Is It Sin To Vote For Trump Or How Understanding The Twofold Government Helps

Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today has published an editorial calling for the removal from office of Donald Trump either by the Senate or at the ballot box. Of course this has provoked considerable reaction, not the least of which has been that of the President himself, whose tweets at the magazine mirror his mocking of the New York Times et al. Carl Trueman has weighed in by acknowledging Trump’s many and manifest moral failures, by praising Galli for his consistency on the matter, and by noting what he calls Galli’s “astounding claim” that it is a matter of “loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments” not to vote for Trump. Trueman writes, “[t]hat is an astounding claim for the editor of Christianity Today to make, for it involves him accusing every Trump voter of heinous sin, however reluctant or conflicted he may be.”

Calvin On The Twofold Government

You should read the editorial and Trueman’s response for yourself but this seems like a good time to point out the value of applying, in our late-modern, post-theocratic context, Calvin’s distinction between the two spheres in the Kingdom of God. He wrote:

Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homine regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the “spiritual” and the “temporal” jurisdiction (not improper terms) by which is meant that the former sort of government pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life—not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. Now these two, as we have divided them, must always be examined separately; and while one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority (Institutes, 3.19.15 (Battles edition).

When Calvin wrote these words he assumed the righteousness and necessity of a state-church and state-enforced religious orthodoxy. He was not alone. Virtually everyone did, including more than a few Anabaptists (contra the popular assumption). For a variety of reasons, by the late 18th century the American revolutionaries experimented with a different approach, a federal government without a state-church and without state-enforced religious orthodoxy. By the early 19th century the Supreme Court applied the principles of the constitution to the churches supported by some of the states too. For perhaps the first time since the early 4th century, here was a place where churches were free of state-funding and Christian orthodoxy free of civil enforcement.

The Duplex Regimen After Christendom

Since that time, however, lots of Christians have pined for a return to the “good old days.” How different would Christian theorizing and moralizing about politics be, however, if we considered that we live under a twofold government after Christendom? As Trueman writes, Trump’s “ record of infidelity, sleaze, and inappropriate attitudes is well-documented.” What did politics look like, however, when the Evangelicals had a “born-again” President, post-Nixon, of whom they could be proud? Jimmy Carter taught (and still teaches) a Sunday School class in his Baptist congregation in Plains, GA.1 He was presented as a clean-cut paragon of virtue and perhaps, in his personal life, he was. That Sunday School teacher, however, also supported abortion on demand. He is justly praised for his work with Habitat for Humanity. Who has done more for unborn humans? Carter or Trump? There is no population in America more vulnerable than the unborn and yet Carter implicitly denied their humanity even as he expressed his personal discomfort for abortion. When “born-again” Evangelicals voted for for Carter in 1976, were they electing a national Sunday School teacher or the chief executive of the Federal government?

Then, of course, there is the challenge of applying Romans 13:1–7 and related passages (e.g., 1 Peter 2:13, 17; 1 Tim 2:2) to an elected chief executive of a democratic republic. President Trump is not a king nor an emperor. His job is to support and defend the Constitution of the Unites States and to execute faithfully her laws. Still, some fundamental principles seem clear enough. We are to pray for him since, through the electoral process, the Lord has placed him in authority over all of us. We ought to pray for him and we ought to pray that we might be allowed to live quiet and godly lives (as Paul instructs). We ought to honor him in view of his office. We ought to submit to his office and pay taxes according to Romans 13. Both Peter and Paul instruct us to obey the civil laws.

Ross Douthat objects (via Twitter) that in a democratic republic, voters are responsible for the actions of their elected president. This is true to some extent but Americans did not cover up a “third-rate burglary” (Nixon), nor did we lie under oath (Clinton), nor did we make a problematic telephone call to the Ukraine. Our presidents did those things. This is just the thing. James Madison was right in Federalist 51: “ But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Perhaps more than in other forms of civil government, in a democratic republic the government does come to reflect its people. Americans complain (well, they once did) about the way government borrows money but they continue to elect the representatives to congress to continue borrowing money. If it is true that a democratic republic reflects its voters, then that means that, to some degree, we are Trump. We are also Obama and Clinton and Bush etc. It is also true, however, as Madison observed, that we do not have angels governing us. There are no angels on the ballot for whom to vote.

This is a notable weakness of Galli’s editorial. It seems naive. Some of our presidents have been more decent than others but all have had sins and skeletons. He has recognized that in at least one interview since the editorial yet he continues to manifest what seems like embarrassment over President Trump’s public behavior. As disgusted as one may be by President Trump’s behavior and rhetoric, does anyone remember President Johnson’s? The press largely covered for him, as it covered for President Kennedy and for FDR—does anyone remember who was with FDR when he died?—but those three might put Clinton and Trump to shame. FDR and LBJ would have held up the distribution of funds to the Ukraine without a moment’s hesitation and would have threatened any congressional representative who complained about it with the severest consequences.

In the subsequent interview linked above, Galli seems to have retreated somewhat from his editorial. Now he says that he was trying to start a conversation and that his call for Trump’s removal from office was a bit of “hyperbole.” How does this not reduce the editorial to simple virtue signaling?

Five Benefits Of Distinguishing God’s Twofold Government

Here are five ways in which distinguishing between the two sphere’s in God’s providential government of the world would help Christians to think about these issues:

1. The state is not the church and the president is not our national pastor.

As noted during the first Obama administration, regarding the annual presidential prayer breakfast, the president is not our pastor. He is the chief executive of the Federal government. He can hinder religion (as the Obama administrations did) or he can protect the freedom of speech, the freedom of association, and the free exercise of religion. We do not need the president to approve of Christianity or Christians nor to give us, as Christians, “a place at the table.” We do need him to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States.

2. When we distinguish between the two spheres of God’s providential government of the world we can set different expectations for each sphere,

We are looking for a competent administrator. Of course the people who run for the presidency are deeply flawed. There are no other sorts of candidates. History suggests that those who run for the presidency are perhaps especially flawed. Consider the remarkable internal drive that pushed Nixon from an impoverished background to Duke University law school, to congress, and finally to the presidency. His flaws, however, were his undoing.

3. We can stop worrying about the evangelical brand.

Galli and other evangelicals are deeply worried about what President Trump has done to the evangelical brand. This much is evident in the follow-on editorial published by Timothy Dalrymple, President and CEO of Christianity Today:

Out of love for Jesus and his church, not for political partisanship or intellectual elitism, this is why we feel compelled to say that the alliance of American evangelicalism with this presidency has wrought enormous damage to Christian witness. It has alienated many of our children and grandchildren. It has harmed African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American brothers and sisters. And it has undercut the efforts of countless missionaries who labor in the far fields of the Lord. While the Trump administration may be well regarded in some countries, in many more the perception of wholesale evangelical support for the administration has made toxic the reputation of the Bride of Christ.

They are worried that those who are offended by Trump associate him with them. Perhaps if we used “evangelical” in the traditional way, to refer to things that have to do the gospel rather than to a  set of religious experiences or to a cultural-political movement, the danger of being associated with any particular president would be less?

Evangelicals (and particularly evangelical leaders) miss being near to power and influence. The cost of getting near to this-worldly power this time round has been getting near to Donald Trump. It was easier and cleaner when the President taught Sunday School and meant it. It was even easier when the President bit his bottom lip as he apologized for lying under oath. How much do Evangelicals really want to influence things as evangelicals? What if Christians simply spoke not as evangelicals but as Americans and not for this group or that but for themselves? Is not the claim to speak on behalf of 60 million “evangelicals” an implicit attempt to gain leverage?

Moreover, as used in the modern sense evangelical is an almost useless adjective. Theologically it is so inclusive as to be virtually without meaning. D. G. Hart effectively deconstructed Evangelicalism some years back. It is far from clear to whose reputation Galli and Dalrymple are trying to rescue.

4. America is not the Kingdom of God.

One of the reasons that self-identified evangelicals are so fevered about Trump (both pro and con) is that they do not seem to be able to distinguish between the United States as a civil entity and the Kingdom of God. The visible, institutional church is the embassy of the Kingdom of God to the world. The United States government is a glorious, exceptional experiment (judged by human history) but it is not the Kingdom. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36; ESV).

The confusion of the USA with the Kingdom is seen frequently on both sides of the political-cultural spectrum. The theocratic left writes about immigration policy as if the USA were Old Testament Israel and the theocratic right talks about Trump as if he were King David. Both are quite confused. The USA is not national Israel. This is perhaps the greatest benefit in distinguishing the twofold kingdom. It frees us to recognize that Christ is sovereign over all. By his general providence he is reigning over all nations, including the USA. He is executing his providential decrees in every nation and using prime ministers and presidents of all sorts to accomplish his will.

In his special, saving providence, however, he is operating by his Holy Spirit, through his ordained ambassadors, ministers of the Word. As they announce the law and the gospel God the Spirit works through them to call his elect out of the world, to new life and to true faith. Pace Dalrymple, the visible church is a ministry. Christianity Today is not a ministry. It is a magazine. That is all CT has ever been. That is all it will ever be. It is ordained by no one. It has no authority to announce the law or the gospel. It administers no sacraments and it exercises no discipline. Distinguishing a twofold government gives us the categories by which to understand the distinction between magazine and church.

5. Christians have a dual citizenship.

The Apostle Paul exercised his rights and privileges as a Roman Citizen (Acts 22:25) but he also reminded retirees from the Empire in Philippi that as glorious as the Roman Empire might be, their citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). In the mid-second century, the author to Diognetus (ch. 5) observed the same thing. He did not clamor for power or influence with the Roman government. He did not even offer policy advice to the government. He distinguished Christians from Judaism and paganism and he sought to persuade Diognetus to put his trust Jesus the Messiah.

In a democratic republic everyone has a right to offer his opinion but if we disconnect the adjectives evangelical and Christian from our opinions, would that not lower the temperature of our discussions? I do not know what the Christian position is or must be on trade policy. I do not think that the editors of Christianity Today or the New York Times do either.

The magazine describes itself thus:

Since 1956, Christianity Today has been a trusted beacon spotlighting the way in which Christians can live gospel lives for the strengthening of church and society.

Christianity Today consistently demonstrates through all its media how the true, good, and beautiful gospel can not only transform lives but bring hope and flourishing to individuals, cultures, and communities.

This movement now directly reaches over five million Christian leaders every month.

Christianity Today advocates for the church, shapes the evangelical conversation, brings important issues to the forefront, and provides practical solutions for church leaders.

This is too much for a magazine to seek to accomplish. No one has ordained a magazine to teach Christians how to live “Gospel lives” (whatever that may signify exactly). Which church has ordained CT to “strengthen” the church (which church exactly?) and society? Can a magazine really help bring about “flourishing”? CT is a “movement”? I would settle for good, thoughtful writing, good journalism, and intelligent analysis. If a magazine can hit those marks in 2019 it has done something.

When we recognize that, when it comes to civil politics and policy, we all have to make our best arguments from nature (including natural law), logic, facts, and history then we are posed to relate better to both Christians and non-Christians. I suspect that non-Christians are just as worried about Christians seeking to gain access to the levers of power, whereby they can impose their vision of society upon others, than they are about President Trump’s injudicious rhetoric.

Perhaps were “evangelicals” (whoever they may be and whatever they may believe) less invested in movements and influence and more invested in the visible church, more content to be mere fellow citizens in a shared secular space, the editors of CT would feel less obliged to pronounce on the fitness of this or any president for office on behalf of 5 million readers or on behalf of 60 million “evangelicals” in North America?

NOTE

1. Carter resigned from the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000.

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17 comments

  1. Good piece. My “justification” for voting for Trump was simple. When we make choices like these we are looking at a hierarchy of Goods. Trump (at the time) said he was pro-life (and was vindicated on that). Trump at least tries to continue the Republic’s existence. I voted on those grounds.

  2. I no longer use the label Evangelical, since it has been associated with so many marginal views of the Word as to be useless. Even “Confessional” and “Reformed” are getting smudged by those who would like to propagate their errors while holding on to some form of official orthodoxy (e.g. D. Wilson). Trump is not likely a Christian, and certainly is not someone who upholds Biblical morality. But I am buying what he is selling in the secular world: anti-abortion, pro-American trade, tight boarders, pragmatism on drugs, anti-gang, and religious freedom. All good for the secular society – common grace, and no negatives for the Church. Galli is just doing what the left has developed as their strategy for taking down the Church as a force for good. He’s probably already got a contract with a leftest media outlet for his retirement. You see the left working in the TGC, SBC and the PCA, trying to tear down Trump and make Christians feel bad for voting for him. Its the work of our enemy no doubt, its pretty obvious. God is in control and He will doeth what seemeth Him good, and we can praise Him for His goodness to us throughout. And pray for and support our President.

    • I thought the same thing. Follow the money. There’s usually a financial or political incentive behind these hit pieces.

    • Whatever the Donald’s personal proclivities, he ran on a platform that Mickey Mouse or Adolph Hitler could have rode to victory. To wit, America First: no to political correctness, no to unlimited immigration, foreign wars/imperialism, outsourcing the economy.
      IOW distinguish between the private person and public policy promoted.

      ‘It’s not that hard to do. It’s easy if you try.’

      Because if John Lennon could it, Arminianism Today ought to be able to figure it out.

  3. Evangelicals (and particularly evangelical leaders) miss being near to power and influence. The cost of getting near to this-worldly power this time round has been getting near to Donald Trump.

    Yep. They had no moral or conscience problems with getting near to the previous president despite his support for Obergefell and his justice department’s attack on religious liberties in favor of The Agenda. There’s a picture of Russell Moore with the former president yucking it up. I think other Important Evangelical Leaders also went to the White House during that era as they’ve done for every president in living memory, and probably in my father and grandfather’s living memory. All the while, doctrine and numbers have declined (is there a connection?). This time around, it’s obvious Official Evangelicalism is drifting leftward with the culture.

    “Brave” and “heroic” weather-vaning and band-wagoning from the CT editors.

  4. WWSWCD (What would slick Willie Clinton do)? He’d say, “It’s about the economy, stupid!”

    Trump found a magic wand, waved it and created the lowest Hispanic and African American unemployment rate EVER. The giant sucking sound that Mark Galli and his economically illiterate ilk hear is the sound of Hispanic and African Americans voters leaving his beloved liberal Democratic Party. So sad. As Carl Trueman would say, “It’s huuuuuuurtful.”

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful and well reasoned overview. Was looking for some perspective and will take time to re read this post. Very helpful as we try to walk as citizens of heaven within a democratic republic. Merry Christmas

  6. So is the author of that op-ed saying that Christians should have voted for Hillary? She who supports abortion, gay rights and many other issues which are contrary to the Christian faith? I am not a fan of the President, but I sure appreciate his work.

  7. Randall, Trump is to politics what Osteen is to religion: a charlatan. So if you’re buying what he’s selling in the secular then you’re the secular version of a gullible evangelical lapping up Osteen.

    • Zrim:

      There are going to be a majority of charlatan supporters (even in MI) who re-elect Trump in 11/2020.

      Trump has been successful because he used a magic wand. GWB used a hurricane killing machine and lost the subsequent election for McCain. Carter lectured the country about our lack of morality (about the time that you were listening to “Moonlight Feels Right”) and got crushed because the economy sucked and the country looked weak in the eyes of the world. People that don’t pontificate for a living prefer a strong economy.

  8. We are in a bad way in America today. At the end of the day, Psalm 2 still urges the princes of this world to “kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way” (Ps. 2:12). We have one major party that hisses at the name and attributes of God, and it fielded a candidate linked to a party that would force religious institutions to pay for abortions and encouraged lawfare against any individual or group that refuses to celebrate organized perversion. I believe most Evangelicals who supported Trump (and his moral failings are manifest) saw him as the lesser of two evils.

    We biblical Christians are a minority today, and there are many who’d like to see us disappear. Hate-and-fear literature of a Streicheresque variety has appeared to demonize us; and no-one outside our circles speaks up for us. It is true that Jesus said we should be wary when all men speak well of us, and perhaps we are being called to awaken from our post-Constantinian slumbers and complacency. But our weakness does not bode well for the health and future of our country.

    • Richard Zuelch,

      “Conservative Christians promise to care about Christian morals and ethics again – when a Democrat is president.”

      You are missing the point of Dr. Clark’s post here. We live in two kingdoms. This post relieves from my heart the vote-shaming that the religious left has used to beat me over the head with for years when it comes to distinguishing my Christianity from my civic duties.
      Since I have left Evangelicalism and embraced the richness of Reformed Piety and practice, I am learning how to better understand and apply Christ Jesus’ words, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”
      Thank you Dr. Clark for this blog. I can now take off my disguise when I go to a Trump rally.

  9. Dr. Clark,

    thanks for sharing some insight on this topic. I have been looking forward to reading a well reasoned retort from a theological perspective.

    Do you have any recommended reading on the two kingdoms?

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