"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." —James 4:17
“To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.” These words, said by Martin Luther, have become canon to the sparks that set the Protestant Reformation ablaze. Luther’s conscience, he argued, was bound to the Word of God. It’s worth noting that his initial intent was not to break off from the Roman Catholic Church but to bring it into accord with the Word of God. He saw a notable gap between the practices of the Church and those of Scripture and decided that Scripture should be given the final say. History was made and a movement was born. Now 500 years later, varying stripes of Christians who do not identify as Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox refer to themselves broadly as “Protestant.” By this they simply mean they protest church practices that seem to be out of sync with the living, authoritative document called the Holy Bible.
Here I would like to use similar reasoning for why those who identify with the Protestant label should also consider aligning themselves with a third party in the next presidential election.
The Principles that Trump the Party
Historically those who affirm the historic creeds of Christianity tend to lean toward the right politically. With Donald Trump as the last man standing in the GOP, there has been no lack of hesitancy for those within the party to endorse him. Much of the hesitancy stems from loyal party members who think Trump effectively hijacked their party. Whether or not that is the case, for those Protestants that are disenchanted with the current state of the GOP, or who think that its current offering is out of step with the party’s ideals, why not consider jumping ship?
What better way to embody the Protestant ideal of remaining true to a living document over and above an institution? In this case, aligning oneself with a third party candidate that better reflects the ideals of the Constitution.
There are many who will begrudgingly vote for Trump. “I don’t like him, but I always vote Republican,” goes the rhetoric. For those self-identifying Protestants, why not protest for a change? The cries by many Protestants who bemoan Trump, but nonetheless remain loyal to a crumbling party are baffling. How decidedly un-Protestant.
Luther, perceiving that the practices of the Roman Church were inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible, and their refusal to change, left in favor of remaining true to what Scripture taught. He didn’t go rogue simply for the sake of going rogue, but rather because it was unsafe and wrong to go against his conscience, particularly when his conscience was bound to God’s Word.
Similarly, when one finds the GOP has mixed views on the current nominee, why remain loyal to an institution divided on the inside? If you find yourself disillusioned with Trump’s wall at the border you may find refuge within the walls of a third party.
Regardless of what your reservations are, if you have them, why not act upon them and give your vote to someone else? Better to vote for someone who represents you fairly, than someone you disagree with just because he’s part of an institution you’ve called home. If you find the current nominee of the GOP to contradict principles you hold dear, better to abandon the party than to abandon your principles and go against your own conscience. The spirit of the Reformation was to remain faithful to a conscience bound to truth at the cost of becoming an underdog. Fellow Protestants do well to follow in this spirit.
But there’s another adage that Protestants should dispense with when defending their voting choices.
Better to be alone and true to conscience than part of an institution violating the Law.—Sean Nolan
The Lesser of Two Evils Lie
The sad excuse for many who cast their vote for a candidate they don’t love is, “he/she is the lesser of two evils.” What a sorry attempt to wash your hands of violating your own conscience. Should Luther have done this we’d still be buying indulgences every time we voted for someone who later disappointed us.
One problem with this line of reasoning is that it assumes we have to acquiesce to vote for someone we think is evil when, of course, there are always other options. Sure, the other options are less popular and get less media coverage, but they exist nonetheless.
Luther was, no doubt, aware of this dilemma when he chose the Bible over and above a corrupt church institution. He knew well the words of James, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). If his conscience screamed that remaining loyal to a corrupt church was wrong, it was a grievous sin to violate it. Better to be alone and true to conscience than part of an institution that makes a practice of violating the Law.
Fortunately for you, you don’t have to be alone. There are plenty of underdog political parties that would be quick to welcome refugees from the Republican party (for what it’s worth, I think the Libertarian Party has a great welcoming platform that serves as a sort of middle-ground for disenchanted refugees from both the right and the left). If you are a Protestant torn between the “two evils” of a bigoted Republican nominee or a pro-choice Democrat with a track record of dishonesty why bend your conscience to accept that Mexican lives are less important than the preborn? Why acquiesce to the lesser evil when another way exists?
The Protestant Reformation began to spread amongst people who began reading the Bible for themselves and arming themselves with a personal knowledge of God. They weighed the Roman Catholic Church against Scripture and found it wanting. When it refused to align itself with Scripture, they left in order to remain faithful to their consciences. They chose to separate from an institution they found unfaithful, even evil. A similar move should be considered for those Protestants watching the GOP and thinking, “this is the best they could come up with?”
Some have a loyalty to the party based solely on the belief that it is the lesser of two evils, but this is precisely the sort of dilemma our Protestant forefathers fought to liberate us from 500 years ago. If your conscience says Trump is a weak representation of conservative ideals, why not dump him? While it’s possible the “greater” of the two evils could win, you would be free of the guilt of electing a president that disappointed. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray “deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13) he expected that they would not cast their vote with evil men—even if the lesser of two options. Surely the Protestant, who argues from the Bible that God is in control of those in leadership (John 19:11), would not plead God deliver them from evil while knowingly associating with evil in the ballot box. Are the current nominees in the two-party system evil? You be the judge, but if you vote for evil—even the lesser of the two—and are disappointed with the results, don’t be surprised if no number of indulgences allows you to buy back your soul…err…I mean vote.