President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate Dec. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
In an age of flaming anger and partisan rage, the president and CEO of the leading Evangelical journal, Christianity Today (CT), Timothy Dalrymple, has offered something extraordinary: a place for rational debate.
In response to angry Evangelical denunciations of Mark Galli’s CT editorial of December 19 calling on evangelicals to support the impeachment of Donald Trump for offenses against public morality, on December 22 Dalrymple endorsed Galli’s editorial and “invited supporters and critics alike to produce essays agreeing or disagreeing with our stated views.” CT will publish those essays in mid-January in the “hope we can come together in convicted humility and learn from one another.”
“It is time,” Dalrymple wrote, “for evangelicals to have a serious discussion about how our identity as Christians shapes our activity as citizens. We will invite authors who represent a variety of viewpoints in a thoughtful and charitable manner.”
“Deeply aware of our own sinfulness and limitations,” Dalrymple cites the words of Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”. He might have continued with the further Proverbs verse: “The sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.”
The Evangelical Leaders Attack
Dalrymple was answering a letter with a distinctly unchristian tone from nearly 200 evangelical leaders, who denounced CT for publishing the editorial urging Evangelicals to support President Trump’s impeachment.
“Your editorial,” the leaders wrote, “offensively questioned the spiritual integrity and Christian witness of tens-of-millions of believers who take seriously their civic and moral obligations,” the evangelicals wrote. The letter was signed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Minnesota Republican Rep. Michelle Bachman, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Ralph Reed.
President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
“We are, in fact, not ‘far-right’ evangelicals as characterized by the author. Rather, we are Bible-believing Christians and patriotic Americans who are simply grateful that our President has sought our advice as his administration has advanced policies that protect the unborn, promote religious freedom … and ensure that our foreign policy aligns with our values while making our world safer, including through our support of the State of Israel.”
It is symptomatic of the issues raised by Galli’s editorial that the Evangelical leaders’ letter makes no attempt to defend Trump’s conduct on its ethical merits, to consider whether Trump’s behavior is compatible with the spirit of Christianity, or whether support of Trump is damaging the Evangelical movement. The letter addresses the CT editorial through the lens of partisan politics.
Christianity Today Plants A Flag
The fact that the original CT editorial of December 19 was written by an editor just several days before his retirement from CT, indicated a possibility that the piece was perhaps just a one-off hit-and-run effort by an dissident ethicist, a final parting shot before quitting the fray.
On the contrary, in his article of December 22, Dalrymple as CT President and CEO firmly dispelled any such possibility with an energetic defense of Galli’s editorial and a denunciation of Trump’s unchristian behavior. “We at CT believe,” he wrote, “we need to relearn the art of balancing two things: having a firm opinion and inviting free discussion. We need, in other words, both a flag and a table.”
The alliance of American evangelicalism with this presidency,” Dalrymple wrote, “has wrought enormous damage to Christian witness. It has alienated many of our children and grandchildren. It has harmed African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American brothers and sisters.”
Although “CT has no interest in partisan politics,” Dalrymple said that the issues are deeper and broader than “a flagrantly partisan impeachment process… or even merely about President Trump… He is a symptom of a sickness that began before him, which is the hyper-politicization of the American church… With profound love and respect, we ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to consider whether they have given to Caesar what belongs only to God: their unconditional loyalty.”
Dalrymple noted that reader responses to Galli’s recent editorial “spanned the spectrum. We have received countless notes of encouragement from readers who were profoundly moved. They felt this was a watershed moment in the history of the American church—or they hoped it would prove to be. Stay strong, they told us, knowing we were about to reap the whirlwind.”
On December 23, Dalrymple said that CT had lost 2,000 subscriptions but gained 5,000, with the latter coming from a younger, more diverse and more global audience. “Clearly, there was a profound yearning for some evangelical institution or leader to stand up and say these things,” Dalrymple said.
Rather than backing down on or counter-punching like the president, with an anger equivalent to his critics, Dalrymple responded calmly, civilly, rationally but firmly. “Christians,” he said, should be “the conscience of the state. That is what we believe. This is where we plant our flag. We know we are not alone.”
The Spirit Of Christianity And Christmas
Thus in his article, Dalrymple both “plants a flag” and lays “a table… a place of welcome, a place where bread is broken and friendships are forged. In a political landscape dominated by polarization, hostility, anger and misunderstanding… Evangelicals of different stripes cannot continue to shout one another down, bully those who disagree, or exclude one another and refuse to listen.”
Whether we recognize it or not, all Americans live in a civilization in part defined by and built on the ethics of Christianity. The very numbering of the year in which we live is determined by the birth of Jesus. Today’s public holiday is a recognition of that fact. The Sermon on the Mount expresses our common highest ideals. Even if we rarely live up to them fully, it inspires us to try. Dalrymple’s quiet call for rational debate about impeachment and Trump’s unchristian conduct epitomizes this spirit as definitively as the evangelical leaders’ letter is marked by political partisanship.
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