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I have been a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer since I was a student at Bethel College in St. Paul, MN back in 1970s. Over the years, the person and works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer have been embraced by evangelicals, liberals, Jews and Catholics. He is also the champion of both the right and the left. He has been described as a “flamingly gay“.

No matter the issue, people from both sides of the issue look to Bonhoeffer for wisdom and guidance. The issue may be same-sex marriage, gun control, abortion, immigration, politics and politicians.

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived today, let’s say in America, what side would he take? Back in 2016, would he vote for Hillary or Trump? Voters for both candidates would build a case that Bonhoeffer would certainly see their point of view.

My thesis for my Doctor of Ministry degree focused on the impact of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on twenty-first century preachers, but I am far from being an expert on Bonhoeffer. But I did do enough research then and since then to say that Dietrich Bonhoeffer cannot be boxed in.

He was only 39 years old when he was hung. Imagine if he lived another thirty or forty years and was able to develop his ideas and theology further.

What side would he take? My take is this: Dietrich Bonhoeffer would teach us to pray, read the Bible and meditate on God’s Word. He would also not to place our trust in people (like Presidents) but in God alone. He would tell us to love others who are vastly different than us. I think he would say that even though, we live is an age of outrage, Christians, are to be at their very best and represent Jesus.

Bryan

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), photographed in 1939.
Ullstein Bild / Getty
How the murdered theologian came to be a symbol in American politics.

The Battle for Bonhoeffer
Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump
by Stephen R. Haynes
Eerdmans, 208 pp., $19.99

You can tell a lot about people by their heroes. After all, people model themselves after their heroes—and sometimes model their heroes after themselves.

That’s the basic premise of Stephen R. Haynes’s The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian executed in 1945 at the age of 39 for joining a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, lives on today as a hero for American Protestants across political and confessional boundaries. Different readers and biographers of Bonhoeffer have made different things of him—so strikingly different that in 1964 theologian Harvey Cox famously called Bonhoeffer “a veritable Rorschach test.”

Bonhoeffer wasn’t always a hero for American evangelicals. For two decades after his death, his legacy was the near-exclusive domain of liberal theologians attracted to the concept of “religionless Christianity” that Bonhoeffer developed while on death row. For those so-called “death-of-God” theologians, he was a prophet of a happy future in which Christianity would outgrow many of its traditional beliefs and practices. Needless to say, fundamentalist and evangelical Christians were unamused.

But as death-of-God theology started to, er, die out, the growing evangelical movement began to claim Bonhoeffer as one of its own. New interpretations of Bonhoeffer and his ideas emerged in the 1980s and ’90s. Haynes sorts these into four types: Bonhoeffer as a “Critical Patriot” showing liberal Protestants how best to critique their own government; Bonhoeffer as a “Righteous Gentile” whose advocacy for Jews models Jewish-Christian relations to this day; Bonhoeffer as a “Moral Hero” whose ecumenical battle for conscience transcended particular religious traditions; and the “Evangelical Bonhoeffer” whose Bible-believing Christianity can be weaponized in today’s cultural battles.

Each new Bonhoeffer has required more abstraction than the last—and because each has relied heavily on the broad outline of his life (and, more importantly, the story of his death) for symbolism of heroism and holiness, the actual details of his life and his writings have taken a back seat. It wasn’t Bonhoeffer’s theological ideas but the model of his self-sacrifice that demanded emulation, asking of every American, as Haynes puts it, “What are you doing to arrest this ongoing assault on innocent life?” As for which “ongoing assault,” well, that’s up to the reader. In recent decades, Bonhoeffer’s example has inspired right- and left-leaning Americans alike, all insisting that if Bonhoeffer lived today he would be on their side. Haynes documents Bonhoeffer’s postmortem crusades against abortion, the Iraq War, President Bush, President Obama, and finally, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

In this back-and-forth deployment of Bonhoeffer’s legacy, Eric Metaxas’s bestselling 2009 biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy has a special place. Metaxas’s book and his subsequent attempts to employ Bonhoeffer to critique the Obama administration are significant not so much for changing anyone’s view of its subject but for amplifying the “Evangelical Bonhoeffer” in its public role. Dismissing prior Bonhoeffer scholarship as “a terrific misunderstanding,” Metaxas made a Bonhoeffer from scratch, one who (as evangelical reviewer Andy Rowell put it) “looks a lot like an American evangelical—an extraordinarily courageous American evangelical.”

Thanks in large part to Metaxas, the phrase “Bonhoeffer moment” became a powerful call to arms, especially for politically conservative Protestants. And as Bonhoeffer’s symbolic importance grew, the need for facts, either about him or about present realities, diminished. In the battle over religious liberty, for example, Haynes notes that evangelical leaders used the phrase “Bonhoeffer moment” almost without context. “Elaboration was unnecessary,” he explains, “because these leaders shared with their audiences an intuitive understanding of the expression.” The fact that the real Bonhoeffer might have disagreed strenuously with any number of the uses to which his name was being put doesn’t matter in the least.

At this point in the book, it looks like Haynes is about to ask why: Why do we still tie our political disputes today to the (usually far more dramatic) struggles of the last century? Why do the real details of those times matter so little to those who invoke them today? Why do our causes need to piggyback on the credibility of older ones?

But Haynes doesn’t ask. Instead, his narrative and argument collapse into the very misuses of Bonhoeffer that he criticized in the first half of the book. His analysis of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision about same-sex marriage struggles to retain scholarly neutrality, and the closer the story gets to the 2016 election, the more it relies on personal views and anecdotes.

By the end, Haynes’s scholarly project is altogether abandoned.

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NRL News Today

Driving a spoke into the wheel of injustice

By Dave Andrusko

dietrich-bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Hillary Clinton made her first post-election public appearance yesterday and encouraged her followers to persevere after her unexpected (to the Clinton campaign and the media) defeat.

Unfortunately, rather than contribute to binding the wounds of November 8, Clinton not only chose not to mention Donald Trump in her 20-minute-long remarks but also mined the meme that a country that elects Trump really isn’t worthy of the likes of herself.

According to POLITICO:

“I know this isn’t easy, I know that over the last week a lot of people have asked themselves if America is the country we thought it was,” said the former secretary of state, bringing the midsize Newseum auditorium to a standstill with her emotional address that she capped off by imagining a conversation with her now-deceased mother. “Please listen to me when I say this: America is worth it. Our children are worth it. Believe in our country. Fight for our values. And never, ever give up.”

Here are two quick additional thoughts about her remarks to the Children’s Defense Fund.

First, as reported by POLITICO’s Gabriel Debenedetti

And as the doors opened to Clinton’s event, the song “Lean On Me” began playing, the sound of Bill Withers crooning, “Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow, but if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow” filling the room.

It is very, very difficult to lose a presidential contest, especially one as close as this battle proved to be. And, agreed, there is “always tomorrow” unless you are one of the one million unborn babies in America whose deaths Clinton would defend with her dying breath.

Second, as President Obama has done often, Clinton quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Again, we would agree 100% in principle, but disagree on destination. Justice is not killing 59 million unborn babies, or trying to multiple the number by eliminating the Hyde Amendment, or working overtime to export the abortion plague overseas, or by mocking the values of people who value unborn life.

Justice is not, in other words, what the more powerful can do to the powerless. It is rather what the more powerful can do on behalf of the powerless.

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by

The Story: While preaching his way through the Gospel of Mark, Mark Dever came to the section where Jesus is questioned about paying taxes to Caesar (Mark 12:13–17).

Despite standing in a pulpit five blocks from the Capitol, Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., doesn’t often plunge into politics from the pulpit. He doesn’t believe that to be his calling. The text that September 2010 morning, however, demanded reflection on how believers should think about and relate to the political realm.

Collin Hansen, who attended the service, later wrote that it was “the best sermon I know on Christianity and government.” Likewise, Thabiti Anyabwile described it as “a biblical theology of Christians and the state, at once full of unction, intellectually challenging, and affecting the heart. I’ve heard a lot of Mark’s preaching, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard him better.”

Dever offered three simple points. First, Christians are good citizens. Second, no earthly kingdom can be identified with God’s people. Third, Christians are finally accountable to God.

Why It Matters: With election day upon us, Dever’s message bears fresh relevance. By listening to the sermon and reading Hansen’s copious summary, you will be well served.

As Americans, it’s often helpful to be reminded that the epicenter of Christ’s kingdom is not located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And the purposes of God have never been thwarted at the hands of men—a streak that’s not about to end on November 8. Such a recognition isn’t quietism or escapism—just biblical Christianity.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are, like you and me, feeble creatures of dust. They’re worthy of our honor (Eccl. 10:20; 1 Pet. 2:17), but never our hope.

So pay your taxes, pick your candidate, and cast your vote (politics does matter, after all), but do so as one whose trust is anchored in another world.

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Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, red states and blue states—the political divides in our country tend to fall into binary structures. The ones we are most familiar with tend to be firmly established, and we often know, through intuition or experience, what side we align with.

But over the past few months there has been a new political divide, an intramural division within American social conservatism. And this discord has been felt most prominently within the evangelical wing of this movement.

Evangelicals are not a monolithic entity, and there have always been differences and disagreements on politics. Still, within the social conservative faction (which accounts for around 60 percent to 75 percent of evangelicalism) there has been a general sense of unity. At least there was before this election season. The candidacy of Donald Trump has caused a split within this group that has grown increasingly rancorous as we inch closer to the election.Even by the standard of partisan politics, Trump is a uniquely polarizing figure. Before this year few could have predicted he’d bisect socially conservative evangelicals into warring camps.

Witness vs. Justice

In an attempt to bridge this chasm I want to explain the reasoning of both sides (at least as I have observed the debates), examine their strengths and weaknesses, and propose a way forward. While the two sides may not agree on much before November 8, we can at least attempt to seek a modicum of understanding and reconciliation.

There are differences and disagreements within each group and just as many areas of overlap between the two sides. By painting their outlines with a broad brush we will miss many important aspects and nuances. Still, doing so will help us focus our eyes on a few of the most essential elements.

To give a label to each side, we can identify the division as between those focused on Witness and those foregrounding Justice. Let’s start with by explaining the Justice side.

Justice Side

The concern of this group can be summed up in two words: Supreme Court. Many of the issues they care about most are matters of justice that will likely be decided by the court—abortion, marriage, transgenderism, religious liberty, and so on. They’re legitimately worried that if the liberal party candidate, Hillary Clinton, is allowed to choose the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia it will set us back decades, and even push us to a point from which our country may never recover.

Although Trump might not have been their first choice of candidates, they see him as the lesser of two evils. They don’t necessarily know what he would do in office, but they are quite certain how Hillary will govern. For this reason they are willing to take a chance on Trump. To reverse an old saying, “Better the devil you don’t know than the one you do.”

The strength of this position is its clarity and simplicity. This group reasons that even if Clinton and Trump were to govern in the exact same way on every issue and differ only on Supreme Court nominations, we would be no worse off and would, in many ways, be much better off since the Court would be returned to its former status quo.

This is form of minimax strategy, which is often used in two-player, zero-sum games (like presidential elections). Minimax is a strategy of always minimizing the maximum possible loss that can result from a choice a player makes. The Justice side believes by supporting and voting for Trump they are minimizing the maximum possible loss of justice that would result from a Clinton presidency.

For the Justice side, the timeline we should be thinking on is decades, rather than the next four to eight years. My TGC colleague Bethany Jenkins summed up this rationale when she said, “As a lawyer who has read hundreds of cases, I’ve found one thing certain: Presidents come and go, but a SCOTUS Justice lasts a lifetime.” (NB: Bethany is not a Trump supporter, though she is sympathetic to the concerns of the Justice side.)

That is the main strength of the Justice position. The drawback is the trade-offs they have to make to endorse Trump, specifically sacrificing the “character issue” not only from this current presidential election but also from every election in the future.

A prime example of a champion on the Justice side is Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. After hearing Trump bragged about committing sexual assault, Jeffress said the comments were “lewd, offensive, and indefensible.” But he said he’d still support Trump for President. “I would not necessarily choose this man to be my child’s Sunday school teacher,” he said. “But that’s not what this election is about.”

The implication is that there is not even a minimal biblical standard of character for a man or woman seeking a leadership role in America’s government. While integrity and a reputable character might be preferred, it’s a luxury good, not a prerequisite to receive the political support of evangelicals.

The result of this decision to disregard character is likely to live longer than even the most robust Supreme Court Justice. No longer can we credibly claim a lack of character is a disqualifier from public office. If Hugh Hefner decides to run for president and chooses Larry Flynt as his running mate, they could credibly claim to be the candidates for evangelical “Values Voters,” so long as they promised to appoint conservative judges.

Witness Side

Now let’s examine the Witness side. This group is also concerned about the long-term threat that will result from allowing Clinton to choose Supreme Court justices. In fact, on this matter they share all of the same concerns as the Justice side. Where they differ is in fervently believing the damage done to our gospel witness in choosing Trump outweighs the potential devastation caused by a liberal Court.

This side rejects the concept of the “lesser of two evils” as being unbiblical since Scripture calls us to reject all evil. They believe the character of both candidates has made them unfit for the highest office in the land, and that voting for either to be President would violate their conscience. Additionally, they believe Trump has made comments that reveal him to be racist, sexist, and/or anti-life—all while claiming to be a Christian. For this group, turning a blind eye to Trump’s character for the sake of political expediency betrays our calling as Christians.

The strength of the Witness position is its integrity and faithfulness. They contend that by supporting Trump (or Clinton) evangelicals are sending the message that we’re willing to sacrifice our witness as ambassadors of Christ, and that we’re willing to choose evil on the chance it will lead to a good outcome.

For the rest of the post…

Here’s The Simple Biblical Explanation.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

In the question of who’s the worst sinner, between Donald and Hillary… the answer is simple and straightforward… it’s you and me.. or whoever judges Donald and Hillary.

Jesus said it even better than Dietrich, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.” – Matthew 7 (The Message)

I’m attracted to the invitation of Jesus to focus on our issues (however big or small they are) as oppose to glorifying someone else’s (as big or small as their sins are).

It’s the “plank in our eye” approach, which really helps with living a happy sonship.

Christ came to save us from our sin, but also to save us from the idea that we could be saviors of ourselves, or anyone else.

He made it clear to the Pharisees (who loved to compare levels of sin) that lust was just as bad as adultery, and hatred was just as bad as murder.

So yeah, we are all as bad as Donald/Hillary.

And we need Jesus as much as they do.

I know, that you know, that both Donald and Hillary have clear and distinctive things that they need to repent for.

But so do you.

For the rest of the post…

 

The first presidential debate on September 26 attracted a record 84 million viewers. I was one of them.

Another sizable audience is predicted to watch the second presidential debate tonight. I will not be one of them — nor will my wife or my kids.

The lewdness factor of the election reached new heights this weekend, and it has been suggested that tonight’s debate should be rated R and prefaced with a parental advisory warning. Mud will be slung (and there’s never been more mud to sling). Ratings will be high again.

We are troubled by the personalities and we are troubled by their policies — and when you add those two features together, many Christians are simply withdrawing themselves from both major candidates and both major parties.

If it feels odd to withdraw support like this from such a major American institution, you’re not alone. Writer and hip-hop artist Sho Baraka recently opened a powerful op-ed piece by writing, “As a black Christian in an urban environment, I consciously struggle to give my allegiance to either political party. In this way, this election gives many white evangelicals a sense of what it’s like to be a black believer in America today.”

The 2016 election is giving a lot of us a taste of displacedness. Perhaps like never before in this country, for black and white evangelicals alike, there’s a new feeling of un-belonging. But it’s not a shrugging cynicism. Under the political disillusionment, we are all finding ways of voicing concerns for the welfare of our nation. We are displaced, yes, but we are not separatists.

Believers in Babylon

About 2,600 years ago, under the shadow of a pagan superpower, another believer felt this same pinch: Daniel, a godly man living in exile in the Babylonian empire, a nation which traced its origin back to the rebel egotropolis, Babel. Yet in spite of his disagreement with Babylon’s policies, Daniel gave his life to serve the nation.

The book of Daniel is thoroughly political, revealing the power of God’s sovereign undertow beneath the tides of world politics, and all for the sake of his chosen people. Even as his people endured exile in Babylon, God sovereignly governed the world’s political leaders — raising, dropping, and reordering political powers for millennia (Daniel 2:21).

Into this pagan society, Daniel fought to balance his loyal service to Babylon with his ultimate obedience to God. And what he needed was a transhistorical vision of God’s rule over the nations. He got it in the form of a dream from the restless sleep of Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar.

In Daniel 2:36–45, we read about a giant statue of a man that towered perhaps one-hundred feet in the air and glistened brilliantly in the noonday sun.

The dream was given to Nebuchadnezzar. The interpretive key was given to Daniel.

The statue was a stack of nations, said Daniel. The metal man was capped with Babylon (represented in the gold head), placed atop Medo-Persia (the silver torso and arms), placed atop Greece (the bronze belly and thighs), and placed atop Rome at the bottom (the legs of iron and feet of clay). This layered statue represented a succession of the world’s four great superpowers from Daniel’s day into the future, all stacked vertically and cemented together (Hamilton, 330).

Then it toppled.

The statue was targeted by a stone, which flew into the dream like a comet, smashed into the statue’s feet, and, on impact, shattered the entire statue like safety glass. With one blow, the statue exploded into a pile of rubble, pulverized into a heap of human superpower dust, barely hitting the ground before the wind blew it all away into oblivion.

The small meteoric stone, now on the ground, began to grow and expand into a mountain that covered the entire earth — the image of a new and unshakable kingdom now spread out over every continent, displacing all the world’s superpowers in history.

The fall of this giant man-statue is meant to remind us of David’s sling-whirling, Goliath-defeating precedent. In both cases, the world’s powers must fall before the reign of a Davidic king.

Return of the King

This theatrical dream triggers a future history: a new king will establish God’s global reign over creation (the mountain). Later in the book, God gave Daniel a dream of his own, ushering him into a divine throne room of stunning imagery to see “the Ancient of Days” presiding over a glorious coronation anointing, over “one like a son of man” (Daniel 7:9–13).

This king, this “son of man,” entered in to receive his Cosmic Commission: to reign over all the peoples and nations and languages of the earth, to be globally adored in glory, and to be obeyed by all peoples.

The Davidic symbolism of chapter two, and now the introduction of this “son of man” in Daniel 7, combine to reveal the connection to Christ. Jesus would use this “son of man” phrase about eighty times in the Gospels: to reference his own authority, to reference his own need to suffer and die, and most importantly, to communicate his future glorified majesty and authority (NDBT, 236).

Christ found ample opportunities to tie all the major features of his Messianic purposes back to the throne room scene in Daniel 7. His words remind us that God’s agenda reigns on debate night — and every night.

The Politics of Jesus

The throne-room coronation scene in Daniel 7:13–14 is striking for helping us understand Christ’s self-revelation, and for understanding our mission as Christians, in a world of confusion. To make the connections, we need to set the “Cosmic Commission” of Christ in Daniel 7:13–14 alongside the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28:18–20.

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First of all let me state clearly that I have been a lifelong Republican. I know that there are many Republicans, even if they do not support Trump, they believe they must vote for him because to do otherwise would be to vote for Clinton. Perhaps they are correct, but I suggest the following should be considered.

It is a relatively accepted fact that both Clinton and Trump are disliked by over 50 percent of the prospective voters. While not comparing either Clinton or Trump to Stalin or Hitler, I believe that it is fair to compare this election as having a choice between Stalin or Hitler. Which is the lesser of the two evils? When confronted by such a dilemma, the only possible choice that I can see is to stand up for a choice other than the one with which we are presented.

The 20th century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, had come to the U.S. as guest lecturer, and was encouraged to stay in America in order to protect himself from persecution by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer wrote the following to his friend Reinhold Niebuhr, “I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials at this time with my people.” Bonhoeffer stood up for what he believed in and returned to Germany. He was subsequently in imprisoned for two years, and executed in April 1945.

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Bonhoeffer picDietrich Bonhoeffer is a modern day hero among evangelical Christians. Killed by the Nazis in 1945 for resisting the regime, Bonhoeffer’s fame among evangelicals increased after the publication of Eric Metaxas’ acclaimed biography of the Lutheran pastor. For many Christians who feel compelled to take a stand on principle, Bonhoeffer has become an inspiration and guiding light. On that point, perhaps the most repeated and celebrated quote attributed to Bonhoeffer is

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

These are bold words and together they have helped strengthen the conclusion of many persuasive appeals. Though they are powerful, they are not from Bonhoeffer. According to my research and the Bonhoeffer scholars I consulted, these sentences can’t be found in any of his writings or speeches.

This may come as a shock to countless (really, I stopped counting) Twitter and Facebook users who have posted a picture of Bonhoeffer with that quote attributed to him. The quote is on many lists of essential Bonhoeffer quotes (e.g., see Relevant Magazine’s list). Many politicians and authors have used it to make their many points.

I became interested in the quote while researching this May 22, 2016 tweet from Eric Metaxas:

As Bonhoeffer said “Not to cast a vote for the two majors IS to cast a vote for one of them.” – Ethics, pp. 265-6

Although it wasn’t obvious to me at first, this was a joke based on “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Metaxas posted this in response to a Twitter user who described people who plan not to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

At the time, his Twitter followers didn’t get the joke. Here are some of their tweets in response: “sounds like Bonhoeffer made a boo boo,” “Mr Bonhoeffer was right about many things but still a mere mortal!” and “Sorry, but I think the great Bonhoeffer whiffed on this one.” I couldn’t find anyone who questioned the authenticity of the modified quote.

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Why Christians Need to Stop Endorsing ALL Candidates

For many, this election year has already been one of the most difficult to bear in recent history. But the significant question is why it has been so difficult. It is a question of considerable theological and pastoral consequence, so Christian leaders need to be able to speak to this.

The reason most people would give for their frustration thus far usually has something to do with either disbelief that Donald Trump is actually the Republican nominee, or anything from distrust to disgust regarding all things Hillary Clinton. For these folks, though, there is probably another candidate that they would like to have as president, and the election of this candidate would leave them at least somewhat satisfied.

This has led a large number of voters to simply settle for whatever they judge to be the less disliked candidate of the two. Presumably, this would explain why a surprising number of evangelical Christians seem to still be willing to back Trump. The biggest frustration for me as a Christian, however, has come not so much with evangelicals who support Trump, but more so with the way that Christians everywhere seem to be so caught up in the business of endorsing and evaluating candidates in general — because “this election is different,” or because “stopping Trump (or Hillary) is so important.”

Whatever the justification, I believe Christians are taking these candidates much too seriously. The mistake we make is that we are meeting them on their own terms rather than our own. Let me explain.

The Failure of Christian Witness through both Endorsement and Denouncement

Yes, Wayne Grudem’s moral argument in favor of voting for Trump is bewildering, and Eric Metaxas’s defense of Trump is even more troubling. The latter should confirm, if there was ever any doubt, that Metaxas is no authority on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

But what about the many Christians who are making the case for Hillary? The Rev. Dr. William Barber gave what was maybe the most powerful speech (sermon?) at the Democratic National Convention this year. And yet, he was still endorsing Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, Rachel Held Evans, for example — a good writer and a voice I appreciate — she too has called for support of Clinton. She even described her as an “extremely qualified but unpopular” candidate. Evans is well aware that there are problems with voting for Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, I find this tacit approval of Clinton’s political record cringe-worthy, for reasons I will outline in “part 2” of this post. (Evans’ post was mainly about abortion, actually, and how she believes Clinton is in fact the better candidate for pro-life voters like herself to support).

What these examples reveal, I think, is that the political theology of most Christians continues to be such that public advocacy for as well as denouncement of a major party candidate of a global super power is seen as both faithful and necessary. This has nothing to do with being progressive or conservative. And I include denouncement because, insofar as it remains a speech act on the same plane as an endorsement, the level of discourse isn’t changed by it. It just tries to move in the opposite direction.

It reminds me of how, when asked why he would not support reform within the German state church, Bonhoeffer replied, “If a train is on the wrong track, it does no good to get on board and run the other way.” Not that the United States and Germany are equal by comparison, but I believe the analogy stands. (And keep in mind that Bonhoeffer went on to get his hands dirty and made the ultimate sacrifice for his plot against Hitler).

The point is this: There is nothing inherently Christian about supporting or denouncing either of the candidates this year or any candidate in U.S. politics. Yet ostensibly Christian endorsements and denouncements persist on both sides.

A Web of Systemic Sin

It’s important to stress, therefore, that as Christians, we do not necessarily object to the endorsement of a candidate like Hillary Clinton because we think she is so terrible, or because we think Christians absolutely mustn’t vote for her. Whether she is immoral, dishonest or beholden to the status quo is somewhat irrelevant. The president is still limited by an imperfect web of systemic sin and moral gridlock, even if he or she is the most influential person in that web. It’s what Reinhold Niebuhr called the dilemma of Moral Man and Immoral Society. This will continue regardless of who is elected. And so actually, I agree with Evans that Clinton is indeed very “qualified” — qualified to lead the web of systemic sin that is the U.S. government.

To be clear, this is not to say that as Christians we shouldn’t vote. But I’m also not saying that we must! The point is, there’s a difference between voting for a candidate, one the one hand—perhaps reluctantly—and using one’s Christian platform to fervently ask people to vote for him or her, on the other hand. The latter betrays the emptiness of a Christendom political imagination. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about mainline liberals or evangelicals. Both have this problem.

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