Christianity Today Anathematizes Trump
Christianity Today, once the flagship magazine of American Evangelicalism, published a blistering editorial calling for Donald Trump’s removal from office. Mark Galli, the editor-in-chief (who is retiring in January), has the byline. Excerpts:
Let’s grant this to the president: The Democrats have had it out for him from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion. This has led many to suspect not only motives but facts in these recent impeachment hearings. And, no, Mr. Trump did not have a serious opportunity to offer his side of the story in the House hearings on impeachment.
But 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.
The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. 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.
If anything, that understates it. I see Trump as a dazed, isolated figure, like Theoden under Wormtongue’s spell, slumped in the armchair in his White House bedroom, watching cable news, iPhone in hand, while flies drawn by the scent of decay buzz around his head. Richard Nixon in extremis was tragic. I don’t know what this is.
To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: 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? 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?
Here’s the transcript of Galli’s conversation with The Atlantic’s Emma Green about the editorial:
Green: I was struck by how directly you called on your fellow evangelicals to be honest about what you see as Trump’s misconduct. You wrote, “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.” That’s very, very direct. Were you at all worried about how other Christians may hear or read those words?
Galli: Not too much. I know some will read it very negatively. They’ll consider me partisan, that I’m a closet Democrat—which I’m not, I’m independent. They’re going to say that Trump appoints pro-life justices, he’s working for religious freedom. And it occurred to me today, as I was writing the editorial, that the “on the one hand, on the other hand” logic of whether you’re going to support Trump or not—that falls apart at some point.
Imagine, for example, that a woman is being verbally abused by her husband. He’s a great father—he gets along with the kids, and he’s a great supporter. So, you think, “Alright, he’s verbally abusive to me, he has kind of a hot temper. But he’s got these other things going for him, so I’m not going to rock the boat too much. I might try to get him to calm down, but I can live with it.”
Then he starts to become violent, and dangerously violent. He’s still a good provider. He still loves the kids. But nobody would say, “You need to weigh this!” They would say, “Get the man out of the house immediately.” The moral balancing no longer applies.
And the same seems to be true of the Trump presidency. Yes, he’s done some good that I am grateful for. But the moral scales no longer balance. It’s time for him to get out of the house, so to speak.
Galli goes on to say that he cannot understand why so many of his fellow Evangelicals, for whom high moral standards in political leaders has always been important (CT called for Clinton’s removal from office too), don’t understand that they are destroying their credibility by their embrace of Trump.
Readers of this blog who are not part of Evangelicalism should not overinterpret this editorial. CT has for some time now stopped addressing the mainstream of the movement (which has moved right), and instead remains the magazine for what you might call Wine Cave Evangelicals. Galli admits this to Green:
We speak for moderate, center-right, and center-left evangelicals. The far right—they don’t read us. They don’t care what we think. They think we’ve been coopted by liberalism. So, I understand that we do not represent the entire movement. And anyone who thinks that CT does, that’s just not the case.
I know Mark Galli a little bit, and respect him greatly for what he has written, though I don’t agree with all of it. You won’t be surprised to learn that I’m more in line with Erick Erickson’s reflection about Trump in light of the CT editorial. Excerpts:
As to the matter of 2020, when Trump was a hypothetical with the known character flaws, I voted 3rd party. I wasn’t going to vote for him or for Hillary. Now we have a host of Democrats, each progressively nuttier than the other, and all of whom support the wholesale legal extermination of human beings they deem convenient in addition to other terrible policies. I’ll have to hold my nose to do it and would rather it be Pence at the top, but I’ll vote for Trump in 2020. He’s not the hypothetical President we can’t trust. He’s a deeply flawed, immoral politician who has both surprising managed to keep many of his campaign promises and not squander the lives of our soldiers and sailors for righteous causes that lose their purpose.
I don’t really disagree with what Christianity Today said about witness and character and the church. I don’t think this impeachment was appropriate or an appropriate vehicle to remove the President. But I am glad they said what they said and didn’t compromise. They’re also right that evangelicals willing to defend everything this President does are harming evangelicalism in the United States. Too many self-described Christians seem to be looking to the White House instead of Heaven.
That’s pretty much where I am today, though something may change in the coming months. Who knows what’s around the corner?
I am very sure that I would prefer to have a drink with any of the candidates on the Democratic stage last night than with Donald Trump. I’ll likely vote for Trump, but only because abortion is very, very important, and so is religious liberty, and so is stopping the laws the Democrats want to roll out on sexual orientation and gender identity. And so is immigration. I think Boris Johnson is a million times more appealing than Donald Trump, but if I vote Trump, it will be because I look at the Democrats and see Jeremy Corbyn.
I really do think that the Spanish Civil War is a reasonable way to understand the extremity of the choices facing voters in this country. Watch this first episode of a terrific six-part documentary film series about that hideous war, and see if you agree. There was no middle ground remaining between the far left and the far right. You had to decide. As a priest, you might have had big problems with Gen. Franco, but if you didn’t side with him, you stood to be shot by the left-wing Republicans, and have your church burned down. Mind you, nobody’s going to get shot or have their churches burned down here; I bring up the comparison to show that there aren’t any moderates of any kind left. Biden is the most moderate seeming one, but if you look at what he’s promising, he’s way to the left too.
And then there’s Trump. A lawyer guy I know told me that he’s been watching closely all the federal judges that Trump has been appointing, and that the GOP-controlled Senate has been confirming. My friend knows how strongly I feel about religious liberty. He told me that these judges are going to be the only line of defense for people like me in the years to come. It’s not a joke. He was Trump skeptical before, but having watched the judges this president has appointed, and having come around to the belief that the country is going to start voting a lot more liberal as the Boomers die, he’s on the Trump train for 2020.
Anyway, regular readers know this about me. Convinced Trumpers hate my lack of commitment. Convinced anti-Trumpers hate my lack of outrage and spite. Your Working Boy lives in the worst of both worlds! But hey, I can’t pretend Trump is a good man or a good president. Nor can I pretend that the Democrats in power would be better for the country from the point of view of me, a socially conservative Christian.
I used to hold the Christianity Today/Evangelical view that personal morality in presidential politics was paramount. The George W. Bush administration cured me of that. In my opinion, President Bush was, and is, a decent and good man. I respect him a lot. But that decent and good man also led this country into a disastrous war — and he did it in part by following some of his good and decent instincts.
Jimmy Carter was probably the most decent man to inhabit the White House. He was also one of the worst presidents of the 20th century.
I think all of the Democrats running for president are far more personally decent than the jackass who made fun of Debbie Dingell’s dead husband the other day. But all of them are for keeping it legal to exterminate the unborn, and to compel religious institutions to accept gender ideology. Nope, I’ll take the personally corrupt short-fingered vulgarian, and won’t apologize for it.
Mark Galli has a really good point when he says, in his editorial, that at some point, Christians can’t keep accepting this deal: exchanging votes and support for judicial appointments. What’s solid about his point is that there has to be some line in the mind of Christians that Trump could cross, at which Christians would say, “Enough — that’s too far.” In my mind, given the stakes for the long-term future of the things I care about most, I have not seen that line. I agree with Mark Galli that Trump is guilty of what got him impeached (and I probably would have voted for impeachment, though I would not vote to convict him, instead favoring letting voters make that call in the fall). But that’s not enough to make me abandon Trump. But I can’t in good conscience say that there is no line. There has to be a line, or, to borrow a line from Erick Erickson’s piece, we are in a cult. I do not understand these Evangelical leaders who embrace Trump without any sense of conflict within themselves.
There is something about the American character that demands that we identify in some way with the moral conduct of our political leaders. The French, by the way, do not have this problem, nor do the people of south Louisiana. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for some Evangelicals and other conservative Trump supporters to admit that he’s a dirtbag, but that they’re still going to back him, for totally pragmatic reasons. I admit I have changed. I was for a long time outraged — I tell you, outraged! — by the grossness of journalist Nina Burleigh writing in Mirabella in 1998 that she herself would have given oral sex to Bill Clinton to thank him for keeping abortion legal. It was, and remains, a disgusting line.
But you know, in the end, her main point was correct. If you are the kind of person whose hierarchy of political values places abortion rights at the top, and the only thing standing between Roe v. Wade and oblivion was this morally rotten Democratic president, you bite the … bullet. But if that’s the route you take, you also don’t have a right to expect people to take you all that seriously when you lecture them about men sexually harassing women. I never took Bill Clinton’s feminist defenders seriously after that.
Well, we Christians who vote Trump with conflicted consciences are Nina Burleigh now, at least in our hearts. But we don’t have to be proud of that, as she was. Just vote, and understand that we live in a rotten time in the life of the Republic, and that the only choice you have is among various evils. Kind of like Spaniards in the early 1930s.
UPDATE: The editorial director of Christianity Today tweets this morning:
That message at the bottom, for those who can’t read the fine print, is here:
That is so over the top that I am pretty sure it’s trolling. But you just can’t tell with people these days. If that is a sincere message, then right there you are looking at the spirit of Antichrist. No, I’m not saying that Trump is the Antichrist. I am saying the spirit in those words is the one that will cause Christians to welcome the Antichrist.
Some of you have written me privately to ask me to clarify my position on the CT editorial. My position is this: I don’t fully agree with it, but I think it is a perfectly legitimate and respectable position for believing Christians to take.