The Loss of Christianity at Christianity Today
By Ron Citlau
President Trump is a lightning rod for opinions in American Christianity. As a pastor, I know. Some of my Christian friends love Donald Trump’s personality, while others find it appalling. Some strongly support his policies, while others think he is a tyrant ruining America. Few are unsure about their opinions on Trump.
Last week, Mark Galli shared his opinion about Trump. He spoke not as an individual but as the voice of Christianity Today (CT). He spoke with biblical authority or at least tried to. In Galli’s essay,“Trump should be removed from Office,” he intentionally draws a biblical line in the sand for Christians:
Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.
CT’s call for Trump’s removal is built on three assertions.
1.) The call for removal is not an act of politics but a prudential judgment that seeks to preserve the church’s witness.
2.) President Trump broke the law and needs to be removed because Christians should not support a criminal in office.
3.) President Trump’s moral behavior makes him unfit for the office of the presidency. His removal is an ethical imperative.
The logical conclusion of CT’s article is that “loyalty to God” means Christians must remove the President from office. If not, you are disloyal to God.
Galli writes a poorly argued essay that is more political talking points than Christ in culture. Galli should have never written it, but he did. His editorial causes the very harm from which he seeks to protect Christianity.
Galli couches his assertions in the “reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel.” In other words, support of Trump is anti-Christ. This is a strong accusation against Christians who support Trump’s reelection. It’s no wonder there has been backlash from conservative Christians. The evangelicals-are-stupid trope aligns with a “progressive” narrative that says evangelicals have made a deal with the devil and need enlightenment. This is Never-Trump 2.0.
Galli didn’t write his call for Trump’s supporters to remove the president to protect the church’s witness but to not feel embarrassed by Trump and his supporters. Justice Joseph Story observed in his highly regarded magnum opus on impeachment that,
Many of the offences, which will be charged against public men, will be generated by the heats and animosities of party.
Justice Story is spot on. Impeachment can happen when the person being impeached is despised by his opposing party. President Trump is despised by his opposition but more important, Trump is despised by the elites in the United States. Elites are easy to identify. They’re the ones that snicker at Trump supporters and can’t imagine how anyone could ever support him. Elites are utterly embarrassed that anyone could vote for Trump. They feel he represents everything wrong, backwards, and racist in our country.
CT is striving to be part of, in the words of Matthew Schmitz, the “Evangelical elite.” They are yearning for affirmation from the New York Times and airtime on CNN. This article has done exactly that. This has more to do with social clout than Christianity.
Galli also builds his argument for removal by declaring that the President broke the law:
[T]he 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 … a violation of the Constitution.
Unambiguous means that there is only one way to see it. This is a factually untrue claim concerning Trump’s actions. All the U.S. House Republicans disagree with the assertion made by CT. Annalisa Merelli from Quartz disagrees with Galli’s claim saying, “there is no clear law on the matter.” Democrat and law professor Alan Dershowitz disagrees as well. The point is that whether Trump broke the law or not is highly ambiguous. By stating as fact—and condescendingly so—what is opinion, Christianity Today aligns with the left’s political machine. CT has provided talking points for those who despise Trump. Go on Twitter and you will see for yourself.
The crux of CT’s argument is that President Trump is the high water mark of presidential immorality, and all Christians must oppose him. Surely Galli understands how ridiculous the claim is that Trump is especially sinful. Here is a look at some of President Trump’s competition–all of whom claimed to be Christians:
President Lyndon Johnson was vulgar, crude, racist, and groped women.
President John F. Kennedy had multiple affairs while in office, worked with mobsters to get elected, and was probably blackmailed as President to award a multi billion dollar federal contract.
President Bill Clinton was credibly accused of groping and/or raping multiple women, had an intern perform a sexual act on him, and lied to Congress about it.
President George W. Bush invaded Iraq on what can kindly be called, spin. At the very least, the Bush administration suffered from confirmation bias. The Bush administration involved the United States in a multi year struggle costing thousands of lives and hundred of billions of dollars on a rush to war.
President Barack Obama rewarded top fundraisers with administration positions. The more money raised, the better chance of getting a position. The positions were given based upon raising money for a campaign not competency. This is called quid pro quo.
The egregious sins of these former presidents do not justify the sins of Trump. Rather, they provide evidence that the reason he is being pursued for removal is not that he is worse but that the opposition thinks there is a chance they can do it. They aren’t removing him because of his immorality but because this is the most effective strategy to neutralize his agenda. If Trump had the command of the legislature like Johnson, or the love of mass culture like Obama, it is very likely this would be a non issue. Impeachment is “political [in] character” according to Justice Story. It’s not about deciding right and wrong. If it were, the judicial branch would make the decision. An impeachment process is the highest form of political theater, and CT appears to be trying to have a starring role.
The real tragedy of CT so blatantly entering into this partisan battle is that now CT has been swallowed up by what Justice Story calls, the “vortex of the political.” Politics saturate our cultural landscape. CT has jumped right into the middle of the chaos and picked up a sword against its own. They aren’t defending Christianity; they are striking at it.
There is a better way. Justice Story speaks about a class of citizens that stays above the fray. He was referring to judges. For Story, judges must be seen, “as impartial and just.” This is because they represent justice–not politics. Democracy fails when the rule of law becomes political. In the same way, the world flourishes when Christian leaders represent Christ. We must be seen concretely living for another world and serving a greater king. We represent Christ not politics. Sadly, CT has forgotten the primacy of Christ. They diminish his glory by lowering themselves into this impeachment farce.
Reverend Billy Graham, as is often the case, is the model of a better way. Graham’s personal convictions were private. In public he (almost) always represented Christ not politicians. He was a pastor to both Democratic and Republican Presidents. He was a non-partisan Christ-follower to the whole nation. He served the country on behalf of Christ. In 2011 reflecting upon his legacy and his occasional missteps into politics he said,
I … would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back, I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”
Christianity Today, you are making the very mistake that Rev. Graham regretted at the end of his life. By taking sides on Trump, you weaken your credibility on the very issues that Christians need biblical wisdom on engaging. Abortion, marriage, immigration, race and sexual identity are at the center of American culture. Display Christ here. Otherwise, Christianity is lost at Christianity Today.