Culture Friday – Political division in the church

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Friday the 30th of October, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. We’re headed into the final weekend of a long, exhausting presidential campaign.

Of course the voting public is divided. Only George Washington was the unanimous choice. And you have to go back to Ronald Reagan’s campaigns to see a blowout win for anyone. Modern elections are always close and always indicate a divided electorate.

EICHER: But among believing Christians, this campaign seems particularly difficult. You have heard here two prominent believers argue the case for and against President Trump. That would be theologian Wayne Grudem making the case for Trump’s reelection and religious-liberty lawyer and journalist David French making the case against.

In the run up, in just the past week, two prominent Baptist leaders have taken opposite sides.

Well-respected pastor John Piper wrote a piece explaining why he will not vote for Trump (and I should stress, he won’t vote for Joe Biden either). Then theologian and seminary president Albert Mohler explained why he will vote for Trump. 

Both of these men have appeared on this program and we respect them both enormously. (And I need to add one more disclosure, Al Mohler is a member of the board of directors at WORLD, and he respects our journalistic independence.)

REICHARD: Piper argued, and I’ll read from his conclusion:

“With a cheerful smile, I will explain to my unbelieving neighbor why my allegiance to Jesus set me at odds with death — death by abortion and death by arrogance. I will take him to Psalm 139 and Romans 1. And if he is willing, I will show him how abortion and arrogance can be forgiven because of Christ. And I will invite him to become an exile — to have a kingdom that will never be shaken, not even when America is a footnote in the archives of the new creation.”

EICHER: Mohler argued, and I’ll read from his piece:

“Let me be as clear as I know possible: President Trump’s behavior on Twitter and his divisive comments and sub-presidential behavior are an embarrassment to me. …  But character is some strange combination of the personal, the principled, and the practical. Let me put it another way—I cannot accept the argument that a calm man who affirms the dismembering of babies in the womb has a superior character to a man who rants like Genghis Khan but acts to preserve that life.”

REICHARD: It’s Culture Friday and so let’s welcome Katie McCoy. She’s assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.

EICHER: Katie, good morning.

KATIE MCCOY, GUEST: Good morning, Nick and Mary. Hey, what a time to be alive.

EICHER: [Laughs] That’s one way to put it. 

Well, we thought we’d reach out to a Baptist seminary professor for analysis. These are two highly respected voices in the Baptist world, really, and beyond. And it’s significant to me that they are both theological conservatives, both pro-life. We’re not talking about Evangelicals for Biden (such people exist) and we’re not talking about people who excuse President Trump’s personal character flaws (again, such people exist).

But I think in the Mohler and Piper perspectives, you have the two poles of the argument, at least for the typical listener to this program.

REICHARD: I mentioned as we were getting started, this is our last Lord’s Day before the election, and I imagine many Christians are going to be examining their consciences or re-examining. So we’ll ask your help with that process.

So, be your best classroom self and give me what you think are the best arguments each one of them make.

Start with the pro-Trump argument by Mohler.

MCCOY: From what I can tell, the pro-Trump argument isn’t so much pro-Trump the person. So, with the Mohler argument, it’s looking at all of these other issues sort of stacked in comparison to the person of Trump and saying, “I will endure the person of Trump for the sake of having the policies, the platform, and the personnel that he would appoint.” We cannot go far from this argument without talking about abortion, which we perennially discuss. And it’s true that if Roe were overturned tomorrow, abortion would still occur. It would be a matter of the states. But it’s also true that if a state like my state of Texas or Oklahoma were to pass abortion legislation, it would be either upheld or struck down by the court system, and that’s where those court appointments are so crucial, not only the Supreme Court but the courts of appeals, the appellate courts. 

Additionally, the issue of free speech and religious freedom is a concern, especially with our cultural climate today. Vice President Biden has already stated that he hopes to make the equality act signed into law within the first 100 days of his presidency. And not only would that affect issues of religious liberty and conscience, but it would also end up affecting parental rights. Parental rights that would affect whether a child has gender therapies like hormone replacements. And you’ll recall Joe Biden expressed his support for an eight-year-old child to undergo gender transition therapies. 

So, the pro-Trump argument essentially is a very practical one.

EICHER: On that score, let’s dive right into the anti-Trump argument that John Piper makes.

MCCOY: The anti-Trump argument seems to look at the same categories and flip them in terms of importance. So, the anti-Trump argument prioritizes the person of Trump and his personal character, virtue, or lack thereof over policies, party platform, and the people that he would appoint in both his cabinet and the courts. So, for the anti-Trump argument, they look at his tendency towards narcissism, divisiveness, how he cares only for himself and say that it would be naive to think that a man with moral flaws like these could preserve, much less promote, a just society. This argument also looks at the issue of abortion not to brush it under the rug, but they sort of diminish or even at times dismiss the importance of the Supreme Court and other judicial appointments. They also look at issues like the 545 missing children who were separated from their parents, and that’s just what we know. Additionally, they look at issues like the racial injustice that we’re seeing across our country and believe that President Trump fans the flame of that.

So, some on that anti-Trump argument find it incongruent with Christian discipleship—or, in Piper’s case, “baffling”—for a Christian to vote for Trump.

REICHARD: These are serious arguments and only one will prevail on Election Day, but what drove the arguments will persist beyond. We can say we’re really divided on politics, but I think we also may be divided on civics.

I don’t mean Piper and Mohler. Those men are not fundamentally divided.

I’m speaking only about the sides they represent.

I think Senator Ben Sasse helps make this distinction.

This was a few weeks ago during the confirmation hearing for Justice Amy Coney Barrett. It was so helpful how he put it. It’s kind of a long bite, but let’s listen.

SASSE: I’d like to distinguish first between civics and politics, because there was a time when people that would be as different as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia—people that different—could both go through the Senate and get confirmation votes of 95 or 98 votes. And the Chairman said at the beginning of the hearing he doesn’t know what happened between then and now. I think some of what happened between that and now is we decided to forget what civics are and allow politics to swallow everything. 

So if I can start, I’d like to just remind us of the distinction between civics and politics. civics is the stuff we’re all supposed to agree on regardless of our policy views’ differences. None of that stuff should be different if you’re a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian or a Green Party member.

This is basic civics. Civics is the stuff that all Americans should agree on, like religious liberty is essential.

So my question is, how do we live with one another after the election with such deep divisions among society at large and among Christians in particular?

MCCOY: Well, you’re right. We do have to live with each other. In fact, it’s even worse, Mary. We have to love each other despite our political differences. 

And I think when we step back from this what we have to always remember is, first, who we are and then who our brother and sister in Christ is as well. Our citizenship is not of this world. We belong to a King and a kingdom that will outlast every nation. 

And when you realize that you have more in common with the believer who votes differently than you do with an unbeliever who votes the same way as you, when you realize that all Christians who are taking shots at each other over Twitter will not only spend the rest of their lives together but eternity together, and then when we realize—I’m stepping on my own toes here with this one—that we will all have to give an account for every careless word that we speak, it will help us move forward, whatever the results of this election. And when I think about the issue of the Christian and voting, I’m always reminded of Romans 14 and what it says about Christian liberties, that our vote is a matter of conscience and the judge of our conscience is God alone. We answer to God, not to each other. And Romans 14 has a lot to say to us about how we navigate that, that we should be convinced in our own mind about what we are to do. That whatever we do, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. That we can’t show contempt for each other because we will all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. And that we will all have to give an account of ourselves to God. 

So, I think on this last weekend before Election Day, that’s what we have to settle within ourselves of when stand before the Lord and we have weighed and measured all of the factors, what does our conscience dictate? And then beyond that, we love our neighbor as Christ commanded us to, regardless of whether their political beliefs align with our own.

EICHER: Katie McCoy, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.

REICHARD: Thanks, Katie!

MCCOY: Always great to be with y’all.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally outside Raymond James Stadium, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Tampa. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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