One of the more common complaints about yesterday’s feature by Matt is that refusing to vote for a candidate in an election is nihilistic in a way that goes well beyond whatever nihilism one might see in Dod Crump. (This is henceforth how I will be referring to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz—feel free to join me if you are as sick of them as I am.)

The obvious problem with this argument is that it epitomizes the sort of prioritizing of the presidency above all else that was one of Matt’s main targets yesterday. One of Matt’s chief concerns in yesterday’s piece—and it’s been a concern of his (and mine) for some time—is that a church which subordinates the life of the church to the goal of political power is a church that will be incapable of using political power effectively. You cannot win a culture war without a culture and right now the most pressing problem facing orthodox Christians is the lack of a true Christian culture in many parts of our nation.

To go on arguing that we must continue supporting men who don’t seem to have any actual principles but will vaguely gesture in our direction to win our support because #religiousliberty is to make the very sort of argument Matt has been attempting to rebut for years. Indeed, it shows more clearly than anything else how evangelicals will subordinate the values most necessary to the life of a Christian culture in order to achieve political power.

Incidentally, I’m not sure why we should be confident that a Crump presidency would actually be better for religious conservatives long-term anyway. True, we’d get better SCOTUS appointees, but then Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts were both appointed by Republican presidents and have been the pivotal figures in every major SCOTUS decision that has gone against social conservatives in recent years. Having five Republican appointees on the bench has done nothing to head off the abuses of religious liberty built into the ACA or to protect natural marriage.

Beyond that, it’s also worth noting that the United States is moving leftward more generally on social issues so any triumph of conservatism is likely to be a short-term victory rather than the beginning of some sort of broader conservative resurgence. As the silent generation and boomers pass off the scene, this shift is going to become more pronounced and our country will become more hostile to religious conservatives—and the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will have very little power to change that.

Indeed, the best case scenario for social conservatives is likely to get a pro-business libertarian type in the White House who will have some respect for religious liberty. But, then again, it wasn’t the government that destroyed the Indiana and Arkansas religious freedom bills—it was big business. And lest we forget, the response of America’s big brands to Obergefell was hardly the sort that should give social conservatives confidence about their standing with the business community:

It is not within the presidency’s capabilities to turn back the rushing tide of support for socially liberal positions. Besides, that tide first began to crest some time ago in an America that looked very different but embraced underlying principles that made the current regime inevitable. So even if we grant the idea that one should simply support bad Republican candidates in presidential elections, that argument quickly falls apart under any level of serious scrutiny.

That said, what is interesting about this conversation is less the naïveté of Crump supporters and more the underlying assumption that Christians have some sort of obligation to vote for someone in national elections and that the failure to do so is nihilistic or an abdication of our responsibility as citizens. More than anything else, this tells us a great deal about the malnourished imaginations of social conservatives in the United States. To elevate voting in presidential elections to the defining act of social responsibility—and to imply that we have an obligation to vote for Falstaffs in said elections—is to actually adopt the sort of centralizing, technocratic mentality that is in fact responsible for many of the problems we are currently facing.

This is not to say we must adopt some sort of Anabaptist quietism and largely withdraw from civil society. Rather, it is to say that we must define civic responsibility in terms that are recognizably Christian rather than Belburian. We must once again recognize that the beginning of a Christian citizen’s responsibility is not to participate in the increasingly farcical process of selecting the head of the executive branch of our national government but is rather the Christian home. As long as we continue to see a third of all evangelical children leaving the faith when they become adults (and even more appalling numbers for Catholics) then we will continue to see these problems, no matter who is in the White House. If we are to actually see meaningful reform in our nation it will not come through sending one of our own guys down to Mordor to change the wall decorations of Barad Dur, but rather through reenchanting our homes and making them places of laughter and joy where the love of God is made manifest and the life of faith is made more plausible.

Beyond that, there are many other far more immediate arenas of responsibility for the Christian citizen—their local church congregation, neighborhood, schools, and city government all come to mind. If you want to make the case that voting is a Christian responsibility, there may be a persuasive one to be made, but if that is the case then that responsibility is far more apparent with local elections than it is for national.

Certainly, national elections can have an impact on the life of local communities. We have seen many demonstrations of that in the fallout from the Affordable Care Act and are likely to see even more in the fallout from the Obergefell decision. Yet the assumption that electing Dod Crump would solve this problem is beyond laughable. The great and horrible thing about a democracy is that you always get the government you deserve. America’s problem cannot be reduced down to who holds a single office. It is much broader and more pervasive than that. And far from resolving the problem, the evangelical willingness to elect men as power-hungry and shameless as Crump only highlights how pervasive the problem really is.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).


  1. Steve Billingsley January 14, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Let me frame the question a different way. Is it wrong to vote for a candidate about whom you have serious reservations?

    I’ve been voting in Presidential elections since 1988 and can honestly say that I’ve never encountered a Presidential candidate in my voting lifetime that I supported unreservedly. Every one of them had serious flaws that gave me pause. But I voted in every election, not because I was convinced that if my candidate was elected that it was going to be a victory for the Church or that if the other candidate was elected it represented some kind of setback for the cause of righteousness. It was because I appreciated that the right to vote was a gift handed to me by the work and sacrifices of those who had gone before (many of whom were far better people than me) and that it was my responsibility and privilege to exercise that gift to the best of my ability, using the best judgment and wisdom that I could muster. So I have voted in that way. I can also say that where I live has made it so that by the time the primary in my state comes up, in every cycle the nomination was pretty much sewn up, so that by the time I really had to make a decision, I was faced with a pretty simple, binary choice.

    I think that’s going to be the case again this cycle. I’ve already made up my mind that I can’t support Trump, so if he is the Republican nominee I will be either voting third party or leaving that spot blank (I will vote in the state and local slate, and at the local level I actually know a few of the people involved and can support some of them without reservation). Every other candidate that has a realistic chance of winning he nomination (which at the point I judge to be Rubio or Cruz, with a small outside chance that Christie can win New Hampshire and somehow stay in the race long enough to be viable and give himself a chance) I can currently see myself voting for – with greater or lesser degrees of reservation, although that could change.

    That’s really a long-winded way of saying, no – if there isn’t an available candidate who you can support with at least reservations – it isn’t nihilistic. But where the bar is for each person, I can’t really say.

    As to Matt’s post yesterday – is Cruz a pandering demagogue who is cynically exploiting Christians for his own personal political gain? Well, yeah. But does that automatically disqualify him from support? If so, then I guess every candidate in my lifetime wouldn’t qualify either. At the end of the day, I think Matt’s distaste for Cruz comes down not to the substance of his pandering, but the tone. He’s simply doing what every Republican candidate for a generation has done to some degree or another – he’s just more crass about it. And don’t get me started about Democratic candidates and their pandering to the black church. I guess it comes down to what you can stomach.


    1. I do think it is what you can stomach. And different people have different tolerances.

      Part of what I think Matt is right about is that at some point we get what we vote for. Yes, ‘you want (your guy) to be in the room where it happens’ (hamilton reference), but if your guy isn’t going to give you anything you think you want in the end then what is the point.

      Why I have voted democrat for a while is that I have given up on substantive federal action around abortion, so I am voting based on other things I care about. I know many disagree with the assessment and I think that is good and right for them to make assessments based on their own concerns. That is why we are in a democracy and not a theocracy. (and why most of us are protestants not Catholic.)


      1. Steve Billingsley January 14, 2016 at 10:54 am

        I think we agree that both your assessment and my own, and I argue Matt’s as well, are simply matters of prudential judgment. It’s weighing of factors and for lack of a better description “muddling through”. I respect Matt’s opinion so his judgment makes me think again about my own judgment.


        1. “so his judgment makes me think again about my own judgment.”

          Yes. This. Thank you. A thousand times, thank you. Can you go on Facebook and tell everyone that this is all I was aiming at? I can’t demonstrate the necessary truthfulness of my account, because it’s not an arena where that is possible. Instead, I wanted to get everyone to think again about what they had committed to, and why.


          1. Steve Billingsley January 14, 2016 at 11:22 am

            Oh, man that’s not a Facebook scrum that I want to wade into. I would rather have a tame argument about less emotional issues like abortion and gay marriage….:)

    2. Yes, just so we’re clear: My critique of Crump is not that either of them is insufficiently pure. It’s much more fundamental than that and concerns the role that they (Cruz especially) seems to have for religion in the public square. Based on what we’ve seen of Cruz it’s quite reasonable IMO to conclude that he’s a modern-day Simon who wants to use the faith to advance himself. And Peter had some pretty stern words for him in Acts 8.

      I may or may not vote for Rubio if he wins the nomination. (I’m a registered independent so I can’t vote in the Nebraska primary.) And if I don’t vote for him (it’d be b/c of his foreign policy and views on the NSA, FWIW) and someone called me a purist, I’d be OK w/ that. I’d also be totally fine with someone who did vote for him. I’ve actually never voted in a presidential election b/c I’ve only been eligible for two and couldn’t bring myself to vote for either Bombs Away McCain or 47% Romney. So if someone wants to call me a purist for all those reasons, I’m *totally* fine with that and would actually accept the charge. And I wouldn’t hold it against someone who takes a more pragmatic stance with those three candidates. But Cruz is something different. The Iowa church visits make that clear. The prayer team makes that clear. Most of all, the IDC event makes that clear.


  2. ooo I think I’m finally breaking from Mere-O on a substantial issue.


    1. It’s a pervasive disagreement to. There’s like maybe one or two things that we agree on here.


  3. One of the issues I’ve been having watching the discussion here and on Facebook is that there is a distinction between “May I vote for X candidate that is rather despicable ” and “Should the church set their hope in/vocally support X candidate who is rather despicable.” Matt’s discomfort seems less with the former group (although obviously he disagrees with them on these particular candidates) and more with the latter. And while many people seem very personally offended by that, I don’t see how you can disagree it is a huge issue.

    I know lots of believers who don’t just say they’ll vote for Trump/Cruz/whoever while plugging their noses; they think they are wonderful examples of morality and truth. That they represent some great Christian hope for America. Lots of believers have completely bought what they are peddling. This seems to be the thing most concerning to Matt, and it is to me as well. One of the problems dogging the alliance of evangelicals with Republicans since Reagan is that many evangelicals have lost a sense of kingdom other-ness and have ended up thinking and feeling exactly what their political bedfellows want them to, even when that seems to be in tension with what Scripture requires.

    This is an enormous problem, in my eyes, for those willing to vote for such men. Not that the vote is necessarily wrong – there is an appropriate pragmatics to politics. However, there is also a pragmatics to brother love – a recognition that something might be permissible to me but that it is leading brothers and sisters into sin, and that changes how I have to relate to it. Given the role of demagogues like Trump and Cruz in leading many of these sheep astray into a religion of fear and hatred, might it be that while they are legitimate candidates to vote for in the abstract (i.e. to keep a worse candidate out of the White House), they need to be opposed because they are particularly harming many Christians to whom we have an even higher obligation than to the state?


    1. Man, it’s great to be understood. The sign of it is that you’ve said what I’m trying to better than I have. Thanks.


  4. Let’s just start at the top. Some issues:

    1. Trump = Cruz; not true

    This link is a bit dated but it still holds, measuring even the most minimal externalities of faithfulness cause a huge drop off in what is considered Evangelicals for Trump. You might think they are tonally similar, and you might think that opportunist Cruz is going after Trump’s block of disaffected immigration voters way too hard but that’s not what’s attracting to evangelicals:

    In addition, I would argue what matters most in a presidential election is not the individual. This doesn’t mean they are interchangeable but the biggest delta between presidencies is the thousands of people who go to work in the day to day for the administration. There is no question in terms of Pro-life/evangelical staffers/administrators in the federal bureaucracy Cruz>Trump by a long shot. While the disaffection over Trump v Hillary: Dawn of Voter Apathy is understandable, from a staffing perspective there is no question which one brings in better people, who gets a seat at the table, what generally is valued.

    2. Cruz is not sufficiently christian (inauthentic/opportunistic)

    Who are we to judge?

    Also, there’s nothing Cruz is doing that W didn’t do, or that Perry was asking churches to do in Texas. While we can judge the faithfulness or appropriateness of the churches who respond to political courting let’s not be hasty to call it a sin to ask churches to use their considerable community organizational resources for political good across the board.

    There is a good argument that his and Rubio’s platforms are functionally identical at this point and Cruz has a reputation for being insufferable in congress so “who would you rather champion your ideals to the other side?” is a legit line of inquiry for Cruz supporters. I for one do not like the love-to-be-hated strain that backs Cruz. But saying that Cruz has a social disorder that makes him super unlikable, or that he lacks tact or nuance in his courting (he goes for the big sloppy kiss with the easiest christian orgs as soon as possible on the first date) which are in my mind legitimate criticisms.

    This is something wholly different from linking to two anonymous consultants who said “we never saw him pray before he got into politics” and saying that praying at campaign rallies should be counted against rather than for a candidate which is what Matt did and what you allude to here. At what point does public prayer become insufficiently sincere? Why do you get to say that Cruz is using the name of the Lord in vain?

    At what point does simply participating in politics and being a square about your Christianity disqualify you? Because what young evangelicals see as bloviating and self serving unique to Cruz, the olds I know would say is a facet of every single politician’s public life.

    I am all for judging the faithfulness of policies and then challenging a candidate on those grounds but that is different from this. Like I said before, Cruz holds pretty much the party platform + has moved rightwards on immigration.

    3. Caring about presidential politics = putting presidential politics above other considerations. Not true.

    You are aiming at a real problem but instead of solving it (which happens in the day to day at the local level) you end up shooting the little bit of national efficacy an individual american citizen has. You’re doing this in protest at the sin that is happening at churches you have no part in and no power to change.

    Voting is important. If both candidates were bad or evil I would say do not support either. But Cruz at his worst is simply an over ambitious hack.

    Voting for Cruz in the general does not make you someone under his thumb or manipulated by the religiosity card. When unwise and frumpy is fighting evil you know what I’m not doing, sitting at home. I’m doing what little I can to fight evil.


    1. 1) Cruz definitely gives evangelicals things Trump doesn’t. But so does Rubio. The only reason people are going for Cruz over Rubio is because Cruz gives evangelicals things Trump does. And in that sense, Crumpism is a real phenomenon.

      2) “Also, there’s nothing Cruz is doing that W didn’t do, or that Perry was asking churches to do in Texas.”

      I don’t think that’s true, actually. Did W. set up a voter acquisition campaign thinly veiled as a ‘prayer team’? He absolutely didn’t. Did he launch his campaign at Liberty? He made his overtures, sure. But the idea that he and Cruz are on the same level of using evangelicals for the election strikes me as simply false.

      I don’t care one whit about Cruz’s motivations. That has never been my argument. He could be pure as the driven snow, think that he’s doing all this with nothing but the best of intentions…and I would still make the critiques I’m making, because I’d still object to what he is actually doing. He may not intend instrumentalize the church (though I am HIGHLY skeptical of that). But he is, and there’s so much evidence that he is that it’s worth opposing.




      1. “Cruz definitely gives evangelicals things Trump doesn’t.” – like clear appeals to shared values. You might think the appeals are crass or go to far but the appeals are there. Having a prayer team is a clear appeal.

        “But so does Rubio.” -but not in this specific courtly way. Rubio’s website has a whole section devoted to the sharing economy but no section on religious freedom. The closest he gets is when “Churches” get grouped in with “civil society groups” as something that is “ailing” under the family issue section of his website. I’ll add it’s a family section that is vague about non-traditional families and gay marriages. Is it so hard to think that going beyond ‘look at my record’ is required for politicians to get the Evangelical vote?


        “The only reason people are going for Cruz over Rubio is because Cruz gives evangelicals things Trump does. And in that sense, Crumpism is a real phenomenon.” – Precisely the thing that disqualifies Cruz for evangelicals like you is what endears him to those that support him. The delta between Rubio and Cruz is precisely an institutional prayer team. Simply asking for prayers is not the same as institutionalizing them. Giving your supporters a weekly devotion and a conference call where they can pray with other supporters may seem crass to you but it matters to the people who do it. There is no comparable practice at the Rubio campaign.

        If you are going to organize prayer as a political campaign, which if you are courting evangelicals you are, then doesn’t it make sense to keep everyone’s contact info? Doesn’t it make sense to maximize your political investment. It can be both. It can be a heartfelt endeavor and politically expedient. You might take much longer to get over your qualms but there’s no reason a campaign shouldn’t ask for prayer in a way that is lasting.

        What’s the other option, just telling every crowd “pray for me” which would easily be lampooned on cable tv or sending interns with secret prayer requests to church secretaries to be appropriately humble.

        It’s courtliness not bombast. The pitfall is tribalism not populism.

        Trump is gesturing towards Evangelicals even less than Rubio and his supporters that say they are Evangelical are hardly church attenders. I’ve made that point already but I’ll say it again, Trump gives evangelicals nothing as evangelicals. But the overlap with unemployed, underemployed, or bitter working class whites/anti-intellectuals is such that inevitably some evangelicals who share those traits will go for him but they are going for him out of that identity group not as someone who theologically considers bombast an unequivocal good.

        On the W. Bush comparison I will concede that W was a bit more aware of his position, the importance of his rhetoric in public. He would refer to churches and mosques and synagogues since he sincerely held that religion in general is pro-social in its extra-governmental role. But it was evangelicals who elected him. We both would probably think it gross to repeat his sincerity to get the votes he did, and even then that is not exactly a great strategy since the US has moved left and he barely won last time as more of centrist than Cruz. But…

        After Bush it shouldn’t be a revelation that Evangelicals are in fact a voting block with an already existing political structure. You might not like it. I might not like it but it is true.

        Like any voting block they need to be given time and attention which Rubio’s team has not been doing. Regardless of his recent hires and efforts to build a political structure among young evangelicals, there is a sense that he is disregarding the older more seasoned, more square existing structural players that do things like join parachurch email prayer chains.

        Erickson makes the generational point here, certain existing structure v hypothetical new structure:

        That brings us to the last bit. Calling the passions of individual church members, and the mere presence of political action by churches, something that has gone on forever, ‘instrumentalization’ when it is done by Cruz’s campaign.

        “He may not intend instrumentalize the church (though I am HIGHLY skeptical of that). But he is, and there’s so much evidence that he is that it’s worth opposing.” – You just don’t like Cruz. You think he’s courting too hard. You think that because he ‘tries too hard’ it should disqualify him.

        What baby boomers want is someone who ‘tries too hard’ for them. Who will try so hard for their specific goals that he gets in trouble in public like any devout person would. It’s misguided, it’s wrong headed, but it’s a natural consequence and not very far off from what we both think is the acceptable role of politics in the church.

        Like I keep saying, this error of forgetting regular church, forgetting regular obligations, subordinating something more important to politics is best handled in individual cases at the local level.

        tl;dr -> Every politician asks. Cruz asks harder than most. It is our responsibility to answer in a measured and delineated fashion. Some churches inevitably go Jesus-Camp on cardboard cut outs of politicians. Asking harder may lead to more of these errors but to the extent that it is the asker’s fault it need not be disqualifying for office.

        It is my opinion that to some Cruz’s unlikability pushes this issue from an area of work-a-day charity to disqualification. It’s disaffection which is our problem not his. We’d rather not have evangelicals in politics than have some evangelicals fall off the path while making an effort. We’d rather check out. That is a mistake.


        1. I think I’ve tackled the prayer list well enough. But from what I can tell about Cruz’s church visits they are no different from Perry’s which from what I have heard are no different from Bush’s.

          1. They don’t get to speak from the pulpit.
          2. In theological matters they defer to the church leadership
          3. They don’t get to ask for money/votes


        2. 1) On church visits, they may not get to ask for money/votes. But they get to put up their campaign material everywhere, clearly. And they don’t *need* to ask for votes: presence is endorsement.

          2) Yeah, Rubio’s the worst on religious freedom and gay marriage. //

          Seriously, what do you expect a Republican President *to do* on marriage? The idea that it’s going to be returned to the States somehow, which Cruz is filling conservative heads with, is total, absolute bunk.

          3) “The delta between Rubio and Cruz is precisely an institutional prayer team.” Come on. It’s much, *much* wider than that.

          4) “You might take much longer to get over your qualms but there’s no reason a campaign shouldn’t ask for prayer in a way that is lasting.” And to do so, they need people’s housing addresses? Seriously, I am *not opposed* to candidates asking for prayer. Suppose the candidate asks for money from that prayer list: would *that* be bad to you? What is the difference between asking for money in that case and promising to turn the country around (which Cruz *has* done) and prosperity preachers? The difference seems…invisible to me. And it explains why many of the Religious Right financiers and deepest devotees tend to be charismatics with uncomfortably close ties to the prosperity gospel world. If I wrote a piece critiquing the economic prosperity gospel, people would cheer. But critique the political prosperity gospel of Cruz, and everyone who is otherwise level-headed begins bending over backward to find justifications for it…..

          5) “Trump gives evangelicals nothing as evangelicals. But the overlap with unemployed, underemployed, or bitter working class whites/anti-intellectuals is such that inevitably some evangelicals who share those traits will go for him but they are going for him out of that identity group not as someone who theologically considers bombast an unequivocal good.”

          Right, but my point was about the sympathy between the Trump promises and the evangelical ethos.

          6) “You just don’t like Cruz. You think he’s courting too hard. You think that because he ‘tries too hard’ it should disqualify him.” No. It’s because of the means he is deploying. Ironically, he’s gone for the path of least resistance to win evangelicals. If he was trying hard, he’d try to win evangelicals without the gimmicks of the prayer team or announcing at Liberty, etc. He’d respect evangelicals as a block that could be won for reasons having nothing to do with identity-politics–but he knows that the identity politics work (because who can resist the seductive temptation of being told you’re the key to turning the country around) and so has advanced his cause.


      2. Also, I know you’re catching so much for these two posts so thanks for engaging. The internet is not a nice place. Hopefully I’m being charitable.


  5. Here is my question. What do you think the United States would be like now if Mitt Romney had been in office for the last 7 years?


  6. To prioritize home responsibilities so as to excuse one’s withdrawal from the public square is to partially fail with our home responsibilities. For isn’t one of our home responsibilities to teach our children how to interact in the public square as Christians? All that is being accomplished by withdrawing, whether we have escaped the anabaptist trap or not, is that we show others how we take our toys home when we are not in charge. And then we wonder why so many of our children leave the faith once they are fully exposed to the pubic square.

    Another fault here is to make as a goal the winning of the culture war. Such implies domination over all or a subset of those in society who are different from us. Again, we wonder why so many of our children are leaving the faith once they have to interact in the public square. This having to win the culture war implies that we share society with others as conquerors over them, as those who have privilege. The post modernist smells that a mile away, and noting how post modernism will affect our kids to varying degrees, and rejects it outright.

    Matt’s nihilistic voting choice comes not from seeing third party alternatives; it comes from him not seeing viable third party alternatives with viability being based on whether alternatives can win elections and thus help us win a culture war. There are two problems with that mindset. First, third parties and their candidates do not become viable overnight during one election. Commitment to third parties and their candidates must be established in order to produce acceptable and even viable alternatives in the future. Here we should realize that the two-party system’s straight-jacket for our democracy–a straight-jacket that we more than willingly wear.

    Second, the whole notion of having to win a culture war means that we put ourselves in the position of win or die. A more democratic approach would be to look at how we can culturally coexist.


  7. First let me say that I love having found this blog. The thoughtful dialog here is what I hope to again cultivate on my own.

    I think one point that was missed in this discussion is the assumption by others, either of the ruling elite or broader citizenry, that my vote is an endorsement of the candidate or party agenda. Even if it is not personal per se, we certain see this manifest on a large scale when one politician or another claims a “mandate” based on election results. This happens even if the victor possessed a scant majority.

    This is one of many reasons why I strongly feel that casting my vote for either of the Two-party Hall candidates is fundamentally immoral. I refuse to allow my name to be sullied by association with their power-politicking “causes”.


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