Let me start by saying that I do not expect a candidate for POTUS or any other office to be perfect, nor do I expect that a candidate will always agree with me on every issue. Those kinds of expectations are just silly. Having said that, however, there does come a time when a candidate's position on the issues, and even more importantly, the candidates character are so highly questionable that it becomes impossible to vote for her or him in good conscience. I do not pretend to always know when that boundary is crossed-- for me it tends to be a progression of things that build up over time.
All this is to say that for the first time in my voting life, I am faced with such a conundrum. Although it is not yet 100% certain that the final candidates for president will be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump it is appearing very likely-- and if that turns out to be the case, for the first time in my voting life, I will be unable to cast a ballot for President of the United States. I have to say that I find the character of both persons to be so highly questionable that as a Christian I simply cannot hold my nose and give a vote of confidence in the form of a ballot. If I did my next act would have to be one of asking God for forgiveness, By the way, when I say that as a Christian I cannot in good conscience vote for a candidate, I do not mean that I think a candidate should be a Christian, but I do expect a certain level of honesty and decency for anyone who seeks political office.
First, in the case of Secretary Clinton-- I know these words are harsh, but it is my considered opinion that in Hillary and Bill Clinton we are witnessing two of the most corrupt and opportunistic politicians in our lifetime. They have acted shamelessly over the years living as if the rules apply to everyone but them. From Whitewater to paying for a night in the Lincoln bedroom from taking large foreign donations for the Clinton Presidential Library to using private email and setting up a special server for classified email-- and of course there's Secretary Clinton's attempt to discredit and even intimidate the women who had affairs with Bill Clinton. Amy Chozick in the New York Times writes,
But the resurfacing of the scandals of the 1990s has brought about a rethinking among some feminists about how prominent women stood by Mr. Clinton and disparaged his accusers after the "bimbo eruptions," as a close aide to the Clintons, Betsey Wright, famously called the claims of affairs and sexual assault against Mr. Clinton in his 1992 campaign.
Even some Democrats who participated in the effort to discredit the women acknowledge privately that today, when Mrs. Clinton and other women have pleaded with the authorities on college campuses and in workplaces to take any allegation of sexual assault and sexual harassment seriously, such a campaign to attack the women's character would be unacceptable.Now, I know that some of Mrs. Clinton's supporters will be quick to respond that there is no evidence that she has ever broken the law and has never come close to being indicted. My response to that is "so what?" We all know that just because a certain behavior is legal does not mean it is moral. And how many Hillary supporters using this shibboleth will not offer the same defense to some Republican politicians? There are more than a few Republican politicians who have never broken the law either, but that doesn't keep their Democratic detractors from questioning their character. As a mainline pastor, I continue to be mystified by how so many of us continue to support her in good conscience.
And second, there's Donald Trump. I think my friend and evangelical Christian, David Watson expressed it best when he wrote,
I will never support Donald Trump because I'm an evangelical Christian. He mocks everything Christians should embody. He scapegoats the culturally vulnerable. He shows deep contempt for those whom he sees as different (e.g., Muslims and Mexicans). He has openly and unashamedly derided both women and ethnic minorities. He has even said that a man should treat women "like shit." He has posed on the cover of Playboy. He consistently insults and demeans those with whom he disagrees. He has belittled Holy Communion, referring to it as drinking his "little wine" and eating his "little cracker." Consistent with this last offense, he is flippantly dismissive of the idea that he needs to engage in any type of personal repentance.
Many Christian leaders have been critical of Trump. Pope Francis stated, "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian." Max Lucado has written that Trump does not pass the decency test. Evangelical attorney and activist John Stemberger has written a scathing critique of Trump for CNN. Trump seems unfazed by these remarks. He criticized the Pope's remarks, saying that it is "disgraceful" to question another person's faith. Consider, for a moment, the great irony of Trump-- who has made public remarks belittling Hillary Clinton's sex life, who called Arianna Huffington a "dog," and who belittled John McCain's service to his country in a Vietnamese prison camp–calling another person’s remarks "disgraceful." Consider the additional irony of the fact that the person whose comments Trump criticized is Pope Francis, a man who has championed the cause of the poor and the politically disenfranchised. Trump has made his faith a matter of public record. It would be irresponsible for Christian leaders not to scrutinize the extent to which his actions are consistent with the faith he claims to hold. (All evangelical supporters thinking of voting for Trump need to read David's entire post.)Trump has also flip-flopped on just about every issue imaginable. Yes, it is true that people can change their minds about issues, to be sure. I have changed my mind over the years on more than a few things; but I must confess that knowing Donald's history in business this seems more opportunist to me than anything else-- as he confessed recently in an interview-- "I'm a chameleon." It's one thing to change one's mind after careful and thoughtful deliberation; it's quite another to take a different view when it will get one the end they seek. The former reveals a person of character who desires to get it right; the latter demonstrates a person who doesn't care about getting it right, but just getting ahead.
Now I know the response of Trump's evangelical supporters because I have listened to them. First, people are allowed to change their minds. Yes, they are, but those same evangelical supporters would not extend that kind of grace to Democratic candidates. Remember the 2004 POTUS election and John Kerry? How many evangelical Christians picked up the mantra of Senator Kerry being a flip-flopper? (Note: the majority of evangelical voters do not support Donald Trump, but he has enough to carry him to the nomination.)
And second, can't we extend some grace to Mr. Trump whose changing his views on things? I'm all for extending grace to everyone (Hillary Clinton being the exception for some evangelical voters.), but we are talking about someone who is seeking the most powerful office in the United States, of the most powerful country in the world. Being in leadership may develop character to be sure, but it cannot be a testing ground for someone whose character is quite questionable. To elect someone hoping he or she has the temperament to handle such important and sobering responsibilities is to play Russian Roulette with other people's lives.
Let's honestly admit that we human beings are much more willing to give a pass to the character failings of "our candidate" than we are to the "other candidate."
Let me say one more thing: I reject categorically the notion that character is unimportant-- what matters is if the candidate is basically "right on the issues." I disagree for two reasons: First, it separates character (who we are) from action (what we believe and do). Who we are and what we do are interconnected and cannot be neatly divorced from each other. If you want biblical references to support my view on this I can give you a long list. Second, minimizing the character question does nothing other than turn our politicians into functional robots whose task is simply to do for us what we want. Such a view among voters is selfish and self-serving.
And one more thing-- I promise, this is the last point. I've heard much justification from Christians who plan to vote for Trump by appealing to the sovereignty of God. God is in control, after all, so he can use a very flawed Donald Trump for his purposes. I have two responses: First, yes, it is true that God can and does use flawed characters all the time, but that just doesn't apply to Donald Trump, it also applies to Hillary Clinton. So, if God is in control why take a "anyone but Clinton" approach to the election? Such an argument is a zero sum game. Second, too many Christians have forgotten that God in Jesus Christ is working centrally and foremost through his people the church. It is God and not the nations who rules the world. To listen to some Christians talk you would think God is much more interested in working his will through a nation state than through God's redeemed people the church. Nation state politics has hoodwinked too many Christians into reversing the importance making nation state more significant than the nation called "church."
So I have a dilemma... In November I would really like to cast a ballot in good conscience for President of the United States, but if things continue to play out as it seems they will, I will go to my precinct that day and vote on everything I can except for president. And I will not engage in the silly practice of voting for some candidate on the ballot who has no chance just so I can say I voted. Not only is that a wasted vote, but it turns democracy into idolatry.
If I am unable to cast a vote for POTUS this year it will be on moral grounds. To quote the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther in a different context: "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."