On Wednesday, as it became clear that by day’s end he would become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached, Trump took to Twitter to call upon Americans to “Say a PRAYER!” His assumption, of course, was that if one were the praying type, then one would naturally come to his celestial defense in this moment of, as Republican Representative Barry Loudermilk put it, Christ-like persecution—a moment so (supposedly) unjust that “Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this President.”
On Thursday, however, this assumption proved gratifyingly wrong. In a post so seismic that it crashed the site, Mark Galli, Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today (the evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham in 1956), argued forcefully in favor of removing Trump from office. Galli called Trump “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused” and — noting his “Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy” — went on to state that “None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”
The editorial may have looked like a stunning reversal, coming as it did from within the evangelical community and considering how over 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016 and 99 percent of white evangelical Republicans oppose impeachment now. Yet this was just the sort of come-to-Jesus moment that many had been hoping (and yes, praying) for — proof that evangelicals’ unholy alliance with Trump was just that. “If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?” Galli asked. The implication was that rather than #PrayForTrump, we Christians should #PrayForImpeachment.
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And, Mr. President, you should know that many, many of us have. We have been saying a PRAYER that the divisions you have sown and the hatred you have propagated will not live on after you. We have been saying a PRAYER that your arrogance and narcissism will not plunge us into war, that your willful aggression against science and facts will not lead to the destruction of God’s creation within our children’s lifetimes. We have been saying a PRAYER that the support you have received from powerful evangelical leaders will not permanently taint our Christian witness. We have been saying a PRAYER that the damage you have done to the moral fiber of this nation can be mended. Yes, we pray for you, President Trump, but we do not believe you to be The Chosen One. In a fallen world, God allows bad things — and bad presidents — to happen.
And as proof of that, consider how you have divided not just America, but American Christians. Support for you has become a Rorscharch test for adherence to Christian ideals: Some see that support as mandatory; others as disqualifying. As a recent article I wrote demonstrates, Galli’s editorial is unlikely to lead white evangelicals to demonstrably change course, because his message will be cast as apostate—proof of his heresy to Trump. Indeed, Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham — a prominent pastor and Trump supporter — said as much, telling the New York Times that the editorial “is not going to change anyone’s mind about Trump” and arguing that his father “would be embarrassed” by it.
Maybe. But Galli’s message is powerful because it begs the question of exactly who should be embarrassed — and by what. Many Christians are far more than embarrassed by the evangelical embrace of this corrupt administration. When Trump asks for our prayers, he shouldn’t forget that.