Theodicy in the White House race? Believers facing a choice that is more than political

The first time someone sent me the link to this obituary from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, I was sure that it had to be a fraud, perhaps something produced by those talented tricksters at The Onion.

Ah, but the URL did, indeed, take readers to the proper news website in Richmond.

Now, when you think something is a fraud one of the first things you do is head over to to see if that crew had rendered a verdict. Indeed, the Snopes team is flying a "True" flag. This citizen wanted to send a message to the world.

Thus, I mentioned this instantly viral obituary during this week's "Crossroads" podcast discussing the whole "lesser of two evils" conflict that many cultural and religious conservatives are experiencing during this election year. Click here to tune that in and we'll come back to my Universal "On Religion" column on that topic.

But here is the top of the obituary in question. When host Todd Wilken and I were discussing this on the air, I just couldn't get my self to use the woman's name. Why? Well, because the first couple of people I discussed this with -- face to face -- kind of turned pale and asked if suicide was involved. The answer is "no."

NOLAND, Mary Anne Alfriend. Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68. Born in Danville, Va., Mary Anne was a graduate of Douglas Freeman High School (1966) and the University of Virginia School of Nursing (1970). A faithful child of God, Mary Anne devoted her life to sharing the love she received from Christ with all whose lives she touched as a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend and nurse. ...

By the way, for those touched by this notice, it ends with this:

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to CARITAS, P.O. Box 25790, Richmond, Va. 23260 (

So are we talking about a mere political dilemma in this case? Yes, for some people, this may be a matter of politics, alone. But for millions of cultural and moral religious conservatives this election is evolving into a truly moral or theological problem.

You could even say that, for some, that familiar term "theodicy" is coming into play. In other words, some are asking: Would a truly good and merciful God allow voters to end up choosing between Donald Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton? Look at it this way, this choice is not as extreme as the one facing Christians in Syria in the past generation or so, where their options are a thug dictator (who doesn't want to kill them at this point in time) or various forms of radical Islam -- with ISIS at the bleeding edge -- whose approach to minority religions is much more deadly.

So here is how I framed this discussion in my column:

The nightmare scenario focuses on a stark, painful moral choice.
It’s Election Day. A Catholic voter who embraces her church’s catechism, or perhaps an evangelical committed to ancient doctrines on a spectrum of right-to-life issues, steps into a voting booth. This voter is concerned about the social impact of gambling, attempts at immigration reform, a culture fractured by divorce, battles over religious liberty and the future of the Supreme Court.
In this booth, the choice is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Period.
“That’s the scenario people I know are talking about and arguing about,” said Stephen P. White of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., author of the book “Red, White, Blue and Catholic.”
Many religious conservatives believe they “face a choice between two morally repugnant candidates,” he added. “The reality of that choice is starting to drive some people into despair. ... I understand that, but I think it would be wrong for people to think that they need to abandon politics simply because they are disgusted with this election.”

That's all I'll say at this point, because there is much, much more to this discussion.

As we talked, I experienced a memory flash from a very different time in my life (back when I could best be described as a Christian socialist). Make sure you catch the part of this discussion in which we talk about a dear friend of mine -- decades ago -- who lost his Christian faith because he could not believe that a good, loving and just God allowed Ronald Reagan to become president.

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