Trump responds to Christianity Today: No president has done what I’ve done for religion itself

Trump

I legit would have expected him to claim that no human being has done what he’s done for religion. He’s showing real restraint here.

Maybe impeachment has humbled him.

Watching him freak out about the Christianity Today editorial that called for him to be removed from office reminds me of how he hate-tweets sporadically about Fox News. In both cases, evangelical America and Fox, he’s excoriating rare dissenters inside institutions that are overwhelmingly, almost unanimously supportive of him. They’re the last places from which he should perceive any threat, but he seems more sensitive to mild criticism from his base than to wildly harsh criticism from outside of it. Compare how often he tweets about Fox to how often he complains about, say, MSNBC.

Half the reason the CT editorial went viral yesterday is because it’s so freakishly rare in America 2019 to see an evangelical Christian grapple seriously (in public at least) with Trump’s glaring amorality. The editorial, written by Mark Galli, was excellent but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to distinguish it from the mountains of anti-Trump invective online, especially considering how understated it was. What distinguished it was its source. In Trump’s mind too, apparently: I don’t think he fears that Galli will convert any of his fans to skeptics, I think his mind is such that he expects absolute loyalty from perceived allies and ferociously resents it when even a small subset of the alliance disappoints him. Only he knows if that’s a function of narcissism or of him feeling like evangelicals are defaulting on the transaction he’s made with them — “you ignore or applaud every bad thing I say and do and I’ll deliver on policy.” But it has to be one or the other. It can’t be that he thinks Galli’s editorial might ignite some sort of evangelical insurrection. Even Galli doesn’t believe that:

But in speaking to CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” Friday, Galli, who is leaving the publication in two weeks, said he is not optimistic that his editorial will sway Trump’s support among white evangelicals.

“Oh no,” he told Berman. “I don’t have any imaginations that my editorial is going to shift their views on this matter. The fact of the matter is that Christianity Today is not read by Christians on the far right, by evangelicals on the far right. So, they’re going to be as dismissive of the magazine as President Trump has shown to be.”

The bargain evangelicals made with Trump, granting him total license to behave as he likes in return for policy wins, was sealed even before he became president:

Ted Olsen, the editorial director at Christianity Today, called for prayers today on Twitter for some of the people who emailed the magazine after Galli’s editorial went live. Some, he said, had walked away from Christianity because they were disgusted at evangelical leaders for having made a moral bargain with Trump. Others had walked away from the faith by deciding that Trump was more important than Christ. He quoted one email: “You, as a believer, will crucify his messenger, and our modern day savior, President Trump? Who then will save us from the tyranny that will befall us? Jesus? Where is he now, when freedom depends on him?” The idea that Jesus is a RINO who doesn’t fight is an exciting new frontier in Christian theology.

Galli makes no bones about the fact that CT is a centrist magazine, not a right-wing one, admitting that in an interview today with the Atlantic. Even so, Franklin Graham felt moved to disassociate himself from the magazine his father founded in a Facebook post today, revealing for the first time that Billy Graham voted for Trump in 2016. Which is nice but doesn’t contradict Galli, who never claimed that Trump shouldn’t have been elected. He said that the benefit of the doubt evangelicals have given to the president on his personal behavior has clearly been exhausted after nearly three years in office. Graham then goes on to … completely prove Galli’s point that evangelical leaders don’t seriously engage with Trump’s amorality:

For Christianity Today to side with the Democrat Party in a totally partisan attack on the President of the United States is unfathomable. Christianity Today failed to acknowledge that not one single Republican voted with the Democrats to impeach the President. I know a number of Republicans in Congress, and many of them are strong Christians. If the President were guilty of what the Democrats claimed, these Republicans would have joined with the Democrats to impeach him. But the Democrats were not even unanimous—two voted against impeachment and one voted present. This impeachment was politically motivated, 100% partisan. Why would Christianity Today choose to take the side of the Democrat left whose only goal is to discredit and smear the name of a sitting president? They want readers to believe the Democrat leadership rather than believe the President of the United States.

It goes on that way, more like a White House press release or even a Trump tweet (“Christianity Today has been used by the left for their political agenda”) than a moral meditation. And needless to say, it’s farcical of Graham to claim that if Trump were guilty then House Republicans would have voted to impeach, just the same way it’d be farcical for Pelosi to say that if the president were innocent her caucus would have voted against impeachment. The closest Graham comes to reckoning with Galli’s argument is a quickie acknowledgment at the end that yes, of course Trump is guilty of sin — as are we all, so let’s pray for everyone and drop the subject, ‘kay?

There are devout Christians on the right who do squarely face the problem of having an amoral leader on their side pitted against a party on the other side that condones immoral policies like abortion and seems increasingly hostile to displays of religious conscience outside church. Read Rod Dreher or Erick Erickson on the Christianity Today editorial, both of whom take this dilemma more seriously at least than the son and heir of Billy Graham. Dreher makes an intriguing analogy between the evangelical predicament amid Trump’s impeachment and the notorious comment made by journalist Nina Burleigh amid the Clinton impeachment that she would personally pleasure Bill Clinton orally as thanks for keeping abortion legal:

But you know, in the end, her main point was correct. If you are the kind of person whose hierarchy of political values places abortion rights at the top, and the only thing standing between Roe v. Wade and oblivion was this morally rotten Democratic president, you bite the … bullet. But if that’s the route you take, you also don’t have a right to expect people to take you all that seriously when you lecture them about men sexually harassing women. I never took Bill Clinton’s feminist defenders seriously after that.

Acknowledging that some of the moral pronouncements made by pro-Trump Christians needn’t be taken seriously any longer is a surprisingly frank admission by someone who’s nonetheless willing to make that same moral bargain with Trump, however reluctantly. Elsewhere, though, Dreher says that Galli is right that the bargain can’t be made forever. At some point it really is a deal with the devil: “[T]here has to be some line in the mind of Christians that Trump could cross, at which Christians would say, ‘Enough — that’s too far.’ In my mind, given the stakes for the long-term future of the things I care about most, I have not seen that line.” Is that true, though, that at some point the line is crossed? There’ll always be a huge constituency in this country in favor of abortion, for instance. Advances in reproductive technology might ease the left/right stalemate a bit over time but the left will always insist on legal abortion as an option available to women who, for whatever reason, fail to prevent conception. Ask any Christian leader why it’s so important to stick with Trump despite his many flaws — never mind that solid evangelical Mike Pence is waiting in the wings if the president is removed by the Senate — and “abortion” is apt to be the first thing you hear. But if there’ll always be a demand for abortion, and if one of the two major parties is thus always destined to cater to that demand, and if the evil of abortion is sufficient to outweigh any petty personal evil committed by the leader of the opposition, then … no, there actually isn’t any line Trump could cross that would cause Christians to say, “Enough.” He could, quite literally, shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not be reproached. What’s one dead person on the street in midtown Manhattan compared to millions of dead children?

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