Would you rather have a good and decent person make terrible decisions in the White House or a flawed, fallen soul who makes decisions that leads to prosperity and safety for all?
American voters have faced such age-old philosophical, religious, moral, ethical and political dilemmas since the inception of the United States of America. Citizens typically have a binary choice between two major party candidates. Many times voters have had to choose between the policies they prefer to see enacted (Bush 41) versus the moral character of their next commander-in-chief and chief executive officer (Bill Clinton).
Few elections brought that question closer to home for American voters than in 2020, when they had to choose between then-President Donald Trump and now-President Joe Biden. MSN Morning Consult reported that nearly 50% of the people who voted for Biden did so primarily as a vote against Trump, not because they were wild about Joe Biden.
The tension of their decision can be summed up with a variant of a Martin Luther exposition from the 16th century, which goes like this: “I would rather be saved from drowning by a Muslim who can swim than a Christian who can’t.”
As with many cheap quotes, the luminary who supposedly said it never did. But the point is clear: if you are drowning, you really don’t care what your rescuer looks like, does for a living or whom they worship, as long as they know how to: A) swim and B) save you from death.
In 1520 — a busy year for Luther, which started with his nailing “95 Theses” against the papacy on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church — he wrote “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.” The following paragraph can be found in this work:
“It is said that there is no better temporal rule anywhere than among the Turks, who have neither spiritual nor temporal law, but only their Koran; and we must confess that there is no more shameful rule than among us, with our spiritual and temporal law, so that there is no estate which lives according to the light of nature, still less according to Holy Scripture.”
Out of that one paragraph, over the past 500 years, people have derived the “Just Turk” concept, that it is better to be ruled by an honest and fair Muslim Turkish ruler from the Ottoman Empire than a corrupt Christian ruler from Vatican City.
Luther’s animus towards the pope was so deep-seated that he probably was inferring that it is better to be ruled by the Anti-Christ — or a Muslim who hated Christianity — than the pope, who was the Devil incarnate to his reformational way of thinking.
A more-relevant Luther writing to support the “just ruler” concept would be as follows:
“The question has been properly raised whether a prince is better if he is good and imprudent or prudent yet also evil. Here [in Deuteronomy 1:13] Moses certainly demands both. Nevertheless, if one cannot have both, it is better for him to be prudent and not good than good and not prudent; for the good man would actually rule nothing but would be ruled only by others, and at that only by the worst people. Even if the prudent man harms good people, yet at the same time he governs the evil ones, which is the most necessary and suitable thing for the world, since the world is nothing else than a crowd of evil people.”*
President Trump’s mean tweets and rough demeanor rubbed enough people wrong to vote him out of office. Despite his faults, though, at least Trump was “swimming” in the traditional capitalist, freedom-oriented waters of American history and culture.
Joe Biden is trying to drown America in European-style socialism, more debt, high inflation and weak-kneed foreign policy. But “he is a nicer person than Donald Trump!”, right?
President Jimmy Carter was a good and decent, Christian God-fearing man too. He still is. But he was one of the worst presidents in American history because his decisions and policies led to 12% annual inflation, 21% interest rates and worldwide humiliation for America when Islamist fundamentalist ayatollahs took 52 Americans hostage in Tehran in 1979.
Joe Biden might be Jimmy Carter, Part II. Let’s hope not.
*Luther’s Works 9:19; Lectures on Deuteronomy, 1525