The recent editorial published in Christianity Today (CT) calling for the removal of president Donald Trump from office generated instant, impassioned, and even vitriolic responses and backlash from across the spectrum of evangelicalism. Missio Alliance asked our staff and regular writers to offer their quick takes on the editorial and what they believe these recent events signal about the church as a whole. Here is what emerged:
A Shove in the Right Direction
I welcomed Mark Galli’s editorial even if late in coming and incomplete. White evangelicals have long marginalized the voices of people of color, even though people of color—especially African-American women—have long pointed out the tragedy of a Trump presidency. White evangelicals often need to hear from other white evangelicals in order for concerns of justice to even have a chance of being taken seriously. Galli came close to doing that with his repudiation of President Trump. CT certainly could have denounced the racism, xenophobia, nationalism, and boorishness of Trump and his base a long time ago, and Galli’s piece is not the last word. The editorial, however, at least gave evangelicals a shove in the right direction.
—Dennis Edwards (Missio Alliance Leading Voice; professor, North Park University)
What Is Happening Beneath the Surface
The Christianity Today article was an important word of moral clarity and consistency. In the wake of it, however, it has continued to reveal the current state of divisiveness in our country, especially within the church. As a pastor, my task is to lead people into greater interior freedom for the sake of social wholeness and healing. In order to move in this direction, it’s important to name what’s happening beneath the surface of our political animus.
Whenever I see what seems like political idolatry in others (particularly people of faith), I try to remind myself that people (for good or bad) tie their vision of human flourishing to particular policies. And those policies are informed by a set of values. And those values are often determined by a reading of Scripture. And that understanding of Scripture is often formed by a desire to please God (or relieve ourselves from anxiety).
So to critique a political leader, for many, is to be critiqued as well. In short, there’s a dangerous enmeshment at work. The pastoral task, then, is to help people name their fears, faithfully search the Scriptures, be people of prayer and self-examination, and repeatedly entrust our lives to Jesus.
Easier said than done, I know.
But the church must develop these muscles in the world we’re in.
—Rich Villodas (Missio Alliance Writing Team; lead pastor, New Life Fellowship)
The Cost of Courage
When I moved to the US from post-Christian Australia in 1989 I was at first pleased by how much political and economic influence Christianity had here. But as I’ve watched those unholy alliances play out over the past thirty years, I’ve become deeply disturbed. In many places in the world Christians have no political sway and it forces the church to be pure. But when the church outsources its mission to politicians (on the left or right), we sell our birthright. Donald Trump is not an evil man but an ordinary, ambitious man with a political agenda who is willing to use every other agenda—including ours—for his own purposes (like all politicians do). It is costly for us to call that out and break the spell we’ve been under, but I’m thankful for Mark Galli and his courage to do so. I’m sure it will cost him and CT, but if speaking truth cost Jesus we have to trust in the greater gain behind the cost, as he did.
—Mandy Smith (Missio Alliance Writing Team; pastor, University Christian Church)
In many places in the world Christians have no political sway and it forces the church to be pure. But when the church outsources its mission to politicians (on the left or right), we sell our birthright. Click To Tweet
What Surprised Me Most
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me in the reaction to Mark Galli editorial is that many evangelicals consider this editorial to be a move to the left for CT. How can calling out a president for immoral character be considered a move to the left? How can calling a man “grossly immoral” who insults handicapped people, divorces and remarries three times, cheats on wives with a porn actress, Playboy centerfold, and other persons, mocks widows of deceased public servants in the midst of grieving, lies continuously, all without a single bit of repentance, be considered a move to the left? How can being worried about the witness of evangelicals for the gospel in our country by associating ourselves closely with this president be considered a move to the left? Traditionally, these kind of critiques/concerns have been associated with conservative evangelicals, not protestant liberal concerns.
For sure there are issues here with Mark Galli’s editorial. For instance, why make this case starting with the House impeachment of Trump? If the issue is immoral leadership, then why start here? His immorality has been on display in so many ways that this past week’s impeachment is anticlimactic. Likewise, the multiple ways Trump has engaged in anti-Christian policies towards immigration, not to mention his incitement of racisms of all kind, among other things, have deserved a rebuke long before this.
Nonetheless, I suggest this editorial is important. It is a grand reveal of the ‘cultural contradiction’ that is at the heart of white evangelical support of Donald Trump. As I have said elsewhere, it is one thing to be pro-life and advocate for policies to discourage abortion; it is another thing to support a president who shapes a culture towards the very diminishment of women, commodifying of sexual meaning, that makes the devaluing of life and expediency of abortion unquestioned and nurtured in our culture. When will we learn we cannot coerce people into moral behavior, only shape a culture that makes moral behavior a possibility? Donald Trump exposes the lies and drive for power at the heart of white evangelicals. Make Galli’s editorial is flawed, but it reveals the crack in that ideology, and I for one am applauding CT for the first time in a very long time. Congrats to CT’s president/CEO Timothy Dalrymple (who just started 6 months ago) for starting a dialogue about president Trump among evangelicals in America that has been desperately needed. Better late than never!
—David Fitch (Missio Alliance Board Member; professor, Northern Seminary)
The Corrupting Power of Power
Christianity Today’s claim that Donald Trump should be removed from office is simultaneously bold while also being deeply in line with its tradition of moderate theology and political engagement. CT has been, and should be, lauded for their willingness to make a precise moral argument against the president’s fitness for office. However, there is a deeper problem that I hope to see Christians of this stream address: evangelicalism’s desire to influence the powers that be.
I have always found the hand-wringing about millennials leaving the church because of the Religious Right’s support of Trump to be short-sighted. As a millennial who came of age around 9/11, I witnessed a problem much earlier: when support for an ambiguous war on terror was equated with both patriotism a proper evangelical faith. The same church that taught me to love my neighbors (no matter their faith) and to turn the other cheek (even when it’s risky) was giving carte blanche approval to a new “crusade.” If this wasn’t confusing enough, many of these same voices reached a fever-pitch during the Obama years, conflating patriotism with not just religion, but with a deep resentment towards the racial, sexual and religious minorities who found a louder voice in those years. To put it simply, for years before Donald Trump, the message sent from the Religious Right was that being a Christian meant a willingness to fight to maintain power, no matter how un-Christlike the battle would become.
To put it simply, for years before Donald Trump, the message sent from the Religious Right was that being a Christian meant a willingness to fight to maintain power, no matter how un-Christlike the battle would become. Click To Tweet
There is a problem here that did not begin with those who support of Donald Trump, or for that matter, Obama, Bush, or Reagan. The deeper question that must now be addressed is “why are evangelicals so eager to have influence over those in power?” It’s not just politics. There are entire industries of Christians who seek to influence film, law, entertainment, sports, and more. It’s good to see followers of Jesus reassess their relationship to a specific political party or agenda. However, without deeper reflection it’s easier to jump the partisan line from one political team to the other. The next step in this reflection is to consider who it was that Jesus focused on in his ministry, the types of relationships and organizations that best reflect his rejection of power, and how Jesus himself interacted with the powers of his day. We cannot simply disavow the current relationship between the church and the powers, we must ask ourselves how we got there in the first place.
—Chris Morton (Missio Alliance Partnership Strategist)
Trump Is Not the Issue
I’ve experienced a range of conflicting thoughts and feelings about Christianity Today’s recent editorial advocating for Trump to step down from the presidency. On one hand, I was glad to see the magazine take this stand, although why it took an impeachment vote to get there is a mystery given that Trump’s issues of morality and character were already well established even before the 2016 election. I was also more than glad that the broader media has taken notice of the piece and thus called attention to the breadth of evangelicalism, which has too often been reduced to a monolithic pro-Trumpian depiction.
And yet, I found myself troubled. Leading up to the election, so many people I knew, mostly Christians of color, had been outspoken with their concerns about Trump as a candidate. And yet these concerns were largely ignored. I wish CT could have offered their global platform to one of these voices to speak on behalf of the magazine; of course, it would have taken more time and effort, as reaching out to those on the margins always does. But that gesture would have made a strong symbolic statement.
What is most lamentable, however, is not that Trump was elected, or that he has become an even worse embarrassment to the nation through the course of the past three years. Our national leaders will come and go, and we are not to put our hope in any political party or person. But the recent post-CT editorial frenzy has further exposed the deep fissures and fractures in the body of Christ that people of color have recognized for quite some time and that can no longer be ignored. The church would do well to ponder with great humility and prayer the underlying causes of those divisions. And the Trump presidency is not one of those causes. It’s just a circus-like mist, a distraction away from the real and crucial work that we must pursue in order to be one in Christ.
—Helen Lee (Missio Alliance Director of Content and Resource Development)