Trump v Hillary: Caught between two godly ethics scholars

I envy my friends for whom the coming November vote is simple:

Hillary will do more harm than Trump. Therefore vote for Trump.

They don’t understand all the agonizing and hand wringing.

I can’t seem to break through the tension.

Recently a very respected and brilliant evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, wrote an article in Townhall, “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.”

With great interest I read it.

Grudem acknowledged that Trump is “egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages.

For all that, Grudem said, “These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.”

He points out that “Justice Ginsburg is 83, and she has had colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and has a heart stent. Justice Kennedy is 80. Justice Breyer is 78. A President Clinton could possibly nominate three or four justices…She could also add dozens of activist judges to [other] federal courts…. Judicial tyranny of the type we have seen when abortion rights and same-sex marriage were forced on the nation would gain a permanent triumph.”

Additionally, considering the way Hillary-appointed courts would rule on issues of conscience and religious liberty, Grudem foresees “systematic exclusion of Christians from hundreds of occupations, with thousands of people losing their jobs.” Christian colleges that, until yesterday, have been at immediate risk for law suits if they discriminated in housing or teaching against LGBT sexual issues, would be forced to close their doors.

On the other hand, Grudem goes on to cast a very compelling vision of what it would mean for the federal courts of our land to be filled with justices and judges who respected the Founders’ original intent. If only two reliably conservative judges were appointed to the court, so many decisions that have been made based on a 5-4 liberal majority would swing the other way.

Such a Supreme Court,” maintains Grudem, “would finally return control of the nation to the people and their elected representatives, removing it from dictatorial judges who repeatedly make law from the bench.”

Imagine a court that upholds the regulations on abortion or revisits previous pro-abortion decisions and rolls them back. Imagine a court that would defend the religious liberty of coaches to once again pray with their teams at football games or protect doctors and Baptist or Catholic hospitals from being forced to perform abortions. Imagine a court that returned the control of marriage or abortion to the states.

The new Democratic Platform calls for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of our tax dollars to fund abortion. Imagine a court that actually reduced the number of abortions and protected us from paying for it.

To those who distrust Trump so much that they have no confidence that he will do what he has said about appointing conservative judges Grudem replies, “All of American presidential history shows that that result is unlikely, and it is ethically fallacious reasoning to base a decision on assuming a result that is unlikely to happen. “

Consider instead the most likely results. The most likely result of voting for Trump is that he will govern the way he promises to do, bringing much good to the nation.”

I’ve been so focused on the deficiencies in Trump’s character, which I’ve written about on this blog. Reading Grudem’s post I let myself imagine the great good that might come from big changes on the court. I began to think that just maybe I could put my character concerns aside and vote for the court.

I was surprised at the palpable sense of relief and yes, hope, that began welling up in my soul. I’ve been dreading my November moment of truth–what I would finally do on the day I walked into that voting booth and made my irrevocable choice in the sight of God.

I’ve been more resigned than I realized to the encroaching loss of religious liberty and the mounting death toll of slaughtered innocents. I’ve had no confidence that apart from a Great-Awakening style revival and national turning to Christ that we could see things turn around.

I’m a firm believer in Proverbs 18:17: "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” As I pondered my response to Grudem, I began to seek other voices I trust to respond to him.

In short order, Dr. John Mark Reynolds, a godly scholar whom I greatly respect, wrote a blistering reply to Grudem on his blog: “A Good Man Justifies a Wicked Deed: Grudem on Trump.” John Mark is a champion of Plato and the good, the true and the beautiful. He could not dismiss the character issue with anything like the ease of Grudem.

Reynolds begins his response by acknowledging that Grudem “has taught Christian ethics for many years, as I have, but has failed to apply those ethics. How? Mostly by airbrushing the life of Donald J. Trump.”

Reynolds goes on, “Let me be simple for Professor Grudem: I do not want a perfect candidate, but I will not vote for a man who bought and owns a strip club. This is not a ‘high standard.’ So far every nominee of a major party, but one, could pass it. I will not explain to my daughters why the objectification of women for profit was good.”

“Professor Grudem ignores the fact that Trump lies about everything. There is no facet of his life that is not built on lies. To pick one simple example: at the latest RNC, he lied that his wife graduated from college. She did not…This is not normal political behavior, but continuous lying so grand that Professor Grudem seems to forget one lie for the next.”

“How can we [trust him] when we say he will release his taxes and then does not? He is no patriot who lies to dodge the draft and then calls dodging VD his personal Vietnam.”

“Grudem ignores Trump’s refusal to “disavow” the Klan and David Duke before a Southern primary. He ignores mob ties, Russian debt, gross crudity, forcing his wife to soft-porn shoots, lies, and almost total ignorance of our government.”

In fact, Grudem's support for Trump seems to conflict with his  1998 condemnation of Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky:

"We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy."

Caught between these two “Dueling-Banjo,” godly scholars, the hope leaks out of my balloon. The old resignation and discouragement seeps back in. I realize that what Grudem offered was cover. I could vote for hope without too much churn or guilt.

But I don’t think that’s what God has for me this election season. Trump v. Hillary: we are caught between two terrible choices that are living metaphors for the brokenness of our nation. There is no cover. I think I’m supposed to walk these next few months in soul-tension and prayer.

I think of God’s command: I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). Maybe I will vote for Trump and hope for a conservative court that will protect life…

I think of the New Testament emphasis on choosing leaders of character. But maybe Trump lies so much we cannot trust that he has the character to do what he says. Yes, Trump’s kids seem to have turned out well, but by his own admission, he pretty much focused on running his business, relegating child-raising to his wives. After he left Ivana for Marla, his son Don wouldn’t speak to him for a year. No telling what those kids have actually been through because of his character. Maybe I will not vote for Trump because of his character…

Character. No, the Court. No, character…Life! Life! Life!…No…

“God, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Please intervene. We have no options to suggest. You know all things. Have mercy on us. For the sake of your Name, your people, give us a leader of good character who will protect life and govern well.

Please Lord, intervene…

“But if not…”

Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.


  • Beth Barron

    Another alternative

    Perhaps, instead of choosing between those two, we might consider looking at other names on that will be on the ballot in September. Writing in is also a possibility. Why is having a possibility of winning such an important necessity? Our vote is a sacred trust and the opportunity to identify the kind of leadership we want. We have an opportunity to send a very clear message that we want more for our country. 

  • Lael Arrington


    Thanks Beth, some states like mine (SC) don't allow write-ins.  And with her commitment to repeal the Hyde amendment, I'm also weighing the importance of defeating Hillary.

  • Don Scheske

    Hilary / Trump

    I believe I understand where you both are coming from.  Placing the contenders on a balance scale will not determine who is most fit for the office.  Spiritual discernment of their hearts should be our focus. Which one of the two has demonstrated a heart that reflects a compassionate, merciful and loving heart of God?  

    The "women's right" issue, among others, perhaps is the most troubling, yet, from a Biblical perspective, morality cannot be legislated by anyone or power. It is a personal condition of the heart.  If one's heart isn't right with a holy God, than one will do what is right in his or her own eyes.  God gave Israel that choice to their own demise. Unless America repents and turns to God, America will continue down a slippery slop to its demise no matter who is seated in the White House. 

    Here's the question:  who in your estimation has demonstrated a more favorable behavior and values consistent with a Christ like life style?  Is anyone of them more righteous than the other? Only God can determine that.  Yet, when it comes to choosing, I personally would choose the contender that demonstrates the tolerant leadership of one who has ruled their life morally (one husband) and soberly (financially transparent) and who's temperment and faith is far superior over the other.