Voting as a Christian

Recently a relative sent me a link (here it is) to an article by an Evangelical that lamented the fact that the vast majority of Evangelical Christians wholeheartedly support President Trump, a man who has lived a life that on the whole is, and currently holds many beliefs that are, not very Christian. The article covered a lot of ground, from the diminishing role of Evangelical thought in the culture at large to the lack of an organizing theory of social action on the part of Evangelicals to a surprisingly political approach to Christianity.

In responding to my relative’s question about the apparent consistency of Catholic social teaching (a topic in the article) and how much discussion there is on the matter within Catholicism, I said that there really isn’t much because we Catholics are either faithful to the Church and trust her to lead us correctly in matters of faith and morals, or trust our own opinions more and believe our opinions are fine no matter how little thought we’ve given the matter.

The thing that struck me the most about the article was how shocked the author seemed at, not the fact that Evangelicals are still so strongly supportive of Trump over a year after his election, but the fact that they voted for him in the first place. Why many Evangelicals continue to support Trump so enthusiastically I cannot say. Perhaps the author is correct in his conclusions. That’s for Evangelicals to sort out.

But as to their initial votes for him in 2016, there’s no surprise in that outcome. The 2016 election was a choice between two very specific individuals. As distant as they both are from the Christian ideal in many of their political stances combined with most of their personal lives, one (Hillary Clinton) is much more distant. It’s as simple as that.

I voted for Trump in 2016 following the general principle of doing the least evil possible when the only available options involve evil. Unlike the majority of Evangelicals who speak publicly to the news media (the article names several), I’m not enthusiastically supportive of our president. I like some of what he’s done since being elected, and dislike some of what he’s done since being elected.

Will I vote for Trump again in 2020? I can’t answer that question yet because I don’t deal in generic hypotheticals. I only deal in concrete realities. Until he has a defined opponent with specific stances on issues, I simply don’t know. I’m no enthusiastic supporter, or “Trump forever MAGA suck it Democrats!” person. Ask me again around this time in 2020.

I can tell you this, though. If the 2020 election is between Trump and any of the “usual suspects” among the Democrats (Clinton, Biden, Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand, Cuomo, etc), then I’m voting for Trump again. Almost all national Democrats support doing evil on all five non-negotiable issues, and Trump, for all his faults, only supports one and even then only half-heartedly.

Voting as a Catholic is a very simple matter. We must always vote our conscience. To some Catholics, that means we can vote for anyone our conscience says is ok. But that’s not how Catholicism works. We must also form our conscience in accord with the teachings of the Church. The Church is the authority guided by the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals. If the Church says, “This thing here is a non-negotiable issue”, then we cannot vote for a candidate who supports it. If our conscience is telling us to vote for such a person, then our conscience is in error. We must not leave it at that, but must seek to find out why we have chosen to be in error and then correct our conscience.

The most visible and most important non-negotiable issue is abortion. Since abortion is the deliberate murder of an innocent person, it can never be supported. There is no justification for murdering the innocent, no intent that makes it good, no circumstance in which is it ever good. Any candidate who professes a “pro-choice” position on abortion cannot receive our vote… provided they have an opponent who is not pro-choice. If their opponent or opponents are likewise pro-choice, then we have to compare other non-negotiable issues such as euthanasia to see if there is any difference. If all candidates support doing evil with regard to non-negotiable issues, then and only then do we weigh negotiable issues. But we cannot vote solely on the basis of negotiable issues when there is a difference on non-negotiable issues.

Unless of course a candidate who is right on all five non-negotiables supports something gravely evil that is not currently a hot issue. Say if someone came out in support of applying the death penalty to a minor crime such as shoplifting. I don’t see that happening from a candidate who is right on the five non-negotiables, so will only entertain that thought if such a bizarre candidate ever manifests in reality.

An example of a negotiable issue is paying employees a just wage. While it is never good to pay an unjust wage, what exactly constitutes a just wage is not absolute. It depends on the person’s particular situation, the local economy, the nature of the field of employ, etc. $35K a year may be just in one situation, and $85K a year just in a different situation. So if two candidates have different ideas of what constitutes a just wage, that’s fine. We must exercise a properly-formed conscience to determine which is the most just.

The author of the article talked about how Catholic social justice teachings complicate voting. They do nothing of the sort. They certainly complicate party membership, which is why I’m not a member of a political party. Catholic social teaching clarifies political issues and cuts through the cultural or partisan fog that all too often arises in political debate. One way Catholic social teaching clarifies issues is by establishing a clear hierarchy of priority when it comes to non-negotiable issues and negotiable issues. It matters little if a candidate is fully in line with Church teaching on a number of negotiable issues (like how to go about handling health care, worker rights, and treatment of migrants) if the candidate is simultaneously in support of, say, murdering the unborn via abortion and murdering the elderly via euthanasia.

That’s like saying it’s ok to support a person who has made it possible for business to restore a vibrant economy after a worldwide depression, who has rebuilt a gutted military, who has restored national pride and hope among the people at large, and who has made the trains run on time… but who also dehumanizes millions of people and sets about exterminating them.

And now tongue firmly in cheek, I invoke Godwin’s Law on myself. And present this an example of why I typically don’t discuss politics at family gatherings.

In all seriousness, I’m thankful for Catholic social teaching. Being faithful to Catholic social teaching doesn’t win me many friends among non-Catholics. Due to the majority of Catholics in this country dissenting from the authority of the Church, it also doesn’t win me many friends among Catholics. But then, I don’t view religion as a popularity contest. It’s a matter of what is true, of what is just, of what IS. I’m interested in doing good and avoiding evil.

If the world apart from the Church chooses to define good and evil differently from what actually is good and evil, no thanks.