It was stunning, really. Christianity Today, an influential publication founded by the late evangelist Billy Graham six decades ago and widely read among Christians of all denominations, featured an editorial last week calling for the removal of President Trump from office.
It was stunning because evangelicals support Trump in overwhelming numbers. Yet Mark Galli, CT’s editor in chief, wrote what so many Americans understand about this president, arguing the Christian right has made a Faustian bargain, trading off short-term worldly political gains for their deeply held, long-term spiritual principles.
“The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” wrote Galli. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”
There is the disconnect for those of us who don’t understand the evangelical community’s enthusiastic support for Trump. Many who don’t share their religious views see gross hypocrisy and ask if Christian conservatives actually practice what they preach. And if they don’t, why should their commitment to proselyting — the very heart of the evangelical movement — be considered authentic?
Nevertheless, 180 Christian conservatives signed a letter to CT’s president blasting Galli’s piece. “Your editorial offensively questioned the spiritual integrity and Christian witness of tens of millions of believers who take seriously their civic and moral obligations,” they said.
Predictably, Trump also lashed out at CT, calling it “far left” and “doing poorly.” In fact, the magazine and now its website fulfills Graham’s vision of planting “the evangelical flag in the middle of the road, taking the conservative theological position but a definite liberal approach to social problems.” It boasts some 260,000 readers, which includes evangelical leadership across the country.
“The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration,” the editorial explains. “He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
Christian conservatives rationalize their support for this lost and confused president because he’s stacking the Supreme Court and federal courts with conservative judges. They hope that one day abortion will be outlawed, the Holy Grail for today’s evangelicals.
“We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear … that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”
Galli goes on to remind his readers of the outrage they felt about President Bill Clinton’s behavior and their rabid support for his impeachment. “Unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered this administration morally unable to lead,” CT editorialized in 1998.
“Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president,” wrote Galli. “Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. … Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?”
A Christian friend who doesn’t support Trump tells me this is why so many young people today reject evangelical Christianity. They hate hypocrisy.
“(N)o matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence,” concludes Galli. “And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel.”
Whether or not the CT editorial resonates with enough evangelicals remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain: The Christian right’s continued support for Trump is going to come at a steep cost to the evangelical movement, as Galli notes.
I thought the CT editorial would cost the publication too, but Galli told an interviewer Monday, “Although we’ve lost hundreds of subscribers, we’ve gained three times as many subscribers,” adding, “something flipped during the impeachment hearings.”