Christianity Today Controversy

He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. -2 Kings 23:2-3

Recently, there was an article (Found Here) published by the editor of Christianity Today calling for the impeachment of President Trump on moral and ethical charges and calling out Evangelical Christians who seem to be unwavering in their support and loyalty.

This article, of course, sparked and revealed a divide within the Evangelical community. Some praised Christianity Today for finally taking a stand. Others, including 200 high profile Christian leaders, condemned the article and wrote a rebuttal letter they signed together (Read Here). The President of Christianity Today followed up with an article (Found Here). At the same time, others like Eric Metaxas are going around on various shows to make their case for supporting President Trump.

I am writing this article to offer a few thoughts of my own, as unpopular as they may be for some. I will begin by stating that I did vote for President Trump in the first election. But my vote was more a vote against Hilary Clinton and the Democratic platform. I am officially registered as an “Independent” because quite frankly, I can’t fully identify with either party and have serious issues with aspects of both. With the last election, before President Trump emerged as the front-runner, he did bring a certain “entertainment” to the debates and lack of political correctness that many found refreshing. But as time went on, I began to grow disgusted and even horrified by what I referred to as a “circus.” However, I had far more problems with the Democrat candidate and platform then I did with the Republican candidate and platform.

Despite reluctantly voting for Trump, I have written and spoken out about some of his and his administrations “darker” side, especially when it comes to attitude, rhetoric, and treatment towards immigrants, and the way he makes some of the pettiest, childish and reprehensible remarks towards other people, degrading the sacredness of the image of God in other human beings. Many Evangelical Christians have either excused this behavior as just his “New York” style; or flat out celebrated that they have someone they perceive as a “fighter” on behalf of Evangelical interests.

President Trump, in fact, sees himself in this light as a President who has “done more for the Evangelicals” than any other President. And, in some core areas of significant concern to many Evangelicals, this is perhaps true. Whether you agree with or like some of his campaign promises or not, he has fulfilled many of those promises in a way that other presidents have not. This is something many of his Evangelical supporters point to in areas of some of their core concerns. It is important to note that for years they have felt their voices and concerns were not heard or respected. This explains much of the fierce support for President Trump in the evangelical community.

While I will write to some of this later in this article, I am not one of those who can only see either “all good” or “all bad” in most Presidents. Personally, I cannot understand or stand when depending on who is President, and whether we voted for them or not, we either say only good about them and defend their every move or action; or we blast their every step or action. Both sides of the political spectrum tend to do this. Still, for Evangelical Christians, this becomes especially hypocritical and hurts our credibility. Younger generations see through this hypocrisy despite how we try to spin it. And they have no tolerance or respect for it.

Yet sometimes we tend to see things only black or white. For example, despite having voted Republican my whole life, I have been accused of being an “Obama loving liberal” when I was pastoring a church, simply because I called on our church to pray for the President and those in authority as the bible calls us to. I did not vote for President Obama. I could not believe however, the justifications, excuses, hatred, prejudice, and animosity I had expressed whenever I called us to pray for him, by those proclaiming to be “Evangelical Bible-believing Christians.” It was enough to turn your stomach sour and lead to some profound discouragement in regard to the American church community, and I was a pastor within it! Shouldn’t we pray even more for those we disagree with, not vomit and spew forth hatred and animosity? How is that reflective of Jesus or faithful to Scripture?

That all said, here are some thoughts on the recent Christianity Today article, rebuttal, and response. Let me address the initial article which I have mixed feelings about. First, some have called into question the timing of the article considering an election year approaching, clearly partisan impeachment proceedings, and the author on his way out. Some have asked why it has taken so long and why the timing is now. Those may have some validity in them. Others, however, say “better late than never,” and so while disappointed it took this long, are still thankful something was put out there. I also am not sure about the argument made for his impeachment and that being the focus.

Calling out Evangelical Christians hypocrisy, however, in unwavering loyalty to President Trump and in excusing, celebrating, or justifying his behavior (when before the claim was made that “character matters”), is another thing. I believe this is what the follow up article by the President of Christianity Today accomplished in a much clearer way. There can be no denying that the Christian witness and our credibility especially to another generation and worldwide has been damaged severely. Why can’t we see or admit this if we voted for President Trump? What are we so afraid of? I know the answer to this, but feel we need to name it what it is; a historically rooted and ingrained fear within the American mindset disproportion to kingdom reality. We need to regain confidence and trust in the Sovereign reign and rule of Jesus as King of Kings.

The truth is, those of us who identify as Evangelical Christians in the United States are coming across as more concerned about politics than the person and way of Jesus. We come across as what I term “practical or pragmatic atheists” rather than faith-filled followers of Jesus regardless of politics. We come across as power-hungry instead of humble servants. We come across as driven by fear instead of love. We seem more passionate about “American greatness” than the beauty of the Gospel and Name of Jesus being made great around the world. We are perceived (fairly or unfairly) as racist, homophobic, nationalistic, and more.

It is my belief that there is a fundamental problem with much of the more conservative Christian community in the United States. (For the record, I have issues with much of the more liberal Christian community as well, but that is another subject for another time). While the conservative segment tends to rail against “liberal” and more “progressive” or “social gospel” leaning believers, I wish there was a more humble, gracious, and reflection posture that could be taken by many perceived “Evangelical leaders” today. We have serious issues of celebrity church culture, entertainment driven services, sexual abuse problems, political obsession, materialistic/pragmatic focus, lack of discipleship, global mission perspective, and much more.

I wish we could champion the Good News of the Gospel above all else and especially before politics and American interests. There is too much of a blending of Americanism with the Kingdom of God that transcends (yet encompasses) every culture or country. We seem to think it is the end of the world for Christianity and America if we don’t have our values being championed from the highest powers of government. Yet, historically, while not wishing it on any person or country, Christianity has flourished under persecution and when in the minority. Likewise, it has, historically, been corrupted and compromised when too close to political power.

I believe the real underlining issue is that politics is an idol within much of the American church culture. 

There is a certain obsessive focus on politics within the church. Even voting has taken on such a sacred level of “sacrament” that it is equivalent to a severe transgression and unacceptable in the eyes of many church leaders if a believer were to abstain from voting out of conscience. This has come to define the very essence of “civic duty.” There is more seriousness placed on this sacrament than the sharing of the Gospel and concern for our witness in this world representing another King and Kingdom. 

I believe what is most needed is a call back to unwavering loyalty to Jesus Christ as King and pledging our full allegiance to his kingdom and Gospel regardless of who or what party is in political power. Earthly kingdoms and kings come and go, but his kingdom is eternal and his Gospel the greatest and most urgently needed message in this world. I believe we need to recommit ourselves to his Word and our Witness of him in this world, without the fear that it is dependent on who is in power. Our God is Sovereign and all authority has been given to Jesus who tells us our mission is to go and make disciples of all nations; not be so obsessed with earthly politics, power, and presidents.

I believe we need to tear down this idol of fear and politics in our hearts and pledge ourselves to follow Jesus and stay faithful in our witness to him regardless of what happens in this fallen world. I believe we have and will continue to lose a whole generation who has no tolerance anymore for leaders who are more concerned about who is in power on earth than seeing a church pure in its witness for Christ and following the way of Christ. This is a real problem.

Therefore, in the end, I am grateful overall for the Christianity Today articles. I am, however, grieved by the defensive and reactive response by some prominent and key Evangelical leaders. In some cases, there is even projection being engaged in that smacks more of political games than honest understanding, dialogue, and discussion. Accusations of being “political” and “self-righteousness” and pronouncements of being “glad to be on the side of sinners” are just dishonest or, evidence of prideful blindness that only plays to the same base and pushes others further away. There is a certain “shaming” taking place that, again, is, in my opinion, a projection and defense mechanism to prevent dealing with the shame of the way we are hurting our witness by partisan politics. I have lost much respect for some in this camp that I used to hold in high regard and have even personally met or been blessed by their ministry or books or messages.

I am not saying Christians should have no part in politics or speaking truth to power. I believe some are called to politics. To be a Daniel amid a lion’s den, an Esther to protect people’s lives, a Joseph with vision to navigate challenging times, a Nehemiah to see people prosper, and so forth is a noble calling.

However, when I look at the earthly ministry of Jesus or John the Baptist before him or the many prophets of the Old Testament who served under certain kings, they had a prophetic ministry calling out and rebuking the sin of even God’s people and those in power. Turning a blind eye to sinful actions or attitudes or being selective in what we speak out against depending who is in power, has no place in our lives as followers of Jesus. Our number one priority as a follower of Jesus must be seeking first his kingdom and righteousness, not our own earthly comfort or even American patriotism.

May God help us renew our relationship with him, his word, his kingdom, our witness, and His Son above all and before all.