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In any election, character matters most

Debate
U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University on October 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee. This is the last debate between the two candidates before the election on November 3. |

Now that the presidential election is over, we’ve had some time to reflect on the strong disagreements that took place between evangelicals about who to vote for in 2020.  Obviously, many of us were on much different pages when it came to how we viewed the two candidates, something that often led to painful divisions within our churches, families, and friendships.

The outcome of the 2020 presidential election didn’t prove one side was right and the other side was wrong.  Biden winning the election didn’t prove pro-Trump evangelicals were wrong to support the president, and, if Trump had won the election, it wouldn’t have proved anti-Trump evangelicals were wrong to oppose him.

In his op-ed on why he voted for Trump, Wayne Grudem stated there are three crucial criteria when it comes to choosing a president:  1) both a candidate’s character and policies are important to consider before voting; 2) certain character defects are serious enough that they disqualify a candidate; and 3) when candidates are relatively equal in how flawed they are, their policies should be the decisive issue.  I believe those criteria are wise and biblical.

In voting for Trump, Grudem made it clear he did not view Trump as possessing serious enough character defects to disqualify him from being president.  Because he viewed the two candidates as relatively equal when it came to their character flaws, Grudem voted for Trump over Biden on the basis of the differences in their policies.  In doing so, he was being consistent with his own criteria for how to vote. 

That being said, there are a growing number of evangelicals who believe Trump and Biden are not equally flawed when it comes to their character defects, Trump being seen as the more significantly flawed of the two based on his observable behavior, and that Grudem made a false equivalency between the two that was misguided.  I’m one of those evangelicals.

In light of that, I’d like to respectfully offer my guidelines for how to cast our vote in future elections so that we, as followers of Christ, can be more unified at the ballot box.

  • Both a candidate’s character and policies are important to consider before voting.
  • There are character defects serious enough to disqualify a candidate.
  • The character of both candidates needs to be evaluated along the lines of at least three passages in Scripture:  the seven things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19), the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11), and Paul’s teachings about the kind of people we are to have nothing to do with (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
  • After assessing each candidate in light of these passages (or any others we care to use), ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom regarding each candidate’s character so we can lean on God’s perfect understanding and not our own (“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” Proverbs 3:5).
  • If the character of the two candidates is relatively equal, vote for the candidate whose policies more clearly align with the whole of Scripture on how we are supposed to treat human beings inside and outside the womb.
  • If one candidate has serious character defects that disqualify them in light of what Scripture says, vote for the other candidate regardless of their policies.
  • If both candidates have serious character defects that disqualify them, vote for the candidate whose overall policies align more with Scripture, write in the name of a third person even if he or she doesn’t have a chance to win, or don’t vote (I don’t recommend the last option given that people gave their lives so we could vote).

In future elections, I hope we will consider a candidate’s character before we consider what party they’re in, what they say their policies are, how magnetic or boring their personalities are, what they say about themselves, or what others say about them.  Those are all relatively shallow criteria when it comes to voting for a candidate, especially given that no candidate is ever completely honest when it comes to revealing who they are as a fallen human being.

The world has been watching, and it’s scratching its head that evangelicals were on such different pages when it came to how we viewed the two candidates who ran for president in 2020.  Many Christians are scratching their heads as well.  From a spiritual warfare perspective, that evangelicals were so at odds during the election about each candidate reflects just how good the enemy is at deceiving us and sowing division within our ranks.

Many in the body of Christ have already made calls for healing after the painful election we just experienced, something I enthusiastically support. But our efforts to heal and reconcile as believers can’t be genuine or long-lasting if we continue to have such radically different views of the character of those who run for public office.

As Christians, we should argue policy differences all day long, but it is truly disturbing that we came to such different conclusions about the character of the two men who ran for president this year, especially given that we are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit who earnestly desires to guide us to truth.

“’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18).  As future elections come our way, let’s come together and obey God by allowing His Word to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path for being wise and discerning about both a candidate’s character and policies when we cast our vote.  At the end of the day, we all want the same thing — for God to be glorified and our country to be blessed.  Surely we can come together on that.

Chris Thurman, Ph.D., is a psychologist, author of The Lies We Believe, and contributor to The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump:  30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity.

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