Roman government. Democracy was not a political system known to the people of Jeremiah’s or Peter’s age. Power was not a reality for the exiled Jews or the earliest Christians. Instead, the political involvement God commanded of the exiles in Jeremiah’s city is that they “pray to the Lord” on behalf of that city. They also were politically active through “planting gardens,” “building houses,” “raising families,” “feeding the hungry,” “caring for the sick,” “welcoming the children,” “caring for the orphans and widows,” and “visiting the prisoners.” These activities are profoundly political.
Voting may be easier and, in the end, having the power to elect one of the most powerful people in the world may seem more attractive. But voting is not how Christians have been taught to get things done. We have been taught to seek the welfare of our cities through engaging with the people in our cities, meeting the needs of the needy, and walking justly among all. That is decidedly not the same as voting for a less-than-ideal “good candidate with flaws.” Our hands must be light with mercy, not heavy with the blood of a vote for a “bombastic” president.
Zen Hess was born and raised in the Midwest and now lives in Nashville, TN with Jessie, his wife and Spoke, their dog. He recently completed an MTS degree at Duke Divinity School and reads, writes, and gardens in his spare time. See more posts by Zen at theologyforum.wordpress.com. Images: Pexels and Zen Hess.