What started yesterday with a Tweet of Christianity Today‘s editorial calling for the removal of President Trump has erupted overnight into yet another (yes, another) battle among Evangelical Christians. And, for all the nation and the world to see, including many outside the church who will be further repelled by our “Christian witness.”
Who or what are Evangelicals, anyway? Although the definition is constantly changing and there is dispute among Evangelicals as to what the term even means, one might broadly classify Evangelicals as those who share four main qualities:
- Biblicism: a high regard for the Bible
- Crucicentrism: a focus on Jesus’s crucifixion and its saving effects
- Conversionism: a belief that humans need to be converted
- Activism: the belief that faith should influence one’s public life
Under this admittedly broad definition, Christianity Today Magazine, founded in 1956 by none other than Rev. Billy Graham, has been considered by many to be the flagship publication of Evangelical Christianity. That is one reason why yesterday’s editorial struck a nerve within the wider Evangelical community.
In less than 24-hours, the responses to CT Editor Mark Galli’s call for the removal of President Trump from office have been met with both cheers and boos across the nation and across the political and religious landscape. Galli, who announced his retirement from CT in October and who will step down January 3, 2020, concluded this about President Trump’s tenure in office:
But 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.Trump Should Be Removed From Office (Mark Galli, December 19, 2019)
While Evangelicals on Twitter were abuzz over the editorial yesterday, major media outlets, including The Washington Post (here) and The New York Times (here), picked up the story and ran with it. Of course, the secular press will not do any favors to Evangelicals and will always portray this group in the most negative light possible.
Unfortunately, we don’t even need the Mainstream News Media to do our dirty work. Over the years, Christians have become quite proficient at getting down and dirty. It did not take the conservative wing of Evangelicalism long to respond to CT’s “liberal, progressive” rant.
Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, soon joined the fray with a long Facebook post which concluded:
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.Franklin Graham slams Christianity Today for invoking father’s name in call for Trump’s removal
Of course, it did not take President Trump long before he responded to an editorial in a magazine that he most likely had never heard of before yesterday:
A far left magazine, or very ‘progressive,’ as some would call it, which has been doing poorly and hasn’t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years, Christianity Today, knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine phone call and would rather have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President,” Trump tweeted.
“No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close,” he continued. “You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading ET again!” he wrote, apparently getting the initials of the magazine wrong.Trump blasts evangelical magazine after it calls him ‘profoundly immoral,’ seeks his removal
Once again battle lines have been drawn. We are now at another point of picking sides. We are a divided Church and a divided nation. Some might say that this is all President Trump’s fault. That he brought us to this point. Like so many other issues facing our country, I don’t believe that President Trump, as Billy Joel might say, started the fire, but his time in office has certainly added fuel to the fire.
Whether you consider yourself an Evangelical Christian as I do or, whether you are a fellow citizen who does not share my faith or who does not ascribe to any religious faith at all, we all are responsible for how we respond to others. It has often been said that we can either throw gasoline onto the fire to make it burn hotter or we can throw water onto the fire to put it out.
Far too often, especially on Social Media (Twitter in particular), we respond with anger, meanness, and incivility instead of with calmness, kindness, and respect. We curse with our words rather than bless with them. We see the speck in our opponent’s eye while we have a blind spot to the massive log in our friend’s eye or in our own eye.
As Christians, we are far more likely to judge other people’s motives of (which is God’s prerogative alone) while giving ourselves a pass. The Book of James warns us of a critical spirit toward fellow believers:
Don’t criticize one another, brothers and sisters. Anyone who defames or judges a fellow believer defames and judges the law.James 4:11 (CSB)
It would be easy for me to be critical of Mark Galli and his editorial in Christianity Today. There are parts of it that I found spiritually challenging and other parts that I found politically troubling. When it comes to President Trump — or any of us, for that matter — we are all sinners, ultimately saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That is at the heart of the Good News — the Gospel — that we proclaim as Evangelicals. No matter one’s view of President Trump, the Democrat Party, or Impeachment, one thing remains constant: only the church and followers of Christ can proclaim the Gospel message.
Sadly, that proclamation has been, and will continue to be, rendered ineffective because of our poor witness in the world. Instead of responding with love and grace to those fellow believers who see things differently, we openly fight and call each other names. All while a lost world watches this sad spectacle. We have become a noisy gong, shouting at each other and the world without the one thing that matters most — love.
In the end, I doubt that Christianity Today’s editorial will change many Evangelical minds. The resulting fallout and division among the different strains of Evangelicalism will certainly not be a positive witness for Christ in the world. The lost will have no idea that we are followers of Jesus.
The only way that we will impact the world as Evangelicals is to proclaim the life-transforming message of the Good News. And, it must start with love. Love for God to be sure. But, love for one another within the church before we ever get the chance to show our love to those outside the church. Jesus said:
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:35 (CSB)
Agree or disagree on politics and culture. Be for or against impeachment. Vote for or against Donald Trump in 2020. Just don’t let your love for your fellow brothers or sisters in Christ be destroyed by politics. Our witness can’t afford it and the culture can’t afford it. That’s too high a price to pay.