Last Friday the Supreme Court over-ruled Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This is something that Christians have longed prayed for, worked for, and voted for. Though this decision opens the opportunity for states to prohibit the killing of the unborn, there remains much to continue to pray for, work for, and vote for.
In relation to this last item—the Christian’s vote—there is an emphasis among a number of Christian commentators that is morally troubling. Douglas Wilson is representative:
And this means that every last Christian, David French and Kevin Williamson included, ought to look for some way to express their gratitude for Donald J. Trump. This would not have happened without him. Because he kept his campaign promise to appoint a particular brand of justice to the Supreme Court, and because God then gave him the opportunity to appoint three of them, this decision was made possible. Elections have consequences, and the election of Trump in 2016 had this consequence. I want to make a particular point of expressing my gratitude to Trump because when he, God’s intended instrument for accomplishing this marvelous thing, announced his candidacy, I did not recognize in him anything good. I expended quite a bit of energy opposing him, and during the primaries I had a good deal of fun at his expense. In the general election of 2016, I did not vote for him. He had made a promise to appoint the kind of judges I would like, and I was way too sophisticated to believe something like that.
Wilson’s primary point is not about our prayers of thankfulness, however. (Note that he does not counsel thankfulness for George W. Bush, who appointed Samuel Alito, the author of the Dobbs opinion, or George H. W. Bush, who appointed Clarence Thomas). He moves instead into Christian political strategy:
But these heartland evangelicals ignored the voices of their more fastidious brethren, and went into a back room at Trump Tower to cut a deal with the Donald. They said that they would support him—whether an Access Hollywood tape turned up or not—if he would just give them solid judges in return. Deal? Deal. In return for this remarkable deal, one that actually went through and actually worked, they got patted on the head by more urbane set of gospel-centered and/or red-letter Christians, and were relegated to the ranks of rubes and cornpones. But these slick and sophisticated Christians display a remarkable lack of self-awareness. They are still unable to perceive who the shrewd ones were. It is as though simple Simon went off to the fair, got taken to the cleaners for the third year in a row, and then went home to call his older brother names for being such a chump.
Wilson’s comments are theologically troubling. He seems to assume that since God providentially used the judicial appointments that former President Trump made, support for President Trump was justified. But this simply does not follow. God can and does use morally compromised people to achieve his will. He can also justly judge those same people for their wrongdoing. Support for a particular candidate has to be based on moral considerations and not simply on the achievement of morally significant political goals.
Wilson’s comments are morally troubling because he has no biblically grounded moral case for his change of position regarding the former President. What changed between Wilson’s initial moral objections and his current objections to “slick and sophisticated” “gospel-centered” “fastidious” Christians who never came around to supporting former President Trump? He liked the outcome of Trump’s presidency. There is a name for this ethic: utilitarianism. It is unbiblical.
A biblical ethic deals not just with ends but with acts, ends, and agents (to use the terminology adopted by Ken Magnuson). Or, in Wayne Grudem’s words, it deals with actual behavior, results, and personal character. Or to use John Frame’s terminology, it has to do with a right standard, a right goal, and a right motive. Wilson is only looking at the ends, the results, the goal in his analysis.
Wilson mocks “fastidious” Christians who would not compromise their moral convictions to support President Trump and instead argues for a transactional ethic in which Christians support immoral and unfit candidates in exchange for policy wins. Wilson is in grave danger here: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15).
Wilson fails to articulate the moral standards to which Christians should adhere when voting. Wilson’s argument also fails to deal with the significance of virtue in making ethical choices. He would be more convincing if Christians who supported former President Trump had maintained their principles and held President Trump to account when he did wrong. Instead, many Christians defended the former president when he acted lawlessly and pressured their representatives in Congress not to hold him to account. This is neither conservative nor Christian. Why, after Trump tried to stay in office through various underhanded and unconstitutional means, does he still get cheered at Christian events while Vice President Pence, who adhered to the constitution and prevented a constitutional crisis, get booed? For many, the support of Trump inculcated vices rather than virtues. No attention was paid to the “personal character” impact of the ethical decision to support the former President.
The casualties are not only among the Trump supporters. It is difficult to be without a tribe. And many exiled from their conservative turned populist tribe have moved to the left politically and theologically. Unlike Wilson, it is of little concern to me if someone who used to support open carry now supports red flag laws. That’s the kind of thing Christians can agree to disagree about. However, it is very concerning to see Christians who used to support biblical teaching about men and women now defend women pastors.
When professing Christians turn egalitarian, they are conforming to this present evil age. When professing Christians turn utilitarian, they are conforming to this present evil age. I find it difficult to see the options that Americans were faced with in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections as anything less than God’s judgment. That judgment should have led to repentance across the American church. Instead, it led to a doubling down on our worldliness. While we can thank God for mercy in the midst of judgment in the form of the Dobbs decision, we dare not presume upon God’s mercy.