What Value Do Evangelicals Add?

One more thought about David French’s implicit castigation of Al Mohler for deciding to support Donald Trump. It goes beyond French’s own theology of regeneration and good works to his w-w. If he thinks that faith should inform all he does, if that means especially it should determine his political judgments, why is his godly point of view so similar to journalists who don’t pretend to be Christians? Shouldn’t a Christian understanding of human nature, virtue, governance, society and more mean that a believer’s analysis will look different from a non-Christians? Wasn’t that the point of w-w thinking, integrating faith and intellect?

Take the case of Alabama Republican, Roy Moore. In his exchange with Eric Metaxas, French said “America is better off without Roy Moore.” He didn’t say much more than that but it’s not hard to imagine that again Moore came up short in the character balance sheet.

Anyone who tells you that your choice is limited to pro-abortion Doug Jones or an incompetent, unfit apparent child abuser like Roy Moore is simply lying to you. If you are a faithful conservative, you can write in a different name or stay home. You can reject the choice served up by the plurality of Alabama GOP primary voters and simply say, “If you want my vote, you have to do better.”

…There is no comparison between Moore and men like Patton, Jefferson, and King. Their legacies are complicated by their flaws. Moore’s candidacy is unambiguous. There is no positive political legacy to “complicate.” There is only a sordid, ignorant, and revolting reality.

No party or politician is entitled to your vote. Every man or woman who seeks public office has to earn the public’s trust. Roy Moore has earned nothing but its contempt.

This is not that different from David Graham’s point of view at the Atlantic:

The newest allegations against Moore present Republicans with a choice—not only individual officeholders, but the party as a whole, both nationally and in Alabama. Withdrawing support for Moore, and calling for voters not to support him, would be a bitter pill. It’s too late to replace him on the ticket, and although there’s talk of a Luther Strange write-in campaign, a Moore defeat would probably mean the seat goes to Democrat Doug Jones. And yet if the party’s members can’t bring themselves to set aside narrow partisan interest and condemn a man whom they despise, with a track record of bigotry, and with multiple on-the-record accusations of improper sexual misconduct with underage women, what behavior and which candidate can they possibly rule out in the future?

None of what French and Graham write is untrue, nor is it particularly profound or very political, unless electoral politics is really about finding the most virtuous people.

So what value does French add? As a recognized evangelical writer with a law degree and some history in conservative circles, he seems to add the evangelical perspective. What makes it different from writers at the Atlantic is that French appeals to Jesus for his morality.

That is not political philosophy. As Mark Noll wrote almost 10 years ago:

The merger of Jesus and Jefferson that propelled the New Christian Right was neither made in heaven, as in the eyes of its proponents, nor was it a cynical exercise in hypocritical self-interest, as often portrayed by its opponents. It was rather a historically constructed contingency that, judged from a broad Christian perspective, deserves to be both applauded and denounced….evangelical conservative politics has been a movement without a philosophy. … Yet to deal with such complexities—to bring together solidly grounded conceptions of government, employment, education, capitalism, race, history, world affairs, and even Christianity into practical political action—requires political philosophy of the sort that American evangelicals have never possessed. Theirs is not the tradition of Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, or Mater et Magistra. It is instead the tradition of Charles G. Finney, who in the 1830s declared that the problem of slavery could be resolved “in three years’ time” if only slaveholders would recognize that slaveholding was a sin. It is the lineage of Billy Sunday, who in 1919 predicted that Prohibition would empty American prisons and transform the country into a heaven on earth.

The flourishing of conservative evangelical politics in recent American history has done considerable good through the exercise of instinct, anger, energy, and zeal. It would have done much more good, and also drawn nearer to the Christianity by which it is named, if it had manifested comparable wisdom, honesty, self-criticism, and discernment.

Alabamans Went with Augustine

Or so argues William Jason Wallace:

Christianity is not very helpful for negotiating political differences. In AD 410, when the Rome fell to Alaric and the Goths, traditional Romans believed instinctively Christians were responsible for weakening the empire and causing the calamity of decline and invasion. Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, determined to respond to this claim in his enormous work The City of God. After a careful deconstruction of Rome’s history and beliefs, Augustine turned his attention to theology and the meaning of history in light of Christianity. His stunning conclusion is that although Christians and pagans share separate eternal destinies, and understand human purpose and ends differently, they nevertheless desire the same peace and justice that good politics provides. Christians, he argues, can pursue the common good with non-Christians while rejecting the notion that politics is the highest human pursuit. Liberals and conservatives, especially in Alabama, are guilty of claiming ownership of the Christian message. Augustine implores that while the aims of Christianity and the aims of politics are infrequently congruous, they both should be respected. Alabama, in this election, was with the ancient bishop.

That’s even biblical — put no trust in princes (or Democrats or Republicans).

2K in the PCA

And Stephen Wolfe is young, to boot:

Voting does not therefore endorse all parts of the moral life, even the principal part. But why? Because proper worship and good soteriology do not concern the civil realm. Worship concerns heavenly life and the ecclesiastical administration, not the civil. The Second-Table concerns civil justice, order, and our earthly duties. Voting does not endorse all of the candidate’s moral life, only the part relating to earthly life. This is a matter of civil righteousness.

So the principle so far is:

Voting for a candidate is an endorsement of a candidate’s moral life as it pertains to civil righteousness.

Civil righteousness at this point refers to one’s perfect obedience to the Second-Table of the moral law. Let’s remember however that the Law has an external and an internal component. One must act outwardly in conformity with the Law and internally in accordance with the correct motivation (or principle, mode, and end). In our sinful world, even if one seems outwardly blameless, he cannot be internally blameless. He will be covetous, for example, without showing any external indication of it. Surely when people vote for such a person they are not endorsing one’s past or present propensity to sin internally. Why?

Because what matters in the civil realm is civil action, not internal motivations seen only by God. This hypothetical candidate’s internal sin has no impact on his outward behavior. Since there are no adverse consequences, the vote does not endorse evil. So the principle is:

Voting for a candidate is an endorsement of a candidate’s moral life as it pertains to his external conformity to civil righteousness.

But has there ever been such a blameless person, one who though internally sinful (like all of us) is perfect as to civil righteousness? Surely not. Everyone outwardly sins. Does voting for him endorse that evil? If a candidate badly failed to honor his parents decades ago, does one endorse that sin by voting for him? I think that most people would say it doesn’t. Why? Because one endorses another’s sin in voting for him only when those sins adversely affect the suitability of the candidate for civil office. The sin must relate in some way to civil office. So:

Voting for a candidate is an endorsement of the candidate’s moral life as it pertains to his external conformity to civil righteousness sufficient to qualify the candidate for civil office.

We’ve significantly reduced the scope of sins that voting can endorse. We have shifted away in part from who the candidate is to what he does. More precisely, we now care about his personal features pertaining to civil action. A civil officeholder fulfills a civil function, which necessarily involves action for civil ends; and qualifying for civil office is necessarily a matter of possessing characteristics conducive to producing good, long-term civil outcomes by means of civil action in a particular time, place, and set of circumstances.

In other words, what’s good for Al Franken is good for Kevin Spacey.

Living in a fallen world really is complicated.

If Daniel Could Serve a Pagan King, Why Can’t Old School Presbyterians vote for Bill Clinton?

Kevin DeYoung offers some perspective for Alabama voters (though he never mentions Roy Moore):

9. Am I casting my vote for someone who will damage the reputation of Christ and may harm the cause of Christ in the world? While it is often good to vote for other Christians, we have to consider how someone conducts himself in public as a representative of Christian convictions, ethics, and character.

10. Am I willing to consider that thoughtful Christians may answer some of these questions differently than I would? I certainly have my opinions about how these questions might apply in specific instances, but more than a particular vote, I want to encourage Christians to think critically and strategically about their civic participation. There is more to consider than majorities for our side and defeat for theirs.

I am glad he follows point 9 with point 10 because Daniel, the prophet, would have had a hard time answering the ninth question. Not only could Daniel not vote, but he served a King who worshiped and served false gods. Sure, Daniel resisted the king in some ways, but he also excelled in pagan learning (and so distinguished himself for public service):

17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

If not obeying the first table of the law is a big deal — and we’re not simply talking about images of Christ — how could a faithful believer excel in pagan literature and wisdom (which by Neo-Calvinist standards had to be worse than public schools) and then also serve a king whose cult involved idolatry?

I get it, Daniel did eventually disobey, which is music to the socially righteous warriors ears (thanks to one of our Southern correspondents):

We might hide our motives or blanket them in a veil we call authority or expertise. We will always become like the things we worship. Daniel writes about three men who stood in bold ambivalence to the foolishness of a conqueror king, because he was not their true king. They knew who they worshipped, and the more they lived like Him the closer they came to His presence.

Resist!

But that perspective on Daniel entirely misses the prophet’s assimilation to a regime tainted throughout by blasphemy and idolatry. Again, if 1789 affected all of European society, imagine the intersectionality of Babylonian gods and society. What did Daniel do? He cooperated as much as possible.

Don’t resist!

Honor (even the pagan megalomaniac)!

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

In which case, the lesson is that as long as a Christian does not worship the senator, create statues of him for worship, pray to the senator, hand out the senator’s voting guide on Sunday, still honors his parents while working or voting for the senator, is not the senator’s hit-man, doesn’t lust after the senator’s wife, doesn’t embezzle for the senator, doesn’t lie to or for the senator, and doesn’t envy the senator, or his wife, or servants, or property, the a Christian can vote for the senator.

But if you want to be a pietist about it and consider primarily what a vote says (all) about you, then chances are you have the makings for being an Anabaptist.