In December, the then editor-in-chief of Christianity Today (CT), Mark Galli, published an editorial welcoming President Trump’s impeachment and calling for him to be removed from office. Since then, much of the evangelical right has been in an uproar. Galli, now retired, spoke candidly about what he thought of Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives.
Immediately following the publication of the article, President Trump fired off on Twitter, calling CT ‘A far left magazine, or very “progressive,”’ which ‘would rather have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President. No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading [CT] again!’
Negative responses to Galli
Trump was certainly not the last person to read Galli’s editorial. Upon the publication of Galli’s article, CT saw an incredible response from both online traffic and subscription loss. In an interview with The New York Times, Galli revealed that the number of those reading the article on the website was 50 times the usual traffic rate. At times there were over 15,000 viewers on the site for hours (‘Christianity Today Editor Laments “Ethical Naïveté” of Trump Backers’, NYT, 2 Jan. 2020).
Evangelical heavyweights soon began to weigh in. Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy Graham (the founder of CT), responded to the editorial, ‘Christianity Today released an editorial stating that President Trump should be removed from office — and they invoked my father’s name (I suppose to try to bring legitimacy to their statements), so I feel it is important for me to respond… Yes, my father Billy Graham founded Christianity Today; but no, he would not agree with their opinion piece. In fact, he would be very disappointed. I have not previously shared who my father voted for in the past election, but because of this article, I feel it is necessary to share it now. My father knew Donald Trump, he believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump. He believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.’
Franklin Graham continued, ‘For Christianity Today to side with the Democrat Party in a totally partisan attack on the President of the United States is unfathomable. Christianity Today failed to acknowledge that not one single Republican voted with the Democrats to impeach the President. I know a number of Republicans in Congress, and many of them are strong Christians. If the President were guilty of what the Democrats claimed, these Republicans would have joined with the Democrats to impeach him. But the Democrats were not even unanimous — two voted against impeachment and one voted present. This impeachment was politically motivated, 100% partisan’ (quoted in Christian Post, ‘Trump, Franklin Graham, 8 other evangelicals react to Christianity Today’s call to remove president’).
Others regarded as evangelical heavyweights such as Eric Metaxas, Jerry Falwell Jr, and Paula White all spoke out against CT and implied that CT was siding with the Democratic party. Wayne Grudem, the author of a popular Systematic Theology book, countered each of Galli’s main statements in a calm and collected manner. Carl Trueman, professor at Grove City College, also wrote his own rebuttal, stating that if one wants to stand for moral principles and vote Trump out of office, then the inevitable result is electing someone who does not stand for Christian values at all.
Favourable responses to Galli
While the majority of the response has been negative towards the article, others in the American church were in favour of Galli’s position. One of those positive responses was a rise in subscriptions. According to The Washington Post, ‘the longtime centrist-right evangelical magazine saw a rush of cancelled subscriptions — and an even greater wave of new subscribers, magazine President Timothy Dalrymple said.’ (The Washington Post, ‘Journalist leaves Christian Post: The evangelical costs of opposing Trump’, 24 Dec. 2019).
The new subscribers certainly caught Mark Galli off guard: ‘I suppose the thing that was most surprising, and which I’m still trying to wrap my head around, was the positive response. 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. I wish I could tell you that I had noticed that and wanted to respond to it, but I didn’t see that. There were a lot of people who were feeling alone and they’re not feeling that way now’ (NYT Ibid.).
Another positive response was given on Religion News by friends of Christianity Today, ‘The United States evangelical and Christian community is at a moral crossroads. Our country has never been more politically divided with white evangelical Christians at the heart of much of the political discord. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with Galli’s conclusion or his argument, we write to affirm his courage and the bold decision to have Christianity Today officially take a stand regarding the Trump presidency… The false binary posed by allegiances of certain evangelical Christians to one political party inhibits our ability to be faithful to the witness of Christ and his kingdom.
‘May Christians in the United States enter into the 2020 elections with a recommitment to the Good News of the gospel that calls us to righteousness in Christ, faithful Christian witness, and responding to the needs of our neighbour. Although one may not agree with Mark Galli, we have an obligation to consider the character and actions of this president. Our faithful witness to Christ and the future legitimacy of American Christianity is [sic]at stake.’
There is no doubt that there is a huge divide among evangelicals over the issue of President Trump. Fewer young people are associating with white evangelicalism as the evangelical movement is tied up in partisan politics. According to an article by Reuters, ‘There has been a big drop-off in white evangelical church participation among adults under 40, and publications such as Christianity Today and religious leaders are struggling to engage “Gen Z,” or those born after 1996’ (Reuters, “Christianity Today’s split with Trump highlights deeper issue in white evangelical America”, 29 Dec. 2019).
The percentage of those who label themselves white evangelical has now fallen to 15% of the population according to the Public Religion Research Institute. ‘One of the major factors is that the church is too tied up in right-wing politics,’ said Greg Carey, a professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Evangelical activism against gay rights is particularly repellent to many members of a generation where ‘everyone has friends who are LGBTQ,’ Carey said. (Reuters, Ibid.)
Others expressed concern that evangelical support for Trump is destroying their witness. Napp Nazworth stated, ‘Having to go out and defend this guy day after day, as many of these Trump evangelicals are doing, they’re just destroying their credibility’ (Reuters, Ibid.).
In a day and age where it is all too easy to delve into partisan politics, as believers we must remember that our first allegiance is to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That is more important than our political views, our political affections, and even our voting patterns. It is sad to me when the American church is divided over political affiliations. This, brothers and sisters, must not be. As Mark Galli said, we are at a moral crossroads and what happens next matters. Please pray for your American brothers and sisters that we would not be blinded by politics and would stand firm in the faith.
Ben Wilkerson served with Sheffield Presbyterian Church, UK, and is a Christian writer residing in the USA.