I am a pro-life voter before anything else. The reason has been that I consider the sanctity of life to be fundamental. It seems to me that if the law removes the personhood of the unborn child, it operates in the same way that other laws have which dehumanized African-Americans, Jews, and others. There is no truly moral and logical way to distinguish the unborn child from the recently born infant. The dehumanizing logic of our abortion laws follow the old Greco-Roman practices the early Christians opposed as they sought to save babies who had been exposed or abandoned because their parents did not want them. We live in a time when as many as 90% of unborn children with Down Syndrome are aborted for the same reason. In any other context, we would call this practice barbaric. Today, we call it a prudent result of genetic counseling. We are and have been in a bio-ethical crisis.
I have also prized religious liberty in my voting choices. However, that has been less of an issue until recently. Up until the past 20 years or so, federal office holders tended to overwhelmingly embrace religious liberty and to accept the rigorous defense of it provided by the Warren and Burger Courts during the latter half of the 20th century. It has primarily been the advent of the gay marriage revolution that has caused many office holders to abandon religious liberty due to the apparent conflict between Christian orthodoxy and broader acceptance of homosexual practice.
While the Republican party can make a strong claim to the moral high ground when it comes to abortion, it has a less certain record on religious liberty. Democrats have been quicker to minimize religious liberty, but some Republicans (even in the south, see Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia) have shown a lack of interest in vigorously standing up for rights of free exercise and conscience. As has been typical, the Republican party is highly responsive to corporate interests. Corporate interests place little value on religious liberty. Indeed, the executive class is currently wedded with entertainment and government elites in actively disdaining it. With regard to the current presidential contest, however, there were many candidates on the Republican side who had demonstrated a strong interest in religious liberty. All of those candidates lost in the primary to Donald Trump.
I believe that both of these issues, life and religious liberty, are issues that Christian voters should use to guide their choices. To vote for a pro-choice candidate, in my mind, is highly morally and spiritually suspect. The issue is so serious that I do not believe it can be balanced by saying that one agrees with the candidate in some other area. A preferred policy on say, food stamps, does not buy amnesty for a candidate who endorses a policy which effectively means, as Secretary Clinton has said, that “the unborn child has no constitutional rights.” Ask yourself if you would excuse a pro-slavery candidate as easily as you might a pro-choice one. Yet, the logic in both is similar.
Religious liberty is critical as part of the understanding that God gives Caesar a clear mandate that is not comprehensive in nature. We are bound to obey when the government acts within its appointed sphere, but it must not (as Augustine wrote) compel us to commit sins or claim our allegiance beyond what is right. As government grows larger, unfortunately, we potentially face a greater number of potential conflicts. For that reason, we need a candidate who will encourage a harmonious and thoughtful religious liberty for all persons. Religious liberty is not about giving religious believers a right to disregard laws. It is about respecting conscience and belief in a way that helps us to live together instead of trying to force each other to bend the knee in some insincere way. Religious liberty also serves as an important reminder to the government that it does not own us, but rather serves us and that it is limited in its power. In this way, religious liberty reminds us of our constitutional heritage as citizens of a limited government of delegated powers.
This is the first election I can remember in which there is not a major candidate who satisfies me as a champion of either life or religious liberty. Hillary Clinton is a dedicated supporter of Planned Parenthood and abortion on demand, as is the current president. Donald Trump is, I believe, essentially indifferent to the pro-life cause. One has to believe he has converted on the issue, which is unclear to me. So far, I’ve heard him say he changed his mind because a child who would have been aborted turned out to be “a winner.” That doesn’t sound like someone who thinks Down Syndrome kids shouldn’t be aborted.
With regard to religious liberty, Hillary Clinton strikes me as someone who would likely have supported efforts to protect religious liberty in the early 1990’s (as did her husband), but who views free exercise as something which must decrease as same sex-transgender revolution increases (as does her party). Donald Trump, again, seems to me to be essentially indifferent. I’ve heard him say that we’ll get people saying Merry Christmas in December again, but that’s not what I want the president to be doing. That’s what the church is for.
With the priorities I have outlined, Donald Trump would be a defensive vote for me if I were to choose him. I have no doubt of Secretary Clinton’s ability to implement the will of her party to the greatest effect possible. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is a political amateur. I suspect his subordinates would have a great deal of influence. To vote for him, I’d be voting for a unspecified outcome versus one that is specified. Not very inspirational, but there is a logic to it. I’d be hoping that he’d be responsive to his electoral coalition, but he may not see people like me as part of that coalition. When I ran for office, I recall a man saying, “All this religious stuff is fine, but what about jobs and immigration?” Mr. Trump probably sees that man as his supporter and me as somebody stuck with voting against Hillary.
What about Gary Johnson? He has identified himself as pro-choice on abortion, pro-gay marriage, and anti-religious liberty. He called religious liberty “a black hole,” which is an odd choice for a libertarian. No relief there.
That leaves me with other possible choices of Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent and Mormon who is effectively a stand-in for a typical Republican and Mike Maturen of the American Solidarity Party, which is seeking to bring European Christian Democracy of the Kuyper type to the U.S.
If you want to hear something pragmatic on voting, here it is. Let’s say Trump and Hillary were running neck and neck. In that case, I’d be hard pressed to grit my teeth and vote for Trump just on the chance that I can better achieve my objectives that way. But every revelation alienates me more and pushes me to ask whether honor demands that I reject him categorically as a candidate. Honor may be well past that at this point. However, if Hillary seems poised to win easily (which is looking likely), then I think my best choice is to both deprive Trump of my support and to vote for someone else so as to maximize the power of the message that we must not have another nominee like Trump in the Republican party.