Civility and the Search for Common Ground Are Important, But Sometimes We Need a Prophetic Witness

CT

Here is Baylor University professor and Christian public intellectual Alan Jacobs on Mark Galli’s editorial in Christianity Today calling for the removal of Donald Trump.

I want him out. I was happy to see him impeached and I would dance for joy if he were to be removed from office. But I think the task of Christianity Today is to inform and educate its readers about the theological and moral commitments that should govern Christian thinking about politics, not to endorse or decry specific acts of governance about which Christians, and the American electorate more generally, are deeply divided. A magazine like CT should be focused on helping people to “take every thought captive for Christ,” not telling them which side to take on this or any other partisan issue. Now there’s one less venue where Christians with political disagreements can come together in a common cause. That doesn’t feel like a win to me.

Taking a side, even the right side, isn’t always the best thing to do. There ought to be some magazines, and some institutions, and some people, focused instead on laying the groundwork for better days to come, and that requires inviting into the tent some people in your community whom you think are deeply misguided.

Jacobs’s remarks make sense if we are talking about any other U.S. president.  I think Trump is different.  Yes, as I have argued before, he is the logical conclusion of a long history of unhealthy evangelical political habits.  But he is also unique, and not in a good way.  We have not seen anything like him before.  It is hard to perceive him as a participant in the democratic game when he has proven over and over again that he does not care about the rules.  He does not belong on the playing field.

I realize that the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump are not a monolithic block.  Many of these Trump voters were not happy with their vote in 2016, but they thought a vote for the Donald was necessary considering the alternative.  Of course these voters are partially to blame for giving Trump his bully pulpit.  But I understand why they supported him in 2016.  Many of these evangelicals are my friends, family members, and fellow church-goers.  Many of them are regular readers of this blog.  I continue to fellowship with them, argue with them, and try to find common ground.

But there is another kind of Trump evangelical out there who makes fellowship and the quest for common ground difficult.  These evangelicals refuse to condemn him for his immorality. They believe and tolerate his lies. They often fail to recognize facts when they see them.  They went on television and other media outlets to defend Trump after Charlottesville.  They defended Trump when he separated families at the border.  They join him in the ugly demonization of his political enemies.  They attend Trump rallies and cheer his every word.  They believe we should “Make America Great Again.”  They think that Donald Trump is the new King Cyrus.  They believe he has a special anointing from God.  They seek political power as a way of advancing Christian nationalism.  Their view of the world is formed more by Fox News than the teachings of the Bible.

Jacobs thinks that the purpose of Christianity Today is to “inform and educate its readers about the theological and moral commitments that should govern Christian thinking about politics, not to endorse or decry specific acts of governance about which Christians, and the American electorate more generally, are deeply divided.”  This is fair.  And in virtually every other case I would agree.  Indeed, Christianity Today has always informed and educated readers along the lines Jacobs suggests. It will continue to do so.  I also imagine that Christianity Today will continue to publish articles in opposition to abortion and in support of traditional marriage.  I fully expect the magazine to engage the difficult issues of religious liberty.  I think it is safe to say that Christianity Today will continue to wrestle with the big questions of American public and moral life and invite contributors who represent different Christian viewpoints informed by reason, facts, and intelligent engagement.

Civility is always important.  We need to cultivate it in our neighborhoods, communities, and churches.  We must always work for reconciliation between Christians in the places where God has placed us.  Needless to say, we have a lot of work to do on this front.

But sometimes we need a prophetic witness.  Someone in the evangelical community had to stand up and “call a spade a spade.”  I am glad it was Mark Galli and Christianity Today.