Christianity Today, the banner periodical of Evangelical Protestantism in America, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. It was founded in 1956 with the blessing of Billy Graham, borrowing the name from an earlier, defunct Presbyterian journal that engaged with an “enemy” defined as theological modernism (the current senior editor calls that mode “pugilistic”). My memory doesn’t go back that far, but “pugilistic” doesn’t describe the magazine today. It certainly represents a very conservative Protestant theology, but its stance toward more liberal positions avoids the metaphors of warfare and in the years that I have been aware of the publication its intellectual quality has become markedly more sophisticated.
In the issue of October 2016 Christianity Today has done something very useful. It has published three pieces by avowedly Evangelical leaders—one who will vote for Hillary Clinton, one for Donald Trump, and one who has decided not to vote for either one. I have found this triad of advocacy positions useful and thought-provoking, although I’m not Evangelical and don’t look to Evangelical leaders for advice on how to vote. (I’m evangelisch in the German or Scandinavian sense, which simply means “Protestant.” I’ve just come back from a conference in Germany, where I’m more comfortable with fellow Lutherans, simply because there are more of them and thus there is a better statistical chance of running into people with a moderate theology like mine.) I do not regard this blog as an appropriate platform for my theological or political views. So I won’t tell you how I will vote. But at the end of this little essay I will tell you what I consider to be plausible factors to consider in making a decision.
The first piece is by Ron Sider, founder and former president of Evangelicals for Social Action. As an Evangelical he disagrees with Clinton on abortion and same-sex marriage, as a Left-leaning citizen he likes her long record on what he considers “social justice.” On foreign affairs she is “judicious” and very well informed. By contrast Trump is monumentally ignorant about the world, with hateful views about many domestic issues. Sider is very troubled by Trump’s tendency toward megalomania—“his boasting is breathtaking.” (That may be the understatement of the year.) He cannot be “trusted to be a wise statesman leading the world to avoid conflict and war.” That of course is the crucial reason why Sider opts for Clinton as the lesser evil: She may appoint judges who will make decisions on issues south of the navel that Sider will be appalled by, but at least she will not blow up the world in a fit of anger.
James Dobson is the founder and president of Family Talk ministry and an influential Evangelical spokesman on so-called “social issues,” notably in favor of the “traditional family” and against same-sex marriage. He is most worried about the Federal judges that Clinton is likely to nominate. While Trump may embarrass by his rhetoric and lifestyle, Clinton as President would be a disaster for the country. She would promote policies assaulting religious freedom (prosecuting the preaching of Christian morality as “hate speech”), redefining marriage, expanding abortion, and assaulting gender identities. Dobson has passionate views opposed to Clinton’s on those issues, and Trump’s general loutishness and difficulty in controlling his temper may “embarrass” Dobson. But one can be reasonably confident that a Trump presidency will not inaugurate an era of suffocating political correctness. Given Dobson’s moral priorities, there is a certain logic to his opting for Trump as the lesser evil.
Third on CT’s list is Sho Baraka, a hip-hop artist with Humble Beast Records who intends to vote for neither Clinton nor Trump. An African American, he identifies with both liberal values and with Evangelical faith. I have never heard of Baraka before this, which is not surprising since I have no appreciation of hip-hop. But from the evidence of his paper he is a politically nuanced individual. Baraka is appalled by what either candidate would promote from the bully pulpit of the presidency—Clinton a relentless secularism entailing limits on religious freedom, Trump social policies without any sense of compassion. Baraka hopes for a movement that would break through the unsatisfactory dichotomy of the two parties (he mentions the Tea Party and the LGBT community, not of course for their messages but for the shapes of their movements). He believes that African Americans (whom he rather quaintly calls “Urban Christians”) could rally around such a “third way.” He shows no interest in foreign policy.
In recent weeks I have had many conversations about the election with my older son, Thomas Berger, who shares my basic moral instincts but is also an astute political scientist. We intend to vote the same way on November 8. But we also agreed on the factors that should be considered as one hesitates to decide between two thoroughly unattractive candidates—that is, decide on which one to bestow the grand title of the lesser evil: If you believe that domestic issues are of primary urgency, you might go for Trump if you like his (so to speak) robustness and trust his conservative rhetoric—and because the constitutional balances might make it hard for him to push his nuttier ideas. On the other hand, if you believe that the major challenges for the next President will come from abroad (Russia, China, radical Islamism), go for Clinton—because whatever her personal flaws and ideological proclivities are, she is well-informed about the world and eminently sane, which can hardly be said of Trump. Also, the powers of a Commander-in-Chief have few constitutional restraints.
According to rumor, the Academy of Political Science of the Republic of Senegal is about to publish the report of its three-year study of U.S. politics. Its conclusion, written in elegant French, argues that the United States is not yet ready for democracy.