In a 2011 biography, my friend and gifted storyteller, Eric Metaxas, provided a great service to American evangelicals by reintroducing them to World War II era moral theologian and Christian ethicist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The young Lutheran pastor was jailed and later martyred by the Nazis for opposing the tyrannical reign of Adolf Hitler and in his book, Eric offered evangelicals in a country far removed from Nazi Germany, a theological and moral connection to this Christian hero.
Now, however, Eric threatens to erase much of the good that was done in bringing Bonhoeffer into popular Christian culture by using him as a vehicle to justify support of the troublesome presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.
In his recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, Should Christians Vote for Trump?, Eric compares Nazi Germany, under the reign of Adolph Hitler, to the American political climate of today, intimating should Hillary Clinton win the election it would be the demise of our Republic. It is on this premise that Eric calls out the bravery of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to stand up against the murderous Hitler, by equating this heroic action to Christians casting their vote for Donald Trump. Eric offers the fact that Bonhoeffer "did things most Christians of his day were disgusted by. He most infamously joined a plot to kill the head of his government."
In comparing a vote for Trump to the act of assassinating Adolph Hitler, Eric engages in a number of dangerous false equivalencies that are unjust on a number of levels; to Bonhoeffer, to our election process, and perhaps most of all, to America and our great democracy.
First, he confuses us by implying that for some, pulling the lever for Trump would be considered a supremely immoral act, just as Bonhoeffer considered his role in the assassination plot to be. Bonhoeffer believed that by taking the action he did, he might have risked damnation. But now, Eric asks us to do the same thing. He says that we must compromise our consciences in a scandalous way to vote for Donald Trump because the importance of defeating Hillary Clinton rises to the same level of urgency as destroying the Hitler dictatorship. And this gets to the heart of the matter.
Bonhoeffer saw his actions in the conspiracy against Hitler to be justified only by the "new reality" that surrounded him. His nation was at war with the world and with its own people, which included complete abrogation of human rights, the total collapse of rule of law, the perpetration by the state of torture, mass murder, and genocide, and the utter subjugation and persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ. The suggestion that American evangelicals face these same conditions (or worse) and, therefore, must risk damnation at least of our consciences, if not of our souls, to ensure a vulgar, opportunistic, reality-show billionaire — whose understanding of the constitutional boundaries of the office he seeks may be perilous at best — is elected, and only to nullify someone we might find equally odious, is a deeply flawed moral argument. It degrades what Bonhoeffer did in the face of true human and global catastrophe and obscures the real moral questions we all must face during this election.
We are not in a state of world war. The Constitution and functional government have not been suspended. The three branches that ensure checks and balances have not been forcibly unified under a murderous dictator. Political dissenters are not being jailed or summarily shot in the head in makeshift basement torture chambers. And millions of men, women, and children are not being compelled by overwhelming government force to parade to their own ghastly deaths. While Hillary Clinton may enthusiastically embrace unbridled abortion, she has not, and cannot, use the power of the state to compel abortions, as was the case in Nazi Germany.
If America were in the dire predicament Eric suggests by comparing Bonhoeffer's reality to our own, Donald Trump would most certainly not be the solution. And, if pulling the lever for Trump is the equivalent to Bonhoeffer's entrance into the conspiracy to assassinate the head of state, then, before casting such a vote, we must all enter into the same deeply prayerful, more-than-decade-long, agonizingly dark, and supremely costly spiritual, moral, and ethical journey that Bonhoeffer undertook before he dared risk his eternal salvation. Completing all that hard, spiritual work before November 8th is, in my estimation, not doable.
There is a better way for Christians to resolve this far less consequential crisis: vote your conscience before God and trust our magnificent constitutional system to allow for a bounty of remedial solutions to a bad presidency. If, as Bonhoeffer knew, God is gracious enough to help Christians in the absolute worst of times, He is certainly available to us in our far less calamitous time.