By: Eric Metaxas – wsj.com – January 7, 2020
It’s myopic to focus on his personal behavior when important moral issues like abortion are at stake.
The magazine Christianity Today—which bore the imprimatur of its founder, Billy Graham —once arguably represented the broad middle of “American evangelicalism.” But a recent editorial calling for President Trump’s removal through impeachment confirmed the magazine’s creep toward that Slough of Despond populated by liberal elites and Joe Biden.
The article cleared its throat—and conscience—by declaring “unambiguous” the “facts” of the president’s guilt. Having thus defenestrated objectivity, the editorial cited his behavior in general as “profoundly immoral,” his character as “grossly” so.
But these subjective pronouncements promote a perversion of Christian doctrine, which holds that all are depraved and equally in need of God’s grace. For Christianity Today to advance this misunderstanding is shocking. It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but faith in what Jesus has done.
The reason for the editorial is that evangelicals pronounced Bill Clinton unfit for office because of his moral failings. Thus, claim Mr. Trump’s detractors, evangelicals are hypocrites who’ve sold their souls for political power unless they issue a withering philippic against Mr. Trump. Christianity Today’s long-faced essay is meant to be that dressing-down, triggered by the “facts” of the impeachment.
But does the Clinton “character” comparison make sense? Aren’t the political realities different two decades later? The triangulating practicality and moderation of the Democrats under Mr. Clinton have been trampled beyond recognition by something untethered and wild, like horses racing to Venezuela.
In the 1990s some Democrats were antiabortion. Neither party could exclusively claim the high ground on this deepest of moral issues. Mr. Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. Despite ultrasounds and 4-D imaging, Democrats endorse abortion with near unanimity, often beyond viability and until birth. If slavery was rightly considered wicked—and both a moral and political issue—how can this macabre practice be anything else? How can Christians pretend this isn’t the principal moral issue of our time, as slavery was in 1860? Can’t these issues of historic significance outweigh whatever the president’s moral failings might be?
The pejorative du jour is to call evangelicals “transactional,” as though buying a loaf of bread and not simply praying for one were somehow faithless. But what is sneeringly called “transactional” is representational government, in which patriotic citizens vote, deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country. Isn’t it conceivable that faithful Christians think Mr. Trump is the best choice?
But some left-leaning evangelicals long ago grew tired of being portrayed as jug-headed rubes and prudes. After Mr. Clinton’s acquittal, these Christians opted out of the “culture wars,” pretending it possible merely to “preach the Gospel” and avoid politics. They gave the good family man Barack Obama a mulligan or two, winking at his repudiation of traditional marriage and his dehumanizing unborn children.
In this genuinely transactional compromise, Christians supporting Mr. Obama missed the moral forest for the trees. Now, in calling for Mr. Trump’s removal, they are missing the haystack for the needle. Can those troubled by Mr. Trump not at least imagine that removing him could lead to something even worse? Can the Democratic metamorphosis into an openly antiborder, socialist movement responsibly be ignored?
The stakes are therefore even higher than in 2016, not least because many are rightly scandalized at the attempts to undo that election. Perhaps voters could be excused for hoping to pry Old Glory from the grasp of unelected J. Edgar Hoovers at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Christians especially blanch to see religious liberty—once thought settled under Mr. Clinton with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—suddenly under serious attack. Christians are staggered to see good souls who stand by millennia-old religious convictions portrayed as deplorable bigots. Democrats—and many Republicans, too—simply look away, seemingly resigned to a culturally Marxist future in which they too may at any minute be rent asunder by woke mobs.
Given this new reality, is it any wonder Mr. Trump’s bellicosity often draws cheers? Or that the appointment of originalist judges has become so urgent that some people are willing to countenance a chief executive who tweets like a WWE figure?
For those of us alive to this strange moment in history, arguments that this president’s inchoate moral failings somehow require his removal from office seem not only disproportionate, but preposterous. Christians worship a man who flipped over the tables of corrupt money changers and drove them from the temple with a whip he fashioned for that purpose. Or must one now assume Jesus was an angry white male without access to mental-health care?
The editors of Christianity Today have made the mistake of “straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel.” Since most evangelicals concur with Abraham Lincoln in seeing America as “the last best hope of earth,” it should hardly be discomfiting or shocking that they would rally behind a president with the fortitude to defend that vision of America.
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