My case for Joe Biden

Many have asked me to weigh-in on the election. Let me begin by saying that my choice of a candidate was not difficult.

Donald Trump is immoral. He is a pathological liar. He is a narcissist. He is a racist who empowers White supremacists. He is a misogynist. He disrespects American institutions. His presidency draws on some of the darkest moments of our national past. He has manipulated the Christian faith to advance his own unrighteous ends. I made this case in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and I stand by it.

Trump has poisoned American culture and cannot continue as President of the United States. He is not a leader. He has no interest in bringing the country together. He is incompetent. He is a con-man. He is a rainmaker. Those who vote for him in 2020 are empowering another four years of this mess and, without another election looming over Trump’s head, it is likely to get worse.

For evangelicals concerned about life:

A Columbia University study recently concluded that Trump’s administration is responsible for up to 210,000 COVID-19 deaths. He continues to ignore the pandemic. Doctors and scientists say things are going to get worse unless the president starts taking this pandemic seriously. As Ed Yong recently argued at The Atlantic: “America is about to choose how bad the pandemic will get.” This election is about life. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus is promoting a culture of illness and death.

Black men and women are dying in America. Those who are still alive fear for their lives because racism is embedded in our culture. Donald Trump does not believe in systemic racism and does not want to address it. Trump does not even have the decency to condemn White supremacy at a nationally televised debate. A good economy will not end systemic racism. A plan to give money to Historically Black Colleges and Universities will not end systemic racism. More evangelical conversions will not undo the damage done by centuries of racial oppression, especially if such converts are taught that systemic racism is a Satanic lie that “cultural Marxists” are propagating on the nation.

Donald Trump wants to overturn Obamacare and replace it with his own healthcare plan. So far the public has not seen this plan. I doubt it exists. Meanwhile, the end of Obamacare will undermine the health care of millions of people. This is not a pro-life position. Joe Biden is the pro-life candidate here.

Many conservative evangelicals connect their “pro-life” convictions to their “pro-family” convictions. But Trump separated thousands of children from their parents at the Mexican border. More than 500 of those children have yet to be reunited with their parents. Is this how a “family values” president acts? Moreover, let’s not pretend that our children are not watching his flawed character, hate-filled speeches at rallies, and Twitter feed. Trump’s garbage has come into our homes via our television and computer screens. Finally, Joe Biden has championed policies related to health care, child care, taxes, working parents, family leave, and education that will help struggling American families.

Donald Trump’s views on climate change will eventually lead to more poverty, more death, and a planet that may be uninhabitable sooner than we think. This is a life issue. It many not affect us right now, but people will die in the future if we don’t care for the creation that God has entrusted to us. Narcissists are selfish. They only care about themselves in relation to the moment in which they live. Republican citizens, on the other hand, understand their place in the larger expanse of the human experience–past, present, and future. Biden’s plan for environmental justice and his pledge to rejoin the Paris Agreement will ultimately result in saved lives.

I am always struck by anti-abortion activists who admit that Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America, but yet still support overturning Roe because it is part of the work of chipping away at laws upholding a women’s right to choose. Someone recently described this to me as “taking the long view.” I understand this argument, but why do we “take the long view” on abortion, but fail to take the long view on climate change?

And speaking of abortion:

Trump gives lip service to abortion. He knew in 2016 that he needed to be pro-life in order to get the GOP nomination. So he became pro-life. Trump executed the Christian Right playbook to perfection. He appointed the right Supreme Court justices, made an appearance at pro-life events, and mentioned abortion in his speeches to evangelical audiences.

In the process, Trump continued to promote the idea that the best way to end abortion in America is to overturn Roe v. Wade. For nearly 50 years, white evangelicals have funneled their money to, and casted their votes for, “pro-life” candidates who promised to reverse this Supreme Court decision. That is nearly a half of a century with no results. As I have argued multiple times here at this blog, and as Christian writer and podcaster Skye Jethani has shown in an excellent video, the pursuit of political power will not end abortion in the United States.

If Christians really want to reduce the number of abortions, they will elect a president who wants to fund health care for women, deal with the systemic racism that keeps many black women in poverty, raise the minimum wage, and address the income gap between White people and people of color. The abortion rate has been dropping consistently since the 1990s. Spend some time on the Guttmacher Institute’s website.

Christian and pro-life voters should urge Joe Biden, if elected, to talk more about how he plans to continue this reduction of abortion. I hope he changes his mind about the Hyde Amendment and goes back to his original position. But if you care about the reduction of abortions, Biden is still the best candidate.

Some will say that it doesn’t really matter if abortions are in decline because it is still immoral for a Christian to vote for a nominee of a party that supports the ending of a baby’s life in the womb. Ramesh Ponnuru & Robert George recently made this argument in a piece at The National Review. I agree with much of their article. Abortion is a moral atrocity. But they offer no realistic or pragmatic solution for ending the practice. Ponnuru and George want us to vote our conscience. It is an argument rooted in moral purity.

I am a realist on this issue. In an imperfect world, politics is about achieving things that are possible. Abortion has been part of American life from the beginning and our culture has inherited this immoral practice. We thus must do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions in America. But purity of conviction is not going to accomplish this. While we take our moral stand and wait for the Supreme Court to act, babies will continue to die in the womb. Without a change of strategy, more poor women of color, and families who don’t believe they can afford another baby, will continue to choose abortion as an alternative. We need to create a world in which abortion is not the default option for an unwanted pregnancy.

In Believe Me, I quoted theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of ” adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare of creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marion icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

We must accept the fact that legalized abortion is not going away. Pro-lifers will never have complete victory. This is why we should support candidates who are dealing with the social, cultural, and economic issues that lead women and families to consider abortions. Ironically, Joe Biden, a representative of a pro-choice party, is that candidate. Donald Trump, who has the support of the Christian Right, is not.

Finally, what should we think about potential threats to religious liberty in a Biden campaign? If Biden is elected, I will work to push the new president to consider what John Inazu describes as a “confident pluralism.” Inazu asks Americans to work at living together with people of different ideological commitments. This will require creative thinking about how to find common ground without abandoning our deeply held beliefs. Confident pluralism requires mutual respect and a willingness to tend to our democratic life. One example of such creative thinking is the legislative bill known as “Fairness for All.” We need to create a culture that takes such bills seriously as a way of moving forward.

There is a good chance that a Biden administration may threaten the deeply-held convictions of religious institutions. But the Supreme Court has a strong track record of upholding religious liberty. As conservative writer and former religious liberty lawyer David French said in a debate with court evangelical Eric Metaxas:

[On] Religious liberty things have been fine. But I’ve got news for you, they have been fine for a long time. There is a fifteen case winning-streak on religious liberty at the Supreme Court of the United States dating back to the Obama administration….Most of those cases are won by 7-2, 6-3, no matter what screaming voices on Fox News will tell you, your religious liberty does not hang in the balance.

And if we do lose, we should take John Piper’s advice to pastors seriously:

May I suggest to pastors that in the quietness of your study you do this? Imagine that America collapses. First anarchy, then tyranny — from the right or the left. Imagine that religious freedom is gone. What remains for Christians is fines, prison, exile, and martyrdom. Then ask yourself this: Has my preaching been developing real, radical Christians? Christians who can sing on the scaffold, “Let goods and kindred go; This mortal life also; The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”

That is the crux of my case. I delivered my sealed ballot today. I checked the box for Biden-Harris.

I like how Christian theologian John Stackhouse puts it in his book Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World.

Sometimes, then, some of us must improvise. As Bonhoeffer reminds us, in certain extreme situations we cannot settle for living ‘correctly’ according to some neat ethical calculus we have devised and congratulating ourselves for our integrity…We are responsible to care for the earth and to love our neighbor as best we can, and if we think we can do that better in an unusual way that leaves us vulnerable to second-guessing and maybe even to error, we nonetheless should do it. For what is the alternative? It is to shrink back from this possibility and settle for the safety of the rule book, the comfort of the clear but circumscribed conscience. Most of the time, then, we know what to do and must simply do it. Sometimes, however, the politician has to hold his nose and made a deal…So we hold on to God’s hand, and each other’s, and make the best of it.”

I’m holding on to God’s hand.

Even More on the Niebuhr-Comey Connection

COmeyWe have done a few posts over the past year about James Comey’s undergraduate thesis at The College of William and Mary.  The thesis compared the political theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell.

Over at Christianity Today, University of Pennsylvania religion professor Steven Weitzman probes deeper into the Comey-Niebuhr connection, especially in light of very current events.

Here is a taste of his piece “The Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict“: 

Many Christian theologians in Niebuhr’s day embraced love as the solution to the world’s problems. As Comey explains in the thesis, Niebuhr rejected that view. Since human selfishness gets in the way of perfectly emulating Jesus’ sacrificial love, they must instead inject love into the world through justice.

Reading Comey’s description of Niebuhr’s views suggests a theological-moral logic at work in his career as FBI director. A Christian has an obligation to seek justice, the theologian argued, and this means entering the political sphere because that is the realm where one can find the power necessary to establish whatever justice is possible in the world. Comey’s decision to work for the FBI can be understood as a way of fulfilling Niebuhr’s vision of Christianity as a defender of justice.

At the same time, however, the Christian commitment to justice can also compel one to behave like a prophet, to speak truth to power, as Niebuhr himself did during the era of Comey’s most infamous predecessor, J. Edgar Hoover.

By the late 1960s, Niebuhr had cofounded an anti-war clergy group deemed suspicious by the FBI, and one of his cofounders, the Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, had been the subject of an FBI manhunt, arrested and sentenced to three years in jail. Niebuhr, a subject of FBI surveillance himself, was no fan of the bureau and felt moved to speak out against it.35ad1-niebuhr

In an essay called “The King’s Chapel and the King’s Court” published in 1969, Niebuhr rebuked Hoover himself, comparing his spying on Martin Luther King, Jr. to the actions of the biblical Amaziah, a priest who abused the prophet Amos in an effort to suppress his critique.

It is ironic that Comey admires a figure who felt he had to denounce a previous FBI director. What is even more ironic, however, is that the essay anticipates the predicament Comey himself faced when, on January 27—in the midst of the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn for his contacts with the Russians—he was invited to dinner with Trump and asked to declare his loyalty. At the time he wrote his thesis, Comey could have had no idea that he would one day be summoned to the court of the king and then, like Amos, driven out for not saying what the king wanted to hear.

It is tempting to read Comey’s thesis as an explanation for how has conducted himself as FBI director over the last year.

Niebuhr’s writings supply a moral argument for Comey’s aggressive assertion of the FBI’s power—some describe him as the most aggressive FBI director since Hoover himself. His influence also sheds light on another side of Comey’s conduct as FBI director. Niebuhr noted that while humans can’t change the animal nature that makes them so selfish, they can achieve a kind of freedom from their situation by becoming self-conscious, by recognizing the truth about themselves. Comey has sought to institutionalize such self-awareness in the FBI through programs that encourage FBI trainees to learn about Hoover’s mistreatment of Martin Luther King Jr. and the complicity of law enforcement in the Holocaust.

But the theologian’s influence potentially sheds light on yet another side of Comey’s conduct as well. For a student of Niebuhr, justice is about using power to balance the power of those not predisposed to recognize any limits on their self-interest. Perhaps this helps to explain why Comey felt he had to criticize Clinton even though he found no reason to pursue a legal case against her. At that time she seemed to be on her way to becoming the most powerful person in the world, and her email troubles suggested someone who did not sufficiently respect limits.

Read the rest here.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Civic Virtue

Ta-Nehisi Coates (who has become a favorite blogger of web-savvy American historians, myself included), wonders why liberals have such a hard time embracing civic virtue.  He writes:

...a lot of the problem on the left is deep skepticism of patriotism. We see flags and we think of militarism, exclusion and nationalism. But if you’re going to involve yourself in the politics of your country you had better see more in its symbols and rituals than all its historical failings. 


This is more than a cynical or utilitarian point. It’s also about the core mission of intellectual life–to see things as they are.

He concludes:

My point here is that when we hail ourselves as the “Land of the Free” it is not rooted in ether. It’s an actual thing. We worry about that kind of symbolism being employed by racist, militarists and demagogues. One way to ensure that outcome is to flee the field, to cede patriotism to people who talk of the “real Virginia.”

But that just strikes me as escapism. Aren’t all nations problems? Aren’t all families? Aren’t all people?
The answer to these questions is yes.  And here Coates is coming to grips with the tragic and broken dimensions of life.  These ideas are also things that good progressives do not like to talk about.
Read the entire post here.