Reactions mount to CT editorial calling for Trump's removal; how will evangelicals vote in 2020?

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with President Sergio Mattarella of Italy in the Oval Office at the White House October 16, 2019, in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with President Sergio Mattarella of Italy in the Oval Office at the White House October 16, 2019, in Washington, D.C. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Christianity Today editorial from outgoing editor Mark Galli calling for President Trump's removal from office continues to make waves across the political landscape amid a contentious impeachment process.

Commentators and prominent writers are weighing in on what this all means for the future of Christian political witness, as CT boasts of receiving an increase in subscriptions and plaudits from those who oppose Trump, and nearly 200 faith leaders signed onto a letter pushing back against accusations made against Christians who support the president. 

In a follow-up to the editorial that was covered by many national news outlets last week, Timothy Dalrymple, president of Christianity Today, characterized the fallout as a disagreement among fellow believers, maintaining that his magazine is theologically conservative, pro-life, pro-family, and is not, as some have asserted, a "far-left" publication.

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Other evangelicals disagree, however.

"This is not a small ‘political squabble’ as described by the president of Christianity Today. The Galli article was a full-blown attack on the President of the United States and the millions of evangelicals who support him," tweeted Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham in response to Dalrymple.

"Some Christians who think us foolish and gullible have met this effort [to advise Trump as evangelical pastors] with skepticism and cynicism, decidedly ignoring the many ways President Donald Trump has positively impacted our country and honored the beliefs that Americans and Christians hold dear. Our critics seem to have a theology with so little grace and they fail to recognize that someone with an unrighteous past can still make righteous decisions on behalf of those they lead," Graham wrote in an opinion piece published by The Christian Post stressing the reasons why it's wise for Christians to keep supporting Trump given his policy accomplishments.

Others defended CT's call for Christians to consider how their attachment to the president will be regarded in the years to come.

Alan Noble, author of Disruptive Witness and a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, emphasized that any evangelical argument in favor of supporting Trump that does not consider how their close political alliance will affect the future witness of the church is unserious.

Although many evangelicals approached the 2016 contest viewing Trump critically they "held their nose to vote," but now "that criticism has largely transformed into cheerleading," he said Sunday, referencing the letter from nearly 200 faith leaders who condemned CT's editorial that was critical of evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016 and continue to support him today. 

"It's possible to defend voting for Trump as the lesser of two evils — and hold him accountable — but it is very hard. The temptation is to buy into his rhetoric and defend and/or overlook or dismiss his corruption/immorality," he continued.

How evangelicals and other Christians will vote in 2020 remains to be seen but some are already making predictions.

Writing on the Religion in Public blog Friday, Denison University political science professor Paul A. Djupe observed that evangelical Christians who supported Trump in 2016 are not likely to be moved by CT's editorial, expecting they will continue to back him in his re-election.

Citing findings from the Public Religion Research Institute, of which he is an affiliated scholar, Djupe noted that "evangelicals flipped in their views that an elected official who commits an immoral act can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in public and professional life, going from 30 percent agreement in 2011 to 72 percent in 2016 when Trump headed the Republican ticket."

Thus, if that many could make such a shift to back Trump, then an appeal from an outlet like CT to return to the core values that they were willing to put aside was not likely to resonate, he said.

"If there was no groundswell around Christianity Today in the run up to the 2016 election, it is too late in the day for there to be one now. It is too easy to stay quiet. It is too easy to skirt the moral quandary at the core of Trump’s Ukraine actions. It is too easy to focus on maintaining the flock, especially when friends and families are falling away from each other over partisan differences," he said.

"The flock is likely to stick to their partisan guns, for which they’ve changed their moral calculus. And a not insignificant number of them believe Trump is anointed by God. For these reasons, the needle is unlikely to move."

Commenting Monday, Jim Wallis, the progressive founder of Christian Sojourners magazine, said he believed that the religious right would "rise and fall with Donald Trump."

In an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Galli said his call for evangelicals to stop supporting the president and demand his removal from office was partly “hyperbole.” 

“In one sense my call for his removal was on the order of hyperbole in this regard: the odds of that happening by election or by the Senate are actually probably fairly slim at this point,” Galli said. “I don’t have a strategy.”

Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: BrandonMarkShowalterFollow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow

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