One would think that liberal faith-based groups would lead the way in calling for President Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. That is not the case. It took an evangelical Christian publication, Christianity Today, to speak such prophetic truth to power.
CT editor-in-chief Mark Galli called President Trump’s attempted used of his “political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents . . . not only a violation of the Constitution,” but, “more importantly . . . profoundly immoral.” Galli cited Trump’s other actions which “dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration”: his “hir[ing] and fir’ing of a number of people who are now convicted criminals,” his own admitted “immoral actions in business . . . his relationship with women, about which he remains proud,” and his “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies and slanders” — all of which provide “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” Then these words: “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”(‘TRUMP SHOULD BE REMOVED FROM OFFICE,’ Dec. 19, 2019)
Editor Galli warns President Trump’s base of evangelical supporters: “If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?” Galli writes that in supporting Trump, evangelicals “are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence . . . that will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel . . . and on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.” (Ibid)
The reaction to Mr. Galli’s editorial was quick and intense, with President Trump leading the attack. Politico reports that Trump “lashed out” at the editorial on Twitter, calling “the country’s top evangelical Christian magazine . . . ‘a far left magazine . . . and would rather . . . have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President.’ ” A self-glorifying Trump went on: “No President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself.” And he encouraged the boycotting of Christianity Today, saying, “I won’t be reading ET again!” Revealing here: Politicowriter Quint Forgey notes that Trump employed “the wrong initials for the magazine’s title.” (“Trump lashes out after Christian magazine calls for his removal,” 12/20/2019)
Rev. Franklin Graham, whose father, famed evangelist Rev. Billy Graham founded Christianity Today, joined in attacking the editorial. Graham tweeted “that his father would be ‘disappointed’ with Galli’s editorial,” adding, “I feel it necessary to share now . . . my father knew @real Donald Trump, believed in him & voted for him.” Graham stated that his father “believed Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in the history of our nation.” Graham’s testimony was picked up and circulated by Trump, who thanked Graham “for stating that his father, the late great Billy Graham, voted for me in the 2016 election. I know how pleased you are with the work we have all done together!,” Trump tweeted. (Ibid)
But, evidently, much more was believed to be needed to protect President Trump’s white evangelical base from the editorial. So, as reported, the Trump campaign came out with “a statement from Billy Graham’s granddaughter, Cissie Graham Lynch, praising the president and later announced it is launching ‘Evangelicals for Trump’ at an event in Miami on Jan. 3.” (“Signs of a crack in support from evangelicals sets off Trump,” By Josh Dawsey and Sarah Pulliam Baily, Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Dec. 21, 2019)
Over 100 prominent evangelical leaders also sought to smother the CT editorial’s mutinous spark, including a reported “multiple members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board.” They criticized CT editor Mark Galli “in a letter to the president of CT magazine.” They threatened to boycott CT with, “It’s up to your publication to decide whether or not your magazine intends to be a voice of evangelicals like those represented by the signatories below, and it is up to us and those Evangelicals like us to, decide if we should subscribe to advertise in, and read your publication online and in print, but historically, we have been your readers.” (“Evangelicals tussle over Trump editorial,” By Elana Schor, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, Dec. 23, 2019)
Why are President Trump and his white evangelical advisors so up in arms about an editorial of a magazine with only some 80,000 subscribers? In an interview, Mr. Galli, now CT’s former editor-in-chief, verbalizes the fear betrayed by Trump and his evangelical enablers in their extreme reactions to the editorial. “I was a little surprised,” Galli said, “that Donald Trump and then Franklin Graham thought it was worth commenting on. And,” he continued, “it did strike me as a bit ironic that they both said that it wasn’t significant or going to make any difference. It makes you immediately think that they do think it’s significant or they wouldn’t comment on it.” (“Editor of Christianity Today Laments ‘Ethical Naivete’ of Trump Supporters,” By Nichola Bogel- Burroughs, The New York Times, Jan. 2, 2020)
Mr. Galli stated the editorial’s potential impact in saying, “People wrote to me and said they had felt all alone and were waiting for someone in the evangelical leadership to say what the editorial said.” He added, “There were a lot of people who were feeling alone and they’re not feeling that way now.” (Ibid) Then these words that strike fear in the hearts of President Trump and his enabling white evangelical leaders: “Given what we know now about what the president has done, we need to speak out more directly about this.” (Ibid) That is the example the CT editorial has provided for other faith groups –which Trump and his evangelical accommodators fear most.
That example is greatly needed. President Trump is not only converting evangelical Christians by bribing them with offers of power over pregnant women and LGBTQ persons, he is also coopting their god as well. After assassinating Iran’s top military leader, General Qassim Suleimani, which has brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war, Trump is reported to have “rallied his evangelical Christian base . . . portraying himself as the restorer of faith in the public square and claiming that God is ‘on our side.’ “ (“In Miami Speech, Trump Tells Evangelical Base: God Is ‘on Our Side,’ ” By Jennifer Medina and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, Jan. 4, 2020)
“God is ‘on our side?’ “ Administration officials who briefed members of Congress reported that the danger Gen. Suleimani presented was “imminent.” But they refused to provide any specifics regarding the “imminent” threat. And when asked for specifics by members of Congress, Sen. Mike Lee reported that they said, “For us to debate and discuss these things on the Senate floor would somehow weaken the American cause and embolden Iran in other actions, I find very insulting.” Lee added, “It is not acceptable for officials from the executive branch . . . to come and tell us that we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran.” (“GOP Sen. Mike Lee blasts officials for ‘insulting and demeaning’ Iran briefing,” By Mariam Kahn, ABC News, Jan.8, 2020)
Peter Baker and Thomas Gibbons-Neff of The New York Times describe the evasiveness of Trump and his administration officials in explaining why Gen. Suleimani was killed: “They had to kill him because he was planning an ‘imminent’ attack. But how imminent they could not say.” Nor, “where they could not say.” And, “when they could not say. And really, it was more about what he had already done. Or actually it was to stop him from hitting an American embassy. Or four embassies. Or not.” Even Defense Secretary Mark Esper reported that “he was never shown any specific piece of evidence that Iran was planning an attack on four American embassies, as Mr. Trump had claimed two days earlier.” Baker and Gibbons-Neff add this crucial point: “Moreover, given his long history of falsehoods and distortions, Mr. Trump has his own credibility issues that further cloud the picture.” (“Esper Says He Saw No Evidence Iran Targeted 4 Embassies, as Story Shifts Again,” Jan. 13, 2020)
Who are you going to believe? Republican Sen. Mike Lee and other doubting Congresspersons who seek answers to why the threat presented by Gen. Suleimani was “imminent?” Or administration briefers, and a president who is now reported to have made over “15,413 false or misleading claims” since becoming president? (“President Trump has made 15,413 false or misleading claims over 1,055 days,” By Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly, The Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2019) A president who says, “Trust me.” Here is the gravest threat to America’s security: taking an authoritarian, psychopathic lying, president at his word.
The Trump administration demonized Gen. Suleimani as a “terrorist” who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and the wounding of thousands more. If that is the criteria for doing away with an enemy, what about former president George W. Bush and his enablers? American soldiers should not have been in Iraq in the first place. Bush used the lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction to justify invading that defenseless country. As a result, some 7,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed and hundreds of thousands wounded. Iraqi causalities: hundreds of thousands of civilians killed, and the birth of the vengeful ISIS, and severe unrest in Iraq today. And a high majority of white evangelical Christians said, “Amen” to the Iraq war, with the aim of converting Muslims to their “Christ.” Who is the real “terrorist” here? And his enablers?
How does one explain the affinity between many white evangelical Christians and President Trump – the former professing the Golden Rule and the latter the pursuit of gold? It is not believed to be about the attraction of opposites, but the attraction of similarities. Trump and many white evangelical Christians share similar authoritarian tendencies. Trump’s authoritarianism is seen in his narcissistic delusions of grandeur, his need to demean everyone who threatens him, his lording it over others with a winner-loser mentality, and his use of executive privilege to impose his will and thus to avoid transparency and democratic accountability.
Similarly, many evangelical Christians use select biblical verses in their pursuit of authority and power over people, and desire to punish those they deem biblical outcasts. Quoting the Bible as their authority does not make their beliefs any less authoritarian. They attempt to use the democratic process to impose their belief on to others; but the equality ingrained in the democratic process is an anathema to them. For many white evangelical Christians, as for President Trump, it is about submission of others to their beliefs and authority, and the diminishing and punishment of those who refuse to comply.
Along with Christianity Today, another Christian voice is providing a needed example of the way forward. As reported, “The Social Action Commission and the servant leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church call on everyone to “Wake Up,” and demand a real trial of President Trump in the Senate. Among their recommendations, the AME Church leaders are urging everyone to “contact both of your Senators by email and phone call to register your belief that the trial in the Senate should be a real trial with witnesses and cross-examinations so the country can get the facts.” (“Wake Up, Everybody: A Response to the Impeachment of Donald Trump from the AME Church,” Press Release, United Methodist Insight, Dec. 19, 2019)
Christians especially will be judged by their response to the threat President Trump presents to the security of the United States and the world. They will have to decide whether to accept him justifying his lies and killings by saying, “God is ‘on our side.’ “
Former Christianity Today editor-in-chief Mark Galli leads the way: “Given what we now know about what the president has done, we need to speak out more directly about this.” Our children and our grandchildren will ask if we did.