A Southern Evangelical Businessman Breaks With Trump

 

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

Fred Rand is an evangelical Christian and Memphis business man.  He described his background in a recent piece at the Jackson (MS) Free Press:

I cut my teeth as a College Republican working for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I have never in my life cast a ballot for a Democrat candidate in almost 40 years as a registered Republican.

I am also a committed Evangelical Christian who grew up in Mississippi as a devoted follower of the Rev. Billy Graham and am now a follower of Andy Stanley. I joined my wife at North Point Church in Atlanta when we first married and briefly attended his Buckhead Church before moving to Charlotte, N.C., when our first grandson was born. We joined Andy’s wonderful startup church called Ridge, where our daughter was on full-time staff and her husband a volunteer youth counselor. Our daughter has recently completed (another) degree in Christian counseling at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary here and is currently in private practice, but still very active in our church….

I first heard Rev. Graham speak at an unofficial Reagan event in 1980. I was honored to be among a number of young people he spoke to briefly afterward. Rev. Graham warned us not to be seduced by the lights and excitement of politics. All fame is fleeing. And all men are human and will disappoint you, as Richard Nixon disappointed him. He urged us to put our trust first in God. He will never disappoint you. He will never turn His back on you. He will always love you. And we must honor that love by choosing Him, putting Him first and not turning our backs on Him.

I was a huge fan of the inspirational movie “Brian’s Song” in junior high. But it was my hero Gayle Sayer’s book “I am Third” that changed my life. I adopted his beliefs outlined in the book and have tried to live a life based on this guiding principle. God is first. My friends and family are second. And I am third. Rev. Graham’s off-the-cuff remarks that night echoed that same philosophy, and I saw the truth in his words to us.

That night had a profound effect on my life. I read an article about Rev. Graham in Parade Magazine less than a year later that I kept framed on my wall for 30 years that was 100% consistent with his testimony to us Young Republicans that night.

“I told (Jerry Falwell) to preach the Gospel,” Rev. Graham said in the Parade article. “That’s our calling. I want to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the freedom of religion in America. I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. Liberals organized in the ’60s, and conservatives certainly have a right to organize in the ’80s, but it would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

That has been my political lodestone ever since.

In his Jackson Free Press piece, Rand defends Mark Galli’s editorial in Christianity Today and says that “Donald Trump fits the scriptural definition of a fool.”

Read it all here.

My Piece Today at *USA TODAY* on the Evangelicals for Trump Rally

Miami Trump

Here is a taste of “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God“:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson), and the hosts of Fox and Friends.

Read the entire piece at *USA TODAY*.

The Dangers of the Court

COurt Evangelicals

Here is a taste of my recent piece at Religion News Service: “Courtiers and kings, evangelicals, prophets, and Trump“:

(RNS) — Last Friday (Jan. 3), nearly every major conservative evangelical supporter of President Donald Trump gathered at the El Rey Jesus Church in Miami for the kickoff to the “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign.

If Mark Galli’s recent editorial in Christianity Today taught us anything, it is that American evangelicalism is a diverse group. Evangelicals find unity in their commitment to the redemptive work and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the divine inspiration of the Bible and the necessity of sharing their faith with others. They do not always share the same political convictions.

When Galli criticized Trump for his “grossly immoral character” and urged his fellow evangelicals to consider how their blind support of Trump is hurting the witness of the church, pro-Trump evangelical leaders pushed back. In an open letter to Christianity Today, they said that, despite his many flaws, the president has delivered for evangelicals on matters related to abortion, religious liberty and supporting Israel. Last weekend’s rally in Miami was a continuation of this pushback.

As has been noted elsewhere, these evangelical flatterers of Trump are not unlike the court clergy of late medieval and Renaissance-era Europe. In his book “The Origins of Courtliness,” historian C. Stephen Jaeger retells a story once told by the 11th-century church reformer Petrus Damiani about St. Severin, once archbishop of Cologne, whose sole offense — punished by leaving him to wander the Earth  — was that as a cleric at the king’s court, he took so keen an interest in the affairs of the state that he neglected chanting the liturgy at the prescribed hours. 

The tale sheds light on a common problem for clergymen with access to political power: The king’s court can be a dangerous place, even for the most devout. Courtiers have one goal: to gain access to and win the favor of the monarch. Such access brings privilege and power and an opportunity to influence the king on important matters — if, of course, the king is willing to listen. 

In his well-known guide to court life, 16th-century Italian courtier Baldesar Castiglione described the court as an “inherently immoral” place, a worldly venue “awash with dishonest, greedy, and highly competitive men.” One historian has described courtiers of the time as “opportunistic social ornaments”; another described them as “chameleons.”

The skills needed to thrive in the court, in short, are different from the virtues needed to lead a healthy Christian life or exercise spiritual leadership in the church. Most medieval courts had their share of clergy, bishops and other spiritual counselors, and historians agree that their behavior was indistinguishable from that of secular courtiers, whom Damiani described elsewhere as “ruthless, fawning flatterers” in a “theater of intrigue and villainy.”

Sylvius Piccolomini, the 15th-century Renaissance humanist who would eventually become Pope Pius II, was a strong opponent of court clergy. It was very difficult, he said, for the Christian courtier to “rein in ambition, suppress avarice, tame envy, strife, wrath, and cut off vice, while standing in the midst of these (very) things.”

In the United States we don’t have kings, princes or courts, but we do have our own version of religious courtiers, who boast of, in Southern Baptist theologian Richard Land’s gleeful description, “unprecedented access” to the Oval Office.

Read the rest here.

The Many Problems With Eric Metaxas’s “Christian Case for Trump”

Metaxas

Eric Metaxas has once again turned to the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal in defense of Donald Trump.  (Some of you may recall his October 12, 2016 op-ed in which he said “God will not hold us guiltless” if we vote for anyone but Trump).

Metaxas writes:

The [Christianity Today] article cleared its throat—and conscience—by declaring “unambiguous” the “facts” of the president’s guilt. Having thus defenestrated objectivity, the editorial cited his behavior in general as “profoundly immoral,” his character as “grossly” so.

But these subjective pronouncements promote a perversion of Christian doctrine, which holds that all are depraved and equally in need of God’s grace. For Christianity Today to advance this misunderstanding is shocking. It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but faith in what Jesus has done.

Defenestrated?  Only elites use this word. 🙂

Let’s remember that Mark Galli’s piece in Christianity Today is an editorial.  Of course he “defenstrated objectivity.” That is the point.  Editorials are supposed to offer an informed opinion.

A couple of more thoughts here:

  1. How is the practice of calling out Trump’s immorality a “perversion of Christian doctrine?” The Bible is filled with prophets calling out sin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas’s favorite historical character, called out sin. So did William Wilberforce, the subject of another Metaxas book.  What about John the Baptist? Or Jesus?  Metaxas’s remarks that the church is not responsible for calling out the sins of a leader is absolutely absurd.  I am surprised Metaxas did not cite Romans 13 like Jeff Sessions did in the summer of 2018 or the American loyalists did in 1776 or the Southern slaveowners did in the 1850s.  But I now understand that this is what court evangelicals do.  They claim that their political opposition has somehow perverted true Christian doctrine.  This is part of their strategy for defending God’s chosen one–Donald Trump.
  2. Metaxas believes that Christianity Today, in speaking prophetically against the corruption of the Trump presidency, is failing to acknowledge that Donald Trump is “depraved” and in need of “grace.” This, Metaxas argues, is a perversion of Christian doctrine.  But doesn’t “Christian doctrine” also require a person to repent of his sins as a prerequisite of receiving God’s grace?  Isn’t repentance an essential part of the Christian morphology of conversion?  I don’t know Trump’s heart, but I have yet to hear him ask for forgiveness for any of his sins.  In the end, I agree with Metaxas on this point: Trump is “depraved” and “in need of God’s grace.” So was almost every tyrant in world history.  What if Metaxas applied the same logic to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He would have to argue that the great German theologian was wrong to criticize Hitler for his immorality because Hitler was “depraved” and in “need of God’s grace.” Was Bonhoeffer and his confessing church perverting Christian doctrine?

Metaxas continues:

The reason for the editorial is that evangelicals pronounced Bill Clinton unfit for office because of his moral failings. Thus, claim Mr. Trump’s detractors, evangelicals are hypocrites who’ve sold their souls for political power unless they issue a withering philippic against Mr. Trump. Christianity Today’s long-faced essay is meant to be that dressing-down, triggered by the “facts” of the impeachment.

But does the Clinton “character” comparison make sense? Aren’t the political realities different two decades later? The triangulating practicality and moderation of the Democrats under Mr. Clinton have been trampled beyond recognition by something untethered and wild, like horses racing to Venezuela.

In the 1990s some Democrats were antiabortion. Neither party could exclusively claim the high ground on this deepest of moral issues. Mr. Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. Despite ultrasounds and 4-D imaging, Democrats endorse abortion with near unanimity, often beyond viability and until birth.  If slavery was rightly considered wicked—and both a moral and political issue—how can this macabre practice be anything else? How can Christians pretend this isn’t the principal moral issue of our time, as slavery was in 1860? Can’t these issues of historic significance outweigh whatever the president’s moral failings might be?

Thoughts:

  1. I want to make a historical point here. Indeed, Clinton wanted to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare” and pro-life Democrats were indeed easier to find in the 1990s.  But Clinton also refused to allow pro-life Democrats to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. Most Pennsylvanians know that Governor Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, was denied a speaking slot. Again, times have changed on this front.  There are fewer people like Bill Clinton and Bob Casey today.  But let’s not pretend that “neither party could exclusively claim the high ground” on abortion in the 1990s. Democrats were largely pro-choice. Republicans were largely pro-life.  This distinction was not lost on any of the members of the Christian Right alive at the time.  If Metaxas were writing in 1992 he would have been screaming bloody murder upon learning that Casey was denied a speaking slot.  Now, in 2020, it is convenient for Metaxas to make the historical claim that there were no significant divisions over abortion in the 1990s.
  2. Another historical point. Metaxas says that we cannot compare the Trump and Clinton impeachments because “the political realities” are “different two decades later.” But if we buy Metaxas historical claim that “political realities” change over time, then what should we make of his comparison between abortion and slavery?  Aren’t “the political realities different” sixteen decades years later? Slavery was indeed a moral problem in the 19th century.  Abortion is indeed a moral problem today.  But the comparison also has its limits.
  3. Metaxas will be happy to hear that I believe abortion is a principal moral issue of our time. We must continue to find ways of reducing this practice.  But Donald Trump is not the answer.

More Metaxas:

The pejorative du jour is to call evangelicals “transactional,” as though buying a loaf of bread and not simply praying for one were somehow faithless. But what is sneeringly called “transactional” is representational government, in which patriotic citizens vote, deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country. Isn’t it conceivable that faithful Christians think Mr. Trump is the best choice?

Two thoughts:

  1. Let’s again remember that “patriotic citizens” also voted in the 2018 election. They elected Democrats to the House of Representatives.  When the people voted in 2018 they were, to use Metaxas’s words, “deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country.”  Isn’t it “conceivable” that the American people’s vote in 2018 suggested that they were not happy with Trump?
  2. Metaxas concludes that “faithful Christians” made the correct moral choice when they chose Trump.  But it is also possible that they did not. “Faithful” evangelical Christians in the past have supported all kinds of things, including slavery, nativism, and Jim Crow segregation.  I chronicled this history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Were the majority of Christians in the South morally correct when they preserve slavery morally correct?  Were the “faithful Christians” who supported slavery or Jim Crow laws making “the best choice?”  My intention here is not to compare evangelical Trump voters to slaveholders, but to show that just because most Christians vote a certain way does not necessarily mean that their collective voice represents the highest ethical norms.  For example, if I said that the “majority of faithful Democrats in the House want Trump impeached,” I would imagine Metaxas would claim that just because the majority of the House wants Trump impeached does not necessarily mean that the majority of the House is correct in such a decision.

Metaxas continues:

Can those troubled by Mr. Trump not at least imagine that removing him could lead to something even worse? Can the Democratic metamorphosis into an openly antiborder, socialist movement responsibly be ignored?

Here Metaxas assumes that all Democrats support socialism and open borders.  This is not true.  Metaxas is engaged here in Fearmongering 101.  He implies that if you do not vote for Donald Trump the country is going to be overrun by socialists and immigrants. Metaxas knows that most white evangelicals do not make a distinction between democratic socialism and Soviet-style communism.  He also knows that many white evangelicals worry that immigrants represent a continued threat to a white Christian America that is already in rapid decline.

Metaxas goes on:

Christians especially blanch to see religious liberty—once thought settled under Mr. Clinton with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—suddenly under serious attack. Christians are staggered to see good souls who stand by millennia-old religious convictions portrayed as deplorable bigots. Democrats—and many Republicans, too—simply look away, seemingly resigned to a culturally Marxist future in which they too may at any minute be rent asunder by woke mobs.

Thoughts:

  1. I partially agree with Metaxas. There are a lot of serious concerns about religious liberty for Christian institutions. This is why I support Fairness for All and find myself in agreement with Washington University law professor John Inazu’s (and Tim Keller‘s) idea of “confident pluralism.” But let’s not pretend that Donald Trump has a perfect record on religious liberty.  See, for example, Steven Waldman’s recent piece at the conservative website The Bulwark or Melissa Rogers’s piece at Religion News Service.
  2. This paragraph is filled with dog-whistles and more fear-mongering.  Metaxas’s use of words like “bigots,” “Marxist,” and “woke mobs” are meant to scare evangelicals.  Metaxas, like many evangelicals, see Trump as a strongman. The Donald will protect him and all evangelicals from the Marxists and the woke mobs who will soon be arriving at their doorsteps.

Metaxas continues:

Given this new reality, is it any wonder Mr. Trump’s bellicosity often draws cheers?  Or that the appointment of originalist judges has become so urgent that some people are willing to countenance a chief executive who tweets like a WWE figure?

The cheers that Trump received last Friday during the recent Evangelicals for Trump rally (Metaxas was present) at an evangelical megachurch in Miami were deeply troubling. Here is my take on it.  As for the Christian Right’s false belief that the appointment of federal justices will end, or even reduce, abortions in America, see my argument in Believe Me.

Finally, the bio attached to the op-ed says, “Mr. Metaxas is the author of “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.” I wrote a series of posts on this historically problematic book here and another review here.

You can read the entire Metaxas Wall Street Journal op-ed here, but you will need a subscription in order to do it.

Richard Mouw Defends the *Christianity Today* Editorial

Mouw 1

Richard Mouw is the former president of evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary.  Here is a taste of his piece at Religion & Politics: “The Prophetic Witness of the Christianity Today Editorial“:

At the risk of losing subscribers and harming their publication—which was attacked by the president himself on Twitter—Christianity Today delivered an important message. The prophetic editorial has been the occasion for renewed charges that Trump’s evangelical supporters have allowed political concerns to override concerns about presidential character. The president’s supporters do not dispute claims that he has said and done some highly offensive things. Instead, they tell us that we are obliged as citizens to support leaders who promote what we consider to be crucial political goals. And in this, they tell us, President Trump—whatever else we might say about him—has shown himself to be on our side. Christianity Today had a response to this as well: “To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this … 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.”

Read the entire piece here.

I also appreciate Mouw’s blurb for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Mouw

 

Christianity Today’s Former Editor Mark Galli Debates Court Evangelical Richard Land on Boston Public Radio

Galli

The conversation occurred on WBUR-Boston.  Listen here.

Some of you may recall that Richard Land was behind the editorial that led to the resignation of its political editor Napp Nazworth.

A few takeaways:

  • Galli says he had been planning the Christianity Today editorial for “five or ten minutes” before he wrote it.
  • Galli has a history of trying to get evangelicals on the Left and Right to talk to one another. But this editorial was different. He said “we crossed the rubicon.”  He needed to speak out against Trump
  • Galli responds to his evangelical critics: “They pass this off, when they do respond … many pass it off, and say, ‘Well, he’s fighting for the causes we care about. And if he has a few rough edges, we can live with that.’ And they don’t seem to recognize that a man who calls his political enemies crazy, and lying, and disgraced, and losers, and crooked, and phony and fake — and does this day in and day out, often many times a day — they don’t seem to recognize that he is exacerbating the culture of contempt, which was already well under way before he became president. I mean, Hillary Clinton called many Americans a basket of deplorables. But it’s no question that President Trump has taken that to a new level. And the fact that they don’t connect that with the biblical verses about holding one’s tongue — and how dangerous the tongue can be, and how powerful words are, and how we have to be guarded in our speaking — they seem to have completely made a disconnect between those things. And to call that type of language ‘rough edges’ is to miss the gravity of what’s going on.”
  • Galli does not believe that pro-Trumpers are fearful.  Meghna Chakrabarti pushes back.  Galli responds by saying that the left is also fearful.  This sounds a lot like John Wilson, Galli’s former colleague.
  • Does evangelical support of Trump hurt their Christian witness?  Galli says that there is a LOT of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is.  He references the many letters he has received in response to his editorial.
  • Galli says that the word “evangelical” is now just a political world.  It has become useless.
  • Galli responds to Franklin Graham’s claim that he has “lost his mind.” He defends the idea that Christianity Today is still following Billy Graham’s founding vision.
  • Land enters the conversation and criticizes Galli for his “elitism.” He praises Donald Trump’s policies on abortion and religious liberty.  Land believes that the best way to reduce the number of abortion is to elect the right president.  I am not sure this is true.
  • Galli explains what he means by “elitism.”  He didn’t use the term in previous writings for the purpose of looking down his nose at evangelical Trump voters.  He was just stating a fact. Indeed, Galli is correct here.  Most of Trump’s evangelical support does come from the working class.
  • Land says that most Southern Baptists were not voting for Donald Trump in 2016.  They were voting against Hillary Clinton.  Land then turns the conversation again to abortion.
  • Galli says that pro-Trump evangelicals fail to “hold Trump’s feet to the fire” when he advances a “culture of contempt” with his rhetoric.  Such a culture, Galli says, is detrimental to the nation and the church.  Land responds.  Says that the “culture of contempt” did not start with Trump.  He refers to rhetoric by Obama and Hillary Clinton.  This, of course, is a logical fallacy.  Barack Obama is no longer President.  Hillary Clinton is not president.  Galli is not writing about Obama and Hillary.  He is writing about Trump.
  • An evangelical caller and mother is upset that evangelical Christians are not coming out and supporting Trump’s “bullying.”  Land responds by saying Obama and Hillary were also bullies. He seems to suggest that there is a moral equivalence between Trump and Obama/Hillary on this issue.

*Christianity Today* Editor Mark Galli Says His Critics are Ethically Naive

Galli

Mark Galli, the outgoing editor of Christianity Today and the author of an editorial calling for Donald Trump’s removal, recently spoke with Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs of The New York Times.

Here are some highlights of the interview:

  • On the day after the editorial appeared Galli’s landline at Christianity Today “literally rang–this is not hyperbole–all day.” He took media inquires via cell phone and e-mail.
  • When asked about the criticisms of the article from Franklin Graham and Donald Trump, Galli said:  “And it did strike me as a bit ironic that they both said that it wasn’t significant or going to make any difference. It makes you immediately think that they do think it’s significant, or they wouldn’t comment on it.”
  • On other critics of his piece:  “I’ve been surprised by the ethical naïveté of the response I’m receiving to the editorial. There does seem to be widespread ignorance — that is the best word I can come up with — of the gravity of Trump’s moral failings. Some evangelicals will acknowledge he had a problem with adultery, but now they consider that a thing of the past. They bring up King David, but the difference is King David repented! Donald Trump has not done that. Some evangelicals say he is prideful, abrasive and arrogant — which are all the qualities that Christians decry — but they don’t seem to grasp how serious it is for a head of state to talk like that and it does make me wonder what’s going on there.”
  • Galli suggests that some of Trump’s closest followers are “in a sense, being discipled by him.”
  • In retirement, Galli will write on evangelicalism for the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian.

Read the entire interview here.  It is also worth noting that Galli’s critics are logically naive.

Losing Faith in Franklin

780b2-billyandfranklingrahamcrowd

James Seawel, a social worker and Christian counselor from Maynard, Arkansas, was once a Franklin Graham fan.  No longer.  Here is a taste of his piece at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

My critique of Rev. Franklin Graham (Christianus rectus) might appear predictable, although he excels in making himself an easy target with his wholesale approval of the president. As a Christian progressive and a frequent detractor of “Billy’s Boy,” it also might appear as if I simply enjoy throwing stones. I do not.

In our American tribal culture, many evangelical friends–my tribe–feel that challenging any evangelical leader borders on heresy. Attention, friends and neighbors! Franklin Graham is not and never will be either the church or its head. Not even the esteemed and beloved Billy Graham could’ve claimed that title, though his diplomacy and graciousness appealed to the masses.

On my spiritual journey I have learned and grown tremendously from theological and political conservatives. I also have been a lifetime fan of Billy Graham and, once upon a time, a fan of the entire Graham family.

One Christmas, as a junior at Harding University and a devoted member of the Church of Christ, I responded to a chapel challenge to stuff a shoebox full of Christmas gifts for Franklin’s Christian relief agency, Samaritan’s Purse. I made a quick Walmart run, then mailed a Nike box full of toys and chocolates to a deserving Appalachian orphan.

Some time later, after coming to grips with my conviction that Christianity was bigger than the faith group to which I belonged, I looked beyond my fundamentalist roots to the greater evangelical Christian culture. Enter Billy and Franklin Graham. They had “personal relationships” with Jesus– something I’d never been taught. I developed my own connection with the Lord when I transitioned from fundamentalism into evangelicalism and reveled in my newfound association.

Read the rest here. I think it is safe to say that Seawel is not alone.

Some More Thoughts on the Populist Critique of “Elite Evangelicals”

Trump iN Dallas

For most evangelical Christians, the message of the Gospel transcends the identity categories we place on human beings.  All men and women are sinners in need of redemption.  Citizenship in the Kingdom of God, made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection, is available to all human beings regardless of their race, class, or gender.

I also think that most evangelicals believe that good Christians strive to live Holy Spirit-filled lives that conform to the moral teachings of the Bible. In other words, evangelical Christians follow the 10 Commandments, Jesus’s teachings in  the Gospels (including the Sermon on the Mount), and the ethical demands of the New Testament epistles.

Since Mark Galli wrote his Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump, the evangelical defenders of the POTUS have been playing the populist card. Let’s remember that the populist card is an identity politics card.

The opponents of Christianity Today have tried to paint Galli and other evangelical anti-Trumpers as “elites” who look down their noses at uneducated or working class evangelicals.  In their minds, Galli and his ilk are guilty of the same kind of supposed moral preening as university professors, Barack Obama, and the progressive legislators known as “The Squad.”  They view these educated evangelicals–some of whom they might worship with on Sunday mornings–through the lens of class-based politics rather than as fellow believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This populist argument has come from a variety of sectors, including First Things magazine (here and here), the court evangelicals (here), and Calvinist Front Porcher and American religious historian Darryl Hart (here).

So I ask: Has Trump’s class-based identity politics co-opted Christian ethics?

Trump has openly lied or misrepresented the truth. He has engaged in speech that is misogynistic, nativist, and racist. He has advanced policies that have separated children from their parents.  He regularly demonizes and degrades his political enemies.  It seems like these things, on the basis of biblical morality, are always wrong, regardless of whether an educated person or an uneducated person brings them to our attention.  Last time I checked, the minor prophets and John the Baptist did not have Ph.Ds.

Mark Galli of Christianity Today has offered a stinging moral criticism of Trump.  We can debate whether Trump’s actions in Ukraine are impeachable, but Galli is on solid ground when he says the president is “grossly immoral.”

Is it right to say that a Christian is “out of touch” when he calls out such immoral behavior?  (Or maybe one might take evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem’s approach and try to make a case that Trump’s indiscretions are few and inconsequential).

Would a non-college educated factory worker in the Midwest who claims the name of Jesus Christ think that racism, misogyny, nativism, the degradation of one’s enemies, and lying are moral problems?  Wouldn’t any Christian, formed by the teachings of a local church and the spiritual disciplines (as opposed to the daily barrage of Fox News), see the need to condemn such behavior?  What does social class have to do with it?  Shouldn’t one’s identity in the Gospel and its moral implications for living transcend class identity?

For those who are lamenting disunion in the church, I have another question:  Shouldn’t the church be an otherworldly, counter-cultural institution that finds some unity in the condemnation of immoral behavior in the corridors of national power?  Or should we take our marching orders from the divisive, class-based identity politics of Donald Trump?

From the Archives: “What Wayne Grudem Thought About Presidential Character in 1998”

Grudem 23

Yesterday I offered some analysis of Wayne Grudem’s article defending Donald Trump and criticizing Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for Trump’s removal from office.  You can read my post here.

Today I am running a post I published on August 2, 2016.  It is titled “What Wayne Grudem Thought About Presidential Character in 1998.”  Here it is:

I am guessing a lot of my readers have never heard of Wayne Grudem.  He is an evangelical theologian and the author of a very popular one-volume treatment of evangelical systematic theology. He is also well-known within evangelical circles for defending a “complementarian” view of gender roles in the church and society.

Grudem is the quintessential evangelical insider.  He speaks and writes for evangelical churches and rarely ventures out of this subculture to engage a broader American public. This is why most people outside of evangelicalism have never heard of him.

When I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1989-1992) I took a theology course with Grudem.  I don’t remember much about it other than the fact that Grudem spent a lot of time talking about his work on the Biblical idea of prophecy. (I also remember having to read all of Calvin’s Institutes!). He would eventually argue that today’s Christians needed to reclaim the gift of prophecy.  If I remember correctly, he argued that the Holy Spirit could bring divine revelation to a believer’s mind.

During my time at Trinity I attended a major conference called “Evangelical Affirmations.” The purpose of the conference was to draw clearly defined theological boundaries around the word “evangelical.”  Leading evangelical theologians and pastors (mostly conservative evangelicals who upheld the doctrine of biblical inerrancy)  gathered on the Trinity campus in Deerfield, Illinois to try to figure out who was “in” and who was “out.”

One of the most heated debates focused on whether one could truly be called an “evangelical” if he or she did not believe that hell was a literal place–a place of fire and brimstone where unbelievers would spend eternity suffering for rejecting the Christian gospel.  I am guessing that most of the delegates to the Evangelical Affirmations conference would have affirmed the existence of such a place of eternal torment, but whether its literal existence should serve as a defining marker of evangelical faith was complicated by the beliefs of one man: John Stott.

Next to Billy Graham, John Stott is probably the most important and well-respected evangelical of the post-war era.  Even New York Times columnist David Brooks has sung his praises as a thoughtful, wise, humble, and respectable voice of modern evangelicalism.

Stott did not believe in a literal hell.

When the majority of delegates said that a true “evangelical” must believe in a literal hell, someone stood up (I can’t remember who it was) and begged, quite passionately I might add, that the group not define evangelicalism so narrowly that someone as influential as Stott would be excluded. (Stott was not present at the meeting).  Debate raged

Midway through this heated discussion about hell and John Stott, Wayne Grudem stood up.  I remember it vividly.  Grudem recognized Stott’s evangelical faith and his contribution to global evangelicalism, but he also articulated his strong conviction that the evangelical movement must, Stott or no Stott, affirm a belief in a literal hell.

I remember Grudem speaking with a great deal of certainty that day.  Frankly, I could not interpret his words apart from what he was teaching in his class about the so-called gift of prophecy.

I thought about this moment, and Grudem’s views on prophecy, when I read his recent article endorsing Donald Trump for President of the United States.  You can read it here.  I am not going to use this post to argue with his political views.  Later this week I will be a guest on a Christianity Today podcast that, from what I understand, will be using Grudem’s piece as a framing device for a larger discussion on evangelicals and the 2016 election. I will probably offer some history-informed commentary there.  I also appreciate the responses to Grudem’s piece written by Jonathan MerrittThomas KiddWarren ThrockmortonDavid FrenchBeth Allison BarrScot McKnightRandal RauserDavid Moore, and John Mark Reynolds. Check them out.

In his argument in favor of Trump, Grudem wrote:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

It seems like Grudem wants to ignore these character issues when it comes to Trump’s candidacy.  But back in 1998 he thought that the character of the POTUS was important. Here is a taste of a statement that evangelical leaders signed in response to the moral indiscretions of President Bill Clinton:

We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions. But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda. Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

(Thanks to Katie Manzullo-Thomas and Devin Manzullo-Thomas for digging up this statement when I was writing in June about James Dobson’s support of Trump).

I am not sure which Wayne Grudem to believe–the 1998 anti-Clinton version or the 2016 pro-Trump version.  Perhaps Grudem has changed his mind about presidential character.

Whatever one thinks about Grudem’s views of prophecy, it is worth noting that he does think that prophets are human and sometimes may be wrong. On page 69 of his book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today he writes: “The prophet could err, could misinterpret, and could be questioned or challenged at any point.”

Wayne Grudem Lives in a Different Moral Universe Than I Do

Grudem

In case you missed it, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem has turned to the politically conservative website Townhall to defend Donald Trump and criticize Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.

Grudem begins:

Galli gives six reasons why Trump should be removed, either by impeachment or at the next election: (1) He attempted to “coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of his political opponents,” and this was “a violation of the Constitution.” (2) This action was also “profoundly immoral.” (3) “He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals.” (4) He has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women,” and he “remains proud” about these things. (5) His Twitter feed contains a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and this makes it “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” Finally, (6) although the president has admittedly done some good things, “none of the president’s positives” can outweigh his “grossly immoral character.” Later he says that Trump has a “bent and broken character” and is guilty of “gross immorality and ethical incompetence.”

He concludes by warning evangelicals who support Trump not to “continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency,” because this will damage “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the gospel.”

These are strong words indeed. But are they true? Consider them in order:

(1) Did Trump violate the Constitution? 

Here is Grudem:

Regarding the Constitution, I claim no specialized expertise or legal knowledge. Like Galli himself, on this point I write as an interested citizen, not a legal expert. But I read in the Constitution that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (Art. II, Sec. 1, 3). That implies the president is empowered to investigate allegations of illegal activity. And (I speak here as an ordinary citizen, not an expert) I know of nothing in our Constitution or laws that says there is anything wrong with seeking help from a foreign government in investigating possible corruption. 

“Oh, but the situation is different because Biden is a political opponent and President Trump was asking the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden for the sake of personal political benefit,” some critics have objected.

My response is that I see nothing wrong with the president doing things that will bring him personal, political benefit. In fact, I expect that every president in the history of the United States has done things that bring him personal political benefit every day of his term. It is preposterous to claim that it is unconstitutional for the president to act in a way that is politically beneficial. In addition to that, when someone announces that he is running for political office, that does not mean he can no longer be investigated for prior wrongdoing. The opposite should be true.

If I read Grudem correctly, he seems to be suggesting that Donald Trump did indeed act out of self-interest when he called the president of Ukraine.  At least he admits it. This makes his argument different from many court evangelicals.  Grudem sounds more like Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who told reporters that Trump did engage in a quid pro quo (“we do that all the time”) and we should all just “get over it.”  Grudem seems to be suggesting that it was perfectly fine for Trump to investigate a political opponent in this way.  While Grudem is right about the self-interest of past presidents, this particular president’s self interest was an attempt to get a foreign country to interfere with an election and undermine the democratic process.

Even Jonathan Turley, the George Washington law professor who testified in opposition to impeachment before the House Judiciary Committee, said that if Trump acted out of political self-interest his call was an impeachable offense.  Turley’s primary concern was that the the Democrats in the House did not yet have enough evidence to make a case for impeachment.  And of course, the other three law professors who testified, over 500 more law professors, and more than 2000 historians have also argued that what Trump did was an impeachable offense.

I am afraid that Wayne Grudem, a man who I took a course with as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School,  is out of his league here.

(2) Was Trump’s phone call “profoundly immoral”?

Grudem writes:

But is it wrong to investigate possible wrongdoing by someone’s political opponent? Apparently the Democrats do not think so, because the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has been investigating President Trump for the entire past year. I do not see how it could be “profoundly immoral” to request information about possible corruption on the part of Joe Biden. I do not even see how it could be “minimally immoral,” and certainly not “profoundly immoral.” 

Once again, Grudem shows a lack of understanding about how the government works. In the United States we have separation of powers.  Congress is a check against the power and potential tyranny of the Executive Branch.  It is the duty of Congress to investigate the president.  Perhaps Grudem remembers when the House investigated Bill Clinton in 1998. Grudem had a lot to say about presidential character in those days.  In the end, the House was doing its duty in 1998 and it is doing its duty now.  Will there be a partisan dimension to impeachment?  Absolutely.  Alexander Hamilton, the author of Federalist 65, said we should expect this.  The people voted the Democrats into office in 2018. They control the House and they impeached the president. There is nothing unconstitutional about this.

(3) What about Trump’s association with convicted criminals?

Here’s Grudem:

Another reason to remove Trump from office, according to Galli, is that he hired and fired people who later became “convicted criminals.” This is a new argument. Previously, I was under the impression that our country holds a person responsible for his or her own wrongdoing, but not for the wrongdoing of others (unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it). However, now Galli is implying that Trump should be held accountable – and removed from office! – for the wrongdoing of people who worked for him. This is the unjust principle of “guilt by association.” I’m glad that God did not hold Jesus to that same standard (remember Judas, who served as treasurer for the 12 disciples and Jesus; see John 12:6; 13:29). In the Old Testament Scriptures, Ezekiel says this: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).

Back to the Constitution: it says that a president shall be “removed from office” on the basis of impeachment for and conviction of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” (Art. II, Sec. 4). It does not say, “or the crimes of those who worked for him.” Galli is arguing that Trump should be “removed from office” on the basis of grounds that are not in the Constitution, and not even morally just. It seems ironic that, in an editorial urging Trump’s removal because of “ethical incompetence,” Galli condemns Trump on the basis of a standard (guilt by association) that is itself ethically unsound. 

The key phrase here is “unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it.” And what about Trump’s claim that he hires “all the best people?”  Granted, hiring bad people is not an impeachable offense, but it certainly says something about the moral decision-making of the president when such a large number of his associates end-up in jail or are under investigation.  The names Cohen, Manafort, Papadopoulus, Pinedo, Stone, Gates, and Flynn come to mind.

Grudem has his head in the sand.  He makes Trump sound like some kind of saint who just happens to be surrounded by corrupt people and its not his fault.

(4) Immoral actions before Trump became president

Grudem writes:

Galli also wants to remove Trump from office because he has admitted to “immoral actions in business and his relationship with women.” At this point Galli must be referring to actions done before Trump was elected president, because he has not admitted to any immoral actions while in office. In addition, I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business, so Galli’s accusations seem overly broad.

Let’s leave the Access Hollywood tape, the porn stars, the sexual harassment, and the mocking of women’s appearances to the side for the moment and stick with “immoral actions in business.”  Grudem says, “I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business.”  First, Grudem seems to think that Trump would actually admit that he has done something wrong. He assumes we are dealing with an upright and moral person here.  Second, did Grudem forget about Trump University or Trump’s fake charity, to name just a few of his immoral business practices?

(5) Do evangelical leaders brush off Trump’s immoral behavior?

Grudem again:

Galli claims that evangelicals “brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior.” But I know of no evangelical leader who “brushed off” Trump’s words and behavior, for they were roundly condemned. 

I myself wrote on Oct. 9, 2016, in Townhall.com, “I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election. His vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) … His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.”

OK, fine.  But where was Grudem when Trump separated families from children at the border, said that there were “fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville, lied or misrepresented the truth over 15,000 times, tried to take healthcare away from millions of Americans, pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, prevented Muslims from entering the country, left Syrian Christians for dead, hired nativist and racist Stephen Miller, refused to release his tax returns, eliminated an ethics court for incoming White House staff, stood by as children bullied their classmates in his name, said Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift,” backed racist Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, defended Confederate monuments, and tried to end the DACA program?

More Grudem:

Galli does not claim that Trump has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women” during his three years in the White House. Shouldn’t we evaluate Trump primarily on the basis of his time as president? The Christian gospel includes the message that people can repent of past sins, ask God for forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and (often gradually) become better people (see Luke 24:47; Acts 20:21; 26:20).

With the exception of the Access Hollywood tape, Trump has not apologized or “asked for forgiveness” for any of these sins.  Compare Trump to Bill Clinton on this matter.

(6) Do Trump’s tweets show that he is immoral?

Grudem:

But what about Trump’s Twitter feed? Galli says it contains “a habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and is “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” But is this true?

Before people condemn Trump’s tweets by merely reading about them in a hostile press, they should read them for themselves. Anyone can do this at Twitter.com. I just read through every one of Trump’s tweets from the entire past week (December 19-25), to see if Galli is correct in his accusation. Here is a representative sample of those tweets, in Trump’s own words: 

December 25: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

2019 HOLIDAY RETAIL SALES WERE UP 3.4% FROM LAST YEAR, THE BIGGEST NUMBER IN U.S. HISTORY. CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA!

December 24: 187 new Federal Judges have been confirmed under the Trump Administration, including two great new United States Supreme Court Justices. We are shattering every record!

December 23: STOCK MARKET CLOSES AT ALL-TIME HIGH! What a great time for the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats to Impeach your favorite President, especially since he has not done anything wrong!

NASDAQ UP 72.2% SINCE OUR GREAT 2016 ELECTION VICTORY! DOW UP 55.8%. The best is yet to come!

Nancy Pelosi, who has already lost the House & Speakership once, & is about to lose it again, is doing everything she can to delay the zero Republican vote Articles of Impeachment. She is trying to take over the Senate, & Cryin’ Chuck is trying to take over the trial. No way!….

…What right does Crazy Nancy have to hold up this Senate trial. None! She has a bad case and would rather not have a negative decision. This Witch Hunt must end NOW with a trial in the Senate, or let her default & lose. No more time should be wasted on this Impeachment Scam!

December 22: Melania and I send our warmest wishes to Jewish people in the United States, Israel, and across the world as you commence the 8-day celebration of Hanukkah.

December 21: Last night I was so proud to have signed the largest Defense Bill ever. The very vital Space Force was created. New planes, ships, missiles, rockets and equipment of every kind, and all made right here in the USA. Additionally, we got Border Wall (being built) funding. Nice!

December 20: Just had a great call with the President of Brazil, @JairBolsonaro . We discussed many subjects including Trade. The relationship between the United States and Brazil has never been Stronger!

December 19: The reason the Democrats don’t want to submit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate is that they don’t want corrupt politician Adam Shifty Schiff to testify under oath, nor do they want the Whistleblower, the missing second Whistleblower, the informer, the Bidens, to testify!

My question for Mr. Galli is this: how can you say that such tweets are “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused”? The expression “near-perfect example” suggests that something like 90% or 95% of his tweets reflect morally evil choices. But, after reading these tweets, it seems to me that Galli has made a false accusation. The most objectionable thing that I see in these tweets is that Trump labels his political opponents with derogatory nicknames (Crazy Nancy Pelosi, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, and Adam Shifty Schiff), but that impoliteness is a comparatively trivial matter that comes nowhere close to being a “near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” 

I see in these tweets a president who is rightfully proud of a healthy economy, a stronger military, and the appointment of 187 federal judges who are committed to judging according to what the law says and not according to their personal preferences. Such accomplishments are morally good benefits for the nation as a whole, and they have been accomplished by Trump in the face of relentless opposition from Democrats. Far from being “morally lost and confused,” Trump seems to me to have a strong sense of justice and fair play, and he is (I think rightfully) upset that the impeachment process in the House was anything but just and fair. 

Grudem is making an argument here based on one week (during the Christmas season) of Trump tweets.  I would encourage folks to read Trump’s Twitter feed.   The fact that Wayne Grudem, a Christian theologian and ethicist, would defend Donald Trump’s twitter feed is preposterous.

Are Trump’s tweets full of lies?

Grudem:

Galli also claims that Trump’s tweets contain a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders.” Do Trump’s tweets contain lies? Galli himself gives no examples, but the Washington Post on December 16 carried an article, “President Trump Has Made 15,413 False or Misleading Claims over 1,055 Days.”

What exactly are these alleged lies?

Grudem then goes on to suggest a few areas where he thinks The Washington Post is wrong.  He writes:

And so it goes with one supposed “lie” after another. Upon closer inspection, the accusations do not hold up.

Do I think that Trump has ever intentionally told a lie? I don’t know. Perhaps. I admit that he often exaggerates and boasts that something is the “biggest” or “best,” a habit that probably comes from his years in promoting his Manhattan real estate deals. In some cases, I think he has made incorrect claims not because he was intentionally lying but because he was given misleading information (as in his claim that the crowd at his inauguration was the biggest ever), and I think that the White House should correct any such inaccurate statements. But do I believe that he intentionally and habitually tells lies? Absolutely not.

Grudem suggests that Trump rarely lies intentionally. Grudem, a Calvinist who believes in human depravity, has the audacity to say that he does not believe Donald Trump “intentionally and habitually tells lies.” Has Grudem ever watched a Trump rally?  This is very disappointing from a guy who wrote a systematic theology textbook that a lot of evangelicals read.

(6) Does Trump have a “grossly immoral character”?

Grudem writes:

It is a deeply serious matter to accuse someone of having a “grossly immoral character,” for if the accusation is believed, it destroys a person’s reputation for lifetime, and a good reputation is more valuable than untold riches. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Therefore, before we make an accusation like this, it is important that we base it on an abundance of clear and compelling evidence, for false accusation inflicts substantial harm on another person. God commands, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod. 20:16), and the Mosaic law code imposed strict penalties on anyone who made a false accusation (see Deuteronomy 19:18-19; compare Proverbs 6:19).

I think Galli is on pretty solid biblical evidence when he says that Trump has a “grossly immoral character.” Galli has no need to worry about bearing false witness or making false accusations.  Even some of the court evangelicals believe Donald Trump is immoral.  They just think that God uses immoral people to accomplish His will.

Grudem goes on:

“You are a bad person” strategy of the Left: Although I do not believe that Galli himself is part of the political Left, it is also important to realize the kind of political climate in which Galli’s claim occurs. One Fox News commentator rightly observed that the political Left has realized that it can’t beat conservatives by arguing, “You have bad policies,” so it has shifted to attacks that take the form, “You are a bad person.” And the result is that President Trump has been the target of incessant character assassination by the media for the past three years (as have many other conservatives).

But Jesus told us how to evaluate someone’s character: we should look at the fruit that comes from his life. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:43-44).

We now have three years of results (or “fruit”) that have come from Donald Trump’s presidency, and, in my judgment, the fruit has been overwhelmingly good.

If we understand the idea of “fruit” in a larger New Testament context, we might turn to Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

For Grudem, Trump’s “fruits” are basically a long list of GOP talking points.  His op-ed assumes that there is a one-to-one correlation between these talking points and the teachings of the Bible.  There is not.

What about the negative results?

Here is Grudem:

At this point someone will ask, “But what about the negative fruit from Trump’s presidency? Isn’t he responsible for the toxic, highly polarized political atmosphere we now live in?”

Grudem blames most of our highly polarized political atmosphere on the “political Left.”  He then tries to quell Trump critics by quoting Romans 13:

Yet the New Testament tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1).

We have seen these appeals to Romans 13 before.

Harm to the Christian gospel?

Grudem:

Galli concludes by warning that evangelical Trump supporters will harm “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the world’s understanding of the gospel.” My response is that is not correct for Galli to say that character “doesn’t really matter” to evangelical Trump supporters, for we have roundly and universally condemned his past immoral behavior. Character matters. But the moral character that Trump has demonstrated while in the White House, his unswerving commitment to his campaign promises, his courage, and his sound judgment on one policy issue after another, are commendable.

I’m sorry, but I just have a very different understand of morality than my former professor.  To suggest that evangelical leaders have “roundly and universally condemned” Trump’s behavior–past or present–does not make sense to me.  Grudem lives in a different moral universe than I do.

The Court Evangelical “Arguments” Are Filled With Logical Inconsistencies

Metaxas

Here is philosopher David Kyle Johnson at Psychology Today:

Since I wrote my article about Franklin Graham’s response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today article, which called for the president to be removed from office, the response from the evangelical community has skyrocketed. Sunday, over 200 evangelical leaders signed an open letter condemning Galli’s article and sent it to Timothy Dalrymple, the president of Christianity Today. And this, it turns out, provides yet another perfect opportunity for identifying and addressing logical fallacies.

To see them, it will be useful to look at what one of the signatories, conservative radio host Eric Metaxas, tweeted before signing the letter.

“What makes the @CTmagazine editorial odd (if not preposterous) is that it implies those like Biden or Pelosi, who use the power of their offices to promote the murder of the unborn & the demonization of a biblical sexual ethic, less “morally troubling” than Trump & his tweets.”

The main mistake here is a strawman fallacy; Metaxas is recasting Galli’s argument, suggesting it says something it doesn’t say, to make it easier to attack. How so? 

First, Galli doesn’t imply anything about the democratic candidates; he doesn’t mention them at all and says nothing about their moral standing. He’s just saying that, given his impeachable offenses and “grossly immoral character,” evangelicals shouldn’t support Trump anymore. Notice that, if Trump was removed from office now, Mike Pence would replace him as president and evangelicals could support him in 2020 instead. In a way, Metaxes strawmans Galli by presenting another fallacy: a false dichotomy (saying there are only two options when there are more). “It’s either Trump or the Democrats.” Clearly there are other options.

The second way Metaxas strawmans Galli’s argument is by minimalizing Galli’s concerns about Trump and exaggerating (what he sees as) the moral offenses of democrats. Thinking that abortion should be legal is not equivalent to “promot[ing[ the murder of the unborn.” Whether abortion is murder is a matter of philosophic debate (which cannot be settled scientifically) and many religious groups advocate against choosing abortion while still maintaining that it should be legal. (Some even argue that keeping it legal is part of the most effective way to reduce its frequency.)

Something similar could be said about the democrats’ position on homosexual marriage; it is not demonizing “biblical sexual ethics.” (Note that most biblical marriages do not involve just one man and one woman.)

But Metaxes also commits a version of the confusingly named “tu quoque” fallacy. The phrase essentially translates as “you also” or “you too.” In class, I call it the “two wrongs don’t make a right” fallacy. Usually people use it to excuse away their own failings by pointing to some failing of their accuser. For example, if your doctor says you need to quit smoking, then you probably do—even if your doctor smokes himself. The fact that you need to quit smoking is determined by facts about your health, not someone else’s habits. Your doctor might be a hypocrite, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need to stop smoking. So if you say “I don’t need to quit smoking because you smoke too,” you commit the “you too” fallacy.

Read the rest here.

Of course it doesn’t really matter if you are illogical as long as you are able to play to the fears of people with this false logic and convince them to act upon your rhetoric.  Both Trump and the court evangelicals have been very good at this.  When it comes to defending Trump, fighting the culture war, and fear-mongering, the basic rules of clear thinking do not apply.  How do the court evangelicals reconcile such poor thinking with our call to worship God with our minds?

“Christianity Yesterday, Today, and Forever!”

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Carl F.H. Henry, the first editor of Christianity Today

In 1962, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth came to George Washington University for a question and answer session with American religious leaders.  Carl F.H. Henry, the editor of Christianity Today magazine, was one of these leaders.  Here is how he described the meeting in his memoir, Confessions of a Theologian:

The university invited 200 religious leaders to a luncheon honoring Barth at which guests were invited to stand, identify themselves and pose a question.  A Jesuit scholar from either Catholic University or Georgetown voiced the first question.  Aware that the initial queries often set the mood for all subsequent discussion, I asked the next question.  Identifying myself as “Carl Henry, editor of Christianity Today,” I continued: “The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.”  I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing United Press, Religious News Service, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media.  If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility?  “Was is news,” I asked, “in the sense that the man in the street understands news?”

Barth became angry.  Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked, “Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?” The audience–largely nonevangelical professors and clergy–roared with delight.  When countered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse.  So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, ‘Yesterday, today, and forever.”  When further laughter subsided, Barth took up the challenge…

I thought about this encounter when I heard that court evangelical Ralph Reed recently called Christianity Today magazine “Christianity Yesterday” in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News.

Here is a taste of a Fox News story about the interview:

Ingraham Angle” host Laura Ingraham told Reed he was making his publication “irrelevant,” adding that the magazine has been gradually taking on a leftward bent since it was founded by the late evangelist Billy Graham in the 1950s. Earlier Friday, Graham’s son Franklin responded to Galli by saying his father proudly supported and voted for Trump in 2016, and by telling CBN that Billy Graham would be “disappointed” to hear what Galli said.

Reed somewhat echoed those sentiments, saying Galli may want to change the magazine’s name to “Christianity Yesterday.”

“You cannot imagine a publication more out of step with the faith community that it once represented,” he said.

“President Trump received 81% of the votes of evangelicals four years ago — the highest ever recorded. His job approval according to a recent poll by my organization — the Faith and Freedom Coalition — among U.S. Evangelical stands at 83%. That is a historic high.”

Read the rest here.

A few comments on Reed’s interview:

  1. Ralph Reed is no Karl Barth.  It is important to establish this up front.
  2. The folks at Christianity Today should take Reed’s comment about “Christianity Yesterday” as a compliment.  Christianity Today represents the historic Christian faith.  The court evangelicals and other members of the Christian Right seem to believe that Christianity began when Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the Moral Majority in 1979.
  3. Reed and the rest of the court evangelicals are scared to death that Mark Galli’s editorial at Christianity Today might peel evangelical votes away from Trump in 2020.  Remember, Reed is a politico.  His job is to spin the news to make sure his evangelical base is in line.
  4. I am continually struck by how court evangelicals justify their political choices with poll numbers rather than deep Christian thinking about political engagement.  Reed seems to be saying that if a significant majority of American evangelicals voted for Trump, think he is a good president, and believe he does not deserve impeachment, then he must be good for the country and the church. God must be on his side.  It seems to never cross Reed’s mind that 81% of American evangelicals might be wrong.  Let’s remember, for example, that the the majority of American evangelicals in the South thought slavery was a good idea.  My point here is not to compare Trump evangelicals to slaveholders, but to show that there is nothing sacred about an appeal to the majority.  Didn’t Jesus say something about the “narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13)? Wasn’t he out of step with the larger faith community of his day?
  5. If you follow the link to the actual interview you will hear Ralph Reed say “I don’t know this editor” in relation to Christianity Today editor Mark Galli.  The fact that Reed has never heard of Galli, and cannot even bring himself to call him by name, speaks volumes about the current divide within American evangelicalism.

Lancaster Online Covers the *Christianity Today* Editorial Calling for Trump’s Removal

Trump and Bible

Here is Earle Cornelius’s piece, including remarks from Greg Carey and yours truly:

Greg Carey, professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, said Christianity Today’s editorial  offers cover for evangelicals who do not support the president.

“There have always been a reasonable number of conservatives and evangelicals  who haven’t approved of Trump,” he said. “Those evangelicals who don’t support Trump now can point … to an official institutional voice to say ‘See, it is possible to be an evangelical and to distrust this president.’ ”

John Fea,  professor of history at Messiah College and author of  “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” said Trump was not an early favorite among evangelicals in the 2016 primary elections.

He noted that the Christian Post, which now defends Trump, published an editorial in February 2016 under the headline “Trump is a scam. Evangelical voters should back away.”

But many evangelicals who once opposed Trump, now support him.

“Since then,” Fea said, “Trump has delivered for evangelicals. He has put the right people in the Supreme Court for them, he’s championed Israel, he has fought for religious liberty.”

Read the entire piece here.

The *Pittsburgh Post-Gazette* on Evangelical Diversity in the Wake of the *Christianity Today* Editorial

Believe Me 3dHere is Peter Smith, one of the best religion reporters on the beat.  He gave me a chance to contribute to his piece:

Here is a taste:

These dynamics aren’t surprising to John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College and author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

Mr. Fea, an evangelical never-Trumper, dedicated his book “To the 19 percent,” alluding to the near-mythical “81 percent” figure often applied to white evangelical Trump voters in 2016 exit polls. 

Mr. Fea, whose arguments about Trump’s character and actions are similar to those cited by Christianity Today, said he got similarly varied and volatile reactions during his book tour in 2018. 

Some evangelicals disputed his arguments, saying Mr. Trump has delivered for evangelicals on long-sought policies, while other evangelicals supported him.

“What Christianity Today did was give voice [to the same kind of people] who came up to me and said, ‘Thank you, I know I’m not alone,’” Mr. Fea said.

They may still be largely alone — Mr. Fea isn’t expecting the editorial to cause a big shift among evangelicals. But given how close the 2016 election was, it may help shave off enough of Mr. Trump’s evangelical support to make a difference in 2020, he said.

And Christianity Today, whose cover stories in recent years have ranged from India and Thailand to Vietnam and Nigeria, is also looking at its broader constituency with diverse political views.

Mr. Fea said he’s heard “story after story” about American missionaries who face tensions with the local populace who assume that the missionaries fit the dominant political stereotype of American evangelicals. This editorial may help give them some distance, he said.

Gina A. Zurlo, co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, estimated that the United States has about 65 million evangelicals, more than any single country but dwarfed by the 355 worldwide as of 2015, with particularly large populations in Nigeria, China, Brazil and Ethiopia.

Read the entire piece here.  I appreciate Smith’s sensitivity to the global influence of Christianity Today.

Evangelicals Defend Mark Galli and *Christianity Today* in An Open Letter

CT Trump

It was published today at Religion News Service.  Read it here.

The signers:

Amy Julia Becker, author and speaker

Dale Hanson Bourke, author

Mae Elise Cannon, author and executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace

Rob Dalrymple, author and pastor

Richard Foster, founder of Renovaré

Marlena Graves, author

Chris Hall, president of Renovaré

Daniel Hill, author and pastor of River City Community Church, Chicago

Evan B. Howard, author

Sam Logan, president emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary and associate international director of the World Reformed Fellowship

George Marsden, professor of history emeritus, University of Notre Dame

Rich Mouw, president emeritus, Fuller Theological Seminary

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, author, diversity consultant and leadership coach

Ron Sider, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy, Palmer Seminary at Eastern University

Nikki Toyama-Szeto, executive director, Evangelicals for Social Action and The Sider Center

Is the *Christianity Today* Editorial a Joseph Welch Moment?

A good friend recently suggested that Mark Galli’s editorial may be an evangelical “Joseph Welch” moment in the Trump presidency.

Joseph Welch was the lawyer for the U.S. Army during the McCarthy hearings. Get some more context here.

Now watch:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir!”

Here is conservative writer Andrew Sullivan at New York Magazine:

The two core lessons of the past few years are therefore: (1) Trumpism has a real base of support in the country with needs that must be addressed, and (2) Donald Trump is incapable of doing it and is such an unstable, malignant, destructive narcissist that he threatens our entire system of government. The reason this impeachment feels so awful is that it requires removing a figure to whom so many are so deeply bonded because he was the first politician to hear them in decades. It feels to them like impeachment is another insult from the political elite, added to the injury of the 21st century. They take it personally, which is why their emotions have flooded their brains. And this is understandable.

But when you think of what might have been and reflect on what has happened, it is crystal clear that this impeachment is not about the Trump agenda or a more coherent version of it. It is about the character of one man: his decision to forgo any outreach, poison domestic politics, marinate it in deranged invective, betray his followers by enriching the plutocracy, destroy the dignity of the office of president, and turn his position into a means of self-enrichment. It’s about the personal abuse of public office: using the presidency’s powers to blackmail a foreign entity into interfering in a domestic election on his behalf, turning the Department of Justice into an instrument of personal vengeance and political defense, openly obstructing investigations into his own campaign, and treating the grave matter of impeachment as a “hoax” while barring any testimony from his own people.

Character matters. This has always been a conservative principle but one that, like so many others, has been tossed aside in the convulsions of a cult. And it is Trump’s character alone that has brought us to this point. That’s why the editorial in the Evangelical journal Christianity Today is so clarifying. Finally — finally — an Evangelical outlet telling the truth in simple language:

[President Trump] has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused … 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.

It is this profound immorality that made this week inevitable. Yes, inevitable. Put a man of this sort — utterly unprepared, utterly corrupt, and with no political or governing experience at all — into the Oval Office, and impeachment, if there is any life left in our democracy, is inevitable.

Read the rest here.