Not long after the editorial was published, Christianity Today’s website crashed. By Friday afternoon, #ChristiansAgainstTrump was trending on Twitter.
Trump responded with several angry tweets. His evangelical advisers came to his defense, attacking and dismissing the editorial — and even the entire publication.
I guess the magazine, “Christianity Today,” is looking for Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or those of the socialist/communist bent, to guard their religion. How about Sleepy Joe? The fact is, no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2019
The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the magazine’s founder, the late Rev. Billy Graham, told The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey that his father would have been embarrassed by the piece.
“He would’ve been very embarrassed that the magazine he started would call for something like this when there are no crimes committed,” Graham said. “It’s a totally different magazine than what he started.”
But many Americans just tuning in were unable to determine how much Christianity Today has changed because they had never heard of the magazine before the editorial was published.
The Fix spoke with author Katelyn Beaty, who was the first female managing editor of Christianity Today, about the magazine she used to run and what this editorial meant for Trump and American evangelicalism.
The Fix: You’re deeply familiar with Christianity Today. Were you at all surprised by the editorial?
Beaty: I was incredibly surprised. I did not anticipate the magazine’s editors speaking out one way or the other about the impeachment proceeding because the impeachment proceedings are so clearly a political process. And I would say way more often than not, Christianity Today tries to stay above the political fray.
They cover social and cultural issues that have political implications, but when it comes to editorializing against a particular administration, the editors have been pretty reticent to do that.
The Fix: Given that CT doesn’t typically publish pieces like this, why the decision to do so now? Do you think editors were feeling pressure to weigh in on the Trump presidency?
Beaty: I can’t confirm this for sure, but if CT’s editors were getting pressure from anyone, it would have been subscribers who support Trump and feel like the magazine hasn’t done enough to praise Trump’s policy priorities over the past two years. Or they would have been receiving pressure from readers who feel like Christianity Today shouldn’t say anything critical because saying anything critical about the president is a partisan move.
The Fix: Many people have never heard of Christianity Today before today. Tell me a bit about the people who read the magazine.
Beaty: Christianity Today is not a populist magazine. It’s always been oriented toward evangelical leaders, and those leaders tend to be highly educated and politically moderate. A lot of Christianity Today readers in general want to stay out of politics. They just focus on theology and the Bible and apply biblical principles to cultural issues.
The Fix: The president dismissed CT as “far left.” And some conservative evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham, the son of the magazine’s founder, have labeled it “progressive” or “liberal.” What were your thoughts on that?
Beaty: I had to laugh. Because I think the insinuation that Christianity Today is a part of some left-wing conspiracy to take the president down and find favor with progressives is laughable. If you talk to progressive Christians or people who are not Christians, they would never see Christianity Today as their magazine.
The comment says more about where they (Trump, Graham, etc.) stand on the political spectrum. And they must be standing in a very far-right place to perceive Christianity Today as being progressive.
The Fix: What’s the significance of calling a magazine like Christianity Today liberal?
Beaty: I think in the worlds that Trump finds himself in — the worlds of Franklin Graham and Tony Perkins, a very easy way to dismiss and discredit a perspective is to call it liberal. The moment you call it liberal, you can discredit it — regardless of whether it has any truth to it.
I think calling Christianity Today liberal or progressive or far left is essentially a way for the president and his supporters to say, “You’ve probably not heard of this magazine, but you don’t need to listen to them because they’re liberal anyway.”
The Fix: While Trump has the overwhelming support of most white evangelicals, not all evangelicals — and certainly not all Christians — back Trump. Have you heard any responses from them to the editorial?
Beaty: Among anti-Trump Christians and evangelicals, the editorial has been received as a breath of fresh air. They’ve been looking for evangelical institutions to speak out about the more troubling aspects of the Trump presidency. And the fact that editors decided to take such a strong stance is almost a relief to those more moderate or liberal evangelicals who want to see more courage and conviction from the magazine. Because, for them, it’s not so much the pro-Trump evangelicals that frustrate them, it’s the silent evangelicals. And to a lot of people, silence looks like tacit approval. So choosing not to be silent is encouraging.
The Fix: Will this have any impact? Almost no group has stuck with Trump more than white evangelicals.
Beaty: I wouldn’t be surprised if the decision to publish the editorial paves the way for other editors to be emboldened to speak more directly into politics. Obviously, Christianity Today is never going to be a daily political news website. That’s not its job. That’s not the mission or vision for the magazine. But given this response and this kind of reception, I think this could be a moment where Christianity Today editors realize the magazine has more power and its voice carries more weight than it thought it did. This could show that when Christianity Today makes comments like this, it really does matter. People really are listening.