Disqualified = Not an Option
Christian Ethical Standards for Supporting Candidates
Christians in America vote for public officials who do not perfectly represent their ideals. That is fine. No one is perfect. But should Christians support any candidate who is ethically disqualified for public service? What if they are running against another candidate who also is ethically disqualified?
I believe that an ethically disqualified candidate is not an option. I will briefly explain why I think this principle matters and address some of the common concerns Christians often raise in response. I will address 2016, but the goal is to be informed looking forward to future elections.
A Summary Position on Not Supporting Disqualified Candidates
Everyone is imperfect. Not everyone is disqualified.
If someone is disqualified, then they are not an option.
If other candidates are also disqualified, that does not change a disqualified candidate into a qualified candidate.
Trusting God means acting within values, not beyond values.
To undermine basic values in supporting a disqualified candidate expresses a lack of faith in God’s sovereignty and our calling to do right even if it leads to suffering.
The qualifications for being a public servant in America, beyond the legal requirements, should include a reasonable degree of trustworthiness. The qualifications for being a pastor in a church are different than the qualifications for being the president of a diverse nation, but the concept of trustworthy character, commitment to the values of the institution being represented, and basic competency for the role are all essential. A candidate significantly lacking in any, or all, of these should not be an option.
Who is to judge whether someone is qualified? That is what voting is. Voting is judging which candidate is most qualified in the opinion of voters. This should not be a hard concept. Jesus’ warning about the dangers of judging are very often used as a shield from criticism aimed at a candidate, but should it be?
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. … first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus (Matthew 7:1–5)
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount says that growing up to be like the Heavenly Father is our goal (Mt. 5:48). Judging others will not help us toward that goal. For that reason, one should use caution when judging. We should remember that how we judge others can be turned around on us. So, it is important that we are humbly self-reflective and restrained before we judge. But are we really supposed to judge? Yes. Jesus continues in the same passage to warn us to judge wisely.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” Mt. 7:15–20
Judging, in this context, is evaluating. It is not playing God. Being aware of things that disqualify a prophet is helpful. Why? That way we will not follow a false one. Should we also be aware of things that disqualify an American presidential candidate? Yes.
What is the job of the president of the United States? The president is to represent the people of the United States as the head of the executive branch of government, which includes responsibilities for upholding laws in the U.S. and leading the military as the commander in chief. Those duties include an oath to defend the constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. To be qualified to serve as president one must be trustworthy to do this faithfully.
2016 Candidates: Clinton, Trump, and others
Many American Christians believed that Hillary Clinton was not a qualified candidate due to her positions on issues like abortion, but also based on accusations about how she handled ethical failures of her husband. There were also challenges to her competency, most significantly criticisms of how she handled the crisis in Benghazi. Additionally, unproven but disconcerting claims that she was not trustworthy in dealing with sensitive information, and that she was suspect in some of her legal dealings, convinced many Christians that she was not an option.
At this point it is important to highlight our principle again:
A disqualified candidate is not an option.
Does that principle seem appropriate to pursue in light of such serious questions about Clinton’s candidacy? I believe the principle is valid to apply to Hillary Clinton, but also to the other candidates. The validity of the specific problems raised are questions that only matter if the principle matters.
If we can see that there are principles which should be applied to candidate Clinton, should we also apply those principles to candidate Donald Trump? Are we willing to evaluate if he is qualified, according to our values as American Christians, to receive our support?
Candidate Trump’s character and competency are relevant to our initial question, which is whether he is even a consideration. If he is not a qualified candidate according to our values, then he is disqualified. Whether or not he is the only disqualified candidate, or one among others, does not change his status. Lance Armstrong was disqualified from bike racing for ethics violations and was not an option when choosing a cycling team to represent the USA. If other cyclists are disqualified, he does not somehow become qualified. This is not as complicated as many try to make it.
I believe that Donald J. Trump is disqualified from deserving Christian support for public service due to his anti-Christian words, deeds, and values, along with his rejection of the need for forgiveness and his celebration of pride, greed, lust, contempt, deception, and revenge. He has literally thousands of lawsuits in his lifetime of breaking agreements, and his various wives, and mistresses, and multiple accusers of sexual abuse, contribute more than enough reason to lack faith in him being even close to above reproach.
Trump’s Christian Promises
I believe that Trump’s affirmations of some Christian concerns are not worth debating in regard to their sincerity or benefit if in fact Trump is ethically disqualified. Although Trump has aggressively marketed himself to American Christians, there is reason to believe that Trump is hurting and not helping.
Christian leaders who were very vocal on the essential nature of good character in their criticisms of President Bill Clinton became equally vocal saying that candidate Donald Trump should not have his character considered as relevant. What has this done? This has elevated the perception of American Christians, particularly white evangelicals, as hypocrites.
Third Party Wasted Votes?
So what should an American Christian do IF they believe that the two major candidates are disqualified? The answer in 2018 and 2020 is the same as in 2016. Only vote for a qualified imperfect candidate. Never vote for an imperfect and disqualified candidate; never.
But what about the consequences of not affecting the outcome of an election? If we cannot vote for reasonably good candidates, is it not best to vote for the least worst candidates? Should we not choose the lesser of two evils? This seems complicated to many people, but here is a fairly simple answer:
Choosing to do evil is not good. Lesser? Greater?
God does not need that kind of help from any of us, does he?
Realism vs. Idealism
I am writing this article because friends voiced frustration. They heard me criticize supporting Trump, but they wanted to know what way forward I had to offer. It is relatively easy to criticize wrong choices, but can we offer a realistic option?
The fundamental question about being practical has to do with values. What really matters? The apostle Peter raised this question with Jesus. He valued Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus affirmed this value and said that it was from God and that this value was the foundation of the church. But then what happened? Peter went on to try out “the lesser evil for the greater good” idea on Jesus. It did not go well.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” — Matthew 16:21–23
There is more that could be said here, but I fear the words would be wasted. Many will not accept the responsibility to endure potential consequences of refusing to support wrong as if it were right. They will argue, like Peter, that they must avoid bad from happening, even if they have to join forces against their values to achieve it. By God’s grace Peter eventually learned his lesson, and then had to relearn it. I pray that more American Christian friends will learn this lesson sooner than later.