No, Evangelicals Aren’t Turning on Trump

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Shocking many, a prominent Evangelical magazine has called for the impeachment of Donald Trump and his removal from office. In an editorial published on Thursday, the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, said a congressional impeachment inquiry offered incontrovertible proof of Trump’s unsuitability for the presidency. “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,” Galli wrote. “To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence.”

Trump, of course, is furious:

Trump has probably never read a copy of Christianity Today, though others, who should know better, have also chimed in to call it a liberal rag. Tony Perkins, the vitriolic, anti-gay president of the Family Research Council and an advisor to Trump, dissed the magazine in a statement to the Christian Broadcasting Network.

One clarification is necessary: Christianity Today is not far left. It’s not liberal, either. It’s not even loosely centrist. It is a conservative publication, it always has been, and Galli’s editorial doesn’t change its political orientation. The magazine will still oppose abortion rights and marriage equality, and the editorial itself is not exactly a comprehensive rejection of Trump and all that he represents. “Let’s grant this to the president: The Democrats have had it out for him from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion,” Galli wrote.

The piece is just as notable for what it doesn’t say. Missing from the editorial: the two dozen sexual-assault allegations against Trump, the migrant children who died in camps at the border, any mention of the racism and Islamophobia that have characterized this presidency from its first day. The editorial is not an act of courage but a grudging concession to reality. It also will not alter Evangelical support for Trump at all.

Christianity Today does have a storied lineage. Founded by famed evangelist Billy Graham in 1956, the magazine has enjoyed a reputation for being a leading Evangelical journal of opinion. But alas, Perkins has half a point. The magazine’s influence has faded with time. In the war for the Evangelical mind, it lags behind some fearsome competitors. Although it’s conservative, it struggles for relevance in a conservative ecosystem dominated by Fox, the Blaze, and One America News. Most white Evangelicals are probably more familiar with Phil Robertson, the devout king of Duck Dynasty, than they are with Galli or anyone else on his masthead. Evangelical voters were primed for MAGAfication well before Trump ran for office. Obsessed with celebrity, convinced of their own martyrdom, consumed by threats to their social and political power, they were waiting for someone like Trump. They aren’t going to desert him now.

The proof is in the numbers: 81 percent of white Evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016, a statistic that CT itself tried unpersuasively to debunk. They didn’t care about the adultery or the “Two Corinthians” gaffe or the racism. (If anything, that last item may have been part of Trump’s draw for some.) Polls released throughout the Trump presidency show Evangelicals remaining committed to him. He gave them Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and many other right-wing federal judges. He pretended to care about the culture-war battles they’ve been waging for years — the libs will have to say “Merry Christmas,” and, by gum, the kids will pray in schools. So Evangelicals do not want Trump to leave office. In October, a poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 99 percent of white Republican Evangelicals opposed impeachment and Trump’s possible removal.

Liberals risk repeating a mistake that many made in 2016. In those grim days, the existence of certain Evangelical Trump critics was interpreted by some as a sign of Trump’s weakness. But the born-again have picked their leader, and they’ve spent years defending him. For the same years, Christianity Today did its best to avoid any difficult stances. It said it mourned the borderland dead; it decried white supremacy. But on the subject of Trump and on the specific question of his fitness for office, it has been silent. Whatever power it had to persuade, it relinquished a long time ago.

In the Book of Revelation, an angel of the Lord tells John of Patmos to write letters to seven churches. The last is for the church in Laodicea. It has committed the sin of ambivalence. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot,” the angel dictates to John. “I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” At some point, it’s too late to make a stand.

Christianity Today Doesn’t Speak for Most Evangelicals