The religious magazine, Christianity Today, set Twitter aflame last night with an editorial call for the removal of President Trump. The position of the evangelical Christian publication, which was founded by Billy Graham, is at odds with the pro-Trump political preferences of many on the evangelical right and sparked denunciations from several prominent evangelical figures. Traffic to the piece was so heavy that it was inaccessible for several hours on Thursday afternoon.
The editorial by Mark Galli, titled plainly, “Trump Should Be Removed From Office,” lays out the case against Donald Trump in an evenhanded fashion, acknowledging that “Democrats have had it out for him from day one” and that Trump has had successes, such as his “Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things.”
Nevertheless, the editors of the magazine magazine, which generally prefers to “stay above the fray and allow Christians with different political convictions to make their arguments in the public square,” felt compelled, after three years of quietly observing Trump. The editorial first faults the president for his attempt “to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” an act which Galli calls “not only a violation of the Constitution” but “profoundly immoral.”
“The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration,” Galli continues. “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.”
“None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character,” Galli states.
Galli quotes Christianity Today’s 1998 editorial advocating the impeachment of Bill Clinton, which said, “The President’s failure to tell the truth—even when cornered—rips at the fabric of the nation… And while politicians are notorious for breaking campaign promises, while in office they have a fundamental obligation to uphold our trust in them and to live by the law.“
The 1998 piece continued, “Unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered this administration morally unable to lead.”
“Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president,” Galli adds. Whether by the Senate or voters, Trump’s removal, according to Galli, “is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”
With respect to abortion, the tiebreaker issue that keeps many evangelicals from voting Democrat, Galli asks rhetorically, “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?”
The editorial brought swift condemnation from pro-Trump evangelical leaders. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and a man who recently argued, together with Eric Metaxas, that Trump’s opposition was “demonic,” tweeted that his father believed that Donald Trump was “the man for this hour” and would be “disappointed” by the editorial.
Metaxas tweeted that it was “preposterous” that “Biden or Pelosi, who use the power of their offices to promote the murder of the unborn [and] the demonization of a biblical sexual ethic, less ‘morally troubling’ than Trump [and] his tweets.”
Jerry Falwell, Jr. charged in a tweet that Christianity Today was made up of “liberal evangelicals” preaching a “social gospel.”
President Trump also tweeted angrily that the magazine “would rather have a radical left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion [and] your guns,” echoing Barack Obama’s 2008 “bitter clingers” statement. “No president has done more for the evangelical community,” Trump claimed.
What we are seeing is a version of moral relativism that has come to infect the evangelical Christian Right (of which, I am a member). People like Graham, Metaxas, and Falwell are so focused on the specks in the eyes of the Democrats that they fail to the plank in their own eye.
Abortion is evil, but so are “sexual immorality… adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” Christians have the choice between a party with an immoral platform or a party that idolizes an immoral leader.
It is an open question as to how much effect the editorial will have in cracking Donald Trump’s evangelical base, many of whom seem to view the president in messianic terms. There is no single, Pope-like leader to provide guidance across Protestant and evangelical denominations. I’m skeptical that many will abandon Mr. Trump wholesale, but it may lead to some pastors and lay people questioning their assumptions. Even a small number of evangelicals switching parties or staying home could make a difference in a close election.
Near the end of Galli’s editorial he warns Christians not to forget their first love, saying, “Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. 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. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?“
Next year, Christians will have to decide whether their priority is the Gospel or political power.