On Thursday, Christianity Today‘s Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli called for the removal of President Donald Trump in the impeachment process. He cited the late renowned evangelist Billy Graham, the magazine’s founder. Many evangelical leaders, notably including Billy Graham’s son Franklin, condemned the op-ed and insisted that Christianity Today no longer speaks for evangelicals.
“In our founding documents, Billy Graham explains that Christianity Today will help evangelical Christians interpret the news in a manner that reflects their faith. The impeachment of Donald Trump is a significant event in the story of our republic. It requires comment,” Galli wrote. He again referenced Graham, saying that the founder encouraged Christianity Today to “make our own opinions on political matters clear … with both conviction and love.” He insisted that the magazine’s staff do “love and pray for our president.”
Yet Galli went on to demand Trump’s removal from office — either through the impeachment process or by the voters in 2020. He insisted that “the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”
This framing is extremely debatable, and even if it is true, Trump’s action arguably does not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors — since an investigation into Joe Biden’s dealings with Ukraine (from which his son Hunter profited handsomely) is arguably in America’s interest.
Galli went on to admit that “the Democrats have had it out for [Trump] from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion.” Yet he also argued that the Christianity Today stance for Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 required the magazine to support Trump’s impeachment on grounds of immorality. He claimed that Trump’s removal — by the Senate or by the voters — “is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”
Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Samaritan’s Purse, issued a strong condemnation of the op-ed. He said he felt compelled to respond in part because “they invoked my father’s name (I suppose to try to bring legitimacy to their statements.”
“Yes, my father Billy Graham founded Christianity Today; but no, he would not agree with their opinion piece,” Franklin Graham began. “In fact, he would be very disappointed. I have not previously shared who my father voted for in the past election, but because of this article, I feel it is necessary to share it now. My father knew Donald Trump, he believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump. He believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.”
He insisted that the impeachment effort is partisan and that the facts do not show the kind of misconduct Galli alleged:
For Christianity Today to side with the Democrat Party in a totally partisan attack on the President of the United States is unfathomable. Christianity Today failed to acknowledge that not one single Republican voted with the Democrats to impeach the President. I know a number of Republicans in Congress, and many of them are strong Christians. If the President were guilty of what the Democrats claimed, these Republicans would have joined with the Democrats to impeach him. But the Democrats were not even unanimous—two voted against impeachment and one voted present. This impeachment was politically motivated, 100% partisan. Why would Christianity Today choose to take the side of the Democrat left whose only goal is to discredit and smear the name of a sitting president? They want readers to believe the Democrat leadership rather than believe the President of the United States.
Graham went on to list Trump’s accomplishments, from the economy to the defeat of ISIS to the renegotiation of trade deals. He asked if Christianity Today wants evangelicals to ignore the president’s pro-life record, his support for religious freedom, and his originalist judges.
“Christianity Today said it’s time to call a spade a spade. The spade is this—Christianity Today has been used by the left for their political agenda. It’s obvious that Christianity Today has moved to the left and is representing the elitist liberal wing of evangelicalism,” he added. “Is President Trump guilty of sin? Of course he is, as were all past presidents and as each one of us are, including myself. Therefore, let’s pray for the President as he continues to lead the affairs of our nation.”
Bestselling author Eric Metaxas, known for his work on Veggie Tales and his biographies of Deitrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther, also condemned the Christianity Today op-ed.
“The problem w/the [Christianity Today] editorial is that CT no longer speaks for most evangelicals as it once did,” Metaxas tweeted. “CT always leaned left, but it came across as mostly a-political, as carefully standing apart from the ‘Christian Right’. But of course Trump now makes that stance untenable.”
The problem w/the @CTMagazine editorial is that CT no longer speaks for most evangelicals as it once did. CT always leaned left, but it came across as mostly a-political, as carefully standing apart from the "Christian Right". But of course Trump now makes that stance untenable.
— Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas) December 20, 2019
“There is much wrong w/this [Christianity Today] piece,” Metaxas continued. “Has CT condemned JFK for routinely bringing prostitutes into the WH? Does that not constitute grossly immoral character? This is all AT LEAST more complicated than they aver & I’m sorry they find it so simple…”
Jenna Ellis, a constitutional lawyer who once worked with James Dobson and has now joined the Trump campaign, slammed the editorial for being “so devoid of any pretense of understanding the Constitution I am genuinely embarrassed for evangelicals (of which I am a member).”
She warned that “pious ‘Never Trumpers’ who feel morally justified” about impeachment are “basing their opinion not on the Constitution or the facts, but in a self-serving desire to be proven right about President Trump.” She faulted Galli for “ignorance of basic civics.”
“Many evangelicals support President Trump, so CT does not speak for most of us,” Ellis warned. “But regardless of whether or not one supports him, we should never let politics cloud our judgment in recognizing clear constitutional bounds. This impeachment is not based in law or fact, but in political partisanship & an attempt to overthrow our government — our constitutional republic.”
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said the magazine had been “unmasked” by the editorial. “Less than 20% of evangelicals supported [Hillary Clinton] in 2016 but now [Christianity Today] has removed any doubt that they are part of the same 17% or so of liberal evangelicals who have preached social gospel for decades!” he tweeted. “CT unmasked!”
Less than 20% of evangelicals supported @HillaryClinton in 2016 but now @CTmagazine has removed any doubt that they are part of the same 17% or so of liberal evangelicals who have preached social gospel for decades! CT unmasked! https://t.co/O7WjyZSwiW
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) December 20, 2019
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Dallas Baptist Church, condemned Christianity Today as a “dying magazine that has been ‘Never Trump’ from the beginning.” He warned that the magazine is “going against 99% of evangelical Republicans who oppose impeachment. President Donald J. Trump is the most pro-life, pro-religious liberty, pro-Israel President in history!”
While Jeffress and Falwell have been justly criticized for their overly fawning admiration of the president, their remarks echo the responses of Franklin Graham, Eric Metaxas, and others condemning the Christianity Today editorial.
As an evangelical Christian who opposed Trump in 2016 myself, I can understand Galli’s desire to claim the moral high ground and equate Trump’s alleged misconduct with that of Bill Clinton. Yet the facts in the Ukraine episode at the heart of impeachment are far less cut-and-dried than the accusations against Clinton. This impeachment is not about Trump’s checkered moral past, but about a much more debatable policy decision.
Furthermore, President Trump has surprised me by taking great strides on important issues like life, religious liberty, the courts, curbing the transgender hysteria, and more. Meanwhile, Democrats have shown an ever-increasing hostility to biblical Christians and what we stand for. Much as Galli wants to condemn Trump without supporting Democrats, his position on impeachment is inherently political — and slanted in favor of the side that militantly fights the religious freedom of evangelical Christians.
While media outlets may celebrate Galli’s condemnation of Trump, this episode does not represent the beginning of an evangelical defection from the president. Quite the reverse: as these leaders have made clear, the editorial will hurt Christianity Today far more than it will hurt Trump.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.