The fate of Donald Trump’s presidency transcends politics. Moral and ethical concerns about the president pose a test of religious principles for people of faith. The soul of American evangelicalism is at stake.
Evangelicals’ loyalty to a corrupt and immoral president has damaged the reputation of Christianity in the United States.
Yet a chance exists for a measure of redemption. After the House of Representatives voted for impeachment on Dec. 18, the hope to restore a high ethical standard for the presidency lies with those who call for removing Trump from office. The method of removal — by the Senate in an impeachment trial or by the voters in November — is less important than the outcome and that Christians who oppose Trump take a public stand.
As Anabaptists, we distance ourselves from political loyalties and stand ready to critique the actions of any elected official. When President Clinton was impeached 20 years ago, MWR advocated censure by Congress, in addition to impeachment but not removal from office, as a “permanent black mark on his place in history.” Today, the question of whether Christians should expect moral leadership from secular authorities remains an important topic for dialogue among people of faith.
That dialogue got a jolt of energy last month when a leading voice in Christian media rebuked evangelicals’ submission to Trump. Christianity Today drew huge attention when it published an editorial calling for the president’s removal from office.
The magazine characterized the case against Trump as a broad judgment of deficient moral leadership, beyond any specific offense. The abuse of power by attempting to coerce a foreign leader to discredit a political opponent is only one example of ethical failure. Trump “has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationships with women, about which he remains proud,” editor-in-chief Mark Galli wrote. “His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
If Trump could be impeached for ethical and temperamental unfitness to lead, it might have happened long ago. Risking war by ordering the assassination of Iran’s top general is the latest and most dangerous example of impulsive, reckless action.
The evangelical conversion to Trumpism is not complete. Red Letter Christians, a progressive-leaning evangelical group, expressed its dissent after the Jan. 3 rally that launched “Evangelicals for Trump.” “We must not lend support to compromised evangelicals with our silence,” said Lisa Sharon Harper, representing Red Letter Christians. “History will remember this unholy collusion between white evangelicals and Donald Trump.”
Others who insist character matters include secular conservatives who’ve organized the Lincoln Project to oppose Trump’s re-election. Presidents “become part of our national character,” the group’s leader say. “Their commitment to order, civility and decency is reflected in American society.” Instead of these virtues, America today reflects Trump’s manner of coarse attack, shameless falsehood and stirring of racial and religious division. Or, perhaps it is Trump who reflects the normalization of these sins, a consequence rather than a cause.
As many evangelicals accept unstable and amoral leadership, diverse people of faith claim the conservative task of trying to restore what has been lost.