Praying for an October SurpriseOctober 03, 2016
As we flipped our calendars to reveal the last full month before election day, we reached the point where campaigns often intensify. Sometimes this even means the appearance of an "October Surprise," which is kind of a political "Hail Mary pass" to try to dramatically shake a race at the last moment. Such dramatic moves in the past have involved attempts to end the Vietnam War (in 1968 and 1972), an indictment of a key Reagan administration official for involvement in Iran-Contra (in 1992), and news of George W. Bush's DUI arrest from decades earlier (in 2000).
I'm sure both sides are prepping their own "October Surprises" for this year. Already this month we've seen one of Donald Trump's tax returns that showed he lost more than $900 million from his casinos and other businesses in one year (I guess the house doesn't always win). His tax return also suggests he may not have paid taxes for 18 years. The next few weeks will likely bring even bigger news against both candidates, who are already the two least popular nominees in polling history.
So I have a dream of an "October Surprise." I pray this will be the month white evangelical Christians finally abandon Trump. Sadly it probably won't happen, but that's why it would be a surprise! I'm not asking my fellow white evangelicals to vote for Hillary Clinton (or any other specific candidate), but merely to hold to principles by refusing to support a candidate clearly unfit for office.
Despite Trump's history of misogyny, bigotry, and racism, white evangelicals have dutifully lined up behind him. Despite Trump's history of affairs, divorces, sexual braggadocio, and even (as we learned Friday) a cameo in a softporn video, white evangelicals have come to his service. We cannot look the other way at Trump's personal character. We are not electing a party platform, but a person. After decades of proclaiming "family values," too many white evangelicals seem to now act like nothing matters but party loyalty. That is a key problem I address in my new book on faith and politics in the 2016 campaign (Vote Your Conscience: Party Must Not Trump Principles).
For Christian leaders and pastors who previously endorsed Trump, each week brings a new test of faith. Will they again look the other way? Or will they finally reach a breaking point and reject him? Even the news of his appearance in a softporn video didn't seem to move many despite decades of preaching about the negative societal impacts of pornography. Have we completely sold out our witness for a charlatan?
White evangelicals who fervently opposed Trump in the primaries have largely shifted to support him now. Polling suggests white evangelical support for Trump will be essentially the same as what other recent Republican presidential candidates received (about three-quarters). Apparently nothing matters beyond party affiliation. And so Franklin Graham turned the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's "ministry" magazine into a promotional for Trump's campaign. Fear and hate can make one do foolish things.
Fortunately, a few new voices keep popping up to offer a prophetic alternative to those selling out core principles. Popular author Philip Yancey recently said he is "staggered that so many conservative or evangelical Christians would see a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs" and "somehow paint him as a hero, as someone that we could stand behind."
It's unlikely, but it would be a pleasant surprise to see evangelicals suddenly reject Trump. I'd love to see fewer than half vote for him (with the drop heading to protest candidates). But at this point I'd probably even celebrate if support dips below 70 percent. That's how pathetic Trump is making "the evangelicals" look this year.
Lord, have mercy!