The editorial declared: “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.” Implicitly chastising those who rationalize Trump’s glaring flaws, the editorial continued:
The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.
But what about all those new federal judges? Doesn’t that justify Trump’s egregious behavior? That has been the ploy of many religious and nonreligious apologists for Trump. No, it does not work that way, CT’s editorial cautioned. “The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people,” the editorial said. “None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”
In a somewhat daring fashion, pointing to evangelicals’ glaring hypocrisy, CT’s editorial quoted evangelicals’ condemnations of President Bill Clinton for his immoral behavior. Then the editorial noted: “Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.” It’s so rare that one reads such a rebuke of tribalism from within evangelical circles that it is hard to remember that religious leaders are supposed to operate in the world of faith and morality, not rank partisanship.
The editorial concluded:
To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.
Peter Wehner, a veteran of President George W. Bush’s administration who frequently writes about faith and politics as a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told me how important CT is in the evangelical world. “It’s the flagship publication for evangelical Christianity,” he said. “Billy Graham was the founder, and of course Franklin Graham is one of Trump’s most loyal defenders, to the point of obsequiousness.” Wehner added: “I’m not sure how many minds the CT editorial will change, but this was a gutsy act, since some large number of its subscribers are undoubtedly Trump supporters. The damage to the evangelical movement and the Christian witness in America during the Trump years has been immense and can’t be undone all at once.”
We have no doubt that the evangelical operators who long ago cast aside faith and morality in favor of access to power are not going to be jolted out of their religious coma by an editorial. The evangelicals who view Trump as a bully of their own, a leader who justifies their grievances and normalizes racist and xenophobic rhetoric, will ignore CT’s admonitions and indeed vilify the publication. However, this should not minimize the importance of declaring that the emperor (both Trump and his idolaters) has no clothes. The public condemnation of Trump might at least begin a discussion among evangelicals about whether they have damaged their own religious values and credibility.
If CT sparks at least some soul-searching and prompts some Trump cultists to reevaluate their Faustian bargain, the publication would have made a major contribution both to faith and to the country. After all, it is not merely that evangelicals have kept in power a corrupt, disloyal and immoral president, but in that in doing so they have stained the reputation of “values voters."
A crack in Trump’s evangelical wall of defense that has the potential to split off even a small number of Trump supporters has the potential to deprive Trump of another term. One can only imagine the fury raining down on CT’s owners and editors. They have shown real courage here. We hope that their courage is contagious.