Fallout from evangelical magazine’s editorial on Trump
On Dec. 19 Mark Galli, then editor in chief at Christianity Today magazine, unleashed a bombshell on an unsuspecting world. He called for President Trump’s removal from office.
"None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character," Galli stated, pointing to Trump’s Twitter feed as evidence of "a human being who is morally lost and confused." Removal from office, he said, "is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments."
Galli’s editorial, backed by Christianity Today president Timothy Dalrymple, was posted at 3:27 p.m. By early evening the internet servers at the magazine (founded by Billy Graham) crashed from all the traffic. Before midnight major news stories were already published in The Atlantic, The New York Times and HuffPost. Evangelical supporters of Trump (including Jerry Falwell Jr., Darrell Scott and Franklin Graham) tweeted against Galli within hours.
The next morning President Trump tweeted that Christianity Today is "a far left magazine" that "knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine call" (referencing Trump’s now famous conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky). Trump ended with "I won’t be reading ET again." While ET was probably a typo, Trump is wrong to characterize it as "far left" since it is the mainstream magazine for Evangelicals worldwide. That’s what makes the editorial so significant.
Evangelical supporters of Trump tweeted against Galli within hours.
While nothing will settle major issues in the Galli-Trump divide, some items can be clarified and illumined. (For the record, I’m friends with Galli and have written for Christianity Today for 25 years.) In my extensive media research into the Galli controversy, I also did a brief interview with him. Here it is.
BEVERLEY: Where does your editorial rank on the list of explosive/most controversial editorials at the magazine?
GALLI: It is far and away the most explosive and controversial.
BEVERLEY: Do you regret anything you wrote in your editorial?
GALLI: Not really.
BEVERLEY: What is the biggest misunderstanding of your editorial and/or you?
GALLI: That I’m a liberal Democrat or socialist. Not true. I was simply urging Trump supporters to examine the cost to the gospel for their uncritical support of an immoral leader.
BEVERLEY: To what degree did your view depend on the impeachment/Ukraine issue?
GALLI: That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Trump’s moral failing had been accruing for many years. Something had to give at some point. That was the point for me.
BEVERLEY: What do you say to those critics who have accused you of being an elite snob?
GALLI: That is based on a misreading. I do not look down my nose at evangelical Trump voters.
BEVERLEY: You were about to retire when you published the editorial. Did that make you feel freer to criticize the president?
GALLI: That was not a factor in the least.
BEVERLEY: Is it true your life was threatened?
GALLI: Yes, I got one death threat. Most of the nastiness was verbal. One writer said: "Jesus has already spit Christianity Today out of his mouth." While we lost some readers, that was balanced by lots of positive reaction and even new subscriptions.
Three overarching realities should be noted.
First, reaction to the editorial shows clearly that Evangelicals are not totally united about Trump. Various evangelical leaders including Jim Wallis and Boz Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson) tweeted support for Galli’s view. The famous statistical estimate that 81 per cent of Evangelicals voted for Trump applies only to white Evangelicals.
Second, we all need to follow due diligence as we sort out our own views, based on wide and careful investigation rather than easily following a party line or other source agreeable to our own prejudices. While I gladly attest to Mark Galli’s character, I disagree with some elements of his critique of Trump. Regardless, truth must be our lodestar.
The Talmud notes: "Whoever judges a judgment of truth, true to the truth of the matter, causes the glory of God to dwell in Israel." Third, as the American election approaches, all Christians should pray for a deep improvement in political discourse worldwide. We can ask God to help all political leaders to remember and live the Lord’s Prayer: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."