Often, painful lessons are the ones that matter the most.
That has certainly been the case, over the past two years, for many evangelical Protestants here in America. Could you imagine, in the past, a politician being hit with the kinds of accusations made against GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore -- some of them backed up with impressive on-the-record evidence -- and seeing large numbers of evangelicals claim that they were more determined than ever to vote for him?
At the same time, the Donald Trump era -- broadly defined -- has offered many journalists a chance to realize that evangelicalism, even in predominately white congregations, is not a political and doctrinal monolith.
We are seeing new attention given, at last, to the evangelical left. Many reporters are also learning that there is a difference between evangelicals who enthusiastically embrace a Moore, or a Trump (think primary voters), and those who cast votes for these kinds of men with agonizing reluctance, or refuse to do so at all (think general elections).
The bottom line: Some of the most devastating commentary on Moore, and Trump, has come from scribes with impeccable conservative credentials, in terms of politics and Christian doctrine (the later of which is more important, as far as I am concerned).
With that in mind, please read the following think piece for Joe "GetReligionista Emeritus" Carter, a former mainstream journalist who now edits the website of The Gospel Coalition. The headline: "The Nonpartisan Solution to Our Roy Moore Problem."
This is strong stuff. So let's get started with this summary material near the top.
Journalists and news consumers: As you read this, you should be asking whether or not you have seen this evangelical perspective included in mainstream news coverage of the train wreck in Alabama.
As we have discovered over the past two years, so long as the flawed candidate can be considered the “lesser of two evils” (i.e., not a Democrat), then some evangelicals believe we can vote for them and keep a clean conscience.
In an article published last October, I asked: “Why are so many evangelicals condoning sexual assault?” I noted that “many evangelicals -- especially prominent conservative defenders of family and public morality -- side with the powerful oppressors over the vulnerable oppressed. Many have shown they are willing, even eager, to overlook admissions of sexual assault if it will lead to their preferred political outcome.” And that some of America’s most notable pastors, educators, and organizational leaders “attempt to square the circle by claiming that while they are personally opposed to sexual assault and boasting about committing it, they have no intention of holding the perpetrator accountable.”
Numerous people told me at the time that I was being too critical and that the election of 2016 was a special circumstance. Given the choice between two extremely unqualified and unworthy candidates, conservative Christians were voting for Trump merely to protect the Supreme Court. For a time I wondered if that was true. Maybe it was just a political fluke, and evangelicals weren’t discarding our principles.
And then came Roy Moore.
Ouch. Wait, Carter is only getting started.
If Judge Moore were a Democrat, the citizens of Alabama would have chased him out of the state and into Tennessee. Because he’s a Republican, though, some pastors not only defend him; they even allow him to speak from the pulpit. (This week Moore was giving a stump speech at a church when he was interrupted. The pastor intervened to remind the congregation that they were at a “worship service.” The preacher was correct: they were indeed at a worship service, but what was being worshiped wasn’t Jesus.)
Some people believe Moore is innocent of the allegations made against him. Others simply don’t care if they are true or not.
This is a long article, so there is no way that I can share all of the crucial bits.
The key, for journalists, is to pay close attention to how this article dissects the divisions inside churches that, one way or another, have to be considered "evangelical," whatever that means. There is no way to round the square, here. Some people are, to be blunt, applying their conservative moral doctrines in completely different ways.
The heart of the article is Carter's take on a recent essay by Tully Borland, associate professor of philosophy at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, entitled "Why Alabamians Should Vote For Roy Moore.” The key is learning why Carter and Borland disagree when it comes to the "lesser of two evils" equation.
Warning to journalists: This discussion involves the Bible. Now, what to do on election day?
... Borland considers the idea of not voting to be an absurdity. Even faced with two immoral candidates, he believes we must choose one over the other. Why? Because of the bad consequences that might come about if we don’t vote for the candidate who supports our preferred policies.
If this sounds like a familiar argument, it’s because Christians have used it for decades to vote for pro-abortion candidates. They claim it’s better to choose candidates who support one’s views on a number of pertinent issues even if they support a grave evil (i.e., abortion) over which they have almost no direct influence (because no single politician can overturn Roe v. Wade).
Now, the same reasoning is being used by Christians to justify voting for sexually predatory Republicans. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that, for many Christians, consequentialism has replaced biblical ethics as the standard for our political theology.
OK, that's enough. Read it all.
Now, I am not asking journalists to read this because I want to convert them to Carter's point of view. What I want is for journalists to realize that Carter's point of view EXISTS. It's real. There are lots of evangelicals out there thinking this way and agonizing over their options.
Of course, I say that as a #NeverTrump #NeverHillary guy who voted third party in the 2016 election. So there.