Trump asked on Twitter whether evangelicals would ever want former vice president Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), or those of the “socialist/communist bent” to be their president. He has regularly argued to voters that they have to support him, no matter his foibles, because his opponents would be much worse on the issues they care about.
James Dobson, who founded Christian organization Focus on the Family, took issue with how the editorial did not state who should replace Trump: Vice President Pence or a Democrat? He ticked off more than a dozen issues in which he believed Democrats would be worse than Trump, such as school choice, abortion, Israel, gay rights and “men in women’s sports and boys in girls’ locker rooms.”
Ralph Reed, a longtime activist who works to get evangelical political support, called the piece “over the line, unfortunate and ill-advised” because it questioned the faith of Christians who support Trump.
“There are plenty of compelling moral reasons based on policies that promote the common good to support Trump without supporting everything he’s ever done,” he said.
Christianity Today’s editorial is less likely to change hearts and minds as it is likely to help give voice to people who have been silent on Trump, said Doug Birdsall, who is honorary chair of Lausanne, an international movement of evangelicals that was started by Billy Graham. He said he sent the editorial to 500 influential leaders around the world on Friday. Billy Graham’s grandson Boz Tchividjian praised the piece, calling it “well said on so many levels.”
Birdsall, who organized a gathering in 2018 to discuss the Trump era, noted how some evangelical pastors and leaders have voiced their concerns in the past, including Max Lucado, Tim Keller, Peter Wehner and Washington Post columnist Mike Gerson.
“Those who have perhaps sat in silence not wanting to be divisive or political realize there’s a certain point where . . . the dangers outweigh the choice of remaining silent,” he said. “It’s morally powerful.”
While most pastors will be delivering sermons Sunday focused on Jesus ahead of Christmas, Birdsall said he thinks the editorial will generate conversation.
“There’s a sense that so-called evangelicals have a greater love for Trump than they do for Christ. Evangelicals have become synonymous with Trump. When you think of evangelicals, you don’t think about Jesus and the Bible, you think of red hats and Trump,” he said.
Trump is not known to regularly read the Bible or pray. He has mistaken the communion plate for a collection plate.
Pence, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and other Republicans have encouraged Trump not to use the Lord’s name in vain at rallies — a singular sin among Christians. The president swears frequently in White House meetings and regularly makes derogatory comments about people and their appearances, including this week suggesting that the late congressman John Dingell, the longest serving member in House history, could be in hell after his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), voted to impeach the president.
Trump has installed Paula White, a televangelist who preaches the “prosperity gospel,” as one of his key religious advisers — concerning some in the evangelical community.
But the president often mentions his political support among Christians during White House functions. He makes a show of saying “Merry Christmas” and contends falsely that previous presidents did not.
Trump has spoken at religious events and likes to be photographed at the White House with pastors laying their hands on him in prayer. He called for Christians to pray for him this week amid impeachment.
At the magazine’s small headquarters in Illinois, where about 50 people put out the publication, there were some cancellations Friday. David Sutter, a pastor at York Bible Church in Pennsylvania, described himself as a subscriber “for years and years and years” but canceled after the editorial.
But Galli said he has received much support to go along with the attacks. His children were amazed that the president had attacked him on Twitter. He was on CNN nearly every hour Friday, wearing a sweater vest to calmly discuss his piece.
Galli, who is retiring at the end of the year, said he wanted to correct some of the claims in the president’s tweet. He said the magazine is not liberal and is not financially troubled, He also said it received a surge in donations and new subscribers, adding that he had not heard from the White House or anyone connected to Trump.