Weighing the cost of the election against the price of our witness

Kevin Bumgarner“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; He upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin.” Psalm 146:3-9

I have been writing columns and other thought pieces for the past 20 years, and I can honestly say that this particular one is, without a doubt, the most difficult assignment I have ever given myself.

And yet I feel compelled to join the conversation: As civic-minded Christians, what are we to do on Nov. 8?

Many of the people I talk with about the 2016 presidential election say they are equally perplexed, and yet in John 14:1 Jesus tells His followers in the midst of what many thought would be a political revolution: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

Fast forward some 2,000 years, and many Christians in America are having a difficult time applying the truth of that verse, and others like it. We are fearful because we are facing our own revolution—a cultural one.

As a result, some national figures known for their Christian character and godly principles have been steadfast in their support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the current campaign because he claims he will carry out a socially conservative agenda. But his agenda, however appealing, comes with a growing list of moral controversies and his own indefensible personal behavior.

Among Trump’s supporters, typical has been the response of Tony Perkins, president of the pro-life Family Research Council. He issued this statement following the recent release of a 2005 Donald Trump video that bragged about his sexual exploits with women: “As a husband and father of three daughters, I find this behavior deeply offensive and degrading. As I have made clear, my support for Donald Trump in the general election was never based upon shared values, rather it was built upon shared concerns. These concerns include the damage the Supreme Court would continue to do to this country through the appointment of activist justices, concerns over the security of our nation because of our government’s refusal to confront the growing threat of Islamic terrorism, and concerns over the prospects of continued attacks by our own government upon religious freedom.

“At this point in the political process,” Perkins concluded, “because of our lack of engagement and involvement as Christians, not just in this election but in the government and culture as a whole, we are left with a choice of voting for the one who will do the least damage to our freedoms.”

Other Christian leaders of equal stature are taking a different tack. They are making the argument that we cannot do what they equate would be the equivalent of selling the soul of the American evangelical church to align ourselves with a candidate who is, in their view, disturbingly anti-Christian in most of his behaviors. Some have gone as far as to say that we weaken the concept of the sovereignty of God when we think one certain candidate must “save” us.

Typical of this viewpoint is Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., who wrote in an Oct. 9 column published by The Washington Post: “Trump’s horrifying statements, heard in his own proud voice, revealed an objectification of women and a sexual predation that must make continued support for Trump impossible for any evangelical leader.” He further urged evangelical leaders to “not allow a national disgrace to become the Great Evangelical Embarrassment.”

So how can we, as Christ followers in Florida, begin to reconcile the conflicting viewpoints shared by these two very godly men (and countless others)? Do we simply swing our support to Hillary Clinton, the Democrat’s presidential nominee, on Nov. 8?

Most evangelicals would argue that she is no better choice, and I would certainly be among those voicing that opinion.

As an untold number of critics have said, her email server controversies, appearances of pay-for-play access and other questionable judgments when secretary of state, and a party platform that is largely incompatible with a Christian’s perspective on life, marriage and gender issues make the thought of her as our next president no more palatable.

So where does this leave us? On our knees, if we are trying to do what is best for our country.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote the following for a recent Baptist 21 blog: “A church that loses the Gospel is a losing church, no matter how many political victories it wins. A church that is right on public convictions but wrong on the Gospel is a powerless church, no matter how powerful it seems.”

I have editorialized about the upcoming election several times this year, and no matter how the events unfold, I remain convinced of the following realities: First and foremost, God remains sovereign. On Nov. 9, His redemptive plan for His planet will remain in effect regardless of who wins the 2016 presidential election in America.

Secondly, we need to recognize that especially in this election some of our friends, family members, church members, fellow Florida Baptists and other evangelicals are going to make different decisions about which candidate to support. We must still love them.

And, finally, I am more fully convinced than ever before that God is much more interested in the broken hearts of those who claim to be His people than whatever happens to be the outcome in next month’s election.

For those reasons, and untold others, we need never to lose sight of the fact that whatever the outcome of this election we still will need to be able to serve and worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ long after November has come and gone. Just as importantly, unbelievers are watching how we conduct ourselves during these final days before the election, and a failure to show Christ’s love during this time could very well cause those people to refuse to listen to our case for Christ for years to come.

Thus we all have responsibilities between now and Nov. 8, starting with continuing to live at peace with one another, as long as it is within our power to do so, as Paul writes in Romans 12:18. At the same time, we need to be praying for God to show us how to be ready when it is our turn to vote—even as we realize that the vote we cast on a single day in November is not our most important obligation to the Kingdom of God.

Florida Baptist Witness Executive Editor Kevin Bumgarner can be reached in the office at 904-596-3171, via email at kbumgarner@goFBW.com and on Twitter @FBW_editor. He also is available on Facebook,Google+ and LinkedIn.

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