A Day Late

A Day Late

Spectrum Banner Image: Click for COVID-19 coverage
 

 

Written by: 
Published:
December 26, 2019

A week ago yesterday, the House of Representatives took a historic step. For only the third time in history, the House voted to impeach the chief executive. A majority of the members of the House found enough evidence to support the charges that Donald Trump first abused his power in extorting the government of Ukraine with the ultimate goal of starting an investigation into former Vice President Joseph Biden. The members who voted to impeach believe that there is sufficient evidence to justify the charge that Trump attempted to trade the imprimatur of a visit to the White House and millions of dollars’ worth in aid to Ukraine for an investigation into someone who can be described as a potential political rival. Moreover, the House also filed another charge of obstruction of Congress based on the unwillingness of the White House to provide witnesses and documents for the investigation into Trump’s behavior.[1]

The next day Mark Galli, the outgoing editor-in-chief of Christianity Today (CT) penned an editorial, “Trump Should Be Removed from Office.” The post crashed CT’s website.[2] Galli wrote a fairly even-handed piece, stating that despite an infatuation with impeachment in the Democratic Party from the time of Trump’s inauguration, Trump’s behavior warranted his removal from office. But Galli’s concerns went beyond just the political. Evangelical Christians are the strongest segment of Trump’s base of support. Galli believes that this unwavering devotion to Trump negatively effects each supporter’s ability to witness for the cause of Christ. Galli found that the benefits of the Trump administration, whether political, economic or cultural, no longer balanced the scales with Trump’s personal behavior. While I find Galli’s missive about 3 years late and at least $105 million dollars short, I find some elements of Galli’s piece worthy of further examination.

First, Galli’s piece underscores the nuance necessary when discussing the evangelical movement in America. Despite the firestorm of the last week, CT is a solidly evangelical magazine. However, last week was not the first time CT expressed misgivings about Trump’s role as a candidate or how he acted once he achieved the office. CT (including Galli himself) wrote several pieces during the 2016 campaign exploring what it would mean to support Trump and questioning what the effect will be. By nature of their theology evangelicals on the whole will tend to be more conservative, but the reaction to Galli’s editorials devolved into sniping among different wings of the evangelical movement. While support for Trump is strong among evangelicals it is not absolute. There are people who claim the title “evangelical” but do not support this administration or its morally bankrupt policies. We all would do well to remember that as we consider the topic.

Second, Galli is not correct in the very heart of his argument. This may be an overstatement on my part, but I find Galli’s focus on Trump’s character as a qualification for office misguided. I actually agree with conservative evangelicals that my vote should be based on who I think will do the best job, not the person who is the nicest or kindest, or whose moral or ethical beliefs track most closely with mine. Galli makes this comment on his way to making the point that CT should be consistent on impeachment, and that they called for President Clinton’s impeachment for possibly perjuring himself attempting to cover-up an affair.[3] Whether Clinton or Trump can remain faithful in their marriage, whether Trump uses his Twitter account properly, or whether Trump actually knows the best words is not determinative to me of whether he can do the job and do it well.[4] Whatever that scale may be, it won’t necessarily include personal morality. I believe that a president can be a person that I wouldn’t be friends with and still be effective at the job of being president.

Finally, Galli may be wrong about Trump, personal morality and the presidency, but he is absolutely correct to highlight the effect of Trump support on the life and goals of the Christian. In essence Galli exposes the problem with the evangelical Trump supporters’ entire argument. While it is true and possible to fashion an argument that explains why Trump’s moral failings won’t affect his ability to fulfill the duties of the office, it is harder to explain why his personal moral failings should not besmirch the reputation of the churches and Christians that decide to support such a morally unfit person. Let’s take Trump’s uneasy relationship with honesty for example.[5] The latest figures report that Trump has told a lie or misleading claim over 15,000 times. Someone can certainly argue that it may even be helpful to Trump’s job performance that he is able to lie so brazenly. However, it is way more difficult to explain how a Christian, whose commandments specifically speak against lying, can support someone who lies so often without any sense of conscience. In addition, whatever rationale conservative evangelicals may have, they all sound selfish.[6] As Galli wrote, “None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”

Support for Trump despite his moral failings is indicative of Christians whose priorities may be out of order. The church does not exist to protect its ability to discriminate. It does not exist to use the force of law to cajole people into living by the precepts of a God that they may have not accepted in their hearts. The goal of the church is not to ensure that it continues to receive a tax exemption from the government. The goal of the church has always been exceedingly simple – imbued with the power and authority of Christ, we are to go and make disciples, and teach them the things that Jesus commanded us. That is our mission. To become caught up in anything else is ultimately a distraction, even if that distraction yields a tax cut, two Supreme Court judges, and even religious liberty protections for ourselves (and not others). Mark Galli was right. It is high time for each church and church member to,“[r]emember who you are and whom you serve.”

---------------------------------------

[1] While a debate over the particulars of this case is not the goal of this piece, I would be remiss if I did not address the particulars. I think the first charge rests on fairly sure footing – largely because many of the people directly involved have admitted to the elements of the crime in public. However, even if someone were not convinced by the initial charge, I think it is a fairly open and shut case that Trump obstructed the power of Congress to investigate. The White House ignored lawful subpoenas and document requests, something that cannot be allowed if the legislature is to exercise its constitutional check and balance with the Executive Branch.

[2] On a personal note, it took me about 20 minutes from the time I found out about the article to actually read the piece because I could not access the site.

[3] This in my opinion is the great hypocrisy in the Trump argument. So many of the people who argued that character and morality mattered in the late 1990s are now the same people making the argument that Trump’s character and morality are of no consequence.

[4] Now in truth I would argue that Trump has shown he doesn’t know how to use his Twitter properly, that he does not know or need the best words, and I believe there is more than enough evidence that he is over his head in his current position without reaching the question of his personal morality.

[5] I think this issue is a little easier place to make the argument than other issues that also have a lot of good evidence, like Trump’s racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia.

[6] One could argue that the benefit is economical, which would largely be about the benefit to that person. They could argue that he is a defender of religious liberty, but that concept of religious liberty is one that allows them to exercise their faith with no regard for others.

---------------------------------------

 

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines 

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

 

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

Spectrum Magazine Donation Page: Help Support Independent Adventist Journalism