The one thing that could tip the balance in the next presidential debate

There is one thing that could tip the balance in an increasingly tight race for the presidency, and it is the one thing that probably will not be mentioned—much less emphasized—during Monday night’s presidential debate. Here’s to hope.

There are a number of things I’d like to see happen during the second presidential debate and then there’s one thing I’d like to see happen more than anything else. Let’s start with a brief enumeration of the “number of things” before we conclude with the “one thing.”

Things I wish both candidates would do

  • Engage in tough-minded debate about the serious issues at the heart of our nation’s social unrest, economic malaise, and political dysfunction.
  • Refuse to engage in the uncivil and inane behavior that has increasingly polluted our American political conversations.

Things I wish Mr. Trump would do

  • Affirm that every human being has the dignity of being created in God’s image. Mr. Trump should affirm the dignity not only of unborn babies but of black Americans and Mexican immigrants. Even if he draws policy conclusions with which I differ, I’d like to see him stand there in the moment and tell the black and Hispanic communities that they matter to him and to God.
  • Affirm the United States Constitution, including the built-in checks and balances that are supposed to keep one branch from usurping the prerogative of another. He might denounce the SCOTUS majority for bypassing the will of the people (via the legislature) by legislating from the bench in decisions such as Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges. He might scold President Obama’s use of executive decisions. He might even promise that, if he himself were President, he would avoid succumbing to the authoritarian impulse.
  • Show the nation that he is a disciplined and steady leader who is not easily provoked.

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Things I wish Mrs. Clinton would do

The one thing that could tip the balance

Finally, more than anything else, I’d like for either or both of the candidates to give a full-throated endorsement of religious liberty. They should:

  • Affirm the dignity of every person; affirming the right of each person to draw conclusions about life’s origin, destiny, and meaning; affirming the right to align one’s life with those conclusions; and affirming our right to do so openly and without fear of repercussions.
  • Re-affirm the 1993 Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed by Bill Clinton, introduced by Democratic Representative Chuck Shumer, and passed by a unanimous House and a near-unanimous Senate (3 dissenting votes).
  • Affirm the state-level RFRAs. The federal RFRA was intended to apply to federal and state law, but the SCOTUS majority ruled that it could not be applied to state law (Boerne v. Flores, 1997). Because of the SCOTUS ruling, many states have passed their own RFRAs. Unfortunately, the reigning leftist bias frames these RFRAs as “anti-gay.” The Civil Rights Commission’s Chair, Martin Castro, went so far as to say religious believers hide their real motivation—hatred—behind the veil of religious liberty.
  • Affirm with Molly Hemingway that “we have a press that loathes and works actively to suppress this religious liberty, as confident in being on ‘the right side of history’ as they are ignorant of natural rights, history, religion, and basic civility.”

Religious liberty. In my opinion, it is the one thing for evangelicals that could tip the balance in the 2016 election cycle. It’s very important, more important even than the pro-life cause. It is the “first freedom.” For without religious liberty, we have nothing.

Once religion is removed there is next-to-nothing left to prevent the state from encroaching on every aspect of our lives—art, science, religion, business, and even the family. And encroach it will.

Bruce Ashford is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture.  He co-authored the recently-released “One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics” (BH Academic, Dec. 2015) with Chris Pappalardo. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford.

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