Don’t Vote for Nebuchadnezzar

Conservative pastor, theologian, and biblical scholar Wayne Grudem has gotten some heartburn over his most recent post at Townhall.com:

I do not think that voting for Donald Trump is a morally evil choice because there is nothing morally wrong with voting for a flawed candidate if you think he will do more good for the nation than his opponent. In fact, it is the morally right thing to do.

I did not support Trump in the primary season. I even spoke against him at a pastors’ conference in February. But now I plan to vote for him. I do not think it is right to call him an “evil candidate.” I think rather he is a good candidate with flaws.

Grudem goes on to list most of those flaws:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

Grudem is entitled to his opinion, and while I disagree with him (I am likely not voting this fall) because he is more hopeful about Trump than he should be, I’m not going to argue with his case here. He is free to make it, he has made it, and while I believe he naive and somewhat deluded about Trump (because character matters, and Trump has shown he does not keep promises he makes in business or other dealings), I can see why the argument would appeal.

Donald J. Trump, billionaire, has done well among Christian conservatives in the United States. I do think that says something important about conservative American Christians — their nationalism and tribal identities as Americans and Christians are far more important than actually following Jesus.

But no matter. Others have made that point.

Grudem came in for some well-deserved ribbing with this piece, which is really funny if you appreciate Daniel 3 and the story of the fiery furnace:

I do not think that bowing to Nebuchadnezzar is a morally evil choice because there is nothing morally wrong with bowing to a flawed king if you think he will do more good for the nation than the alternative. In fact, it is the morally right thing to do.

I did not support Nebuchadnezzar during the invasion. I even spoke against him at a pastors’ conference in February. Now I plan to bow before him. I do not think it is right to call him “an evil King.” I think rather he is a good king with flaws.

Here’s the problem with Erick Erickson’s satire — Israel is actually commanded to serve Nebuchadnezzar. “Do not listen to them [those who say Israel is coming back from exile soon]; serve the king of Babylon and live.” (Jeremiah 27:17) Much of the first half of the Book of Daniel is about serving Nebuchadnezzar in exile, as officials of the king’s court, as a conquered minority in a strange land. Daniel counsels the Babylonian king about his dreams (the way Joseph did for Pharaoh), and in the survival of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo in the fiery furnace (sent there because they refuse to bow), Nebuchadnezzar praises the God of Israel. God even restores the Babylonian king to his throne after Nebuchadnezzar praises God.

So, there’s little problem with serving the king of Babylon, the king who conquered rebellious Judah, leveled Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and carried thousands of its best citizens into exile. Erickson made a funny, riffing off Daniel 3, and Israel is commanded in exile to refuse to bow down to those who rule.

But that refusal is not the same as serving them. Even your conquerors.

I don’t think it’s wise or moral to vote for Nebuchadnezzar, but it’s perfectly acceptable to serve him. The logic here is simple — scripture assumes little or no agency on the part of God’s people as to who governs them or how. If we are invited to counsel the king, by all means, do so. Our faithfulness, whether in lions’ dens or fiery furnaces, and our willingness to suffer for our faith (even if our God won’t save us, as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego confess), can affect and change even those who have conquered us.

Grudem wants American democracy and, most likely, American Christendom, to keep working. His idea of church is tied to society and state. He wants to maintain something resembling a Christian social order in the United States and believes Donald J. Trump is the man best likely to help with that. That without Trump, Christians in America are something akin to doomed. He cannot imagine a church conquered by, say, secularism (Babylon?). But Israel’s condition is one of unresolved exile, of being a conquered people who do not get to choose who rules them and how.

Christ resolves this in the New Testament, but we are still an exiled and conquered people in the gospels, realizing our redemption smack in the midst of our exile.

I know Israel did not vote for Nebuchadnezzar. And would never have voted for him, had they been allowed. But Israel was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, and Israelites in exile did serve him. I’m not sure what guidance there is in this for us today, except that we have yet — as Christians — to really figure out that we are a people in exile. And that we always have been.

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