Christianity in the United States is at a moral crossroads.
Our ability as followers of Jesus to courageously seek unity in the body of Christ while responding to the political divisions of our day will determine the efficacy of our Christian witness. I’m inviting you to join with other evangelicals and Christians across the political spectrum to affirm that Christians of goodwill can have divergent political perspectives or to call the immoral actions of our president to account. Let me explain.
On August 22, 2019, the Washington Post published this brief letter to the editor as a part of their commentary on “evangelicals for and against Trump.” My letter began, “I am white. I am evangelical. I love Jesus, and I love the Bible. I am fiscally conservative but socially progressive… Black, Latino, Asian and other ethnic groups that help make up the beautiful diversity of the United States and who also believe in Jesus and the Bible (i.e. evangelical Christian tenets) find Mr. Trump to be an abomination of the ideals of liberty, freedom, and equality that the United States is supposed to represent.” I encouraged readers to listen and elevate the voices of leaders of color who uphold “their ideals of evangelicalism while also promoting principles of love, mercy, compassion, and justice.”
Now, at the dawn of a new decade, the question of who gets to define evangelical political perspectives in the United States is more acute than ever. On December 19, 2019, the general editor of Christianity Today Mark Galli wrote an editorial called “Trump Should Be Removed from Office” calling for American Christians to break the silence and reveal “the president’s character” and his “blackened moral record,” because the very witness of our Lord and Savior is at stake. The international media exploded and a few days later, CNN reported that nearly 200 evangelical leaders slammed Christianity Today in response to the editorial. The media seems to believe that the vast majority of evangelicals agree with those 200 leaders in their unadulterated support of the president and his policies. They are wrong.
How should Christians and people of faith respond to the questions surrounding our president’s character? I wholeheartedly agree with Christianity Today that it is possible for Christians to hold beliefs across the political spectrum and maintain Christian integrity. While I at times have much in common with my friends and community who identify as liberal evangelicals, we often have different political perspectives and theological frameworks. It is okay that we may vote differently. However, there are times where the gross moral violations of those in leadership demand Christian unity.
As the New Year begins, we must now speak out in response to the immorality of our president. We can no longer afford to remain silent. After Galli’s CT editorial was published, I found myself deeply distressed. I lead a bipartisan nonprofit based on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., that works with Republicans and Democrats. We have relationships with the State Department and White House and seek to inform and influence U.S. policies related to the Middle East. There are many reasons I should not be engaged in this fight. There are many reasons I could choose to remain silent. I suspect many Christians around the U.S. have excuses similar to mine about why it is permissible for us to not engage. I no longer believe we have a legitimate excuse.
In response to Mark Galli’s piece, several evangelical and Christian leaders joined me in a statement released on Christmas Eve in support of Christianity Today. We had more than 500 signatures within the first 24 hours over Christmas. The majority of the original signers were not the “usual suspects” and, in fact, many of them rarely speak out about political issues.
Compelled to respond to the critiques of Christianity Today, signers included individuals like American theologian Richard Mouw, President Emeritus and Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary; Sam Logan, President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary and Associate International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship; George Marsden, Professor of History Emeritus, University of Notre Dame; Richard Foster who first introduced many evangelicals to spiritual disciplines; Ron Sider and Nikki Toyama-Szeto of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA); and author and former editor of Today’s Christian Woman Dale Hanson Bourke. At the writing of this piece, the statement has more than 1,500 additional signatures. We hope you might add your name to our statement here.
The statement begins, “The United States evangelical and Christian community is at a moral crossroads. Our country has never been more politically divided with white evangelical Christians at the heart of much of the political discord.” One of my goals in writing was to affirm that people of good faith, who adhere to Christian values and the teachings of the Bible, can have divergent political views and perspectives about the role of the government in responding to society’s problems. In this political moment, the reported almost unilateral support of white evangelicals of President Trump harms Christian witness both in the United States and around the world.
Christians cannot turn a blind eye to the morally questionable characteristics we witness in our political leaders, particularly the morality of the president of the United States. Christian theologian Richard Foster said today: “A grossly immoral president encourages an immoral society.” I write about these realities in my new book Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age (out May 2020 with InterVarsity): “White evangelicals voting for Trump and evangelicals of color all claim to follow the same Jesus yet often could not be further apart in their understanding of social realities like racism, immigration, incarceration, gender, and many other issues.” The disunity of the Christian body and the inability of white evangelicals to listen and heed the concerns of our brothers and sisters of color harms our Christian witness and is a failure in our attempts to honor Christ.
My own belief in Jesus has been deeply influenced by the teachings of Tony Campolo. I’ll never forget the ways the Holy Spirit touched my heart in hearing Campolo’s teaching about poor children dying around the world from preventable causes during the 1990 Creation festival when I was 13 years old. I was honored when he later invited me to be a part of the Red Letter Christians (RLC) community that is committed to loving Jesus and living out his “red letter” teachings in response to the needs of the world.
RLC has been courageously playing a critical role in expanding the national conversation about evangelical perspectives and politics. Regardless of whether or not you agree with their specific conclusions, RLC has been responding to the “toxic Christianity” that has been manifested in white evangelical support of President Trump and his policies. Tony Campolo and RLC invite American Christians to join them in their call to “Support CT’s Call for Impeachment and Removal” of President Trump. The RLC statement says, “impeachment hearings make clear that the president has gone too far with his lying and abuse of power.” As of December 30, more than 2,000 individuals added their names to the RLC statement.
Evangelicals in the United States, including whites and leaders of color, remain steadfast in our convictions about the power and saving grace of faith in Jesus Christ. The beautiful diversity of those who choose to follow Jesus and our faith traditions demands that we protect the right to have divergent political perspectives.
Join us in our prayer that “Christians in the United States enter into the 2020 elections with a recommitment to the Good News of the gospel that calls us to righteousness in Christ, faithful Christian witness, and responding to the needs of our neighbor.” And for those who share the conviction with RLC that “Trump’s policies often are contradictions to what Jesus actually taught,” sign on in their call that President Trump be removed from office.