As we pass Reformation Sunday, which marks the 499th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, we reflect on men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and others who put their very lives on the line to restore the Gospel in an era when it was being watered down and corrupted. The Reformers believed that the Roman Catholic Church had strayed far from the basic Christian principles laid out in the Scriptures and they set out to unlock the Bible for the common man so that they could seize the Gospel for themselves.
The concept of reformation is especially relevant in our political climate today. Both parties need reform, but being a Republican, I'll focus on the GOP.
The Catholic Church of the 16th century was corrupt, greedy and hungry for political power in the eyes of the Reformers. The Church had gradually drifted away from the Gospel. The corruption came to a head when a Catholic friar named Johann Tetzel was crassly hawking indulgences to fund the Pope’s new Basilica in Rome. Disgusted by this practice, a monk named Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses onto the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The fire was lit.
Likewise, the Republican Party needs reform urgently. In our quest for political power we have slashed our conservative values up so badly, we aren't even recognizable as the Party of Lincoln. The anger, xenophobia, sexism, racism, etc. that was once merely tolerated in some quarters of our base and subtly pandered to is now blatant and undeniable in our standard bearer, Donald Trump. And that's just our conservative values, say nothing of our moral authority that has been all but destroyed by the many Evangelical leaders that have become Trump’s religious spin doctors for his many scandals. True conservatism is in a state of darkness, much like the Church in the Middle Ages. The writing is on the wall if we continue down this path. We will never win youth, women, black or Latino voters which means we will never win again. Conservatism is in darkness and on the edge of extinction.
But we can reform. The motto of the Protestant Reformation was “post tenebras lux,” which means “after darkness, light.” We need to get back to espousing the light that is true conservatism, not distorted in a way that only caters to a small, homogenous base, but opened up in a way that appeals to the great diversity of this country. While conservatism is enshrouded in darkness now, the likely election of Hillary Clinton and the possible loss of the Senate may serve as the catalyst for reform. Trump, like Tetzel, is selling us something false, something untethered to conservatism.
A few, like Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have seen through Trump’s con. Sasse is seeking to reform the GOP, bringing us back to our conservative principles. When asked how he thinks conservatism ought to be in the 21st century, he said, “America is the most exceptional nation in the history of the world because the US Constitution is the best political document that’s ever been written. Because it says something different than almost any people in any government has believed in human history. Most governments in the past said might makes right and the King has all the power and the people are dependent subjects. And the American founders said no. God gives us rights by nature and government is just our shared project to secure those rights. Government is not the author or source of our rights and you don’t make America great again by giving more power to one guy in Washington, DC. You make America great again by recovering a constitutional republic.”
People like Sen. Sasse could be modern day Reformers for the GOP, leading it out of the darkness into light. But like the Protestant Reformation in Europe, the Republican Reformation has to come from the grassroots, from everyday conservatives who demand a party with a future and reject the unrecognizable monstrosity that it has devolved into.
After Election Day, it's up to us. Are we ready to jettison Trumpism and move into the light? We’ll need a principled conservative resistance to much of Clinton’s liberal agenda. That's impossible with Trump and the so-called “alt-right.” Following them is following the path to destruction. We can reform. We must reform. Semper Reformanda!
This year, perhaps more than any other year, conservative Christians who normally vote in presidential elections are looking at two choices that are an utterly depressing indictment of the spiritual condition of our nation. Most of us do not even consider Hillary Clinton a viable option. Her fervor for expanded abortion rights and liberal ideology that would erode religious liberties for Christians make it nearly impossible for us to look her way. That being said, that doesn't mean our support should therefore flow to Donald Trump.
Perhaps it's time for Christians in America to transcend politics in 2016 and choose Christ over country. Conflating Christianity with American nationalism is an error and should be guarded against. Patriotism and politics can indeed become an idol. Often times we may think our national prosperity and earthly comfort is the ultimate will of God. However, as the Apostle Paul and many other martyrs will tell you, that isn't necessarily true. We are not promised temporal liberty and freedom as Christians. In fact, quite the opposite. We are guaranteed persecution.
This doesn't mean that we should set ourselves up for persecution, but it does mean that we should never compromise our foundational Christian principles to avoid it! This seems to be the main argument from evangelicals for voting for Trump: Under Clinton, the Church would face political persecution and abortions would be unrestricted. At least Trump promises Supreme Court justices who would safeguard both the child in the womb and our religious freedoms. In essence, the enemy of our enemy is our friend.
With that in mind, I don't think that's a good enough reason for us to hitch the Christian cart to the Trump horse. I'll start with the assumption that Christian leaders really have the best interest of the Church in mind and are not just looking for political influence and fame. Also, I don't think evangelicals always need to abstain from voting if neither choice is a Christian. But Trump makes a mockery of the Christian faith by using the Church for his political gain. He claims to be a Christian, yet he can't recite one Bible and recently said he has never asked for God's forgiveness. This doesn't add up because we know Trump, as do we all, has many sins for which he needs to be forgiven. He is now on his third marriage, he has partaken in many unscrupulous business practices, he has bragged about his promiscuity, he owned a casino with a strip club in it, etc.
How does Trump's false claim of Christ and the Church's endorsement of him glorify God? By saving our skins from some earthly political persecution? How do we retain credibility with unbelievers? We are so afraid of losing our freedoms, our God is so weak that we had to ally ourselves with a man who refers to women as fat pigs and slobs, tears down any who disagree with him and makes a mockery of the faith?
Some say the ends justify the means in this case. The Church will be able to carry on its preaching of the Gospel by protecting our religious liberty, that the church's future is brighter in a free country. That goes against everything the Bible teaches us. The early Church exploded under Roman persecution, the Church today in China is currently exploding under persecution, Christ has built His Church under horrific persecution. If anything, persecution is ultimately good for the Church, it separates the wheat from the chaff. It would cause true believers to really forsake the things of this world, this foreign land that we live in, and look to Christ in all things.
So, no, I do not believe that Christians ought to endorse Donald Trump. It does violence to the Gospel and the credibility of the Church. We should not support or accept him as our deliverer. It should prick the Christian conscience. As Luther said, "To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen."
This election cycle, there are three groups of Republicans. The first are the people who enthusiastically supported Trump from the beginning. Then there are the people who did not support Trump in the primary, but will support him now that he's the GOP nominee using the eroding justification that Clinton is worse. Lastly, there are those who have decided that Trump just asks too much of them. They believe Trump is a disaster for the GOP and is actually dangerous for the country, even at the risk of a liberal Supreme Court. They are Never Trump.
Most people can probably see by now that Trump is going to lose in a bad way come November. There's little use arguing it, he is incapable of going more than a few days without saying something totally ridiculous. FiveThirtyEight puts Trump's chances below 15%, with states like Georgia and Arizona (possibly even South Carolina) now in play for Clinton. For this, we can lay the blame squarely on his primary supporters. We hope that the hard lesson they are about to learn resonates so as not to be repeated. It's a loss that we Republicans need to be prepared to absorb. The Republicans have been diagnosed with terminal political cancer for 2016.
That being obvious, what's curious is the second group of Republicans with people such as Gov. Nikki Haley, who spends a lot of time disavowing the crazy things Trump says but quietly mutters that she is supporting him none the less. On Monday, Gov. Haley took some time to slap Trump for his sociopathic feud with a Gold Star family. She went on to say, "At the end of the day, I will continue to say that Trump is the better candidate of the two."
At what point, Gov. Haley, will Trump NOT be the better candidate of the two? Is there anything that Trump could do or say to make her, or any other Trump lukewarm-endorsers, withdraw their support? Given what Trump has already said throughout the course of his dumpster fire campaign, I think not.
The damage of a Trump nomination has been done, but now we need to contain it and prepare for post-November without Trump. Remember when I said that Republicans had been diagnosed with terminal political cancer for 2016? Well, continuing to offer support for Trump is like knowing you're going to die and then mocking God until you go! It's totally counterintuitive. If you already know you're going to die (politically in 2016), then you may want to prepare for what happens next.
What's next is the "rebrand." It was supposed to take place in 2012 after Romney lost, however this time around we need to be more resolute if we are going to have any future as a party. But I find it hard to fathom how rising stars such as Haley, Scott, Rubio and Ryan are going to be able to play a legitimate roll in that if they stand with Trump until the bitter end. Sticking with the political death analogy, you can have a conversion all the way up to death, but not after. After death is too late and so too is after Election Day. While the first group of Republicans is definitely responsible for our demise in 2016, the second group may be responsible for the GOP's eternal political death beyond.
But beyond that, Republicans ought to disavow Trump because of the Supreme Court! Yes, it was once the only cogent argument to support Trump. But with his chances evaporating, the ONLY check against a far-left Clinton Supreme Court will be if Republicans can hold on to the Senate. The latest polls show that Sen. Rubio's lead against his Democratic challenger has all but evaporated after Trump's political week from hell. Likewise, Sen. Toomey from Pennsylvania is also being pulled down by Trump. To defend against unacceptable Supreme Court nominees, Senators need to jettison Trump.
One politician in particular has had the gall to do the right thing: Sen. Lindsey Graham. Not only has he shown immense courage this election cycle, he has a history of lifting the heavy loads for the good of the party (even if the base doesn't realize it). Graham stuck his neck out to lead on the Gang of 8 bill that earned him a primary challenge for his Senate seat. Why? Because he knew it would be good for the party to lead on immigration reform, it's necessary to our electoral future. Unlike Kasich, Graham dropped out of the presidential race early because he knew it would be good for the Stop Trump effort. Graham even endorsed Ted Cruz, whom he personally loathes, because he knew that Cruz would at least give us a fighting chance. And now he stands nearly alone, asking his fellow politicians to stand with him in being Never Trump for the good of the party and the country. Will they convert?
Probably not. Sen. Graham, you were too good for our party - we weren't ready.