Yesterday, the website for Christianity Today, the flagship publication for mainstream evangelicalism founded by Billy Graham, crashed from the influx of traffic when CT published an editorial arguing that President Trump should be removed from office. The editorial said that whether that happens via the impeachment process going on in the House and Senate, or the voters in November 2020 is a fair question on which reasonable people can disagree, but that the personal and public immorality of President Trump, as revealed in the House of Representatives’ impeachment investigation, is so egregious that he must be removed as a matter of faith.
The editorial was penned by Mark Galli, who is retiring as CT’s editor-in-chief on Jan. 3. Galli himself doesn’t think his editorial will move the needle for the average evangelical Trump supporter. It’s fair to say that, unfortunately, Fox News is much more influential than Christianity Today to the views of most white evangelical Trump supporters. That said, Christianity Today does reach more than 2.5 million people each month, and the importance of this editorial is that we may look back on it as a watershed moment for the 2020 election, when the first significant cracks in the wall of Trump’s political support from white evangelicals really became visible. Over time those cracks may now grow, and it’s important to also remember that it would only take a relatively small number of white evangelicals switching who they plan to vote for or deciding not to vote at all to shift the balance in key states away from President Trump.
I am grateful to Mark for being clear that his judgment and CT’s in this matter have nothing to do with politics, but are rather a matter of faith and morality in response to the moral and political danger of this president. As I’ve often written, especially in recent years, a large percentage of white evangelicals in the United States have cashiered Jesus Christ himself for access to political power. Their transactional politics has made for a Faustian bargain wherein they defend or tolerate every one of the president’s many moral defects in exchange for him appointing the type of judges they would like to have in lifetime posts. I can only hope that this editorial is a sign of things to come, and that enough white evangelicals are coming to their senses and coming back to Jesus.
Sojourners, also an evangelical publication, has spoken clearly and strongly about the moral danger of Trumpism on many occasions in recent years. Just to give one example, in December 2015 I wrote:
From a religious perspective, Trump’s “strength” is a falsehood. Arrogance, lies, greed, the will to power, and the manipulation of racial prejudice and xenophobia are not strengths to us, but are contrary to all of our faith traditions. As faith leaders, it is time to call upon our constituencies to reject these false idols of power and division.
Galli says the smoking gun of Trump’s abuse of power that came to light regarding his dealings with the Ukrainian president are what tipped the balance for CT to take such a clear stance on the moral stakes involved in this political moment. Christianity Today has historically tried to leave space for evangelicals to disagree about politics by not making politics a dominant theme of its coverage. But as Galli put it, “… the facts in this instance are unambiguous: 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. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”
It's also important to acknowledge that when the media refers to or speaks about American evangelicals, they are usually speaking only about white evangelicals, particularly in discussing the strong support Trump enjoys from white evangelical voters. In marked contrast, most evangelicals of color have never supported Donald Trump, because they have seen clearly the racial bigotry that has animated his campaign and now presidency. Indeed, racial bigotry is and always has been a deal breaker for the gospel. It’s very painful that most white evangelicals have ignored that.
The bottom line regarding the CT editorial is that it does indeed matter that this mainstream evangelical publication has chosen to speak so strongly and unambiguously into this moment where the president has been impeached and is awaiting trial in the Senate. Trump’s attacks today on CT over on Twitter, completely falsely labeling the magazine as “far left” — along with Franklin Graham’s attack on the magazine his father founded — indicate the worry in the White House and among its evangelical chaplains about the impact of this clear evangelical moral statement from such a credible source as Christianity Today. My prayer is that the piece is read as widely as possible, and that it points as many white evangelicals as possible back to our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who we all await in this Advent season.