Personally Holy & Wholly Ineffective

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This November, for some Christians, personal holiness will dictate a protest vote against Donald Trump. Is this really conscience, or something darker?

Over my years as a believer, I’ve seen personal holiness measured in strange ways. One Sunday morning, after my wife was introduced to a member of the praise team as a “baby Christian,” one of the singers leaned in towards her, with a weird mix of intense curiosity and mystical reserve, and asked: “Have you witnessed yet?” I remember the odd silence between us as we walked out to our car that morning; we had failed this woman’s personal holiness test. All true believers had to have a recent witnessing story ready for her.russell  Personally Holy & Wholly Ineffective russell

Since then, I’ve seen personal holiness obsessions blow up in weird ways: the Baptist radio minister who roundly scolded any Christian who served cocktails in their home, only to have his radio show abruptly terminated some months later, after an affair with the church secretary was revealed. I can remember processing strange Bill Gothard wisdom books and modesty standards, only to find out the celebrated celibate had teenage intern girls sit on his lap in their nighties. You know how it goes: the guy who preaches against anger has anger issues. The guy who laments materialism keeps turning down job offers.

I’ve also seen truly holy people. They open their homes to you. They encourage you. They offer everything they have, and they seem to do it at just the right time, as though the angels were directing them. If you’ve ever run a business, and a friend offers you a loan through the slow season, unsolicited, you know what it means to see the face of the good Samaritan. I’m not just talking about generosity either; some of them have endured ridicule and financial hardship for speaking a difficult truth at a necessary time. They are, by every visible standard, the real thing.

This isn’t, in other words, a lament about true holiness.

With respect to the Trump candidacy and the civic responsibility of an American Christian, I’d like to address a legalism that has been affecting the church for some time. I know, because I was once a champion of this false holiness – and I need to repent publicly. In a republic made possible by honorable compromise, given choices for leadership in an arena that is distinctly, and divinely, outside the realm of the church itself, we need to make certain we truly are acting in the best interests of each other, and our children, when we vote. Are we really clean? Or is our personal holiness false? Indeed, is that personal holiness giving the devil great delight?

Many believers, like Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, will walk into the polling booth and conduct a false sacrament. They will offer up their “conscience” to God and declare themselves a peculiar person, among a peculiar people–so holy, and so called out that they just can’t align themselves with the forces of darkness. In Moore’s case, the objection sounds downright trendy. His personal holiness won’t allow him to vote for the vices of “misogyny and sexual degradation,” allegedly represented by Donald Trump. Albert Mohler, in a similar vein, accuses Trump of such an adulterous character that he has given himself over “to the pornographic industry, basically to a form of the sex trade.”

I think the imaginations of these two Baptists are overly fevered. Donald Trump appeared on the cover of Playboy, and in the course of the last 18 month’s hyper-scrutiny of Trump’s life by the media, I haven’t seen any adultery stories. He appears to have raised a group of children who love and support and work with him every day.

But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Trump would not qualify for leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention, (the organization that finally got around to apologizing for white supremacy in 1995). Donald Trump is not a pastor. He is not running for the leadership of an ecclesiastical assembly. He is a man who appears to have profoundly changed his opinions about abortion, and who has admitted the error of his earlier positions. In January of 2016, Trump wrote that he “…had a significant personal experience that brought the precious gift of life into perspective for me.” I advise you read and pray about Trump’s sentiments on this score, unfiltered by any neo-pietists among you:

“Since Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Count 43 years ago, over 50 million Americans never had the chance to enjoy the opportunities offered by this country. They never had the chance to become doctors, musicians, farmers, teachers, husbands, fathers, sons or daughters. They never had the chance to enrich the culture of this nation or to bring their skills, lives, loves, or passions into the fabric of this country. They are missing, and they are missed.”

Are you comfortable voting against such a testimony? What part of personal holiness is amplified by leaving the ballot blank or writing in your hopeless third party candidate or staying home? Maybe you’ll write in the name Ted Cruz, who purposely mislead his followers (myself included) about the change in Trump’s position? How did a friend of mine describe Satan? “The accuser”? Is this spirit of holding up a man’s past sins, particularly the ones he appears to regret, truly becoming in a believer? Is it the sort of holiness to which you aspire?

Okay, so let’s suppose you just don’t trust Trump on this score, or any other score. He shoots his mouth off. He appears intemperate. He engaged in some hard ball politics with Ted Cruz. You just can’t stand the guy. You are tired of being abused by the political process.

“I have to live with my conscience,” you say. “I have to please God.”

If this impulse is genuine, it shouldn’t be mocked, but let me at least try to comment on how it might be uninformed.

Conscience, first of all, is subject to the world’s blemish. It has to be cleaned off from time to time and made answerable to scripture. There is a reason why an MS-13 gang member behaves differently from a Calvary Chapel pastor. One of them has a damaged conscience and one of them, we hope, has a conscience informed by scripture and prayer. If our last resort is to conscience, we should be able to declare the dictates of conscience for the world to review, defend those dictates, and then ask the question honestly: would God inspire one believer to vote differently from another? Is God the author of chaos, or one simple, powerful, brilliant truth?

I will fully admit that many believers have a difficult time hearing the words “Donald Trump” and “brilliant truth” in the same sentence. I’m not comparing Trump to Jesus. I am, however, comparing him to human beings: David the adulterer, Peter the frightened disciple, Samson the harlot-keeping warrior, Jacob the father-fooling pretender. Trump may fail in his devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (it’s not for me to judge the state of his heart), but he triumphs in the arena of another front – all those characters in scripture about which we know very little, but who triumphed on the basis of the way their behavior displayed their heart.

Why did Jesus praise the good thief, the faithful centurion, the good Samaritan?

The Samaritan, we should remember, had a different temple, a different scripture, and his tradition and genealogy were hated by the very disciples Jesus chose to follow him. Jesus was laying down a challenge in this example: your own religious hierarchy would ignore the beaten and the bruised, but the hated Samaritan helps him. Who is closer to God?

I don’t know if you’ve read some of the ways Donald Trump has used his wealth, but I challenge you to examine Liz Crokin’s touching chronology of his generosity. He’s not Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s not even abortion loving Warren Buffett. He seems to be, by all accounts, a man who loves to use his wealth to help people. Ponder this, I pray, against what your church-going conscience seems to be telling you about the man’s arrogance and self-service.

But my Trump conscience isn’t informed by any inventory of personal generosity. I’m quite certain that Hillary Clinton’s people could come up with a lifetime of service, if needed.

My conscience on Trump is very clean because of what the man has promised: the protection of the unborn, the protection of my right to protect my family, to keep more of my own earnings, to pass on my estate to my children without double taxation, to live in a country protected from Islamic radicals.

What more does the man have to do to assure your conscience? What more does your holiness demand?

Are you really holy, or wearing your best robes, on the way to the temple? Are you “holy” or “wholly ineffective” in defending your families, your future, and your country?

James Riley is the founder of Colony Bay Productions and the owner/manager of Riley's Farm in Oak Glen, California. James produced and directed the 18th century period Drama, "Courage, New Hampshire" which debuted nationally on INSP and can now be seen on public television. A graduate of Stanford University, James and his wife, Marylinn, have six children and five grandchildren.

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