The evangelical resistance?

Neil J. Young

At the time of year when Christians around the world are supposed to unite in celebration of their savior's birth, this Christmas has been a particularly fractious time for white evangelicals in America. Last week, Christianity Today, a leading evangelical magazine, published an editorial condemning Trump's "immoral character" and calling for his removal from office. "That he should be removed," the editorial, written by outgoing editor-in-chief Mark Galli, contended, "we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments."

It was a stance that nearly broke the internet — the publication's website temporarily went down as millions tried to read the piece — and revealed the fault lines in a religious movement that is often viewed as a monolithic political force. No sooner had Christianity Today published its words than the piece drew heavy and vitriolic pushback from other conservative Christian voices. Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, scoffed on Fox News that the publication ought to be renamed "Christianity Yesterday" for being "out of step with the faith community" when it came to Trump. Shortly after, nearly two hundred evangelical leaders signed a letter expressing their "dissatisfaction" with the editorial for supporting what it called the "entirely-partisan, legally-dubious, and politically-motivated impeachment."

Secular media pounced on the controversy, seemingly surprised that an evangelical outlet had taken such a stand while also deeming the fracas as part of what The Daily Beast called the "spiraling evangelical Christian civil war." That's an overstated assessment of a rather imbalanced divide, but the Christianity Today editorial does point to a committed and principled NeverTrump evangelical movement that has held steadfast since 2015 and which draws a sharp contrast with the spineless Congressional Republicans who, in toto, have folded in complete submission to Trump.

While many Americans understandably have spent the last three years asking how any conservative Christian could support a man as debased and depraved as Trump, they might also consider what it means that a significant, if not sizable, population of white evangelicals has been willing to do, at great personal cost, what no sitting Republicans in Congress have: resist Trump, condemn his actions, and demand his removal.

And there have been costs. As Sarah Pulliam Bailey at the Washington Post recently outlined, conservative Christian leaders and writers who have spoken out against Trump have lost book sales, speaking engagements, funding, and relationships — not surprising, given that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016 and 75 percent indicated earlier this month they approved of the president.

Still, many anti-Trump evangelicals have held their ground, even as the pressure to conform has increased. If anything, Trump's time in office has served to stiffen NeverTrump evangelicals' resolve against the president as their once-hypothetical worries about a potential Trump presidency have been replaced by the damning evidence of his corrupt leadership. On Monday, Napp Nazworth, an editor at the conservative Christian Post, announced he was stepping down from his position after his outlet published an editorial denouncing the Christianity Today editorial, a move he described as signaling his publication had aligned itself with "Team Trump." "I can't be an editor for a publication with that editorial voice," Nazworth wrote on Twitter.

Imagine for a moment what it would mean if a similar contingent of Republicans in Congress showed the same resolve. It wasn't long ago when it seemed like that might be possible, with folks like Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz providing forceful condemnations of Trump as he campaigned for the presidency. "I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office," Graham rightly said of Trump in early 2016.

Yet those one-time critics have turned into Trump's biggest cheerleaders, circumspect cynics who have remade themselves into slathering sycophants. In the end, their only consistency has been how loudly they have been willing to talk about Trump. But they have outdone themselves in shouting their way to the front of a very crowded pack of enablers.

Meanwhile, the small circle of Republican handwringers, like Sens. Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Lisa Murkowski, who performatively voice their concerns about Trump before falling in line with his every move, demonstrate even better the moral emptiness of the entire GOP cohort in Washington. Earlier this week, Murkowski said she was "disturbed" by comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would work in "total coordination" with the White House on the impeachment proceedings against the president. Whether she'll back up those words with substantive action remains to be seen. But even if Murkowski should vote for impeachment, a doubtful event, she'll likely be the lone Republican doing so, just as she was the only Republican senator to vote against Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation.

That's what makes the NeverTrump evangelicals so important and so admirable. While Congressional Republicans have collapsed into lockstep formation behind the president, the NeverTrump evangelical community has doubled down on their principles and refused to compromise their position. For those white evangelicals who still see Trump as a danger to their Christian values and to the Constitution, the Christianity Today editorial will be a source of strength as they near the 2020 election. Unfortunately, far more white evangelicals take their theological and political cues from Fox News these days than they do from Christianity Today, so the magazine may have only been preaching to the choir. Still, it's a message they should never stop repeating.

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