By Nathan A. Finn
Dean, School Of Theology & Missions, Union University
This year’s presidential election is unique in that both major party candidates are remarkably unpopular as individuals. It really is remarkable that so many Republicans and Democrats have spent so much time more or less apologizing for their support of their respective candidates. No doubt political scientists and historians will be studying this phenomenon for many years to come.
Like America in general, evangelicals are divided. Barring something unforeseen — which is always possible in this particular election — most white evangelicals will likely vote for Mr. Trump, while many African-American and Hispanic evangelicals will likely vote for Mrs. Clinton. This demographic divide reflects historic tendencies dating to the 1960s that have fluctuated relatively little over time. What is new is that a larger (or at least more vocal) number of evangelicals of all types and stripes have declared their intention to not vote for either of the major party candidates. Some will vote for third party or independent candidates. Some simply won’t vote for a presidential candidate at all. You can find all of these positions advocated in public by Southern Baptist pastors, academics, and denominational leaders, including many in Tennessee.
Like almost everyone, I have fairly strong opinions about the presidential contest. So do most of my friends, family, and coworkers. They are all over the map in terms of how they plan to vote. All of them are men and women of good will. Almost all of them are thoughtful. The vast majority of them are fellow Christians. Some of them are voting for the candidate they believe best reflects, or at least might defend, one or more of their most cherished values. Others have decided neither candidate can be counted on in this way.
Knowing that our nation, our state, and our churches are divided politically, I think it’s important that Tennessee Baptists remember the importance of showing neighbor love to others who disagree with our political views. We need to especially show love to fellow believers who have chosen to vote differently than we might prefer. We cannot allow our political passions to cause us to demonize others, even as we make thoughtful (and hopefully winsome) arguments for our particular views.
As we engage in political discourse, we would do well to remember a few guiding principles:
(1) Christians have never enjoyed absolute unanimity when it comes to politics — and we never will until the true King fully consummates His kingdom.
(2) Those with differing political opinions are not our enemies, but are God’s image bearers, for whom Christ died, whose opinions are worthy of respect, even if we strongly disagree with them.
(3) We should love those with differing political opinions and want what is best for them, even as we seek to persuade them of our own views.
(4) We never want to see a personal relationship destroyed due to communicating our political opinions in an un-Christlike manner.
(5) As Tennessee Baptist pastor and current SBC president Steve Gaines has argued, we shouldn’t speak about the various candidates or their supporters in such a way that we would be hindered from sharing the gospel with them if we had the opportunity.
(6) Presidential elections are really important, but our nation’s single biggest problem is spiritual darkness, and the remedy is not politics but the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(7) At the end of the day, regardless of which candidate is elected, our confession as Christians will still be the same: “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
However you plan to vote, and whatever case you might make for your views between now and November 8, remember to show neighbor love to those with whom you disagree. God forbid that any of us see our favored candidates elected, but also see our testimony compromised along the way because of our failure to love those with whom we disagree.