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Trump or Biden ... what would Jesus do?

The records of Christ’s life suggest a man more interested in the divine direction of his people than the particulars of politics

Wearing a face covering, Vice President Mike Pence arrives to speak at the “Latter-Day Saints for Trump” Coalition launch event Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Mesa, Ariz.
Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

Latter-day Saints are having a grand moment. “Politically homeless” believers have the potential to tip the scales in states like Arizona and Nevada. Donald Trump and Joe Biden have launched serious outreach programs among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It’s clear why: The Latter-day Saint vote, which typically offers about 80% support to Republican candidates, dropped to 61% in 2016. Disaffected saints are up for grabs.

I’ve read myriad arguments urging members to live their religion by voting for Candidate X. The best ones are surprising: “I’m a Latter-day Saint who opposes abortion. Here’s why I’ll vote for Biden,” or “Trump isn’t perfect, but here’s why he’ll protect what my faith believes.”

And while it’s stimulating to see Christians wrestle with their beliefs as they apply doctrines to their electoral decisions, the moment also deserves a measure of caution.

Pushing those arguments to their conclusion — implying to a diverse population that a “real” Christian would vote for (insert name here) — assumes the progenitor of Christianity has mandated a choice.

He hasn’t. No one knows how Jesus would vote.

Then what should his followers do? Should they choose the one who brags about grabbing genitalia, or the one whose party wants taxpayer-subsidized abortion? Trump, whose administration separates families at the border, or Biden, whose administration initiated family separations at the border?

Or should they write in someone else, clearing their conscience but skirting civic significance?

The records of Christ’s life suggest a man more interested in the divine direction of his people than the particulars of politics. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” he says almost casually. When asked to give tribute, he told his disciple to pay with the money miraculously found in a fish, simultaneously satisfying the law while cementing for his followers that he is the true law, the way and the light.

His ways are higher than our ways, he tells the prophet Isaiah. His ways lead to forgiveness and eternal life; our ways lead to a mess. And so we organize ourselves as best we can, making choices in tandem with the knowledge we’ve received.

Thus we should bristle at attempts to weaponize faith. “It is a sin to vote for Donald Trump,” reads a recent headline from the blog By Common Consent. And in August, the Latter-day Saints for Trump coalition crassly used the Salt Lake Temple’s image as the backdrop for their campaign to reelect the president.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, author Libby Sternberg chides faith leaders who use their position to “suggest their favored candidate is on the right side of the moral ballot.” The same ought to apply to laymen.

The better way, she says, is contained in a commandment from the Savior. “Loving your neighbor,” she writes, “means recognizing that neither party in the U.S. has a lock on virtue or vice. To suggest otherwise is not only partisan; it’s deeply deceptive and leads to more political strife.”

It’s an echo of the Church of Jesus Christ’s perennial message to voters: Good is found on all sides, and members should get out the vote even as the institution stays neutral.

Grappling with transcendent principles in a world that often clashes with them is the plight of the believer, but it’s a struggle that turns faith-informed decision-making into a healthy exercise. People who are passionate about their country and their religion are applying the good word to modern-day living. That’s a good thing.

But the measure of success for Christians on election night won’t be how well they aligned with Jesus’ unknown vote. It might be, on the other hand, how well they loved their neighbors along the way without dividing the house against itself.

A tall order, but then again, so is Christianity.