On Thursday, Christianity Today, the flagship newspaper of reflective evangelical Christianity, endorsed the removal of Donald Trump. Today Trump fired back, and his power-worshipping servant, Franklin Graham, put great distance between his family (who helped found CT) and CT’s current leadership. Here is the most powerful passage:
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. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?
It is extremely important for theologically conservative Christians to avoid identifying their faith with right-wing political causes, even important ones. Franklin Graham seems incapable of criticizing anything the president does. He clearly treats Trump and his regime as a kind of idol. As have a number of other leading evangelicals.
Most of my readers are non-Christians who identify as either progressive or libertarian, so it may be obvious to you that CT has taken a morally respectable stance and that Graham and most evangelicals do not. But I think things are a bit more complicated than this. Many evangelicals think, with good reason, that the progressive left hates them and wants to stigmatize them for their traditional views on sexual morality. Many feel that, however bad Trump is, the Democrats are worse. Trump is a terrible person and a bad president, but he doesn’t hate evangelicals, and he is providing them with the judicial appointments of their dreams. So rejecting Trump might seem unsafe and unwise.
To these people, the CT article is not going to be very convincing. CT focuses on problems with Trump, and judging the wisdom of removal requires comparing Trump’s policies with those of the alternatives (though more on this below). But while the article may not have made the best comparative case for removal, it does something more important.
Much evangelical support for Trump is not based on careful political calculus, but has instead led evangelical Christians to effectively convert from traditional Christianity to the worship of the American red tribe’s false god of political power. If you spend more time watching Fox News defend Trump than attending church, you might be worshipping someone other than Jesus. Here’s a sad example from a CT reader that Ted Olsen, the Editorial Director at CT, received by email:
This is the real danger of supporting Trump no matter what he does. By refusing to criticize Trump, and by refusing to consider removing him, Christians can be tempted to treat Trump as an idol. Careful political calculus might lead Christians to oppose removal, but outright and unwavering support is spiritually dangerous. Christians are taught to believe that we are not to put our trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation (Psalm 146:3). And that’s because human beings have a natural tendency to worship things other than God. This is why all Trump-supporting Christians should seriously consider supporting removal: to ensure that their support for Trump does not compete with their devotion to God.
And the consequences of removal aren’t exactly disastrous! Pence will be president, and would arguably stand a good chance against whomever the Democrats put forward. Indeed, Pence would have less support from Trump’s base. But he’d have less opposition from independents and Democrats. So removing Trump is not tantamount to electing a Democratic president. And the long-term effects of removal would discourage future presidents from acting this badly, such that a future conservative president might be better behaved.
So here’s the general lesson. American Christians in particular must struggle to formulate complex and reflective political attitudes in a polarized culture that tells us that political tribe affiliation is what matters most. It is, in my view, an implication of our duty to avoid worshipping false gods.