At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Wayne Grudem and the "Morally Good" Question

In the theological world, an interesting article was put out there this past week. Wayne Grudem, a professor of theology at Phoenix Seminary, wrote a post at Townhall that posits the point "Why Voting For Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice." Just click on the link in the previous sentence to read through it if you haven't and then what I say next will be more clear. Or maybe less murky.

First of all, I’ll put a few things out there. (1) I’m a registered independent with strong neo-Libertarian leanings. (2) I didn’t vote for Trump in the Missouri GOP primary. (3) I agree with Grudem that we need to respect one another and keep talking to each other over the angst that is coming with decision-making in this very unusual election. (4) I don’t have the time or volume to interact line-by-line with Grudem on Trump’s qualifications or character, so this will be somewhat selective.

Now, to my impressions of what Grudem has said…

I respect people who have come to a thoughtful conclusion that they believe Trump is, on balance, a better choice than Clinton. I even understand that, especially given the way Hillary has conducted herself—not only as Sec of State, but throughout her career in government (and a “career in government” tag should send a lot of people tilting the other direction in the voting booth, IMHO)—people conclude Trump is the wiser option. Could the GOP population have nominated someone better than Trump (cough, Rubio, cough)? Yes, but they didn’t and we have what we have.

However, I think Grudem needs to stick with teaching systematic theology and give ethics a rest. To say voting for Trump over Clinton might be a better strategic choice, even a wiser choice, is within bounds. To say it is a morally good choice is not.

First, Grudem never develops what a “morally good choice” is. He needs to do the Francis Schaeffer thing and define his terms. He may have tried when he spoke about Jeremiah 29:7 and the “seek the welfare of the city” and then he tied that to “By way of modern application, I think Christians today have a similar obligation to vote in such a way that will “seek the welfare” of the United States. Therefore the one overriding question to ask is this: Which vote is most likely to bring the best results for the nation?”

Secondly, by way of agreement, I will say Christian should seek the welfare of the places where they are “in exile” (i.e., the secular culture of our day). However, Grudem shows a lightning tendency to tie it to the fact that “[t]his year we have an unusual opportunity to defeat Hillary Clinton and the pro-abortion, pro-gender-confusion, anti-religious liberty, tax-and-spend, big government liberalism that she champions.”

Well, if Clinton loses, you’ve defeated a candidate. You have kept one person from becoming president. But is that a thoroughly effective "morally good" choice?

You have not stopped “pro-abortion liberalism”, whatever one means by that. People will still hold their beliefs.

You have not stopped “pro-gender-confusion liberalism”, whatever one means by that. People will still believe what they do.

You have not stopped anti-religious liberty liberalism”, which many try to define anecdotally through court cases involving Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor (by the way, I support both Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters in each case and believe they were in the right).

You have not stopped “tax-and-spend” policies. If you want to do that, you need to build a bonfire as big as Connecticut and hold Congress’ feet to it constantly.

You have not stopped “liberalism” in general. If by that you mean a more paternalistic government intervening into individual life, you need to have patient, persuasive dialogue with the wider culture, and you need to be involved in your local communities to make impact and assist in breaking the stranglehold of dependence on government. That attitude is a cultural phenomenon, and putting Trump in office instead of Clinton will have impact that is closer to zero on the Richter scale. Sorry, but it’s true.

Thirdly, Grudem commits a fallacy by pulling a perceived future into the present when he lifts a curtain of sorts and shows what he believes will happen under a Clinton administration and a Trump administration. I’m not going to nail all the particulars (you can read them in the article), but my larger point is this:

How do you know what is coming down the pipe in the next 4-8 years? Do you really have that much foresight?

No, Grudem doesn’t. One can give their best prediction, but ultimately you don’t know what will happen.

You don’t know the makeup of the Senate and the House of Representatives, so you don’t know what sort of legislation will pass the President’s desk.

You don’t know what the relative health or implosion of the market will be in the next 4-8 months, let alone the next 4-8 years. If insurance companies jettison Obamacare, for example, en masse and the contraption collapses of its own weight and unwieldiness, then several issues (religious liberty among them) end up looking better for fans of liberty. But then again, that’s a “future possibility”, and I am willing to say that may or may not happen.

You don’t know what world events will shape the next President’s term and cause a shift in policy. The September 11, 2001, attacks made George W. Bush’s time in office a lot different than what was envisioned when he gave his inaugural speech on January 20th of that year.

[Also, on the criminalizing dissent and freedom of speech issues, Grudem criticizes Clinton (rightfully so, I’d say) but ignores that Trump has been willing to—if he becomes President—go after outlets that talk smack about him. Granted, that was a few months ago, but still…]

Also, on the Supreme Court issue, Grudem says Trump has said he would rely primarily on advice from the Federalist Society, the organization that promotes the “original meaning” view so strongly exemplified by Justice Scalia before his death…If Trump would appoint a replacement for Scalia from his list of 11, and probably one or two other Supreme Court justices, then we could see a 5-4 or even 6-3 majority of conservative justices on the Supreme Court. The results for the nation would be overwhelmingly good…Such a Supreme Court would finally return control of the nation to the people and their elected representatives, removing it from dictatorial judges who repeatedly make law from the bench.”

No problem there. I like the Federalist Society. I loved Scalia. Any tipping point edge on the SCOTUS is key for a President. Supreme Court nominations are critical.

But don’t go thinking that solves everything. Conservative Christians hailed George W. Bush’s selection of John Roberts to the Supreme Court.

You do recall who made the critical choice that saved Obamacare in National Federation of Independent Businesses vs. Sebelius by a 5-4 vote, and wrote the majority opinion, don’t you? Yep, that John Roberts.

Admit it, we don’t know how the choices a President will make will be entirely different than what we might imagine.

And, oh my goodness, the abortion issue, according to Grudem? He states that
“[s]uch a court (i.e., with Trump’s fingerprints on it) would likely overturn Roe v. Wade and return abortion laws and the regulation of abortion to the states.”

Word to Grudem: You don’t know that this will happen. Also, a SCOTUS decision on abortion means nothing other than changing the law. Changing the culture and ensuring that society tethers itself passionately to an ethic of life takes more work.

Okay, let me end the rambling and pull some things together…

I think we have two tremendously flawed candidates, more so than any election I can recall. But if you are wanting to have a say and a stake in the process of our Republic (yes, it’s a republic; we are NOT a democracy), then you need to be in the voting booth on November 8th.

There are strategic elements that go into the decision-making process. Which person is more effective. What is the wiser option for me—given what I can guess about the near future?

But there is a distinction between strategy and wisdom and a clear moral division on the other. At what point along the way of that spectrum do we call Trump the morally good choice? When I hear “morally good”, I think of an action that is crystal clear; the same goes for “morally bad”. Murder is a morally bad action of heinous levels. Fidelity to one’s spouse is “morally good” behavior of the highest quality.

If one is going to say “This is a morally good choice”, the choice had better be quite clear. Political leanings aside, that reality remains.

Out of the Big Two candidates remaining, Trump may well be a more strategic choice for America’s national health.

But to cast a political vote in moral terms? I really don’t know that Grudem has clinched it.

And now, to lift my spirits, I’m going to watch the “age question” moment from the Reagan-Mondale debate. Because however you label it morally, that was funny! 

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