Friday, December 20, 2019

At Long Last, Christianity Today Lowers the Boom — "It's Time to Call a Spade a Spade" — & Republicans Rage

I will publish the second half of Ruth Krall's wonderful essay "Bearing Witness: The First Step in Reconciliation" in the next day or so. Meanwhile, these developments, which have just unfolded, seem to demand commentary — and here are some good pieces I've read in the past two days:

Mark Galli, "Trump Should Be Removed from Office," Christianity Today:

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? ... 
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. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.

Heather Cox Richardson, "December 19, 2019," Letters from an American:  

The editorial lists the president's many moral failings, and warns evangelicals—including those in Congress-- that support for a man with such a 'blackened moral record' will injure the cause of evangelical religion. It charges Christians who support the president to "remember who you are and whom you serve…. 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."
Christianity Today was started by evangelical leader Billy Graham, and while it has a readership of only about 250,000 people, they are influential. This break in the evangelical ranks was huge. White evangelicals are Trump's most fervent supporters, clocking in at over 80% support for the president. This editorial provides an off ramp for those increasingly uncomfortable at their association with Trump.

On Friday, Trump responded by categorizing Christianity Today as a far-left and progressive magazine that is miles away from its earliest years as an outlet for evangelical preacher Rev. Billy Graham. PRRI CEO and founder Robert P. Jones looked at the conservative history of Christianity Today in a Friday morning Twitter thread. "It's broadly accepted by be in evangelical mainstream = conservative," Jones wrote. 
In a piece for The New York Times, Elizabeth Dias cites PRRI data which shows that 98% of Republican white evangelical Protestants oppose Trump's impeachment.

Two Southern Baptist megachurch pastors joined Donald Trump in criticizing an editorial in the flagship evangelical magazine Christianity Today saying the president should be removed from office. … Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and a Trump supporter, tweeted that his late father would not agree with the editorial and would be disappointed, sharing for the first time that the elder Graham voted for Trump in 2016, believing he "was the man for this hour in history for our nation." … 
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a Trump supporter, responded that Christianity Today “is a dying magazine that has been "Never Trump" from the beginning.

"The moral scales no longer balance," Galli told the Atlantic. "We've been a movement that has said the moral character of our leaders is really important," Galli continued, adding that the association of evangelicals with Trump will do "horrific" damage to their ability to share the Gospel with others. 
It's perversely revealing that Trump's response to all this is to rage that evangelicals are indeed getting a good deal out of their bargain with him. 
But this transaction — as Trump himself defines it here — also requires pretending along with Trump that his conduct was "perfect." 
This is the rub. As Galli puts it, the problem that should be staring evangelicals in the face is that what we've all discovered about Trump’s corruption and amorality "is actually true."

One of the more grotesque features of Donald Trump's rise to the highest office in the land has been the devout support he's received from Evangelical leaders. The same folks who spent decades talking up family values have pledged absolute fealty to a thrice-betrothed heathen who relentlessly cheated on all his wives and reportedly played an abridged role in raising his own children. The folks who talk about walking in Jesus's footsteps have backed a man who demonizes the stranger—immigrants and refugees—and more aptly represents the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth) than any principles of the Savior. It's enough to make you think the most important part of White Evangelical Christian is white.

As Trump faces increasingly grim polling numbers over impeachment, white evangelicals have dug in as his most loyal defenders. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in late October, about a month after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the official launch of the impeachment probe, 80% of white evangelicals opposed impeaching Trump and removing him from office (compared to just 47% of the public at large). Two-thirds of white evangelicals believed Trump did nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Among white evangelicals who identify as Republican, 99% of them opposed impeachment, according to an October analysis by the Public Religion Research Institute. 
This unwavering support is consistent with white evangelical voters’ attitude toward Trump in general. In 2016, 81% of them voted for him, and over the course of his tumultuous presidency, polling has consistently shown white evangelicals to be unfazed by Trump’s scandals and corruption — from pussy grabbing to Stormy Daniels to family separations to Russian election interference. Moreover, white evangelicals approve of Trump's job performance more than any other demographic does ― a rate 20 and 30 points higher than those of white mainline Protestants and white Catholics, respectively. These numbers have remained static even in the face of House Democrats’ probe into Trump’s efforts to shake down Zelensky for the public announcement of a corruption probe against Joe Biden and his son.

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.

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