Christianity Today, the magazine founded by late evangelical minister Billy Graham, has renewed its scathing criticism of Donald Trump in a new editorial that condemns the president’s “obvious misuses of power” and “rampant immorality, greed and corruption”.
The influential American magazine, which last week published a controversial leader column calling for Mr Trump to be removed from office, asked Christians to examine their “unconditional loyalty” to the president.
Responding to criticism, the publication’s president, Timothy Dalrymple, warned “the perception of wholesale evangelical support for the administration” had “made toxic the reputation” of the church.
The editorial last week, written by editor-in-chief Mark Galli, backed the impeachment of the president and cited his “profoundly immoral” conduct in office. It was a rare political intervention from the magazine, which has a circulation of 130,000 and 4.3 million monthly online readers.
The stance prompted stern criticism from hundreds of evangelical leaders and an attack from Mr Trump, who claimed the magazine had “far left” politics and declared he would no longer read it.
Evangelicals have been a bedrock of support for the Republican president, and Mr Dalrymple’s column noted Mr Trump “has done a lot of good for causes we all care about”.
But the editorial, headlined “The Flag in the Whirlwind”, added: “It is one thing to praise his accomplishments; it is another to excuse and deny his obvious misuses of power.”
He warned evangelicals’ embrace of the “extravagantly immoral” Mr Trump meant being tied to his “rampant immorality, greed and corruption; his divisiveness and race-baiting; his cruelty and hostility to immigrants and refugees”.
“With profound love and respect,” Mr Dalrymple wrote, “we ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to consider whether they have given to Caesar what belongs only to God: their unconditional loyalty.”
The magazine’s president pledged to open up a “serious discussion about how our activity as Christians shapes our activity as citizens” in 2020. He declined to be interviewed until after the Christmas holiday.
Evangelical Christians make up about a quarter of the US population. According to a Pew Research poll from last January, 69 per cent of white evangelicals approved of the job Mr Trump is doing, compared with 48 per cent of white mainstream Protestants and 12 per cent of black Protestants.
The president is to hold an “Evangelicals for Trump coalition launch” in Miami on 3 January to rally support from the community in the wake of Christianity Today’s criticism.
Mr Graham’s son Franklin is among the evangelicals who have criticised last week’s original editorial. He said his father knew, believed in and voted for Mr Trump, an endorsement that other family members have disputed.
The minister, considered to be one of the most influential white religious leaders in US history, founded the magazine in 1956 but it is no longer connected to his family.
Greg Carey, a New Testament professor at Lancaster Seminary in Pennsylvania, said he was “sceptical” about whether the magazine still had “the real punch to change a movement”.
“Like other traditional media, their platform has fragmented,” he added.
But he said the way Mr Trump and others had pushed back against the magazine showed its criticism was being heard.
“There are those who feel that a crack in that foundation [of evangelical support of Trump] is a threat,” Mr Carey added.
For evangelicals who have doubts about Mr Trump’s conduct in office and the church’s embrace of the president, “having an institutional voice that has some respect gives them cover to voice their opinion” the professor said.
Subscriptions to Christianity Today have increased since it called for Mr Trump’s impeachment, its editor said on Sunday.
“A stereotypical response [has been], ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’ with a string of a hundred exclamation points – ‘you’ve said what I’ve been thinking but haven’t been able to articulate, I’m not crazy’,” Mr Galli told MSNBC. “We have lost subscribers but we’ve had three times as many people start to subscribe.”