Just in time for the Christmas holiday we have a brewing controversy in the Christian evangelical community, one that never should have occurred. This controversy was launched by Editor-In-Chief Mark Galli’s December 19th editorial in Christianity Today entitled Trump Should Be Removed from Office. His editorial explicitly called for the removal of President Donald Trump either by impeachment or popular vote. The reaction to this editorial from most other Judeo-Christian leaders was swift and vocal, with most defending Mr. Trump and his actions taken in defense of religious rights. But Rev. Galli, who is an ordained Christian minister, has remained steadfast in his call for the President’s removal. Galli said “whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election-that is a matter of prudential judgment… that he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.” Rev. Galli’s editorial raises an important question that is too infrequently discussed within the Judeo-Christian community. That question is: what is the role of an ordained religious leader in a functional democracy? Read on to learn more about how this controversy could have been avoided and what the proper role of an ordained religious leader should be when offering commentary on political issues.
Rev. Galli pulled no punches in his criticism of what he sees as President Trump’s fundamental lack of ethics, and condemning what he says is Trump’s “grossly immoral character.” As evidence, Galli cites Mr. Trump’s relationships with women, the individuals he has employed that have been convicted of crimes, as well as his habitual lying and slander. Additionally, Galli states that Mr. Trump has “attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents.” All of this, Galli believes, demonstrates that Mr. Trump is morally lost and confused, resulting in the dumbing down of morality in his administration. It is for these reasons and others that Galli now says that President Trump should be removed from office.
Impeachment of a United States President is supposed to be a non-partisan political act. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist No. 65, warned us of the dangers associated with partisan impeachments. Hamilton wrote: “In many cases [impeachment] will connect itself with the pre-existing factions… and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” Therein lies the problem with Rev. Galli’s opinion editorial, especially by saying that the fact concerning Mr. Trump’s activities in the Unkraine “are unambiguous.” The impeachment of President Trump has been anything but non-partisan, thereby calling into question whether the totality of facts involving Trump’s dealings with Ukraine have actually come to light. Further, by taking an absolutist position on Trump’s impeachment, Galli has violated one of the essential rules of objectivity that ordained religious leaders should follow to fulfill their proper role in a functional democracy. These rules will be established in a moment.
In his editorial, Rev. Galli suggests that President Trump has “dumbed down the idea of morality” in his administration through his personal and political failings. While one could engage in “whataboutism” to counter Galli’s points, there is no need to in this case. Mr. Trump’s personal failings are well known. However, when calling for the removal of a President, Galli should have measured Trump’s failings against his constitutional responsibility to enforce the law. For example, Galli could have offered us a framework for judging Mr. Trump’s actions concerning Ukraine that included his obligations to uncover potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This Act makes it a crime for federal government officials (e.g., Joe Biden) to influence foreign officials (e.g., Ukrainian politicians) in a manner that redirects commercial business to a specific person (e.g., Hunter Biden). Galli could have asked us to consider whether President Trump had a moral obligation through his Attorney General to investigate such an obvious conflict of interest created by the Bidens. In fact, this was something that Mr. Trump requested of Ukrainian President Zelensky in their now infamous July 25th phone call. Instead, Galli took an absolutist stand against the President without giving due weight to his responsibilities to root out Ukrainian corruption, responsibilities assigned to any President as part of the Ukrainian Support Act in 2014.
The presidential impeachment process administered by the House and Senate should provide a competent resolution to public concerns about President Trump’s loyalty to the Constitution, particularly when events surrounding Ukraine are hardly as clear as Rev. Galli would have us believe. Beyond this, Galli seems to ignore Mr. Trump’s demonstrated opposition to the assault that has been waged for the past 80 years by secular progressives on our religious freedoms and other First Amendment rights. Mr. Trump understands this assault better than any President in the past century. In response, Trump has countered progressive activism with conservative judicial appointments that serve the greater good by defending our First Amendment freedoms from progressive tyranny. These appointments are having the desired effect of creating a bulwark against the progressive Left’s attempts to establish a secular state, one that restricts religious practice and that makes government the final arbiter of rights and morality.
Ordained religious leaders have every right to speak out on the morality of public officials and the issues that they believe should be of concern to voters. However, Rev. Galli’s mistake was not that he expressed concerns about Donald Trump’s use of presidential power or his personal failings. Galli’s mistake was that he violated one of three important rules that would have assured he was fulfilling his proper role as an ordained religious leader in a functional democracy. These rules are:
When ordained religious leaders adhere to these three rules, their counsel and witness cannot be challenged from the perspective of partisanship. Unfortunately, Rev. Galli is now learning this lesson first-hand because his violation of the first rule will likely diminish his theological influence, and that of Christianity Today, for the foreseeable future. Political partisans, whether they be Democrat or Republican, Left or Right, need to be able to seek objective theological and political counsel from the religious community, and especially from ordained leaders. The late Rev. Billy Graham adhered to these three rules for decades and they served him well. That’s because politicians and private individuals of all political persuasions felt comfortable in seeking his moral and spiritual guidance. Rev. Graham would speak out on issues of concern to him and the nation while also serving as a bridge builder between political factions. Graham’s example reflected the proper role for the ordained religious leader in fulfilling what the book of Isaiah calls a “repairer of the breach.” This objective role for the ordained is critical to enabling a functional democracy and was considered essential by our nation’s Founders for sustaining our republic over the long-term.
Rev. Galli is rightly concerned about the morality and character of our national leaders, as all of us should be. This author’s concern about President Obama’s character has been voiced many times over moral and constitutional issues not unlike those Galli raises concerning President Trump. However, despite being a partisan with ethical concerns about the Obama Administration, neither this author nor other mainstream conservatives ever once called for Mr. Obama’s impeachment. Galli had an opportunity to elevate the debate over impeachment and the Trump presidency by calling on Democrats to follow historical precedent and guarantee Mr. Trump his due process rights. This would have led to a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of the facts surrounding Trump’s involvement with Ukraine. Instead, he has diminished the influence of a great Christian publication through an unforced error by engaging in partisanship. Hopefully, lesson learned.
Eric A. BeckEditor-In-ChiefFree Nation Media LLCGreenville, South Carolina##