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Retired Christianity Today Editor Talks Backlash Over Editorial Advocating For Trump's Removal

(Screenshot via Christianity Today)
(Screenshot via Christianity Today)

What does Mark Galli, the now retired editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, make of the response to his call for Trump’s removal from office? We ask him.


Mark Galli, former editor-in-chief of Christianity Today. (@markgalli)

Richard Landexecutive editor of The Christian Post. President of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and Bible College. (@ChristianPost)

Interview Highlights

On how the editorial came about

Mark Galli: “We generally don’t comment on the larger political scene in the United States. So I’d been thinking about, ‘Should we write an editorial on the impeachment proceedings?’ But was not thrilled about doing it. But as I thought about some of the things the magazine had done in the past — we had written a forceful editorial during Clinton’s impeachment, as well as Nixon’s. And so I’m starting to think maybe we should say something. I walk in the office on Thursday morning, and I talk to my editorial director. I said, ‘What do you think? You think we should write an editorial on the impeachment?’ He says, ‘Yeah, we should.’ So that’s when I started to sit down and write the editorial.

“Now, if anyone’s familiar with my writing, you know that I’ve been working really hard for the last three to four years to try to get evangelicals on the Left, Center and Right to talk to one another charitably — to try to listen to one another, to try to understand where each is coming from. And so I started the editorial by wanting to write the typical Mark Galli: ‘On the one hand, on the other. Let’s be charitable toward one another.’ And as I thought about what was at least revealed to me, and to millions of other Americans during the impeachment hearings, I just said, ‘That just doesn’t work anymore. We’ve crossed the Rubicon of some sort, and I can’t say that.’ And then I proceeded to write what I ended up writing, which was much more forceful — direct — than I had done in a lot of my editorials on this topic.”

On why he believes President Trump is immoral

Mark Galli: “To give credit to my fellow evangelicals — their reasons, their rational reasons for supporting the president — there is something to be said there. That is to say, you know, evangelicals in general are fiercely pro-life, and the president has attempted to appoint judges that will defend that point of view. He may not be a defender of all religious freedom, but he’s certainly stood by Christians, at least verbally in many instances, when he feels like they’re not getting a fair shake. And there’s other reasons that they support him for practical policy reasons. What I think they’re blind to, if I can use such strong language, is they don’t seem to recognize that the very demeanor of the president and the language he uses to talk about his opponents, and the cavalier way in which he thinks about — and talks about — his moral life.

“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.”

On how evangelical Christians feel about the argument that Trump is immoral

Richard Land: “The Moral Majority [a conservative, Christian political action group] was started as a defensive, it was defensive. Most of evangelical involvement in public policy and in politics for the last 40 years has been defensive. It has been attempting to defend against attacks on … the moral consensus in this country, until the 1970s. And they have sought to fight back against it. And to try to hold the line, for religious freedom. For what they believe should be morality — and their right to live their morality, without being called bigots, and without being attacked — and not having their tax money used to support those things they find heinous, like abortion. I think that the idea that Mr. Trump is feeding a society of contempt, or a culture of contempt — let’s see. It was Hillary Clinton that talked about a basket of deplorables. It was Mr. Obama who talked about people who clung to their guns and their Bibles. The attitude of contempt didn’t start with Mr. Trump. And there are many of us who have publicly separated ourselves from many of his language. And I’ve said that his tweet needs an editor and a clutch. And also, I don’t want to betray confidences here. But I think it’s erroneous to assume that many evangelical leaders who have close access to Mr. Trump have not privately remonstrated with him about many, many things.”

How should evangelicals, or non-evangelicals, respond to language like Rick Perry’s — who said that the president was chosen by God?

Richard Land: “I’m not a Calvinist, so I don’t believe that everything that happens is God’s will. You know, you heard about the Calvinist who fell down three flights of stairs. He said, ‘Man, I’m glad that’s over.’ I’m not that deterministic. I think that we have choices. I think given the binary choice that we were given in 2016, and given the binary choice that it looks like we’re going to be given in 2020, based upon the Democratic primary so far, I think most evangelicals, at the very least, will look upon Mr. Trump as the lesser evil. That doesn’t mean that I like his language. That doesn’t mean that I like his style. That doesn’t mean that I like a lot of the aspects of what he does, or what he has done. But, you know, our history is replete with people who did very great things and very moral things, who in many parts of their character were immoral. I mean, we start with Thomas Jefferson. It’s hard to imagine the American republic without Thomas Jefferson. And yet his moral character left a lot to be desired. Lyndon Johnson, in my own lifetime, Lyndon Johnson in many ways was an odious man. He was a sexual predator — in the White House, and before the White House. And yet I shudder to think how he would have gotten through the 1960s without a lot more bloodshed, had it not been for his courageous leadership on civil rights.”

From The Reading List

Christianity Today: Editorial“Trump Should Be Removed from Office” — “In our founding documents, Billy Graham explains that Christianity Today will help evangelical Christians interpret the news in a manner that reflects their faith. The impeachment of Donald Trump is a significant event in the story of our republic. It requires comment.

“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. We want CT to be a place that welcomes Christians from across the political spectrum, and reminds everyone that politics is not the end and purpose of our being. We take pride in the fact, for instance, that politics does not dominate our homepage.

“That said, we do feel it necessary from time to time to make our own opinions on political matters clear—always, as Graham encouraged us, doing so with both conviction and love. We love and pray for our president, as we love and pray for leaders (as well as ordinary citizens) on both sides of the political aisle.

“Let’s grant this to the president: The Democrats have had it out for him from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion. This has led many to suspect not only motives but facts in these recent impeachment hearings. And, no, Mr. Trump did not have a serious opportunity to offer his side of the story in the House hearings on impeachment.

“But the facts in this instance 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. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”

The Christian Post: “Christianity Today and the problem with ‘Christian elitism’” — “Christianity Today editor Mark Galli’s ‘lofty’ op-ed last week calling for President Trump’s removal from office touched off a firestorm of criticism and dissent from scores of evangelical leaders, and the backlash and debate have reached ‘critical mass’ since its publication. Meanwhile, secular media immediately seized upon the CT editorial to argue that evangelical support for the president was finally crumbling under the weight of impeachment by the House of Representatives.

“After all, when Christianity Today, the ‘flagship’ magazine of evangelicals, founded by Billy Graham himself, turns against the president, then the long hoped for evangelical exodus from Trump must surely have finally commenced.

“In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, as made clear by the Graham family itself. The great evangelist’s son, Franklin, divulged that his father ‘knew Donald Trump, believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump.’ He then went on to say that his father ‘believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.’ ”

The Hill: “Trump to rally evangelicals after critical Christianity Today editorial” — “President Trump will spend Friday evening in Miami rallying a group of evangelical supporters, just weeks after a leading evangelical magazine issued a bruising editorial calling for his impeachment and removal from office.

“The piece by Christianity Today’s now-outgoing Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli stoked divisions among evangelical supporters for Trump, who have overlooked some of Trump’s personal foibles while focusing on some of his policies and his judicial picks.

It sparked fierce condemnation from Franklin Graham, the son of the publication’s founder Billy Graham, and caused a number of evangelicals to flock together and publicly express support for the president.

The Trump campaign announced the “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition one day after the editorial declaring that Trump had “abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath.”

The New York Times: Christianity Today Editor Laments ‘Ethical Naïveté’ of Trump Backers” — “People have been upset with Mark Galli before. As the editor in chief of Christianity Today, a prominent evangelical magazine, he has printed some controversial editorials. But the people he irks usually do not include the IT department of his own publication.

“That is what happened when Mr. Galli published an explosive editorial on Dec. 19 arguing that President Trump should be removed from office. So many readers flocked to read the editorial online that the website crashed, overwhelming those whose job it was to keep it running.

“Mr. Galli had been working for Christianity Today for two decades after being a Presbyterian pastor for about 10 years, first in Mexico City and later in Sacramento, Calif., but the response to the editorial was like nothing he had ever seen. The traffic to the website was 50-fold what it is on a typical day.

“Mr. Galli’s last day with the magazine will be Friday. He had announced his retirement in October, long before the editorial and the response to it.”

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