The Evangelical magazine Christianity Today called for President Donald Trump’s impeachment for “profoundly immoral” conduct. Eric Metaxas has a more Biblical view.
From Encarta, the etymology of “Trump”:
- Definition: 1. To get the better of an adversary or competitor by using a key or hidden resource; 2. To engage in a fraud as in to “trump up” a charge of [Russian?] conspiracy.
- History: “Trump” is an alteration of the word triumph. In history, the first recorded use of trump was in a 1529 sermon by the Anglican prelate, Hugh Latimer. It referred to a card game that came to be called “Trump” in the sense of triumph. From the card game came Whist which developed into Bridge. The term Trump survived in English while the game of Trump did not.
During a decade of writing behind These Stone Walls, I have tried to steer clear of politics. It hasn’t been easy because politics by its very nature has tentacles reaching into every aspect of existence in the human community. The word comes from the Latin, politicus which came from Greek, politikos, meaning “citizen of the city.” To be human is to practice politikos.
But as you know from the daily news, practice does not make perfect. I had a little practice of my own recently in my post, “Pope Francis, President Trump, and the Rise of the Nones.” For some, just using the current President’s name in a sentence is to lend to him some sort of tacit endorsement or approval.
Listening to the most recent Democratic Presidential Debate, some of the candidates and news commentators refused to call him “President” Trump. He is, for them, simply “Trump,” uttered with a hint of audible disdain that would have been widely condemned during previous administrations.
Recently, I passed by a group of twenty-something young adults in a heated argument about this President’s fitness for office. I tried to stay out of it, but as I passed I was asked whether I think he should be impeached. I responded politically: “Well,” I said, “if he has in fact committed an impeachable offense, then yes, he should be impeached.”
Because I qualified my answer, the “Not My President” crowd was horrified. “So, you actually LIKE Trump?!” they shot back incredulously – as though I were wearing a MAGA hat and a “Not My Impeachment” T-shirt. My response was not a matter of like or dislike, but rather one of truth and its various distortions that today pass as journalism and broadcast news.
There is a vast difference in the politics of today and those of decades past. There are few Americans in America. We are now mostly Republicans and Democrats.
SHOULD CHRISTIANITY TODAY TRUMP THE PRESIDENT?
I have long admired the work of Eric Metaxas, author of over thirty books including, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. I was very pleased to see his recent and provocative op-ed in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “The Christian Case for Trump” (Jan. 8, 2020).
Much of the news media has been hyping a recent editorial in the venerable Evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, founded by the late Billy Graham. On the heels of the impeachment vote in Congress, the editors of Christianity Today endorsed the removal of President Trump from office citing that his behavior has been “profoundly immoral,” his character “grossly” so, and the “facts” of his guilt “unambiguous.”
I also cringed when I first read the response by Eric Metaxas because I knew that I might feel compelled to write about it. That means wading into a national partisan battle of words and attitudes with little connection to truth. I know some readers cannot see the Metaxas article without a WSJ subscription, so I will summarize its major points.
Mr. Metaxas clarified the politics behind the flap. In the 1990s, the editors of Christianity Today publicly endorsed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton citing that his moral failings made him unfit for office. As you may recall, President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted by the Senate.
Some of Mr. Trump’s detractors cited the Evangelical magazine’s position in the Clinton case while accusing Evangelicals of hypocrisy if they did not apply the same objections to the current impeachment effort. But Mr. Metaxas asks whether the comparison makes sense. “Aren’t the political realities different two decades later?” I will get back to that, but the heart of the point made by Metaxis is theological, and it is a point with which I strongly agree:
- “But these subjective pronouncements promote a perversion of Christian doctrine, [a doctrine] which holds that all are depraved and equally in need of God’s grace. For Christianity Today to advance this misunderstanding is shocking. It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but rather faith in what Jesus has done.”
Christianity Today got this embarrassingly wrong. The political reality of the last two decades has seen orchestrated efforts to park Christianity outside the public square. Jesus may be seen as irrelevant by the growing secularism in America, but this must not be so for people of faith. Metaxas described the magazine’s editorial as evidence not of its noble truths, or its roots in the Biblical witness of Reverend Billy Graham, but rather of its “Slough of Despond populated by liberal elites.”
In light of last week’s post on These Stone Walls – “March for Life: A New Great Awakening” – I am conscious that this self-righteous culture may be seeing a moral splinter in this President’s eye while ignoring the immensity of the moral lumber in its own. I was encouraged and affirmed in the above post by this brilliant but deeply unsettling presentation by Eric Metaxas of the truth about our moral compromises:
- “In the 1990s, some Democrats were antiabortion. Neither party could exclusively claim the high ground on this deepest of moral issues. Mr. Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. Democrats endorse abortion with near unanimity often beyond viability and until birth. If slavery was rightly considered… both a moral and political issue, how can this macabre practice be anything else? How can Christians pretend this isn’t the principal moral issue of our time as slavery was in 1860? Can’t these issues of historic significance outweigh whatever the President’s moral failings might be?”
Pro-Life Catholics and Evangelicals were also affirmed when President Trump became the first sitting U.S. President to appear in person and address the March for Life. Evangelical Americans formed a wide cross section of President Donald Trump’s support in the 2016 presidential election, though it is widely believed that at least some of their enthusiasm was not so much for Trump as it was against the alternative. I wrote a post at that time in which I laid out a case for why such a choice was so important. That pre-election 2016 post was “Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump: The Burden of a Vote.”
That post reminded readers that the choice of president in 2016 also presented one, and perhaps two, opportunities to nominate lifetime appointments to fill likely vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. As you know, it has thus far turned out to be two. For many who found themselves weighing the lesser of evils in 2016, consideration of who sits on the Supreme Court for life actually (and morally) outweighed who occupied the White House for the next four years.
TWO DECADES OF CHRISTIANITY’S CULTURAL DECLINE
As I wrote here just a week ago, the First Great Awakening in America was a religious revival in the Colonies by Presbyterian preachers who inspired a sense of national identity that led to the Revolutionary War of 1776. In the United States today, self-described Wiccans outnumber Presbyterians.
This is not the same country that it was just a decade ago. Topics like religion and religious liberty have been under increasing assault. We have every reason to believe the trend toward secularism will continue. The need to protect religious liberty has never been more urgent. In 2010, seventy-six percent of Americans identified as Christians. By 2020 that figure had diminished to sixty-five percent.
In 2010, fifty-one percent of Americans identified as Protestant. By 2020, the figure had dropped to forty-three percent. The missing eight percent did not convert to some other religion. They abandoned religion to join the “Nones,” people who profess no faith in anything but secularism. In 2010, seventeen percent of Americans did not identify with any organized religion. In 2020, that figure now exceeds twenty-six percent.
The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination and a conservative political force, lost 1.5 million members over the last decade. The second and third largest Protestant denominations, Episcopalians and Methodists, had major schisms, dividing over LGBT issues along political fault lines.
Among American millennials – identified as those born between 1981 and 1996 – forty percent claim no religious affiliation at all beyond their embrace of secularism. For this age group, this represents an increase of thirteen percentage points in just the last decade.
In the same decade – despite media hype of sex scandals, financial scandals, and battles between Traditionalists and progressives – those calling themselves Catholic declined by only three percent. Lest Catholics take too much pride in that, a WSJ/NBC news poll in 2000 revealed that Americans, including Catholics, who attend religious services at least once per week stood at forty-one percent. By 2020, the figure had declined to twenty-nine percent.
MY COUNTRY ’TWAS OF THEE
History sometimes repeats itself. In “President Donald Trump’s First Step Act for Prison Reform,” I wrote of another possible basis for seeing a flawed character in a more Biblical light.
In 722 B.C., Israel fell to the Assyrians and was sent into exile. In 605 B.C., the Kingdom divided between north and south. The southern Kingdom of Judah fell into Babylonian captivity.
In 587 B.C., Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. This was the time of the apocalyptic Prophets – Daniel, Ezekiel and Baruch. A century earlier, Isaiah actually prophesied the name of the man who would one day restore Israel to its rightful path and preserve its heritage:
- “Thus says the Lord to his anointed: To Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and ungird the loins of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed.” (Isaiah 45:1)
Between 559 and 530 B.C., a man named Cyrus the Great united the Medes and Persians [in present day Iran] to form the great Persian Empire. Fifty years after Israel was invaded, cast into exile, and suffered the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, Cyrus and his armies conquered Babylon.
However no one but Isaiah could have predicted that, for the Jews in exile, Cyrus would turn out to be more of a liberator than a conqueror. He practiced no religious faith that the Jews could recognize. He lived a lifestyle with values deplorable to them. But this disruptor of no faith at all turned out to develop deep respect for theirs.
Cyrus restored the Kingdom of Israel, ordered his armies to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, declared an end to slavery and oppression, and established a charter to protect religious liberty. But Cyrus himself never changed. As I wrote in the above cited post:
. “The Prophet Isaiah certainly never envisioned anyone like Donald Trump leading an America in rapid religious decline. He is notorious for living in a manner understandably anathema to Evangelical Christians, and yet he has also come to be seen as a Cyrus-like defender of religious liberty.”
So let me repeat myself, please. If the “Not My President” crowd is horrified as though I wrote this post wearing a MAGA hat and a “Not My Impeachment” T-shirt, this is not a matter of like or dislike. It is a matter of truth and its various distortions that today pass as journalism and broadcast news, and I am not willing to hand my Truth over to them.
A little perspective is always a good thing. This President’s moral past, his Twitter account, and his novel approach to both foreign policy and the swamp of contemporary politics pale next to the moral decline of a nation that has terminated the lives of sixty-two million future citizens.
Some were appalled, but not nearly appalled enough, when presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg distorted our Sacred Scripture to defend the mass extermination of human life:
- “There’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath… the kind of cosmic question of where life begins. It ought to be up to the woman making the decision.”
We were not nearly appalled enough when former candidate Beto O’Rourke called for an end to religious rights and freedom for any institution that fails to fall in line with same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ political narratives. We were not nearly appalled enough when the remaining Democratic candidates offered no rebuttal, not even an audible gasp.
But to quote Eric Metaxas one more time, “It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but rather faith in what Jesus has done.” That may include faith in the notion that God can choose a sinner like King Cyrus as an instrument of good in the bigger picture of human history, and maybe even one like Donald Trump.
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- Wikileaks Found Catholics in the Basket of Deplorables
- Clinton v Trump at Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
- On the Life and Death of Justice Antonin Scalia
- What Belongs to Caesar and What Belongs to God