The Voting Dilemma
American Christians concerned solely with the glory and honor of God are confronted with a moral dilemma we have not experienced in this upcoming election, evidenced by the overwhelming number of articles and discussions within evangelicalism on the issue. Of course, the moral quandary doesn’t reside with whether to vote for either Clinton or Trump. No democratic leader is an option for the Christian since its entire platform goes beyond permitting wicked behavior. It promotes it. Rather, the new dilemma in this election is whether or not the Christian can ethically vote for Trump. Trump doesn’t necessarily embody traditional conservatism, but choosing not to vote for him could grant a victory to the liberal party.
Established Voices Can’t Agree
Authoritative figures have been all over the map. Wayne Grudem electrified the blogosphere when he gave his point by point rationale for voting Trump. Not long after that, J. Reynolds’ responded with a fierce critique, equivocating Grudem’s endorsement of Trump with G. K. Chesterton’s (a Roman Catholic) of Mussolini.
While I would argue that the parallelism is more comparable to an actual promotion of Trump, Reynolds makes a good point: Grudem seems to minimize Trump’s immoral character. Trump has postured himself as an angry, egotistical, wickedly immoral adulterer and more. Although Grudem agrees, the real dilemma exists when we recognize Trump for who he is, and then consider whether or not we can vote for him. We must consider seriously the consequences of a fool in the White House (cf. Prov. 29:11; Prov. 12:19, 23; Lk. 6:45). At that point, is there any moral gain by exchanging one fool for another, and if so, does it justify our vote?
Frankly, I’m not concerned. It’s not that I don’t care—I do care, and I will vote, but I’m not worried. I believe this is a matter of conscience for the Christian, and requires a vast amount of charity in the discussion.
To Vote for Trump or Not: Two Views (Grudem/Reynolds Debate)
This Isn’t a New Voting Dilemma
Even though this is a new dilemma for us, it is not a new dilemma to the history of the church. The Reformers were faced with a similar situation that would have permanent global consequences. There is a crucial lesson to be learned from it, as in all church history:
That which has been, is that which will be.
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9).
Thus, we have done ourselves a tremendous disservice if we don’t study how others may have already answered our “new” controversies. Unfortunately, “the past is simply not looked upon as a source of wisdom or guidance for the present and future.”1 We do well to listen then! And as it’s been said, “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” (Edmund Burke).
King Henry VIII
When the Reformation first exploded across Continental Europe, the British Empire remained firmly in the clutches of Roman Catholicism for another three decades. King Henry VIII was adamantly committed to Rome, even though many viewed the King as nothing more than a complete embarrassment to all of England. He was known as an egotistical glutton, a pompous gambler, heavy-handed, and unjust—often arbitrarily putting his subjects to death for treason on the basis of a whisper. He was extremely unpopular and was a polarizing figure. What’s more, he was also a widely known adulterer, and by his death at the age of 55, he had six wives, all of whom he divorced or beheaded, with the exception of his third wife, Jane Seymour, who died shortly after child birth,2 and his last wife, who was already married several times herself.
It seemed both the Crown and the Church were permanently enslaved to corruption, but in 1527, Henry was disappointed by the Pope when the he would not grant Henry the right to divorce his first wife. To do so would have compromised the Pope’s political power, since Henry’s wife was the aunt of Charles V, one of the most powerful aristocrats at the time. Henry was looking for a solution, and it was about this time that a Protestant Reformer, Thomas Cranmer, made his move.
By August, 1529, Cranmer had been reading the works of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin for several years and had himself come to understand justification by faith alone. When the King passed through town, Cranmer was given a unique opportunity to speak with Henry, and Cranmer had the King’s solution: deny the Pope, and Henry wouldn’t need the Pope’s permission for divorce.
So the dilemma was this: allow a King to divorce and knock the Pope off of his pedestal, or uphold the biblical permanence of marriage but allow the Pope to continue his reign. Cranmer knew this would mean the King would divorce his wife, but Cranmer, like many other Reformers, saw that as a better alternative to Rome. Nevertheless, it was a controversial issue.
The Scriptures are manifestly clear on divorce and remarriage (Mal. 2:16; Matt. 5:32; 19:6; 1 Cor. 7:15), yet compared to the evils of Roman Catholicism, many of the Reformers showed a willingness to compromise. In fact, even Martin Luther was confused about the issue, “Before I would permit such a divorce, I would rather permit the King to marry still another woman and to have, according to the examples of the patriarchs and kings two women as queen at the same time.”3 Other Reformers adamantly apposed it, and were therefore either imprisoned, killed, or fled for their lives.
For Cranmer though, because he showed commitment and support for Henry, he found favor in the King’s eyes, and Cranmer and other reformers like Thomas Cromwell, began the work of a religious revolution. Long story short, both proved to be crucial figures in the English Reformation.
Cranmer was appointed archbishop in 1532 and immediately validated Henry’s new marriage. Oliver Cromwell became Henry’s chief minister, and they worked together to pass a series of laws to undercut the power of Roman Catholicism. They would increase their power by continuing to endorse the wicked king, and Cromwell was even commissioned by Henry to discredit the Pope through a series of pamphlets and sermons.
Cromwell also convinced the King to make the Bible available to all parishioners, even though there were still many other restrictions. But even with these advances, they were often frustrated by Henry’s lack of full support for reform. In fact, in many instances, Henry actually undid many of the reforms initiated by Cranmer and Cromwell, and Cromwell was even put to death by Henry in 1540. Cromwell was not the only martyr though. William Tyndale was also burned at the stake for translating the first Bible into English. In fact, his final words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”
The Reformation Begins
Nevertheless, the Reformation in England had finally begun, though it never really finished. Cranmer was martyred by the surviving daughter from Henry’s first marriage, Queen Bloody Mary I. After her death, Mary’s successor, Queen Elizabeth, passed the Act of Uniformity, essentially establishing the hybrid Protestant-Catholicism of Anglicanism.
This led to formation of those who we now call the Puritans, towers of the faith who were unwilling to compromise. These Puritans would spread to the Netherlands, Ireland, Wales, and most notably, New England. They transformed the world with the Gospel wherever they went. J. I. Packer referred to the Puritans as akin to “the great California Redwoods, towering in their spiritual maturity and insight.”4
Could God have done that even without Cranmer and Cromwell’s compromise? Absolutely. Nevertheless, the lesson we learn from history that is important for this election is that God is sovereign, and He will use whomever He pleases to accomplish His will. He will use candidates who are evil just as He uses candidates who are good. And although we certainly cannot follow in the footsteps of Cromwell and Cranmer in explicit encouragement of sinful behavior because of a perceived good outcome, we can nevertheless be encouraged by the fact that they too wrestled with our “contemporary” problems.
Does voting for Trump make us complicit in his behavior?
Does voting for Trump make us complicit in his immoral behavior? For some, the answer is yes; for others it is no. This is what we wrestle with in our consciences, and although the Reformation in England isn’t an exact parallelism, it is helpful to see how Reformers wrestled with the same issues we wrestle with today, whether or not they came to the right conclusions. We can learn the consequences of their decisions, good and bad, and remember the importance of discernment. But we can also learn humility, and should show grace when a matter is not explicitly sinful in Scripture.
This is why I believe we must maintain that the matter of this election is indeed one of conscience. But make no mistake, once we consent that it is a matter of conscience, we must treat the issue with authentic humility, and we can no longer degrade, belittle, scorn, or make others who maintain a position contrary to our own feel guilty. To do so is double-speech and legalism.
Both are condemned in Scripture.
- Carl R. Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Wales: Christian Focus Publications, 2012), 12. ↩
- Thank you Rachel Darnell! ↩
- Gritsch, Eric W. Martin: God’s Court Jester (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stick Publishers, 1990), 81. ↩
- Nichols, Stephen. The Reformation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 16. ↩
Latest posts by Matt Tarr (see all)
- Why the US Commission of Civil Rights Report is Necessary - September 20, 2016
- When the Reformers Voted Trump - September 8, 2016