An Easter message: Vote your conscience, but don’t credit God

Politicians have been hijacking the tenets of faith for decade -- long before Donald Trump.
President Donald Trump holds up a Bible outside of St John's Episcopal Church on June 1, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

President Donald Trump holds up a Bible outside of St John's Episcopal Church on June 1, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

As Christians prepare for Easter, a majority of self-professed evangelical voters remains committed to former president Donald Trump, a thrice-married New York businessman who, among his broader legal challenges, faces 34 felony counts involving hush-money payments to adult film and magazine stars. With the 2024 presidential election poised to be another nail biter, the political alignment between Trump and evangelicals could tip the balance of power.

It’s a riddle without an easy answer for a Republican Party that has touted its commitment to “family values” and is undergoing a rapid realignment. In 2020, Trump carried 81 percent of White evangelical voters, and he is on track to win a similar level of support in 2024, according to a recent CBS News poll.

To be fair, politicians have been hijacking the tenets of faith for decades. It’s a trend that pre-dates Trump. None has been as successful or as brazen as the former president, who has deemed it “crazy” for any Christian or person of faith to consider voting for a Democrat.

Before going any further, it’s important for me to put my cards on the table. I’m a Christian and a conservative Republican who believes that my party must move on from Trump. Though I try to avoid imposing my faith on others, I firmly buy into the theory that actions speak louder than words -- especially in the context of faith.

Geoff Duncan

Credit: contributed

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Credit: contributed

A few years into my legislative career, I listened to an impromptu theological discussion on the House floor between two battling politicians discussing policy. I remember leaning over to my seatmate, Dewey McClain (D-Gwinnett), and playfully saying, “I don’t think Jesus really cares that much about this one.” We both laughed and moved on to a debate about whether Jesus is a Republican or a Democrat. Hard to remember exactly where we landed on the answer, but I think we agreed he must be an independent.

As legislative sessions unfold, the number of Bible stories and scripture quotations tends to increase. “In the name of God, vote yes (or no)” on a bill is usually the benediction of choice when faith is awkwardly injected into the decision-making process. Things get theologically spicy when both sides of the issue deploy the name of God to support their argument. This disorienting situation usually pits the Old Testament’s “eye for an eye” mentality versus the New Testament’s “love your neighbor.”

Neither political party has a monopoly on God. Take former president Jimmy Carter. Through a conservative world lens such as mine, there was not much policy-wise to appreciate from his presidency. Yet his post-presidential life and service to others have evidenced his servant’s heart. It would be hard for any honest assessment of his life to overlook the impact of his faith.

Faith teaches us to care more about people than policies. It’s one thing for the principles of someone’s faith to inform his or her private approach and decision-making on a particular topic. It’s another to invoke a higher being to make the case for tax rates, gun restrictions or mandatory minimum prison sentences.

The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta recently published a book called “The Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory” that I had a hard time putting down. Alberta, the son of a preacher, takes the reader on a decades-long rightward transition of the evangelical community. He succinctly points out that many evangelicals now conflate patriotism with Christianity. Add a heavy dose of grievance-fueled populism into the mix, and it offers an insight into Trump’s pseudo climb into the pulpit.

In many ways, Trump uses Christianity in the same way he does the American flag. Politicians of all flavors love the sight of the Stars and Stripes billowing in the backdrop of a speech, but nobody more than the former star of “The Apprentice.” It’s as if he wants each flag to act as a counterweight to his growing list of moral and financial blemishes.

Just as a Make America Great hat is meant to evoke red-blooded patriotism, so too is Trump’s clunky deployment of a Bible verse as solidarity with evangelicals – even if it leads to bungling the quotation of scripture -- remember his bumbling “Two Corinthians” when asked to cite his favorite Bible verse.

No matter his public or private delinquencies, so-called evangelical voters are prepared to pony up for Trump. Media reports indicate that Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom organization intends to spend $62 million registering and turning out evangelical voters in battleground states for the sole purpose of electing Trump. Fewer than 50,000 voters across fthree key states decided the outcome of 2020. If past is prologue, that type of spending can make the difference.

To my fellow Christians celebrating Easter, my message is simple: Vote any way you want to, just not in the name of God.

A CNN contributor, Geoff Duncan served as Georgia’s lieutenant governor from 2019-2023. He is a former professional baseball player, and the author of “GOP 2.0: How the 2020 Election Can Lead to a Better Way Forward for America’s Conservative Party.