After Ted Cruz suspended his campaign last week, a flurry of blog posts from evangelical and Reformed Christians massed on the internet both denouncing Trump’s evangelical supporters and calling for a radical renewal of Christian political participation.
Russel Moore, for example, links support for Trump to “nativism” and “white supremacy.” He says that there is “bigotry all over the country” with “not-so-code messages denouncing African-American and immigrants.” And he reiterates that voting for Trump is to “embrace nativism or white supremacy.” That’s a pretty serious charge. To vote for Trump is to support white supremacy, bigotry, the hatred of immigrants, and “nativism” (whatever that means to him).
Matthew Anderson stated that “voting is, and always has been, a moral act,” which presumably means that one’s vote can be immoral. In an earlier essay, he calls Trump a charlatan, huckster, a con-man, and shameless. He calls for evangelicals who support him to “repent.” He says that they are trying to defeat “political correctness through wickedness” and supporting him is tantamount to divorcing “our political commitments from our interest in the Gospel.”
Pastor Steven Wedgeworth argues that “politically-engaged Christians” need to stand against both Trump and the Republican Party, and he agrees with most of Anderson’s arguments. Voting for Trump, he argues, “will be a total abdication of Christian moral witness.”
These are serious charges. Voting for Trump is a serious moral failure. So I wonder: what about church discipline? Consider the following:
(1) All immoral actions are possible matters for church discipline.
(2) One’s vote can be an immoral act.
(3) Therefore, immoral voting can be a matter of church discipline.
As for (1), the emphasis is on possible, since there are important considerations here. The first is we must distinguish between gray areas and obvious sins. You might judge the eating of Sonic burgers to be gluttonous and irresponsible, but that conclusion is not obvious, making a confrontation questionable. The obvious sins are violations of principles and clear and demonstrable moral failures—the type that would cause the pious to flee, denounce (e.g., call wicked) and call for repentance.
As for (2), Moore, Anderson, and Wedgeworth do not explicitly call voting for Trump “sinful,” but palling around with white supremacists, taking part in “wickedness,” and abandoning “Christian moral witness” would seem to be sinful. If not, I wonder what is sinful.
And (3) follows necessarily from (1) and (2). Hence,
(2a) Voting for Trump is an immoral act.
(3a) Voting for Trump can be a matter of church discipline.
The immediate response is, “but censuring political voting isn’t something the church should do.” But this is special pleading. If a few people in your congregation are willing to vote against the “Christian moral witness,” which would dishonor Christ (an end of church discipline Calvin identifies), shouldn’t the church be involved? The Trump voters take part in a “cynical” party that alienates moderate and leftists (says Wedgeworth). They take part in “wickedness,” says Anderson. And all three present their judgment as an obvious one—so obvious that they call for a break from the Republican Party. If voting is a “moral act,” then one would have to show some non-ad hoc justification for keeping this type of act out of church discipline. Would this justification give a pass to voting for Stalin or Hitler?
The sin of Trump-voting, as presented, is a serious sin, and not merely a private one, but a public sin—one that affects the well-being of minorities and immigrants (says Moore). It is an unloving act towards one’s neighbor. How could support for white supremacy be excusable? How could that escape church discipline?
I ask this to the three: how can the sin of supporting Trump be so dishonorable to Christ and yet not a matter for church discipline?
Denying that it is a matter of church discipline undermines the charge that voting for The Donald is a serious sin—a modus tollens. And if it is not a serious sin, then is it hard to find support for leaving the Republican Party and propping up an opposition candidate. Indeed, an unwillingness to make it a matter of church discipline, undermines most of their arguments.