Al Mohler already has voted for Donald Trump, but John Piper won’t vote for either Trump or Joe Biden. Two bits of significant national news within the last week from the Calvinist wing of evangelical Christianity.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a leading spokesman for Southern Baptists, published a lengthy essay Oct. 26 explaining why he voted for Trump. Just four days earlier, Piper, chancellor at Bethlehem College and Seminary and an internationally known preacher through his Desiring God platform, announced he cannot vote for either candidate but he certainly won’t be voting for Trump.
Of the two announcements, Piper’s drew the most attention — and backlash — because he defied the norm of conservative evangelicals falling in lockstep with whoever the Republican Party nominates.
Harsh critique of Piper
The backlash against Piper was so strong that historian and author John Fea collected a sampling of the critiques on his own website to drive home the point. Critics called Piper a “pompous fool,” “Satan,” unsaved” and much worse.
Piper, who is known to most of the Christian world for a rather narrow view of Christian orthodoxy, was accused by one reader of being too soft. “I’ve never had much use for Piper or his teaching. He is conciliatory to a fault, granting a degree of validity to the enemies of God on more than one occasion.”
Yet another took opportunity to defend Trump against Piper’s own critique over Trump’s many moral failures and personality disorders. “I’m not voting for a pastor. I’m voting for the best president in my lifetime (73 years). President Trump is a born-again, Spirit-filled believer. Who among us didn’t have many rough edges that needed smoothing out when we were new believers?”
Another wrote: “Money and fame will do it every time. He would certainly have cast a vote against David being king of Israel.”
What Piper said to ignite this firestorm of response was that he remains “baffled that so many Christians consider the sins of unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai), and the like, to be only toxic for our nation, while policies that endorse baby-killing, sex-switching, freedom-limiting, and socialistic overreach are viewed as deadly.
The reason I put those Greek words in parentheses is to give a graphic reminder that these are sins mentioned in the New Testament. To be more specific, they are sins that destroy people. They are not just deadly. They are deadly forever.”
Piper recited his own bona fides in opposing abortion but wrote that Trump’s character flaws and disregard for moral leadership cannot be overlooked and are destroying the nation.
“I find it bewildering that Christians can be so sure that greater damage will be done by bad judges, bad laws, and bad policies than is being done by the culture-infecting spread of the gangrene of sinful self-exaltation, and boasting, and strife-stirring (eristikos),” he wrote.
“When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world. He points his nation to destruction.”
He added: “I think it is baffling and presumptuous to assume that pro-abortion policies kill more people than a culture-saturating, pro-self pride. When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world. He points his nation to destruction. Destruction of more kinds than we can imagine. It is naive to think that a man can be effectively pro-life and manifest consistently the character traits that lead to death — temporal and eternal.”
Although his original post did not explicitly name either Trump or Biden, readers immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was planning to vote for Biden. Later, Piper tweeted that he “won’t be voting for Biden or Trump” but plans to write in another name.
Mohler endorses Trump
For his part, Mohler offered up a full-throated defense of Trump, while acknowledging he doesn’t like the president’s personality and wouldn’t choose him for a neighbor.
But this election isn’t just about Trump and Biden, Mohler said. “Both candidates are over age 70. That makes the vice presidency all the more important. I do not have to blink in deciding between the prospect of a President Mike Pence versus a President Kamala Harris.”
Regarding Trump’s character, Mohler noted: “He is sadly deficient in many of the most crucial issues of character and moral virtue. He has bragged about many of his vices, written books promoting them, and given full vent to some of the baser instincts of the body politic. He appears to be driven by a narcissistic impulse that overrides nearly every opportunity to demonstrate moral virtues in public. He has been married to three women and has bragged about infidelity. He is divisive, arrogant, vitriolic, and sometimes cruel.”
Mohler made no mention of Trump’s documented 20,000-plus lies in the past four years but said of Biden: “He seems repeatedly to have trouble telling the truth.”
No matter, though, because truth-telling is not what Mohler sees as essential to his support for Trump. The key issue — although by far not the only issue — for him is abortion.
“In terms of presidential action, Donald Trump has been the most effective and consequential pro-life president of the modern age,” he wrote. “Furthermore, in both executive actions and court appointments, President Trump has gone far beyond what would have been politically necessary to secure his base. He has staked his place in history and has defied the accommodationist temptation and has given pro-life Americans more than any other president.”
Mohler also addressed the perceived hypocrisy of his support for Trump held against his previous condemnation of President Bill Clinton for sexual impropriety.
“I am voting for Donald Trump in 2020 and I make no apology to Bill Clinton.”
“I didn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Repulsed by his character and unable to see him as a conservative, I voted for neither major party candidate. I made a symbolic vote. I had to hope that Hillary Clinton would not be elected president, but it seemed almost determined. As we know now, it was not. Having argued loudly for the resignation of President Bill Clinton on national television many times over in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky affair, I felt that I could not vote for Donald Trump without hypocrisy. I even went so far as to say that if I voted for Donald Trump I would have to apologize to Bill Clinton.
“Well, I am voting for Donald Trump in 2020 and I make no apology to Bill Clinton. I do apologize, but my apology is for making a dumb statement that did not stand the test of time. I am not about to apologize to Bill Clinton, who stands guilty of having desecrated the presidency by his gross sexual immorality while in office. I still believe in the necessity of character for public office, but I have had to think more deeply about how character is evaluated in an historic context.”