I have great appreciation for John Piper and the influence God has given him in so many ways. His ministry has been a blessing to me and to so many others. I say this up front so no one will mistake my disagreement with his recent post, in which he argues that Christians should not vote for Trump, with a disagreement or disapproval of him any more broadly. He concedes in his post that his word on this matter should not be considered binding to the conscience of all Christians; I make the same concession as I write to offer a contrary opinion on this particular question.
Piper grounds his case in a prominent list of Trump’s sins; some of these sins are obvious enough, although some of Piper’s judgments here may be debated, and whether Trump is “unrepentant” with regard to all these sins we just cannot know. But the thrust of Piper’s argument seems to be that it would be inconsistent for a Christian to vote for such a flawed man. That, I think, is his point.
Piper does not offer direct biblical support but reasons that such sins are “deadly” and on the part of a leader have deadly influence in society. I don’t think anyone can dispute this much, but again his argument is that when this is the case it would be inconsistent for a Christian to vote for such an individual.
Piper’s remarks have already received several responses. But the question I want to address is, simply, why? Why would it be wrong or inconsistent for a Christian to vote for a morally flawed candidate? Does Piper’s argument hold? Or does it perhaps prove too much?
I wonder, in keeping with Piper’s argument, at what point a Christian could in good conscience vote for any candidate other than a consistently godly Christian. I’m sure Piper wouldn’t say this much, and I don’t mean to imply that he does. But this seems to be where we are left if we follow his argument consistently. We might put the question this way: Just how morally good must a candidate be before a Christian can vote for him? Perhaps Piper can tell us, but I’m not aware of any biblical directives that inform our answer here. We are given this kind of direction for those holding church office, but I’m not aware of any similar guidance concerning those who would hold public office. This is not to say that the morals of political leaders are of no consequence, and it is not to treat such matters “lightly,” as Piper alleges. It is just to recognize that Scripture doesn’t tell us that a person is disqualified from public office unless he is just so moral.
And so, as I have argued elsewhere (here and here) it seems to me that we are left to vote according to policy – which candidate’s policies will promote freedom, human flourishing, justice, and so on, and this in keeping with the God-given responsibilities of our leaders as spelled out, for example, in Romans 13:1-7. In our own setting this comes to focus on matters like the rule of law, judges who uphold the constitution, personal security, gay “marriage,” religious freedom, sanctity of human life, freedom of speech, genuine “justice” in social and economic policies, foreign relations, and so on. If we are to seek the good of the city generally (Jeremiah 29:7), we are simply to determine how our vote will do the most good. This is not choosing between two evils but simply determining which of our choices will better serve the good of society generally.
Now Piper seems to equate Trump’s moral flaws with the evil policies of the left, and my guess is, then, that he will vote third party. That is his conscience and his judgment. My own judgment is that the policies of the left bring more immediate and long-term harm to the nation and that in our binary system voting third party is the same as not voting at all. And so I think voting for Trump does the most good overall. I think this is best in keeping with the biblical directive to love our neighbor. I think this is a biblically-reasoned position. But again, this is my conscience and my judgment – I gladly acknowledge that Christians differ, and, like Piper, although I am willing to debate the wisdom of my position in a friendly way, I do not impose my judgment on any brother or sister. These things call for wisdom, and we must allow one another that freedom.
But this raises what I consider another mistaken assumption in Piper’s argument. He seems to assume that voting for a flawed candidate implies approval of that candidate’s personal shortcomings. I’m not sure why he assumes this, but surely the assumption is unwarranted. When I vote for Trump again, as I did in 2016, I am not acquitting him of anything; I’m simply affirming that the policies he will pursue (and has been pursuing these last four years) are a better choice for America. Again, I think this is the more responsible way to vote.
Moreover, I think this way of voting better appreciates the biblical notion of common grace which teaches us, among other things, that God can use (even big-time) sinners for the common good. When he did so with Cyrus, I doubt any Israelite anywhere complained that the Medo-Persian king was too wicked for God to use him in such a way. They rather gave thanks for this “anointed one” (Isaiah 44:29; 45:1) whom God in over-ruling grace raised up and used for the good of his people. So also when Daniel loved and served wicked King Nebuchadnezzar – even though rebuking him for his sin at times – he was not compromising but seeking the good of the city. I don’t at all approve of Trump’s (or anyone’s) sins, but I happily give thanks when God uses sinners for the good of society – even if I am left to wonder what ill-effects of their sin may yet come.
I pray daily that God will again be gracious to America and send his Spirit to awaken hearts to the gospel of Christ in a nation-shaping way as he did in the past. One upshot of such grace would be that we could again assume a certain moral consensus in our nation’s leaders. But it should not surprise us that the world is the world, and until God moves in such nation-shaping ways our voting and other political considerations remain complex. May God give us discernment to use our vote wisely.