After more than a quarter-century of occasionally attempting to help direct traffic at the intersection of faith and politics – on radio, on PBS and in books – I am bewildered by Christianity Today editor Mark Galli’s column on Thursday, which has attracted so much love from the secular left. In condemning President Donald Trump from the pages of the magazine Billy Graham founded, Galli has blindsided more than half of the evangelical Christians in the United States.
The entire enterprise – the magazine plus online platform – will suffer even as Galli heads out to retirement in January. But Trump will not.
What is remarkable is the selfishness of Galli’s act and, whether he has the applause of his editors, chief executive or financial backers, his legacy at the magazine will be to have done exactly what precedes every schism in every congregation, this time within the “CT” readership, whatever its number: Take an absolutist stand on a radically divisive issue. But Galli is no Martin Luther.
“Christianity Today is a nonprofit, global media ministry centered on Beautiful Orthodoxy – strengthening the church by richly communicating the breadth of the true, good, and beautiful gospel,” proclaims the magazine’s mission statement. “Reaching over five million people monthly with various digital and print resources, the ministry equips Christians to renew their minds, serve the church, and create culture to the glory of God.”
Perhaps this is what it did before. It has now become just another content provider on politics, and of the left-wing sort. The real cost here is borne by readers who will simply shrug off appeals to resubscribe or give the platform a try. Americans are drenched in political conflict, and hundreds, even thousands, of outlets offer political commentary. Why in the world would anyone seek an absolutist political opinion from a website about evangelical faith? The answer is obvious: Most people won’t, and they will steer clear of another politicized platform. Has Galli’s column changed a single mind in America, except about the magazine he was supposed to steward?
I don’t know Galli. But Christianity Today has suffered the same long, slow decline that has crippled “mainstream denominations,” and perhaps the idea of putting on a show-stopping exit was just too tempting to pass up. But Galli should have done just that. That he knew this is given away in his perfunctory introductory apologia: “The impeachment of Donald Trump is a significant event in the story of our republic,” Galli begins. “It requires comment.”
But, of course, it isn’t such an event. It isn’t even clear now that the articles of impeachment will be delivered to the Senate, though if they are, the outcome is predetermined. Indeed, it seems likely to me that Trump will be re-elected, and it is laughable to say that there is a clear, one-sided “Christian” appraisal of the case for or against the president. In a democratic republic, the people decide, and they will end up giving the presidency back to Trump or to his opponent for reasons wholly unrelated to Christianity Today’s view on the question. Christians by the millions will be on both sides of that election. They did not need, or ask for, this intervention in their deliberation.
“The typical CT approach is to stay above the fray and allow Christians with different political convictions to make their arguments in the public square, to encourage all to pursue justice according to their convictions and treat their political opposition as charitably as possible,” Galli continued, just before he implicitly condemned every Christian who supports Trump. There are tens of millions who already condemn Trump, and tens of millions who don’t. But whether Trump is good or bad for the republic isn’t a theological question. It is a political one.
By injecting Christianity into that debate, Galli inevitably suggests (especially to the left, for whom it is convenient) that people of the Christian faith are, in fact, obliged to condemn Trump and support his impeachment. This is risible. It is irresponsible. It also proved irresistible.
The only interesting question about this: Why did Galli feel compelled to sacrifice the best interests of the platform he was supposed to nurture? I don’t know the answer, but I can calculate the cost. It is immense. The only redeeming aspect of this is the condemnation now flowing down from previous supporters of the once-traditional fortress of evangelicalism. Perhaps that will save other congregations of believers, whether virtual or still organized around pews or causes, from the same intemperate outbursts from their leadership.