You can be sure that more people today know about the magazine, “Christianity Today,” than knew about it a week ago. In a December 19 editorial, Editor Mark Galli issued a call for President Trump to be replaced on the basis of moral failings, quoting the statement they made 20 years ago when the magazine called for President Clinton to step down: “Unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered this administration morally unable to lead.” This call from a substantial Christian publication, founded by Evangelist Billy Graham himself, got people’s attention.
That’s not strong enough. Think hornet’s nest, cans of wiggly things, and unexpected things that hit the fan. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, wrote an impassioned rebuttal of the piece, accusing them of being “used by the left for their political agenda.” Other pastors and leaders alternately mocked or dismissed the editorial, citing many great causes President Trump has championed. Alternately, a diverse array of people (some grandkids of Billy Graham and others who may never have read the magazine) supported the editorial, often with equal passion and/or acrimony. On social media, people hunkered down into battle positions, each side lobbing grenades, some laced with mockery, accusations of hypocrisy and statements about who is going to end up in hell. President Trump’s Twitter responses were…well, exactly what they always are for anyone who questions or disagrees with him.
I’m not sure I’ve seen any comments from any angle of the discussion that are flawless, nor do I expect mine to be. Sin and evil tendencies show up in everyone. Parts of CT’s editorial concerned me. Editor Mark Galli has said things that concern me. President Trump has said things that concern me. Franklin Graham has said things that concern me. Friends on Facebook have said things that concern me. Goodness knows, I’ve said things that concern me, and even today I write with trembling hand. Franklin Graham, in his response, said what is true of President Trump and all of us: we’re guilty of sin.
Here’s my great concern with Christianity today. I’m not talking about the magazine. I’m talking about the Christian community today. The Christian family. My brothers and sisters. Those who embrace Jesus as their Savior and King. Those who believe we’re all sinners desperately in need of God’s grace. My concern for us, for Christianity today in America, is that we won’t call out the sins or flawed policies of political leaders we support. It’s not that we don’t call out sin; we promptly called out President Clinton’s immorality, but we won’t call out the sin in the politicians we voted for. We struggle or refuse to call out the sin in a powerful political leader who supports our causes. My companion and deeper concern is that we’ve come to trust political power more than divine power.
A king has power. A president has power. By God’s design. Political leaders have power to influence laws and judges. They have the power to enact policies and make executive decisions. Political leaders can and should be a power for good. There’s good that President Trump has done; I am, for instance, deeply grateful for how he has fought to protect the rights of the unborn. Regardless of how much good any political leader has done, however, God expects us to call out wrong behavior or flawed policies. The very best of leaders need this.
In the Bible, King David comes to mind. He was a king directly chosen by God who brought about great good and prosperity in the kingdom of Israel. He was known to be a king “after God’s own heart.” Still the Bible is refreshingly candid and “non-partisan” in recording some of his wrong behavior and flawed policies. More important, it’s God himself who calls on Nathan to name and condemn the evil of King David’s adultery and more, even though David was hand-chosen by God’s prophet. David seems to have concluded he was untouchable, a grave danger for any leader. As a grace for all, God challenged that fallacy. I think also of King David’s disastrous “census of the fighting men” policy. As he prepared to enact the flawed policy, a cabinet member—Joab—called it out as wrong, but David ignored him. Mind you, Joab had his own moral failings, but still he did the right thing in calling out the King. It’s also clear here that calling out the leader doesn’t mean you must demand that he/she step down. But calling out the wrong isn’t optional.
For years, I served as a pastor, and I was especially mindful of the Bible’s call that pastoral leaders be accountable. Christians are expected to raise concerns about a pastor’s behavior, and a process is outlined for investigating such concerns. God expects wrong behavior to be called out. This is a grace. It’s dangerous for any leader to have untouchable power. In the Bible, you see a history of Jesus-followers calling out both spiritual and political leaders. Paul calls out Peter for racism. John the Baptizer calls out Herod for immorality. This is right and good.
In Christianity today, we struggle to do this. Either we don’t call out the President or, when a “Nathan” does speak up, the concern is trivialized or dismissed altogether. I hear the dismissals: The Nathan is a leftist liberal. The Nathan has his own issues. But the President’s doing so much good. Nobody’s perfect. We didn’t elect a Pastor of the United States; We elected a President. Except, we didn’t say that with President Clinton’s immoral behavior. And here’s the question that surfaces. Is it possible we’ve subtly bowed to political power over spiritual power and moral authority? Are we concerned that calling out any immoral behavior will diminish his political power to promote policies and values that matter to us? Have we then begun to trust political power over God’s power to promote righteousness? Whether we’ve arrived at this conclusion is a matter of discussion, but it seems pretty clear that President Trump has.
In response to the Christianity Today editorial, President Trump tweeted: “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!”
“Guard their religion?” Are we paying attention? President Trump posits himself as the guardian of Christianity, a tragic kind of thinking politicians have fallen into regarding Christianity throughout history. They mistakenly believe that they’re either the guardians or the vanquishers of Christianity, as if a human has the power to do either. The idea that any leader (political or religious) “guards” Christianity is both arrogant and misguided, counter to the core of the gospel. I haven’t heard a whisper of concern about this statement from his Christian backers. Why not? My concern with Christianity today is that we’ve come to believe what he believes, that Christianity needs the guardianship of his political power, so we must support him at all costs, including silence on immorality and misuse of power.
God sent a Nathan to King David, and he confessed. This was good. The Christian community spoke as a Nathan to President Clinton, and he confessed. This was good. The Nathan’s addressing President Trump are being shouted down, and the President adamantly refuses to admit any wrong about anything, ever. This isn’t good. When any leader (even a King David) is “untouchable” and “unchallengeable,” it’s dangerous for the leader and the land. Has Christianity today made our President untouchable?
[feature photo from geralt at Pixabay]