Notoriously, Baptists supported Hitler at the August 1934 Berlin meeting of the Baptist World Alliance and many maintained a positive assessment of der Führer in succeeding years. The gist of one type of Baptist Hitlerism ran something like, “Well he don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t run with them that do.” Baptists and many others lauded Hitler’s evocation of a desperately needed new esprit de corps in Germany post-Versailles, improvements in transportation, and his kindness to his beloved German Shepherd Blondi, whom he had raised from a pup. It’s easy today to stand incredulous and appalled at the colossal collective blind spots that accommodated so much support for Hitler for so long from so many. But it was harder to see the truth about his horrible rise to power then, and many Baptists weighed Hitler in the scales of moral rectitude and weighed in with their support.
Retired Baptist pastor and evangelical luminary John Piper has weighed in, at least for now, for supporting neither Biden nor Trump — though, too clever by half, without mentioning the candidates’ names or the names of any political party. But Piper’s oblique references to Biden, Trump, Democrats, and Republicans are crystal clear to every reader of his blog post, and my analysis shall treat them as such.
By legitimizing a vote for a third-party candidate or for sitting the election out, Piper separates himself somewhat from perhaps the most urgent and unifying public priority of many elite evangelicals who also stand accused of being woke by a growing number among their constituencies and erstwhile followers. These elites mean to sanctify votes for Democrats by evangelicals in spite of that party’s aggressive support of abortion on demand. Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore did his part four years ago when he insisted that evangelicals who support Trump would have to “repudiate everything they believe.” Pastor Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church made his contribution by contrasting the sophisticated multi-issue voting of African Americans with the straw-man stereotype of simpleton, single-issue (read: anti-abortion) voting by white Christians. Pastor David Platt arrives at the shared destination of the elites in his new book, Before You Vote. Now Piper pipes in on the eve of the election with what amounts to a cop-out response that helps Joe Biden and abandons murder-marked babies.
Piper assumes Trump’s pronouncedly inferior character compared to Biden’s. But on what basis?
But no Christian, Piper insists, “who sees things differently” than he does “is necessarily sinning by doing so.” The whole lot of these elites seem to have backed away in varying degrees from Moore’s warnings to Trump voters of their possible apostasy and idolatry. The new posture is more: well, you could vote Trump, but there are lots of good reasons not to. And Piper plans not to.
Piper and the other elites know that some Christians believe Biden’s and the Democrat Party’s support for abortion on demand compels a vote for Trump on moral grounds. These evangelicals recognize, as did pastor, theologian, and martyr at the hands of the Third Reich Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that “destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb … is nothing but murder” (see Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995, p. 174). Piper agrees that abortion is “child-killing … Planned Parenthood is code language for baby-killing and … ethnic cleansing.”
How then to legitimize any action or non-action that helps Biden, as Piper plans to do “unless something changes”? Biden and the Democrats have made support for the abortion clinic death camps an article of faith. What could possibly justify withholding support from the only candidate who can stop Biden? Piper sees a special opportunity to blaze a new path to the shared elite destination with the emergence of Trump — because, he argues, the president is obviously a moral degenerate. Piper insists that, while abortion is indeed deadly, so is Trump’s character, thus burdening Christian voters with a moral calculus the outcome of which is not at all clear.
Trump’s deadliness, Piper admits, lodges not in the policies he pursues, but in his very person. Piper is “baffled that so many Christians consider the [Trump’s] sins of unrepentant sexual immorality … unrepentant boastfulness … unrepentant vulgarity … 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 straw man who considers “freedom-limiting” etc. to be either as deadly or deadly in the same way as abortion may serve Piper’s repeated confession of “bafflement,” but has anyone ever met such a person?
Piper marshals an array of biblical passages admonishing Christians that the harm inflicted by various sins that are not abortion but more like those of moral miscreant Trump may spread to others, corrupt nations, and bring eternal punishment. Does Piper’s citation of 1 Kings 14:16, which speaks of the sins of King Jeroboam which then “made Israel to sin,” help Piper drag Trump’s character into a moral zone deadly enough to have it compete with baby-killing?
Indeed, the Bible teaches that all sorts of sins, including Trump’s, potentially do harm far beyond what one might naively suppose. The whole of Christian tradition understands this. Sins great and small drop like rocks into the pond of the populace and generate waves of harm, perhaps deadly ones, that may reach far beyond the scope of their proximate and visible commission. But the same Bible recognizes the difference between the harm threatened by pebbles compared to boulders and every size in between. Jesus speaks of some sins being greater than others (see Matthew 11:21-22 and 12:31-32, and John 19:10-11). Punishments for sins vary throughout the Bible according to their comparative heinousness. Failure to reckon with the biblical pattern in which assessment of culpability, expected harm, and proportional punishment coinhere too often results in what Baptist theologian Timothy George has referred to as the “moral ambiguity of false equivalence,” and this is exactly what Piper lapses into here.
The problems with Piper’s argument extend beyond the false moral equivalence supposed between Trump’s deadly character and Biden’s deadly pro-abortion stance. Why, for instance, does Piper keep silent on Biden’s character compared to Trump’s — a datum essential to calculate the deadliness quotient Piper blames for the cop-out response he plans to opt for next week? Piper assumes Trump’s pronouncedly inferior character compared to Biden’s. But on what basis?
After almost four years as president, do not Trump’s character flaws, those displayed while in office at least, look more and more like Trump’s character follies compared to the long-documented lying and racist comments that punctuate Biden’s almost half-century in public life? What about Biden’s penchant for jumping down the throats of ordinary Americans with profanity–laced rebukes when he finds their questions inconvenient? What about the accumulating and explosive evidence of Biden’s graft and pay-to-play influence-peddling with China and Russia? What deadliness score does Piper assign to Biden’s on-camera braggadocio in the wake of securing the firing of the Ukrainian prosecutor charged to investigate the firm on whose board his son Hunter sat?
By not addressing Biden’s character, Piper tempts us to strain out the gnat of Trump’s follies while swallowing the camel of Biden’s decades of public dishonesty and corruption. Piper’s argument fails on the moral equivalence front alone. But even on his own illegitimate terms, having acknowledged that abortion is murder, Piper needs a clear unassailable win for Biden in the personal character sweepstakes with Trump — but he can’t secure that either.
Piper’s reasoning sanctifies Christian abandonment of the unborn on November 3 in favor of using the election as a pedestal on which to display the personal virtue of the voter, a pulpit to chastise the world as sinners, and a platform on which to spank two political parties that cannot clear some undefinably high hurdle of righteousness.
Many Christians, along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, know that the ovens at Auschwitz and Dachau and the reach into the uterus of bone-crushing metal instruments toward the instinctual flinch-back of doomed but still-living little arms and legs belong alike to killing machines. Body counts matter. Piper offers no estimate of the number of corpses we might expect Trump’s sins to generate. We do know that more than 50 million unborn baby corpses have piled up in America since the passage of Roe v. Wade, dwarfing the number of Jews exterminated by the Nazis several times over.
The commitment of evangelical elites to legitimize Christian votes for Democrats and now Piper’s and others’ to delegitimize Christian votes for Trump is intense and has been years in the making. I have explored elsewhere what might account for it. But Piper’s attempt to conjure some moral equivalence between abortion and Trump’s character is preposterous on its face and finds legitimation neither in the Bible nor in 20 centuries of moral teaching in the church of Jesus Christ.