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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

In Christianity Today, lessons from NOW

President Donald Trump attends a Christmas Eve video

President Donald Trump attends a Christmas Eve video teleconference with members of the military at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. Credit: AP / Andrew Harnik

“Consistency, madam, is the first of Christian duties.”

English novelist and poet Charlotte Bronte

The National Organization for Women made a fateful error in 1998. President Bill Clinton was caught lying about an affair with a 22-year-old White House intern. NOW President Patricia Ireland stuck with Clinton. The organization would never be the same.

Ireland’s sin was undercutting her institution’s eponymous cause. She rationalized away a powerful man’s lechery in exchange for temporary political convenience — Clinton’s liberal feminist policy positions. In the blink of an eye, NOW’s credibility was shot in the eyes of millions.

Christianity Today belatedly tried to avoid the same trap in its controversial Dec. 19 editorial calling for President Donald Trump’s impeachment. The influential Evangelical publication founded by the Rev. Billy Graham had been relatively quiet about Trump’s un-Christian proclivities, but when it spoke, it spoke boldly:

“...The facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” Christianity Today editor-in-chief Mark Galli wrote. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”

Galli continued with a dire warning to Evangelical leaders who have wholly embraced Trump for political and, in some cases, eschatological reasons:

“Just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.”

Blowback against the editorial has been immediate and fierce, so much so that Galli announced his retirement shortly after it was published (mimicking the pattern of Republican congressmen stepping aside after criticizing President Trump). Even brother publication, The Christian Post, joined in the chorus of attacks on Christianity Today, snidely calling its editorial “a good business decision,” but “bad for the Gospel,” prompting one of its own editors to resign in protest. 

What long-term effect the Christianity Today editorial will have is yet to be seen. But it’s hard to imagine the fuse Christianity Today lit fizzling out without a bang. Institutions that espouse Christian morality cannot rationalize away the daily trashing in the Oval Office and expect to thrive, no more so than Ireland and NOW could in 1998. History will catch up with them. 

With less than a year to go before the presidential election, and absent a contested Republican primary, it’s understandable why so many Evangelicals would stick with Trump. The secular humanism of a Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in the White House represents a nightmare scenario for many devout Christians. 

The question before them should be this: Can they use their influence to make this president a better man? If the answer is “no,” they need to abandon him for their own sakes. If the answer is “yes,” they need to get busy — and fast. There is much work to be done.

William F.B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.

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