He's My President, Not My Pastor
American evangelicalism was a peculiar mix of religion and politics even before Southern Baptist minister Jerry Falwell forged the "Moral Majority" in 1979, a pro-life, pro–traditional family movement that broadened into the "Religious Right," a Christian conservative get-out-the-vote juggernaut that has often been the margin of victory for Republican candidates, from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump.
At the same time, mainline evangelical Protestantism and its flagship publication, Christianity Today, although in agreement with conservative doctrinal tenets of the religious right, was committed to "a definite liberal approach to social problems," in the words of its founder, the Rev. Billy Graham.
Over time, fissures have developed in evangelicalism, with conservatives moving farther to the right politically and mainline evangelicalism, reflected in some of Christianity Today's featured articles in recent years, migrating to the political center and the left.
So it's not a complete surprise that its lead commentary Thursday called for the removal of President Trump from office — a grave remedy that the magazine insisted "is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments."
Beyond his "bent and broken character," his "immoral actions in business and ... with women," and the prevarications rampant on his "Twitter feed," the "profoundly immoral" sin that merits a consequence this severe and about which "the facts in this instance are unambiguous" is that Trump "attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president's political opponents," a clear "violation of the Constitution."
Excuse me? The Constitution?
Let's be clear. Our "Constitution" and our "democratic republic" are noble constructs of men of the secular Enlightenment, but nowhere are they prescribed in the parchments of the scriptures of Judaism or of Christianity — which ordain only a temporary theocracy specific to the Israelites, the moral law of which is the basis for all New Testament Christian communities, with a simple governing structure outlined for its churches that includes overseers called elders.
And while those scriptures teach that elders, including pastors, are to be held to a high moral standard, America's president does not hold any such spiritual office and should only be expected to exhibit conduct in compliance with the statutory standards specified in the U.S. Constitution.
Let's be honest. If all presidents had been held to the behavioral standards of Levite priests and Christian pastors in the Bible, most all of them would have been impeached and removed, beginning with the sexually dissolute slave-holder Thomas Jefferson — ironically, one of the founders now loved by the impeachment-crazed Left, whose "original intent" a year ago was to pull down his statues and remove his name from the halls of the University of Virginia.
As for the "facts" of the case of President Trump's phone call with Ukraine's President Zelensky, they are far from "unambiguous," and they're something that Christianity Today, as an evangelical representative to the American culture, should not have ventured into adjudicating, especially based on the hearsay that's been offered thus far as evidence.
Christianity Today's final argument was that its staffers tried to "stay above the fray" and reserve judgment of President Trump until "the impeachment hearings ... illuminated the president's moral deficiencies for all to see." To do any less than condemn this behavior in the strongest terms and expel the president, they claim, would jeopardize "the reputation of evangelical religion and ... the world's understanding of the gospel."
First of all, after more than four exhausting years, who needs any illumination to see the president's deficiencies? Second, the House Democrats' threadbare impeachment case, dressed up in sanctimonious rhetoric and lionized in the Christianity Today essay, has already done some serious jeopardizing — of the presidency itself, and of the world's ability to accurately understand the Bible.
The truth is, the God of the Hebrew scriptures routinely used morally deficient men and women to bless his people, from the Zoroaster-worshiping Persian King Cyrus, who was instrumental in helping Ezra and Nehemiah rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity, to the great King David, who had Uriah the Hittite killed after David impregnated his wife, Bathsheba, who eventually became the mother of King Solomon, to the prostitute Rahab, who was not only considered righteous by God for assisting in the Israelites' capture of Jericho, but was the mother of Boaz and a forbear of Jesus Christ himself.
I'm not looking for a "Pastor Trump," and I would never think of voting for him — or anyone else approaching his levels of hubris and anger — to be an elder in my church.
I will, however, be voting for him again for president because, regardless of his personal flaws, which are an issue between him and God, he's the last best hope for a time such as this, when the very foundations of my faith — and every other faith — are under attack by a radical secular Left that's committed to remaking American culture in their own image.
They, of course, won't stop until they permanently brand as hate the exercise of our religious consciences and the free expression of our speech.
And I won't stop praying for President Trump, that he continues to populate every federal court with conservative judges and stand up for religious liberty, that he remains resolute about demanding fair practices from our trading partners and that he continues to undergird a robust economy that is bringing record employment and wage growth to millions of poor and working families of all colors.
And yes, while I'm at it, I'm praying that he finds enough inner peace to make his second term less stressful and more joyful — for his sake, and for ours.
Timothy Philen is an opinion writer, award-winning advertising creative director, and author of Harper&Row/Lippincott's You CAN Run Away From It! For 15 years, Mr. Philen also served as a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.