President Donald Trump has historic support among Evangelical Christians, but it is not unanimous.
The schism within the Christian community over Trump’s presidency and his moral character was exposed last week following a scathing op-ed from Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli, who called for Trump’s removal from office. Galli argued that while Trump’s presidency has produced positive outcomes for Evangelical Christians, his public sins, and his refusal to repent has rendered him unfit to lead the most powerful nation in the world. (RELATED: The Tide Is Turning Against Democrats On Impeachment)
“Trump’s evangelical supporters have pointed to his Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things, as achievements that justify their support of the president,” Galli wrote. “The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people.”
“None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character,” he concludes.
Galli also made sure to point out his magazine’s consistency, as Christianity Today also supported Clinton’s removal for similar moral reasons. Some Evangelical leaders have taken aim at Christianity Today for questioning support for the president. Rev. Franklin Graham ripped the magazine founded by his late father, saying Billy Graham would be “disappointed” that Galli invoked his name, and revealed that Billy cast his last ever presidential vote in favor of Trump. Additionally, nearly 180 Evangelical leaders signed a letter strongly condemning the editorial, and praising the president for his policies. (RELATED: Facebook Apologizes For Banning Franklin Graham)
“Your editorial offensively questioned the spiritual integrity and Christian witness of tens-of-millions of believers who take seriously their civic and moral obligations,” they wrote.
Other Christian and conservative voices have taken a more nuanced view of Christianity Today’s editorial.
“I don’t fully endorse Christianity Today’s editorial on Trump, but I am glad they published it, and this follow-up is good too,” Rod Dreher, an editor of the American Conservative tweeted Sunday. “In my view, conservative Christians can legitimately take a variety of stances on Trump — except uncritical adoration.”
“I don’t really disagree with a lot of the points made by Christianity Today’s editorial. And I don’t blame Christians for sitting out the election in 2020,” Erick Erickson wrote in The Resurgent. “But the reality is the Democrats’ impeachment was silly. They didn’t really mean it. So there is no reason for any Republican to support it.”
This is a crucial point that conservatives have emphasized in their defense of Trump, but one that Christianity Today’s editorial glosses over. Republicans have been increasingly frustrated as Democrats and some anti-Trump Republicans have supported to browbeat Republicans into supporting impeachment, mostly based on moral and political arguments. This was demonstrated by the frustration of Republican Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a moderate, retiring Republican House member, and frequent critic of the president, who nonetheless refused to vote for impeachment. (RELATED: Have Democrats Poisoned The Well On Impeachment?)
While Christianity Today’s editorial chastises the president for his moral failings, it fails to make a cogent legal argument as to how Trump’s now-infamous July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor worthy of removal. Nor does it make a particularly compelling case as to why Evangelical Christians should view that phone call specifically as an affront to their values. This is not to say that Christianity Today’s concerns about Trump’s character are unfounded and should be dismissed. It would be unfair to ridicule Christianity Today as a closeted liberal outlet (as the president did), or as bitter conservatives with Trump derangement syndrome.
As he was being impeached, Trump attacked a grieving widow and suggested her late husband was in hell. Trump has bragged about his escapades with married women, allegedly had affairs with porn stars, and has suggested he does not need to repent for any of it. Some religious supporters of the president have compared him to flawed biblical heroes such as King David, David desperately sought God’s forgiveness for his sins, while Trump has explicitly said he doesn’t need it.
Christianity Today also expresses dismay at the conspicuously transactional relationship between evangelical leaders and Trump, saying the relationship muddies their message and could hurt their credibility in the future.
“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,” Galli writes. “If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?”
So, what impact will Christianity Today’s editorial have on evangelical support for Trump? Not much, probably.
A Washington Post reporter took a trip to an evangelical church in Wisconsin, and found that the editorial had not done much to move the needle there.
One attendee told the Post that Christianity Today had been infiltrated by the “social justice movement,” and has lost its way. Another attendee said the magazine had been “hijacked” and didn’t present both sides of the issue. Another evangelical churchgoer advised people to take the editorial with “a grain of salt.”
Since his 2016 general election campaign, Trump has received historic support from evangelical voters, and Christianity Today’s editorial is unlikely to move the needle significantly when it comes time to vote in 11 months. Most of the concerns about Trump’s character have already been litigated, and the president has retained most of his support. It’s confusing as to why Trump’s phone call with Zelensky was the breaking point for Christianity Today, but withholding Ukrainian for a period of time is simply not likely to rank high on the president’s list of moral failings.
Christianity Today’s editorial gets much right, but a lot wrong as well. Those who are hoping evangelical support for the president craters over the editorial are also likely to be disappointed. Expect Trump to have the full support of politically-active evangelical Christians when they go to the polls next Fall.