A few days ago, I replied to Thabiti’s initial post about how he felt constrained to support Hillary as the lesser of two evils. He was kind enough to issue a rejoinder here, and now with the tennis ball over here in front of me again, I suppose it is my turn. Before getting into it, I do want to say that I consider it an honor to be talking about this with Thabiti, and I really appreciate how he works at courteous and intelligent debate. I am most grateful, and very much want to do the same.
I also posted a follow up response to Wayne Grudem’s proposal that we could support Trump as a moral option. That response contains some additional information that will perhaps serve as a response to Thabiti’s request that I write more on the options that are open to us.
Ends and Odds
There was one point about Chicago that I think was a simple misunderstanding. I had argued that the number of black children who would lose their lives in the course of just one Hillary administration was 2.7 million. For purposes of numerical illustration only, I then went online to find a city with a population of that approximate size, which Chicago is. My only point about Chicago was quantitative. I was making no point whatever about the quality of life in Chicago, and still less was I displaying any lack of empathy for the good and godly people who are laboring there.
Another possible place where we are talking past one another is that Thabiti seems to think I was urging him into some form of quietism.
“I don’t think Jesus will be very impressed with any of the ways His people stand by while identifiable wrong advances.”
“Doug wants us to pretend we can live in this condemned building unstained and inactive while the mold grows up on everything sitting still.”
But I do not believe that #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary means that we should do nothing. Far from it. I do believe that we can remain unstained (Jas. 1:27, ESV), but I do not believe that we can do this while remaining inactive. But activity need not to be measured by voting alone. Someone could be very much an activist while refusing to vote for either Trump or Hillary. He could do this by voting for a third party candidate, or by not voting at all. Now if someone refuses to vote because he cannot be torn away from playing X-Box, or from the prayer meeting for that matter, then the charge sticks. But the choice is not between “voting from the two main options or nothing.”
John the Baptist was not a quietist—his ministry transformed Judea, whether or not he had a yard sign from the Herodians in front of his hut, which I suspect he did not.
Thabiti took one of my points as arguing that we should not think about the future at all when we vote, which he demonstrates is impossible. In this he is quite right, and I should have made my point with greater clarity, which I will try to fix in the next paragraphs. Wish me luck.
I was talking about gaming the future when trying to figure out whether to vote for one of two candidates when I acknowledge both to be wicked. In that scenario, we ought not to bank anything on what might happen in the future. Too much is running against us. Now we could elect either Trump or Hillary, and God could still have mercy on us. That is possible. But it is such a long shot (given the fact that both candidates are Ex. 18:21 disqualified) that I ought not to count on it.
Because we live in a fallen world, I might vote for King David with great hopes for Israel, and yet still be let down when he disgraces us all with his behavior with Bathsheba and Uriah. That kind of thing can certainly happen, and often has. I still ought to vote for David, despite the fact that drunkards are singing about him in the taverns. So we vote, hoping to affect the future positively, knowing that we could be wrong. But there comes a point where we are not doing that anymore, but are rather testing God. I believe we are well past that point with both Hillary and Trump. We are at that point when we trust our calculations about the future over the express teaching of Scripture.
As I argued in my response to Grudem, I believe that this state of affairs is very much the judgment of God upon us. I do not believe that we have the luxury of trying to “manage” a judgment. Our response to judgment ought to be the kind of response that God calls for in Scripture. Preachers ought to stop apologizing for the Bible, and take the law of God the way we take our whiskey, which is straight, and having done so, we need to preach a hot gospel. There is no other way out for us. There is no Savior but Jesus. There will be no cultural restoration without a massive reformation.
But it has to be said that much of the theological distrust of such a reformation is within our own ranks. Judgment must therefore begin with the household of God.
Thabiti has this to say about my incrementalism.
“I know that’s gradualist thinking, but Doug is a gradualist with slavery so he ought to be one with abortion, too.”
Now it is true that I am a gradualist. And I am a gradualist/incrementalist with abortion as well. So my objection is not that Thabiti’s tactic is moving too slowly in the right direction, but rather that it will result in a full-tilt gallop in the wrong direction. Hillary is as avid a supporter of unrestricted abortion rights as a candidate can be.
And Yes, Slavery Again
I said earlier we need to stop apologizing for the Bible. I am a biblical absolutist, and that is the only reason this subject ever comes up at all. For example, if a Christian says that he opposes same sex mirage, one of the first questions that will arise is “what about slavery? How can you trust a Bible on sexual matters when it was so wrong about slavery?” That is not the time to play “that was then, this is now” because homosexual-friendly Christians have been playing that game for decades already. If you want to challenge this generation’s love affair with decadence, you will be taunted with the relevant texts. So what will you say about the texts? What do you say about them?
On this subject, nonbelievers know what the Bible actually says far more clearly than believers do. This is because believers are always stuck with the results of their exegesis, while unbelievers can say that “the apostle Paul said some awful things.” This means that they can accurate represent what he actually said, while evangelicals have to “pretty it up” first. So we live in a time when believers know the Lord, but not their Bibles, and unbelievers know their Bibles, but not the Lord.
Slavery has been a very large and unbroken and tragic part of the history of pagan mankind, and the time of the New Testament was no exception. Slavery in the Roman Empire was terrible. Slaves had no legal protections. They were often allowed to pair off, but not to marry. Slave-owners had the simple authority to execute them. Slave owners had unquestioned sexual privileges with any of their slaves, and nobody thought of it as immoral. If a slave murdered his master, the law required that all his slaves be executed. Now I do not applaud any of this. Why would I? It is beyond appalling. I do not defend any atrocity, and have never done so. And I am not sorry that such slavery is gone, or that the race-based chattel slavery in our nation is gone. Good riddance to all of it, say I.
I know. I think I will go back and put all of that in bold so that some people might be able to see it better.
Now given the nature of that wicked system, how did the teaching of the Bible subvert it? My central point has been that it was possible for slave owners in the American context to obey the explicit instructions that the New Testament gave to slave owners in the Roman context, and that some of them did in fact obey those instructions. Those who sought to obey ought not to be charged with the wickedness of those who would not obey, and who brought the judgment of God down upon them all.
It is not very easy to dismiss me on this. The issue will not go away. As long as the people of God have Bibles, they will be confronted with this historical and exegetical reality. Philemon, receive Onesimus back as a brother, and not simply as returned goods (Philemon 11-12). Slaves, obey your masters (Eph. 6:5-6; Col. 3:22). Slaves, honor your masters (1 Tim. 6:1). If your master happens to be a fellow believer, do not despise him because of this but rather rejoice that a brother benefits from your labors (1 Tim. 6:2). Masters, remember that you have a master in heaven (Col. 4:1; Eph. 6:9). Slaves, make sure you don’t talk back to your masters (Tit. 2:9). And if you have an opportunity for freedom, be sure to take it (1 Cor. 7:21). Now none of this was my idea. I am just a simple Christian way downstream. But I want to be enough of a Christian that I can read and follow what has been revealed to us by God on this subject. Just as I am not going to lie about Trump for the sake of keeping Hillary out of office, I am also not going to lie about the text to make sure people think I am a nice fellow.
Last point. One of the reasons why I so appreciate Thabiti’s willingness to interact with me is that I know he is aware of the weight of such verses, and others like them. Many of my critics have wanted to substitute calling me a hater for interaction on the exegesis. I know that Thabiti sees this point because of our previous exchanges on race and slavery, and because he is actually willing to interact with me. Lots of others, who won’t even attempt answers, find it simpler just to maintain their embargo on me and my little thinks.
For that, and much more, Thabiti has my respect and profound gratitude.