Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

I am a regular reader of Christianity Today, I respect the work they do even if I do not always agree with every article they publish. They have been, and I think will continue to be, a respected voice among evangelicals. A respected voice – meaning one of many as evangelicals are not a monolithic group. There is not one person or group that completely represents evangelicalism.

Even so, when Mark Galli, the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, writes that President Donald Trump should be removed from office we should take note. Whether or not you agree with Galli, he makes some important points, but he also makes some points that I think are debatable. Some of my thoughts below:

We must love and pray for our leaders regardless of party.

Galli writes, “(W)e do feel it necessary from time to time to make our own opinions on political matters clear—always, as Graham encouraged us, doing so with both conviction and love. We love and pray for our president, as we love and pray for leaders (as well as ordinary citizens) on both sides of the political aisle.”

We must, as a church, speak truth in love, (Ephesians 4:15). We are called to pray for our leaders. The Apostle Paul wrote, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercession, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way,” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, ESV).

After I placed my faith in Christ in 1992, I have prayed for Democratic presidents and Republican presidents. I have prayed for governors of the states I have lived in throughout that time. It’s biblical. We are commanded to do it. Scripture doesn’t say for us to only pray for the presidents we agree with.

In terms of loving presidents, even if you disagree with the president and see him as a political opponent, Jesus said that we are to “love (our) enemies and pray for those who persecute us,” (Matthew 5:44, ESV).

Politics is not the end and purpose of our being.

Galli explains why Christianity Today‘s focus is not on politics. “We want CT to be a place that welcomes Christians from across the political spectrum, and reminds everyone that politics is not the end and purpose of our being,” he writes.

He is right, for a Christian, politics is not the end and purpose of our being.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by asking, “What is the chief end of man?”

The answer it provides is this, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

We are exhorted in scripture that whatever we do, we are to do it all for God’s glory, (1 Corinthians 10:31). We are reminded, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever,” (Romans 11:36, ESV).

This also reminds us what the Psalmist wrote:

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works,” (Psalm 73:25-28, ESV).

Jesus also commanded us to love God and love others, (Matthew 22:38-39). He then gave us a commission to make disciples, (Matthew 28:19-20).

That doesn’t mean we don’t engage in politics, we should because we are citizens and we are called to be salt and light in our world (Matthew 5:13-14) and that also includes the political realm. It’s just not the primary purpose for why we are here.

Consistency is important.

I credit Galli and Christianity Today‘s consistency. He referenced an editorial published by the magazine in 1998 about President Bill Clinton:

The President’s failure to tell the truth—even when cornered—rips at the fabric of the nation. This is not a private affair. For above all, social intercourse is built on a presumption of trust: trust that the milk your grocer sells you is wholesome and pure; trust that the money you put in your bank can be taken out of the bank; trust that your babysitter, firefighters, clergy, and ambulance drivers will all do their best. And while politicians are notorious for breaking campaign promises, while in office they have a fundamental obligation to uphold our trust in them and to live by the law…

…Unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered this administration morally unable to lead.

Galli then writes, “Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president. 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.”

Whether one agrees whether President Trump should be removed from office or not, we should respect Christianity Today‘s consistency in pointing out moral failings in those who occupy the White House.

Morality still matters.

Galli writes that during his time in office President Trump “has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration.”

It’s true, he has. I’ve seen evangelicals bend over backwards defending behavior that is indefensible.

Galli writes:

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.

All of that is true. I’ve not heard any remorse or seen any evidence of repentance. That doesn’t mean impeachment is the appropriate response, and elections are never black and white affairs. There is much to take into account (more on that later).

We should exercise patient charity.

Galli said they have reserved judgement of President Trump’s behavior:

We have reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now. Some have criticized us for our reserve. But when it comes to condemning the behavior of another, patient charity must come first. So we have done our best to give evangelical Trump supporters their due, to try to understand their point of view, to see the prudential nature of so many political decisions they have made regarding Mr. Trump. 

Evangelical Trump supporters should have done the same with those brothers and sisters in Christ who are skeptical, critical, and did not vote for President Trump. Also, while Christianity Today may have taken that approach there were far too many “Never Trump” evangelicals who did not, who refused to admit or acknowledge good policies he enacted and could only see the bad.

Our unity as the body of Christ should not be based on our view of President Trump (or any political figure). We should continue to try to understand different points of view from our brothers and sisters in Christ and exercise patient charity toward one another when we disagree on something that is not fundamental to the Christian faith.

“In essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity,” Rupertus Meldenius, a 17th century German Lutheran theologian, taught. I believe that saying is applicable today.

Democrats have not approached impeachment in good faith.

To his credit, Galli acknowledges that Democrats have not approached the impeachment process in a fair or impartial manner.

He writes, “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.”

This is obvious. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a “Never Trumper,” also criticized Democrats for their partisanship in the impeachment process during Thursday’s episode of The Briefing podcast that Mohler records:

But history is likely to be extremely critical of the Democrats in the US House of Representatives who acted in a partisan way, as you look at the framing of the articles of impeachment, the vote even about the House proceeding with the impeachment investigations, the way the investigation was held clandestinely within the House Intelligence Committee, very clearly for political purposes and the way that the actual vote broke down last night. It should be the humiliation of the Democratic party to recognize that the party line vote on impeachment is itself an indictment of the partisan nature of the impeachment attempt to President Donald Trump.

And furthermore, especially during the deliberations of the Judiciary Committee, Republicans read into the record over and over again statements by leading members of the Democratic majority in the House about their intention to impeach President Trump even before he took the oath of office as president. That is another point of the historical record, which will be a moral indictment against the Democratic majority.

House Democrats ignored precedent from previous impeachment inquiries. That can’t and shouldn’t be swept under the rug.

Saying the facts over President Trump’s handling of Ukraine are ‘unambiguous’ and ‘clear’ is debatable.

Galli is entitled to his opinion, and I believe his opinion is shared by a significant minority of evangelicals.

He wrote, “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.”

He later wrote, “We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath.”

To his credit, he said “we believe” regarding the clarity that the impeachment hearings brought stating an opinion. He didn’t provide a similar qualifier when he said, “the facts in this instance are unambiguous.”

Both are debatable. Here’s what I think we can say are facts without dispute.

  • President Trump asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate the Crowdstrike conspiracy theory and former Vice President Joe Biden’s involvement in Ukraine, in particular, due to his son Hunter’s position on the board of Burisma Holdings.
  • That President Trump took the unorthodox approach to diplomacy in Ukraine, keeping the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine out of the loop.
  • Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was involved in diplomacy with Ukraine on behalf of President Trump without an official State Department or White House role.
  • There was quid pro quo related the announcement of an investigation into Crowdstrike and Burisma tied to a White House meeting. U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony made that clear.
  • There was a delay in military aid to Ukraine, but it was released prior to end of the fiscal year thus meeting the required deadline.

For me, in terms of whether President Trump should be impeached, was whether or not the delay in military aid was tied to an investigation into the Bidens. That, in my opinion, is the alleged action that could justify impeachment.

I explained here why I don’t think the Democrats’ case for impeachment is a strong one. I don’t think they have proved President Trump has done anything worthy of impeachment. They could have perhaps on the question about quid pro quo related to the military aid, but that would require more time and court battles. They brought a case that I don’t believe any prosecutor would bring to trial. I’m not convinced their case would even prevail in civil lawsuit.

I understand that there are no constitutional or legal evidentiary standards for impeachment, but, in my opinion, I think there should be some line when we are talking about impeaching and removing a president.

Everyone has a different burden of proof that they expect. It’s obvious Galli and I differ on what that is.

Dr. Mohler’s opinion about impeachment demonstrates that there is not a consensus even among Never Trump evangelicals. For his November 21st episode of The Briefing he said:

The argument I have made from the beginning of this controversy is that it’s almost a surety that the president did offer a quid pro quo because it is implied in that conversation he described as beautiful with the Ukrainian president. If it doesn’t come in those words, it is implied, but it does not appear to me to rise to the kind of serious charge that should lead to any consideration of the removal of a president of the United States. This kind of quid pro quo is if we’re honest, probably more common in American foreign policy than we would like to think. But most administrations would carry out such political pressure by different means. Certainly not involving the president of the United States himself, and certainly not involving someone acting as a personal attorney to the president of the United States. This reflects a level of political and constitutional recklessness that we have not seen in living memory in the Oval Office.

I don’t agree with President Trump’s direct requests related to investigations. I don’t agree with Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in foreign diplomacy. I have not said what happened with Ukraine was good or normal, but it is debatable whether it should be impeachable especially with just the facts that are indisputable.

Christians should follow their conscience.

When we stand before God the question that will matter is what we have done with Jesus, not what have you done with Trump?

One’s support of or opposition to President Donald Trump is not the defining characteristic of one’s walk with Christ.

I was troubled when Galli wrote:

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?

I think it would have been helpful if Galli defined what he means by “supporting Trump.”

Does he mean voting for or vocalizing support for President Trump and his policies?

Or does he mean becoming a Trump apologist to the point where every thing President Trump does or says is defended or excused?

I hope he means the latter.

We should be able to praise what is good and criticize what is bad with any politician whether we voted for them or not. The inability to do that does hurt our influence and there have been far too many people – both Christian supporters and Christian opponents of Trump – who have failed doing this.

In terms of influence I can say from personal experience that the secular left will oppose Christians regardless of their support or opposition to Trump, the sexual revolution demands it. Our decline in influence has more to do with our shifting culture and demographics than it does who we support politically. It is pretty simplistic to blame evangelical Trump supporters for a decline that has occurred over decades.

So who Christians support is not so black and white like he claims:

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… None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.

I agree character matters. Has Galli looked at the Democratic field to view the alternatives? Does an advancement of the sexual revolution and taxpayer-funded abortion on demand not matter? Does advocating the erosion of religious liberty and parental rights that directly impact our ability to influence culture not matter? Should that not factor into the calculus when a Christian decides who to vote for? Has he not paid attention to what Democratic candidates advocated for the last few months? Has he not looked at the character of some of the candidates running?

I reject the notion of a binary choice, but for me, who Democrats nominate and what they advocate, as well as, their own moral character matters a great deal as well. (For me, the choices are: vote for Trump, vote for a third party candidate I can support, or don’t vote at the top of the ballot.)

Now that President Trump has been in office I have found that what he says and tweets have been far worse than what he has actually done in terms of policy (not that I agree with all of his policy decisions, I don’t, but there are a lot of Trump administration policies that I do support). Some of what I feared has come to pass (like the decline of civility, etc.), but a number of things have not. That further complicates the calculus which was simpler for me in 2016.

Again, Christians should vote their conscience. Galli’s conscience is not the same as mine and mine is not the same as yours. We can prudentially weigh the alternatives, voting against Trump is not a moral imperative (neither is voting for Trump). By the way, this is the same advice I gave in 2016. Certainly we need to vote prayerfully and look at candidates through a biblical lens, but we each need to follow our conscience.

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