The Myth of Christian Voting

The trend in U.S. politics for the last few decades, from the conservative side at least, has been to court the "evangelical vote" by creating calls to arms around various hot-button social issues. This is often called the ‘culture wars’. A broad name, but complexities, of course, abound.

The usual push-back points are that not all evangelicals are alike, that we have a hard time defining the term evangelical in our modern context, that those who court such a vote are often Christian in name more than deed, that Christians should vote based more on the biblical teachings of Christ and less on the modern social lens through which we try to squeeze the Bible… you’ve heard them all. There are more think pieces on these subjects than one could ever read.

This is all amplified in the case of Donald Trump, as most things are. Trump seems to be courting the evangelical vote effectively, which in this case means he’s able to pull socially conservative folks who also identify as Christians and who, usually, name Christianity as a driving force behind what and who they vote for.

The response in this case has been for more than a few evangelicals to talk about why voting for Trump is antithetical to evangelical beliefs. This New York Times piece has been making the rounds; this one at Ministry Matters is well-written, too.

But both miss the point, which is that being a Christian really isn’t a matter of civic responsibility. The thing is, you are Christian apart from your role in the citizenry, and the two identities have very little to do with each other.

Here, you might say I’m not being practical. You might say, "If I believe that Christ teaches to take care of people, I’m going to vote for people and policies that help others.” And I’ll say, “Of course you are.”

But the thing is, your participation in the life of a nation, in the life of an institutional system, isn’t the same as your life in Christ. It isn’t wholly different, but they aren’t analogous. When Ben Carson spoke about it being necessary for a Muslim who wanted to hold office to renounce their religious allegiance, he missed the point that Christian politicians have to do this, too. In Christianity (though the metaphor is troublesome), Christ is king, and America ain’t dealin’ in kings.

There are lots of reasons—practical, emotional, intellectual, STRAIGHT-UP-BASIC MORAL—to not vote for Donald Trump. But being a Christian has little to do with it. Your identity in Christ isn’t a moralistic one, though how you act communally is undeniably linked. Your identity in Christ isn’t tribal, meaning that it isn’t confined by narrow categorization like party affiliation. Your identity in Christ isn’t governmental, civic, or legislated. Life and identity in Christ is something much more universal and free than any specific policy vote you make or label you choose to associate with. We humans like to put things in boxes because categorizing makes things make sense; unfortunately, the mystical nature of incarnation, of God-Human, makes categorization impossible.

So I don’t think evangelicals should or shouldn’t vote for Trump because I don’t believe in this ethereal voting bloc which is “evangelicals,” nor do I believe in labels which denote things as “Christian” or “secular.” Instead, if Christ is incarnate, in our bodies and our air and our lives lived as liturgy itself, then voting becomes quite secondary. That doesn’t mean that it stops being our civic duty, or our duty to work for our neighbor simply because they’re our neighbor. Some of our decisions will look more like Christ. Some won’t look like Christ at all. None of it is separate from the mind of God. Nothing is outside the realm of the divine life. If Paul is right, then there are no categories. We are who we are, created and free, only bound by the burdening Christianicism with which we have hobbled ourselves.