The views expressed do not represent an official position of the Orthodox Church in America, nor do they constitute an endorsement of any candidate.
I have long believed that neither the Republican nor Democratic Party has a platform that a Christian can fully embrace. Choosing between the two always comes down to setting priorities, and Christians of sincere faith can come to different conclusions on party affiliation. It’s typically the same with candidates. But this year’s presidential election presents a difficult question: Can you be a Christian and vote for Donald Trump? Yes.
But can you support him in the name of Christianity? I have a hard time accepting that.
As a priest, I’ve considered this prayerfully and tried to make sure I’m not just taking a partisan position. I have no interest in telling anyone how to vote or using my position to manipulate people. I’ve walked away from faith communities that handed out voter guides door-to-door and I don’t ever want to go back. But when I see faith leaders supporting Trump, and suggesting that he’s the better or only choice for Christians, I want Christians to understand that while there are positions, on many issues, on which there’s room for genuine disagreement, when you look at Trump’s record overall, one has to ask: Does his campaign square with Christian values?
Like the rest of the world, I’ve followed the Trump phenomenon since the start of the primaries. And more than anything else, I think the pledge that he’s made to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices is the reason many Christians have lent him their support. It’s what several conservative Christian leaders emphasized in an interview last week, with one describing Trump as the candidate “most closely aligned with my values.” But what are those values?
Many Christians are single-issue voters, and their single issue is life. But not only has Trump been inconsistent throughout his career on the issue of life, there’s also more than one way to be a pro-life voter. Some Christians look to a candidate’s position on abortion and vote from there. I’m pro-life, and to me, that includes not just the issue of abortion, but issues like capital punishment, health care, war and guns. And there are voters who prefer a uniformly pro-life candidate, but might vote for pro-choice candidates, from time to time, if they believe those candidates have a proven track record of working to alleviate the economic challenges that sometimes lead mothers to resort to abortion. Though I don’t believe a Christian can be pro-abortion, I believe both “pro-life” and “pro-choice” voters can vote their consciences sincerely.
It’s the same on many issues. Christians of sincere faith come to different conclusions about health care, LGBT rights, taxes and immigration. Some Christians oppose all war, and cite scripture to back up their position. Others believe war is sometimes justified — and they, too, support their stance with scripture. There are some things, though, that a Christian can’t support: torture, greed and blatant immorality. But there have been times, before and during this campaign, in which Trump’s actions and rhetoric have embodied these.
We’ve watched him insult women, demonize illegal immigrants and call for a ban on Muslims entering the country until the government “can figure out what is going on.” We have heard him describe himself as a “strong Christian” but also say he doesn’t ask for God’s forgiveness. We have watched him degrade and belittle those who disagree with him, not with substantive counter-argument, but with personal insults. We’ve seen campaign rallies in Louisville and Fayetteville, where young black women have been verbally assaulted, and in some instances, worse, by grown white men. We have heard Trump say, of a protestor at another event, that “maybe he should have been roughed up.”
He’s built part of his fortune on gambling (and on casino bankruptcies), strip clubs and dubious enterprises like Trump University. He’s condoned torture and suggested that one way to deal with terrorists would be to “take out their families.”
Trump claims he’ll “make America great again,” not with ideas, but on the premise that he “alone” can unite and restore our country. His rhetoric has taken on, if you will, messianic proportions, yet he offers none of Christ’s humility. Time and again, he has tapped into emotions and reactions that I, as a Christian, have been taught are the very worst of our broken human tendencies, and that we are called to repent of: fear, anxiety, tearing down the “other,” defensiveness, pride, vainglory and mockery. So when I hear Christian language married to this campaign, or the suggestion that he is the only candidate that reflects Christian values, I must question this. Should the same standard be applied to Hillary Clinton? Certainly. However, I think the question, applied to Trump, concerns a very specific mindset present among many Christian conservatives: The assumption and assertion that to vote Christian is to always vote Republican, no matter what. A mindset that Trump has no doubt played into during this campaign.
Which brings me back to the single-issue voter. Recently, several of my devout, conscientious Christian friends decided they must vote for Trump because of an open letter the president of pro-life Operation Rescue wrote, explaining that he didn’t endorse Trump, but would vote for him in order to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. But I would ask these friends to seriously consider the moral ramifications of voting for him, and ask what spirit he would bring to the leadership of this country.
I ask all Christians voting this November to consider, prayerfully and earnestly, what the gospel and scripture as a whole teaches about care for the oppressed, the fruit of the spirit, the trappings of wealth and pride, the characteristics of true wisdom and the way we treat one another; to reflect on he who truly saves, and what kind of man he was. I’m not saying the president of the United States must be morally perfect. But I do believe that as Christians, we must seriously question whether we can support someone who stands utterly at odds with what we hold true, and who has animated so much fear and pride — spirits at odds with the message of one who proclaimed, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear,” love which “is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, and is not proud.”