Case of Conscience: An Open Letter to Christians Who Support Donald Trump

Dear Christian Friends,

Did you ever have one of those family tree projects back in school? I did. Luckily a distant family member of mine had already gone to the trouble of tracing our genealogy all the way back to the 1500s. It was because of this I discovered that I’m related on my mother’s side to a man named Increase Mather.

(This was super exciting because his name appeared in my history textbook, which made it feel like I was the descendant of someone vaguely famous!)

If you don’t know that name, never fear. Not many do. He was a president of Harvard (still a college back then, not a university) and a prominent clergyman in New England in the late 1600s. Here he is…

Looking ever so stylish there, Increase

Being a prominent clergyman in New England in the late 1600s meant almost inevitably becoming mixed up in some way with the infamous Salem Witch Trials. All around him, friends, colleagues, and family members (his son Cotton Mather was a well-known minister too) were getting sucked into the madness. Salem was a confirmation that all their fears were real: the Devil was alive and well in Massachusetts, and no one was safe while witches were actively working his will.

Increase was of the opinion like other Puritans at the time that witches were real, and that witches did deserve to be put to death. But he differed from many of the others involved in the Trials in that he felt grave doubts about the methods they were using to determine who was a witch. He wrote a book entitled Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits in which he laid out his doubts in thorough detail. Probably the most famous and most quoted line from this work is when he explains what would have been a preposterous notion to his fellow Christians at the time: “it were better that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one innocent person should be condemned.”

Increase’s work was often published alongside his son’s account of the Trials

I mention all this about Increase and his involvement with the Trials because a little over 300 years later, the situation for Christians in America is rather similar. Here we are again, riled up to a fever pitch of fear.

Instead of witches being the object and target of that fear, you can make the substitution of your choice:

  • immigrants
  • refugees
  • minorities (especially those whose protests we perceive to be “violent” and “unnecessary”)
  • Supreme Court judges who support abortion rights
  • Muslims
  • transgender people who want to use public bathrooms
  • gay people who want to get married
  • sports players who won’t stand during the national anthem
  • unemployed people who want to have food and healthcare

…and plenty more I’m probably forgetting about.

The Devil is alive and well in the United States, and his name is Obamacare. His name is The Liberal Agenda. His name is Political Correctness, or Black Lives Matter, or The War on Marriage —

or —

or —

or —

I’m sorry if I’ve suddenly veered into “liberal” territory here, but there is a definite problem with this way of thinking. We are so focused on our fear that, like the Puritans back in Salem, we are forgetting to put our faith in the God who has already triumphed over Satan, choosing instead to place it in a flawed human construct.

As a result many well-meaning Christians, who feel our values are being threatened, are attaching their hope (and their vote) to a man who in many ways epitomizes the exact opposite of what Christ stands for. And non-believers are taking note. We are discrediting the message of Christ by allying ourselves with a person who so blatantly defies it.

So here’s my “case of conscience” statement to all of you. Make of it what you will:

It would be better to lose the next ten elections than to turn our backs on the fundamental principles of Christianity in order to achieve political gain.

Or in other words…

When God asked the Israelites to select leaders from among the people, they were to look for “men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain” (Exodus 18:21). A ruler’s throne is “upheld by mercy” (Proverbs 20:28) and he must “turn away wrath” so as not to lead his city into trouble (Proverbs 29:8). Can you genuinely say these qualities apply to Mr. Trump?

I’ve heard friends and family members tell me that they don’t expect a secular leader to abide by Christian standards, but I was careful to select verses that apply to political leaders, not church leaders. The standards for church leaders are even more strict: “to be above reproach, faithful to one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2–3). Then again, if, as many of you argue, America needs to “return to being a Christian nation,” it wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask for a leader who fits this criteria. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump fails nearly every one.

Many of you may have already taken advantage of early voting. Or perhaps your mind is made up and you aren’t going to change it for anything. But if you haven’t yet voted I would urge you, plead with you, to prayerfully reconsider casting your vote for Donald Trump.

People are taking notice of what you say and do. And if the Salem Witch Trials taught us anything, it’s that unchecked fear has very serious consequences.

Please consider the consequences of your actions, and choose to cast your vote not from a place of fear or anger, but one of mindful conviction.