In an editorial that lit the Internet on fire and crashed the servers of an evangelical stalwart over 60 years in the making, the editor in chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, issued a stunning rebuke of the sitting president of the United States, his morals and his legitimacy as a public servant, stating he should be removed from office.
As responses continue to pour in and with many evangelicals openly wondering if it’s a move made too little too late, we need to talk about why this statement matters.
From Christianity Today’s editor in chief https://t.co/NVdQjg4odC
— Christianity Today (@CTmagazine) December 19, 2019
In 2016, candidate Trump received 80 percent support from White Evangelical voters, and his approval rating from the same has been between roughly 66 and 73 percent during his tenure in office.
These religious voters saw the list of then-candidate Trump’s moral misfires–a Playboy-posing, casino-building, woman-grabbing, twice-divorced unrepentant serial adulterer who brags, swears, lies, slanders, blasphemes, and admittedly does not ask God for forgiveness–checked it twice, and said “it’ll do.”
While some pointed out that voters’ self-identification as evangelical says nothing about their personal commitment to Christ (a fair point), it is impossible to argue Trump’s loyal evangelical support base was occupied only by far-right pew warmers and other nominal Christians.
Trump enjoyed early, enthusiastic, and popular support from the likes of Franklin Graham, president of the hugely successful Samaritan’s Purse (and whose father founded Christianity Today), two-term president of the Southern Baptist Convention Jack Graham (no relation to Franklin), SBC megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, evangelical thought-leader and author Eric Metaxas, neo-charismatic prosperity preacher Paula White, Christian comedian Chonda Pierce, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., and former Southern Baptist pastor turned politician Mike Huckabee.
Outside the bubble of mainstream evangelical celebrity culture, many of these names mean nothing, but they represent the voices and voting habits of the literally millions of evangelicals critical in securing the last election in favor of Donald Trump.
Indeed, what intensified the disturbing and disconcerting nature of President Trump’s evangelical support was its move with him from the margins to the mainstream, plowing through every moral and ethical roadblock in its way.
In fact, the Christianity Today impeachment piece came on the heels of more than two dozen mostly White Evangelical and neo-pentecostal pastors and worship leaders crowding the White House for pictures, interviews, and songs.
Represented were Brian and Jenn Johnson, together with Brian Houston, respective leaders at the head of Bethel Music and Hillsong Church, whose songs are sung in evangelical churches across the country, joined by CCM superstars Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes.
Noticeably absent from the worship session photo-op was any hint of self-reflection on the uncritical religious cover being provided on behalf of the president in the face of his open and repeated attacks on public morals.
Call it cashing in on 30 pieces of silver, a naive lack of discernment, or making the best out of a bad situation, the glee with which some of the most prominent people in contemporary evangelicalism have supported a man who built his public career on the back of everything so opposite the character of Jesus Christ, has called into question the legitimacy of much of the church’s mission and her message in the United States.
Now, enter Christianity Today magazine.
In 2016, CT executive editor Andy Crouch released an op-ed encouraging evangelicals to speak truth to President Trump.
While Crouch stopped short of saying Trump was unfit for command and sympathized with the lesser of two evils predicament in which many Christian voters saw themselves, he refused to excuse them from their prophetic responsibility and stated bluntly: “Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord.”
The Galli editorial was the next logical step.
Could the piece CT published Dec. 19 have been written much earlier when women like Beth Moore, Lisa Sharon Harper, Karen Swallow Prior, and Nichole Nordeman (as well as men like Russell Moore and Max Lucado, and Al Mohler) were putting their head on the chopping block saying the same thing?
Should it have been?
I can’t see why not.
Notwithstanding, what the statement does now in the middle of an ugly impeachment battle ahead of a contentious election year, is send a signal to the country and to churches that evangelicals have not all been cowed and the gospel of Jesus Christ is not for sale–not for Supreme Court judges, not for political promises, and certainly not out of spite for the political other.
In the words of Galli, “None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”
As women and people of color, in particular, continue to reckon with a vocal and powerful elite which has silenced and sidelined their concerns, often on the authority of Scripture and in the name of God, to have the premier Christian publication in the world come out and say “we hear you” is meaningful and appreciated.
I must admit I am doctrinally and emotionally distrustful of and disinterested in the seedy and violent business of worldly politics.
Yet, if anything has become clear since 2015, this is more than just about politics; this is about the continuing relevance of the moral witness of the church in America.
The CT statement will not change anyone’s mind or determine the results of the next election, which makes it that much more impressive.
We are talking about doing what’s right, not winning, which is exactly the message evangelical supporters of President Trump need to grasp the most.