“Of course, we appreciate the support and listen humbly to the criticisms. But at the end of the day, we write for a readership of One. God is our Tower. Let the whirlwind come.”
These were the defiant words of Timothy Dalrymple, President and CEO of Christianity Today (CT), in response to the heated firestorm set off by an op Ed published in CT last week by Editor in Chief Mark Galli. Galli’s editorial offered a scathing rebuke of the president and called on evangelical Christians everywhere to support removing Trump from office. This was no small event in the unfolding political drama of the Impeachment of President Trump. CT is one of the most popular evangelical publications in America and notably conservative in its views regarding everything from fiscal policy to social issues like abortion and gay marriage. For Galli to come out in support of removing Trump from office either “by the Senate or by popular vote next election” represents a significant fracture in the President’s support among evangelicals, which has thus far remained uniformly unbroken by all outward appearances. Immediately, the Twitterverse kicked into full gear with condemnations and praise flooding in from all sides of the political spectrum. No matter what people said about the article, however, the ensuing debate has proven that the seeming uniformity of support Trump has enjoyed is a cover for deeper fault lines among conservative Americans, especially evangelicals. The undeniable truth is that many evangelicals are finally beginning to question whether Trump is really a leader they can honestly support and still remain true to their values.
As the debate raged online and in the media, questions arose about what Galli meant in his article, and whether Galli really enjoyed the support of the rest of the CT staff, or whether he represented a faction within the leadership of the organization. Others criticised Galli’s arguments, CT’s evangelical credentials, and even wondered whether CT was being funded by George Soros, a favorite boogeyman among conservatives. In response to the questions and the critiques, Dalrymple published his op-ed in order to lend support to his colleagues. The most immediate question Dalrymple sought to answer in his editorial was this: was Mark Galli writing on behalf of CT when he endorsed the impeachment and called for the removal of Donald Trump from office? In response, couched between several paragraphs of qualifications meant to soften the blow, Dalrymple wrote:
“Out of love for Jesus and his church, not for political partisanship or intellectual elitism, this is why we feel compelled to say that the alliance of American evangelicalism with this presidency has wrought enormous damage to Christian witness. It has alienated many of our children and grandchildren. It has harmed African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American brothers and sisters. And it has undercut the efforts of countless missionaries who labor in the far fields of the Lord. While the Trump administration may be well regarded in some countries, in many more the perception of wholesale evangelical support for the administration has made toxic the reputation of the Bride of Christ.”
On this point, Dalrymple is absolutely correct. For many who would be sympathetic to the movement, Trump has destroyed evangelical Christianity for at least a generation, and no matter the outcome of the impeachment battle or the election in 2020, evangelicals will be remembered by many Americans as part of the problem, not part of the solution. This is the unfortunate reality that Dalrymple, his colleagues, and their supporters are just now waking up to. Americans have been appalled by evangelical support for Trump since day 1, and finally, after 3 years (4 if we start the clock during the 2015 primary season) of scandals, some evangelicals are realizing the magnitude of their error. As Dalrymple went on to say, “We are happy to celebrate the positive things the administration has accomplished. The problem is that we as evangelicals are also associated with President Trump’s rampant immorality, greed, and corruption; his divisiveness and race-baiting; his cruelty and hostility to immigrants and refugees; and more.” To this, non-evangelical onlookers respond with a resounding, “YES EXACTLY.”
In attempting to explain their mistake, Dalrymple wrote that “the 2016 election confronted evangelical voters with an impossible dilemma: Vote for a pro-choice candidate whose policies would advance so much of what we oppose, or vote for an extravagantly immoral candidate who could well damage the standing of the republic and the witness of the church.” That would be an understandable dilemma to be in, if only it were true. There was no widespread reluctance among evangelicals to vote for Trump. The majority of evangelicals loved him from the beginning. Sure, a minority of evangelicals paused for a moment when it became clear that Ted Cruz would not be the nominee, but after a brief moment, they climbed aboard the Trump train and gleefully road it into the dark trunnel of American hypocrisy. To equivocate the moral degeneracy of Trump with the shadowy ambitions of the Clintons is to miss the obvious fact that one of them was lesser of two evils, and Trump was the wrong choice.
Pulling back from the debate, it is clear that CT is risking its legacy as an organization, and both Galli and Dalrymple are risking their personal legacies as writers and Christians. In their op-eds, they seem to be on the verge of contrite but stopping short of expressing open remorsefulness. But the fact that they were wrong, the fact that they have damaged, not just their own movements and communities, but all of America, by supporting Trump’s presidency thus far gives every American the right to demand an apology from them. As Dalrymple acknowledges, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Christianity aims to be “the conscience of the state.” In that purpose, CT and the rest of the evangelical community have failed America.
There is a very real, if still remote, possibility that Trump and Trumpian politics will bring about the end of American democracy. He violates democratic norms with abandon, opportunistically weakens the foundations of trust that bind Americans to one another, and scorns anything resembling the ideals of “good governance.” Our system has so far withstood his onslaught, but if he wins in 2020, there is no telling what further damage he may do during another four-year term. CT and evangelicals are now beginning to acknowledge this risk, albeit with a hefty dose of concern, not for democracy, but for their own religious wellbeing. But, should the worst nightmares of our alarmist political commentariat come to fruition, evangelicals should be ready to shoulder a significant portion of the blame. They have fostered the conditions which currently threaten our nation, and they deserve to be held accountable not just by their own god, but by the American people and the people around the world who depend on American democracy. It is good the CT is fighting the good fight, but they are late to the battle, and the war may already be lost. At best, when we look back on this period in American history, they will be seen as fools.