No Waffle in the Gospel

[The contents of this article reflect the views of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals or of the editorial team of Reformation 21.]

One of the best things about being a pastor is the freedom of knowing that you do not bear the responsibility to come up with something new, fresh, and innovative. Instead, each week when God's chosen servant steps into the pulpit it is his job to proclaim God's unchanging truth. The applications of that truth may vary in details from age to age and require some contextualizing, but, at the end of the day, we are to be heralds of what has already been given to us - and what has been given to us is consistent and unchanging in its content.

In part, this is what made the recent news about Wayne Grudem so troubling to me. That a theologian as well-known as Wayne Grudem had decided to endorse a particular candidate for President made major headlines. While I don't think there is anything wrong, per se, with an individual speaking his mind or stating his opinion on political matters, it is troubling when such an endorsement comes from a person who is known to be a trustworthy (relative to most political pundits anyway) Christian thinker.

The media focused on Grudem's endorsement since it is coming from a leading "evangelical theologian." At the time, I feared that the watching world, when they looked at evangelicals in light of this, would see us as power-hungry pragmatists. I also feared that the world would want to group evangelicals together in this seemingly unprincipled approach to politics. Initially I was troubled to see such concerns swept aside by the need for political pragmatism.

On Sunday, October 9th Grudem recanted his support. Some evangelicals were delighted to see Grudem's change of heart after the revelations of just how deep Grudem's endorsee had sunk in his objectification of women. The revelation that this individual bragged about sexually assaulting married women apparently caused Grudem to realize what a degenerate predator he was endorsing. He decided to retract his endorsement saying that he had not explored this candidate's history sufficiently and regretted making the endorsement altogether. I felt a measure of respect for this act, because at the very least the message the world sees is that evangelicals know when to fold and admit that even they have limits of what they can approve of. There are lines that even we will not cross.

I remember during a previous presidency when the leader of our nation was caught having sexual relations outside of marriage and lying about it. I was just a kid at the time, but I remember my own Father's support of his impeachment proceedings. I remember him telling me that if you can't trust a man to make the right decisions privately you shouldn't trust him making decisions for an entire nation, either. But of course, that was 17 years ago or eternity in the political world. I won't say whether impeaching the unfaithful President was right or wrong, but what I do know is that if Grudem is representative of the evangelical world, then in its desire for power, it certainly seems to be a different beast altogether than it was even back then. I wonder if my father, had he lived to see our own day, would have changed his tune on the importance a candidate's private morality as well. I would hope not.

However, Grudem's retraction and expression of regret was over a week ago--an eternity in the political world, and now, apparently in the evangelical world too. This morning on my Facebook feed, three things were trending: The Nintendo Switch, Legend of Zelda, and Wayne Grudem. Wayne Grudem is suddenly big news again. On October 19th (a whole ten days after his retraction!) Grudem changed his tune again, this time again endorsing the candidate whom he had previously disdained for sexually assaulting women. In Grudem's piece he eschews any possibility of voting for a third party candidate (one wonders how Lincoln or John Adams would have made it into the White House if evangelicals had been around at that time!). In Grudem's moral calculus, there are not three or four choices for people to make, but only two.

If I may be direct, a constant waffling on this issue (and, in such an unnecessarily public way) is a tremendous embarrassment to the Gospel ministry and to evangelicals. I fear that in my old age, when I hear the name 'Wayne Grudem' my mind will not be drawn to his Systematic Theology or his work for the CBMW. Instead I will remember him for publicly changing his mind repeatedly on this issue and then telling others to do so. Don't get me wrong - changing your mind can a good thing - it's good to be corrected and to receive correction. There is nothing wrong with Dr. Grudem coming to a private judgment, casting his vote while holding his nose, and then walking away and trying to wish all of this was a bad dream. However, the question that baffles me is why, with every waffle, is Dr. Grudem making the cognitive choice to share with the watching world what instead probably belongs in a personal journal or diary?

In his latest endorsement, Grudem covers his tail a bit. He writes, "A caution: There are still three weeks until the election. Given the questionable backgrounds of both candidates, there may still be another major 'October surprise' about either Trump or Clinton - or both." Grudem wants to warn us that there may be another waffle coming. Perhaps this time Dr. Grudem will simply keep his ever-changing opinion to himself and save his friends and fellow ministers of the gospel a good deal of face.