Thursday, May 12, 2016
Why I'm Having this Conversation: Thabiti, Voting, and Listening to Your Conscience
Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile’s statement this week that he will vote for Hillary Clinton in November – solely to protect against the election of Donald Trump – was predictably controversial. I believe it is also a crucial moment for Christians. That is not because I agree with him. I don't agree with the decision, but I already see Christians who have renounced Trump and the Republican Party beginning to form into reactionary camps, drawing hard lines they won’t cross. I suspect I will still disagree with him when all is said and done, but I would be a fool not to listen to him and consider his reasoning. His explanation demonstrates the need for us to re-examine how we balance and decide matters of conscience. (He addressed this directly here.)
The reaction against Trump is a victory for Christian conscience. I have been encouraged and hopeful in seeing so many Christians flatly refuse to support Donald Trump, even with what appears to be his firm hold on the Republican Party nomination. Seeing so many brothers and sisters in Christ who have otherwise been solidly Republican voters separate themselves from the GOP in this moment is a major change. I am proud to see us take a stand and declare that we believe in something more important than winning an election or riding the right coattails to power. Too many of us have put up with strange bedfellows and alliances of pragmatism in the past. It became all too predictable, and therefore automatic, that we would just vote a straight Republican ticket when push came to shove.
This decision to maintain our integrity over and above political expediency is a triumph of conscience and conviction. Matt Lee Anderson made the case for this as effectively as anyone. But one of the biggest mistakes we can make at this decisive moment is to hastily set in stone a new political litmus test: #NeverTrump is a place to start, but if we fracture into a bunch of rigid splinter factions now, we’re going to waste this watershed moment. Christians have a chance to unite together now; if we divide instead, we both destroy our ability to affect this election and doom our chances of developing a realistic and effective long-term political alternative. We need a re-envisioning from top to bottom of how we as Christians think about our political involvement. That’s not going to happen if we dogmatically shut down differences of opinion. We need to learn how to test each other’s consciences and question our own without silencing ideas and drawing battle lines.
Some of us are in serious danger of slipping in our convictions in reaction to crisis, running headlong from Trump into another ditch of compromise. The problem with taking a stand in matters of conscience is that your conscience is not always working properly. Tim Challies recently reviewed Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley’s book Conscience and explained how Naselli and Crowley lead readers through calibrating their consciences. Naselli gives examples here from the Scriptures. Your conscience is supposed to check you when you are deviating from the Word of God and will of God, but sometimes your conscience doesn’t grasp those perfectly. Before we draw new lines and commit ourselves here, this would be a wise time to do a diagnostic check on our consciences and make sure they’re reliable. (If you prefer audio or video, Naselli explained his book and answered questions for almost two hours at this book launch event.)
Similarly, some of us have died in the wool convictions about what we won’t do or who we won’t work with politically, and it may be time to rethink those. We can easily forget that there is a hierarchy of principles and values – some things are so fundamental and important that they require us to be willing to sacrifice other things if we must choose between them. Others have made too many compromises and need to relearn where to stand on our core principles and convictions even if it means we lose in the political sphere. Winning in politics and government isn’t everything. There are both wise and foolish ways to do all of these things. Never has our need for an abundance of counselors been so clear. We need each other.
So this is my plea that we listen first, think carefully, and seriously re-examine our own consciences and assumptions about how to go about political involvement. This is a golden opportunity for Christian conscience and character to shine through. Let’s not waste it by trampling on each other’s consciences instead of sharpening and encouraging each other to stand on common ground.