Evil choices vs. lesser evils vs. idealistic third-party dreams and other 2016 ghosts

You may recall a recent post in which our own Bobby Ross, Jr., was happy to see The New York Times produce a real, live, freakin' news feature in which it was made perfectly clear that there are evangelicals out in the American heartland who are not amused by facing a choice between Citizen Donald Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It was a strong story over at the Times. If you missed it the first time, circle back and check it out.

This was, of course, a return of the whole "lesser of two evils" theme that your GetReligionistas have been writing about for months. The fact that many religious traditionalists -- especially those in pulpits, seminaries and other places of leadership -- were in the #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary camp was no surprise to people who read publications such as World Magazine and Christianity Today, newsrooms that have covered this painful divide since Day 1.

In the comments section on Bobby's much-circulated post, I added the following (which I have cleaned up a bit for clarity). To be blunt, it was good to see the Times piece, but:

News media in early primaries say: Evangelicals love Trump! GetReligion: Some do, but very few leaders. Serious division here!
News media as Trump surges to lead: Evangelicals love Trump! GetReligion: A few more are biting their lips and moving that direction, but they are mad as heck to have to do it. Some are mad at God about it.
News media as Trump gets nomination: Evangelicals love Trump! GetReligion: Hello? Hello? Anyone out there?
The New York Times, as Trump and Clinton in near tie: Evangelicals seriously divided over Trump. Some are really angry about this. Despair is a good word.

"Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I worked our way through this timely thicket again in this week's podcast. Click here to tune that in.

We were also spinning off one of my recent posts in which I picked at USA Today for writing a story about the moral elements of the "lesser of two evils" puzzle -- with precisely zero references to people of faith.

Talk about tone deaf. The story also assumed that these pangs of pre-voting-booth remorse are only being felt by Republicans and moral conservatives forced to consider Trump. What? There are no Democrats in America -- either Feel the Bern folks or old Blue Dog conservatives -- who are sicked by the thought of affirming Hillary?

As a reminder, one passage of that USA Today piece framed this issue like this:

The most controversial presidential campaign in modern American history has sharpened a long-standing debate: Is it ethical to not vote?
More than 92 million Americans who were eligible to vote four years ago didn't cast ballots. But politics in the Age of Trump has prompted editorial writers, Democratic partisans and even some Republicans to argue that Donald Trump is so unacceptable as a potential commander in chief that citizens have a heightened duty to show up to cast their ballot against him.
Some Trump supporters, presumably including those who chant "Lock her up!" at GOP rallies, feel the same way about Hillary Clinton.

See what I mean? The "Lock her up!" crowd alone?

Also, we recorded this week's podcast about the time LifeWay Research produced new numbers showing just how divided religious leaders -- as in Protestant pastors -- are about the candidates this time around. This is prime "lesser of two evils" research, here.

Which candidate wins? Check out the top of this Baptist Press report, via Godbeat veteran Bob Smietana:

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Political endorsements by preachers appear to have been few and far between this election season. That may be because the most popular candidate among preachers is "I don't know," a new study shows.
A new report from LifeWay Research found 4 out of 10 Protestant pastors are undecided about which candidate to vote for. A third (32 percent) plan to vote for Donald Trump. One in 5 (19 percent) plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. Four percent support Gary Johnson. Three percent do not plan to vote.
Few pastors believe Christians who vote their conscience will all support the same candidate. And few say Christians should vote only for a candidate who has a reasonable chance of winning. Meanwhile, only one preacher in 100 has endorsed a candidate from the pulpit.

I thought this breakdown of the results, by denominations and traditions (including African-American pastors) was absolutely fascinating. Here is a big chunk of that.

LifeWay Research found demographics and denominations divide pastors when it comes to the 2016 election:
-- African-American pastors (37 percent) are most likely to vote for Clinton. Six percent plan to vote for Trump and 54 percent are undecided.
-- White pastors (35 percent) favor Trump, while 18 percent favor Clinton and 41 percent are undecided.
-- Methodist (44 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (50 percent) are more likely to support Clinton.
-- Baptist (46 percent) and Pentecostal pastors (61 percent), along with Church of Christ ministers (50 percent), are more likely to favor Trump.
-- Pastors voting for Trump are the most likely to say Christians should vote for a candidate who can win (43 percent). ...
-- Pastors who are still undecided include independents (52 percent), those age 18-44 (52 percent), and evangelicals (45 percent).

Out there in pews and pulpits (as well as family homes from coast to coast), one of the fiercest debates that is raging centers on this question: Do morally and doctrinally conservative believers -- pro-lifers in particular -- HAVE TO VOTE for Trump, because of the U.S. Supreme Court issue?

Many of you have heard these fights, or even participated in them, right? Maybe even lost a few Facebook friends?

The logic is that while no one knows precisely what Trump will actually do, it is certain that Clinton will take the court further to the cultural and moral left, creating a religious-liberty crisis at the very least.

So, is it morally wrong not to vote? To vote for a third-party option? To write in an inspiring name as an act of protest? Are these three options actually signs of spiritual pride?

That was the question looming over my Universal syndicate column this week, which focused on the tiny -- in America -- third party built on the foundations of the global Christian Democrat movement. I am referring to the American Solidarity Party. Can you spot that party's symbol in the red-white-and-blue zoo illustration included in this post?

Check out that column here. And enjoy the podcast.

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