Editor’s note: This article first appeared at First Things.
Some years ago, I wrote a short book in which I argued that, while political thinking was complicated, voting was not. One could agree with some parts of a politician’s manifesto while disagreeing with others. But in the voting booth, the X had to be placed bluntly and brutally next to the name of one candidate or another—no nuance, no “ifs” or “buts” allowed.
I have thought of that point many times over recent years as pundits have repeatedly expressed themselves on the matter of evangelical support for Trump. Now, I have no vote (being merely a Green Carder), nor do I consider myself an evangelical (though I do cohost a podcast for a group that uses the name). But it seems to me that the idea of passionate, unquestioning support for Trump by this rather nebulous group, the evangelicals, is greatly overplayed in the rhetoric of public discourse. I live in the heart of Trump territory and know many who voted for the Donald, almost none of whom took any pleasure in doing so. They simply felt abandoned by a Democratic party more concerned about identity politics than poor people. There was, in their minds, sadly no alternative.
This brings me to Mark Galli’s recent editorial in Christianity Today. In an impassioned appeal he summons evangelicals to dump the Donald. Indeed, he not only calls for Trump’s removal from office by impeachment or ballot box, but also declares that it is every Christian’s moral duty to support such a move.
It is hard to fault the evidence he cites in making his case. Trump is without doubt not the kind of person one would want to represent the nation. His record of infidelity, sleaze, and inappropriate attitudes is well-documented. And Galli is rightly consistent on this point, not indulging in the embarrassing (and arguably hypocritical) flip-flopping done by some members of the Religious Right, who see adultery as disqualifying for Clinton but not for Trump. His piece is also not part of the sanctimonious subgenre of self-regarding anti-Trump noise created by hokey-wokey evangelicals—those who tweet endlessly about white privilege and misogyny in between writing checks for their children’s elite private schools and knocking back Martinis and Manhattans at the country club or the art gallery opening. It is a heartfelt call for evangelicals not to give their support to a man of reprehensible character.
Galli sees the situation as urgent: “If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?” Yet, to ask the obvious question, what is the alternative? Now, that question can be used as a lazy, rhetorical way of justifying a vote for Trump—or for any status quo, however wicked. But I intend it as a serious inquiry: When someone calls for Trump to be thrown out of office by impeachment or the ballot box, it is reasonable to ask what the available alternatives are. As Mother Theresa is unavailable for the White House, we are really looking at Biden, Warren, or Sanders. I can’t speak to the personal moral qualities of these people, but would voting for them or their policies give Christians any more credibility? Given the role of abortion and LGBTQ rights in their respective campaigns, this is surely something any Christian has to address.
Galli would no doubt rightly respond that voting cannot be seen in such simplistic terms. A vote for a Democrat no more necessarily indicates a passionate commitment to late-term abortion on the part of the one voting than a vote for Trump indicates that one finds adultery and womanizing to be an acceptable way of life. Every vote cast—perhaps especially those cast by Christians—involves a trade-off, a compromise, a ranking of the importance of moral priorities which, in an ideal world, we would not have to do. And I would agree with Galli. I have argued this myself many times.
Yet Galli cuts himself from such a move. Indeed, he goes so far as to say that he believes the removal of Trump “is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.” That is an astounding claim for the editor of Christianity Today to make, for it involves him accusing every Trump voter of heinous sin, however reluctant or conflicted he may be.
As noted above, Galli is not playing some sanctimonious Pharisee, standing in the Temple of Twitter, thanking God that he is not like other evangelicals—white supremacists, misogynists, or even this Trump supporter over here. But his editorial is symptomatic of the same underlying pathology. Evangelical elites are clearly as out of touch with the populist evangelical base as is the case in society in general. And lambasting populist evangelicals as hypocrites or dimwits will simply perpetuate the divide.
Carl R. Trueman is professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Grove City College. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Aberdeen and has taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen and Westminster Theological Seminary. Most recently, he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He writes regularly at First Things and Modern Reformation and co-hosts a weekly podcast, The Mortification of Spin, for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.