By Sarah Pulliam Bailey
The Washington Post
The evangelical magazine founded by the late Rev. Billy Graham published a surprising editorial Thursday calling for President Donald Trump’s removal and describing him as “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
“Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment,” said the piece, written by Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli. “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”
Galli, who will retire from the magazine Jan. 3, wrote that the facts leading to Wednesday’s impeachment of Trump are unambiguous.
“The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” he wrote. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”
But the editorial didn’t just call out Trump. It called out his devout Christian supporters.
“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,” Galli wrote. “Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.”
Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University and a close ally of Trump, criticized the editorial on Twitter, suggesting the magazine does not represent the majority of evangelicals.
“Less than 20% of evangelicals supported @HillaryClinton in 2016 but now @CTmagazine has removed any doubt that they are part of the same 17% or so of liberal evangelicals who have preached social gospel for decades! CT unmasked!” Falwell wrote Thursday. He declined to elaborate his objections in an interview.
Trump lashed out at the magazine in a pair of early-morning tweets Friday, calling Christianity Today a “far left magazine ... which has been doing poorly.”
He added that “no President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close.”
Galli told The Washingon Post on Friday morning that Trump had mischaracterized the magazine, which considers itself centrist or possibly center-right.
“Nobody considers us as far-left,” Galli said. “We don’t comment on larger national issues except when they rise to a level of moral influence ... that’s not who we are.”
Galli said the magazine struggled financially during the recession, as did many media outlets, but is on strong footing with donations and subscriptions now.
He agreed Trump has pleased the evangelical community when it comes to policy decisions on abortion and their religious freedom. But Galli compared evangelicals to a wife who is in an abused marriage where a husband who is a reliable economic provider.
“When that husband starts to become violent and physically abusive, the scales don’t balance,” he said. “It’s time for him to get out of the house. That’s what I’m saying about the Trump presidency.”
He said since the magazine published the piece last night, the emails he’s received have been overwhelmingly positive, although he did get one threat.
Christianity Today has been critical of Trump before but has not argued against his presidency in such stark, moral terms. The magazine has always prided itself in drawing readers on both the right and the left, including Hillary Clinton when she was first lady. Graham, the founder, had close friendships with several presidents before he died in 2018, but said late in his life that he wished he had distanced himself more politically.
Graham’s son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, has been a highly vocal supporter of Trump and prayed at his inauguration. In an interview, Franklin Graham, who is not involved with Christianity Today, said his father would have been disappointed by the magazine’s stance. He said his father liked Trump and they were friends.
“He would’ve been very embarrassed that the magazine he started would call for something like this when there are no crimes committed,” said Graham, who had not read the editorial but saw the headline. “It’s a totally different magazine than what he started.”
Graham also wrote on Facebook that he had “not previously shared who my father voted for in the past election, but because of this article, I feel it is necessary to share it now. My father knew Donald Trump, he believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump. He believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.”
He added: “For Christianity Today to side with the Democrat Party in a totally partisan attack on the President of the United States is unfathomable.”
Based in the suburbs of Chicago, Christianity Today aims to be the voice of evangelicals, providing news and commentary through its monthly magazine and website. Many evangelical leaders and high-profile pastors are among the magazine’s 80,000 paid print subscribers, and its advertisements regularly feature major evangelical institutions.
In the hours after the editorial was published, “Christianity Today” was trending on Twitter, and the magazine’s website briefly crash, apparently because of a flood of readers. Friday morning, “ET” began to trend, after Trump tweeted that “I won’t be reading ET again!” — an apparent typo.
“Another publication chooses to be irrelevant,” the conservative Fox News host Laura Ingraham wrote on Twitter as she shared the Christianity Today editorial.
Galli said that the magazine had 17,000 people on its website Thursday night; at a typical moment, Christianitytoday.com might have 400 readers, and a “hot article” might have 3,000 to 4,000 readers, he said.
Galli said that under his watch, the magazine has received criticism from some who wanted it to be more outspoken against the president. He said initially he thought criticisms of the president were “too panicky and fearful” and that it took him some time to decide to draw a line in the sand.
“I bend over backwards to be charitable and patient with people, including people who support Trump,” he said. “I probably went too far on that.”
His editorial said the Ukraine-focused impeachment hearings “have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not,” that Trump had abused his office. Galli said he decided Thursday morning, hours after the late-night impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, to write about why he thinks the president should be removed.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do another editorial like this. I hate doing editorials like this,” he said. “People are going to say mean, nasty things and say how much they hate me or hate the magazine, and I don’t like that.”
Trump’s presidency has created divisions among evangelicals, especially across racial and generational lines. Many strongly support the president and have hailed his policy choices and appointments of Supreme Court justices they hope will make antiabortion rulings. But others have decried Trump’s behavior and comments.
Exit polls in 2016 suggested that 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. A NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll from earlier this month found 75 percent of white evangelical Christians approved of Trump, compared with 42 percent of U.S. adults overall.
Galli said he thinks that many evangelical leaders have not been openly critical of the president because they have friends and family members who support Trump.
“It’s not easy to come out publicly that makes it seem like these people are our enemies,” he said. “There are times to be charitable. There are times to say, ‘No, I’m not going any further.’ “
His editorial called Trump’s behavior “profoundly immoral.”
“The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration,” he wrote.
The editorial said evangelicals are playing with a “stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence,” and predicted that “the whole game will come crashing down” if they continue to ignore what Galli described as Trump’s moral failings.
“It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel,” he wrote. “And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.”
Christianity Today magazine has published some pieces in the past that were critical of Trump, including a piece by former editor Andy Crouch just before the election.
In July, the president of Christianity Today, Timothy Dalrymple, wrote a piece calling out the silence among Christians in relation to Trump and racism.
“On the other hand, I sense a profound frustration among non-white Christian friends that their white brethren keep silent as the president aims ugly and demeaning statements at people of color,” Dalrymple wrote. “These friends don’t like what the silence of the white church is saying, and neither do we.”
Dalrymple reviewed Galli’s editorial before it was published. “We write according to our sense of conscience and calling,” he said in an interview. “We trust that subscribers and audience are in God’s hands.”
Christianity Today also posted past commentary Thursday that it published during the impeachment investigations of President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton, noting that the magazine had labeled Clinton “morally unable to lead.”
“Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president,” Galli wrote in the new editorial. He specifically raised the issue of abortion, the reason that many evangelicals have said they voted for Trump and would do so again.
“Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?”
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The Washington Post’s Emily Guskin contributed to this report.
— Richard Chumney contributed to this report.