Prominent Southern Baptist Russell Moore warned that Trump “incites division” in a 2015 op-ed that cited the Bible in asking fellow Christians to “count the cost of following” him, later earning a tweeted lashing from then-candidate Trump.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is blasting a prominent Christian magazine that published an editorial arguing that he should be removed from office.
Trump tweeted Friday morning that Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine founded by the late Rev. Billy Graham, “would rather have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President.” The magazine’s editor-in-chief published an argument for Trump’s removal on Thursday, citing his “blackened moral record.”
While Trump wrote that the magazine “has been doing poorly and hasn’t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years,” some of his strongest evangelical supporters – including Graham’s son -- were rallying to his side and against the magazine. Their pushback underscored the political value of Trump’s hold on the evangelical Christian voting bloc that helped propel him into office and suggested the editorial would likely do little to shake that group’s loyalty.
Rev. Franklin Graham, who now leads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and prayed at Trump’s inauguration, tweeted Friday morning that his late father would be “disappointed” in the magazine. Graham added that he “felt it necessary” following the editorial to share that his father, who died last year after counseling several past presidents, had voted for Trump.
Christianity Today “represents what I would call the leftist elite within the evangelical community. They certainly don’t represent the Bible-believing segment of the evangelical community,” Graham told The Associated Press in an interview. He wrote on Facebook: “Is President Trump guilty of sin? Of course he is, as were all past presidents and as each one of us are, including myself.”
The magazine’s circulation is estimated at 130,000. In its editorial, titled “Trump Should Be Removed from Office,” Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli, wrote that, “Democrats have had it out for” the president since the start of his term.
But Galli asserted that “the facts ... are unambiguous” when it comes to the acts that led to the president’s impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives this week.
Trump “attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” Galli wrote, referring to Democratic rival and former Vice President Joe Biden. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”
The schism among Christians about whether and how strongly to support Trump dates back to before his election. Prominent Southern Baptist Russell Moore warned that Trump “incites division” in a 2015 op-ed that cited the Bible in asking fellow Christians to “count the cost of following” him, later earning a tweeted lashing from then-candidate Trump.
After Trump defended the organizers of a 2017 white nationalist rally that turned violent in Charlottesville, Va., one member of his evangelical advisory board stepped down, citing “a deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration.”
But no such break has occurred between the president and the core of his evangelical base during his impeachment. Trump is deeply popular among self-described evangelical Christians, Trump is deeply popular among evangelicals, with roughly 8 in 10 white evangelical Protestants saying they approve of the way he is handling his job as president, according to a December poll from The AP-NORC Center.
To the contrary, many prominent evangelicals have only intensified their support for Trump as Democrats moved to impeach him — circling the wagons despite Trump’s colored personal history, multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, deeply divisive policies and profanity-laced comments.
At the heart of that stalwart backing is what pro-Trump evangelicals view as the president’s significant record of achievement on their highest priorities, such as his successful installation of more than 150 conservative federal judges and his support for anti-abortion policies.
Indeed, Trump said in his tweets that, “No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close.” And he declared that he “won’t be reading ET again!” using the wrong initials to describe the Christian publication.
Johnnie Moore, a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, tweeted that during the “hyperventilating” over the “inconsequential” editorial, he was at Vice President Mike Pence’s residence, “where dozens of evangelicals who actually lead MILLIONS were celebrating Christmas undistracted by impeachment & grateful for the (Trump administration’s) policies.”
Adding that Christianity Today “only represents a certain segment of evangelicals,” Moore tweeted that “this is not a game changing moment or hardly a surprise.”
Another Trump evangelical adviser, Southern Baptist megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, tweeted that the magazine is “dying” and “going against 99% of evangelical Republicans who oppose impeachment.”
Christianity Today’s editorial states it does not take a position on whether Trump should be removed by the Senate or by popular vote in the 2020 election, calling it “a matter of prudential judgment.” But Galli wrote that the need for Trump’s removal, “we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”
The editorial came one day after Trump became the third president in American history to be impeached. The House charged him with abuse of power in pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations of Biden, and with obstructing Congress in the ensuing probe.
Asked Friday in an interview with CNN about Trump’s critical tweets, Galli said the president’s characterization of the magazine as far left was “far from accurate.”
But Galli, who is set to retire from his post next month, also said he is realistic about the impact of his words.
“I don’t have any imagination that my editorial is going to shift their views on this matter,” Galli said of those who support the president. “The fact of the matter is Christianity Today is not read by the people, 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.”