An Open Letter to Evangelicals of Moral Conscience:

Help us end the cult-like determination to ignore, excuse, and justify Mr. Trump’s blatant and obvious moral depravity!

Proudly Sponsored by Global Center for Religious Research (GCRR)
January 18, 2020

Dear American Evangelical Friends,
 

It is with great sadness that we, the undersigned faith leaders, biblical scholars, philosophers, and other academics, many of whom began our walks of faith in the evangelical tradition, hereby call on all American evangelical Christians of moral conscience who recognize and regret the corrupting and corrosive influence of Donald J. Trump, to join us in repudiating those evangelical leaders and institutions that have politically entangled themselves with him. We believe this action to be an urgent moral imperative because these leaders and institutions, which have unfortunately become the dominant voice of modern American evangelicalism, have shown themselves to be obstinately bound to the control of influences overtly opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and have resisted repeated pleas to disentangle themselves.
 

We make this call, not seeking to destroy the evangelical tradition, but rather to prune from its structure those corrupting influences that have caused the tradition to become more infatuated with political power than following the explicit and unequivocal moral expectations that come with following Jesus Christ. Our hope is that an evangelicalism of strong moral conscience might regrow in its place and return to its “first love.” To accept this call is not to abandon theological doctrines, religious practices, or expressions of your Christian faith; instead, it is to affirm that you are a follower of Christ, not political ideologies, before and above all else.
 

Christianity Today’s editor, Mark Galli, recently argued that “Trump Should Be Removed from Office” because of his “grossly immoral character.” Mr. Galli worries that, if evangelicals continue to support President Donald Trump, they will lose all moral credibility. Although Galli admits that President Trump has accomplished certain things that evangelicals like, he maintains that “[n]one of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger” that he has created in the name of God. This concern was then reinforced by Christianity Today’s President and CEO, Timothy Dalrymple.
 

Unfortunately, Galli’s article is quite late to the conversation, forcing many of us to ask why it took so long to heed the warnings of people like Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who (in 2015, before Mr. Trump acquired the Republican nomination) wrote in the New York Times,
 

To back Mr. Trump, these voters must repudiate everything they believe… His personal morality is clear, not because of tabloid exposés but because of his own boasts. His attitude toward women is that of a Bronze Age warlord… In the 1990s, some of these social conservatives argued that “If Bill Clinton’s wife can’t trust him, neither can we.” If character matters, character matters. Today’s evangelicals should ask, “Whatever happened to our commitment to ‘traditional family values’?” … Mr. Trump incites division, with slurs against Hispanic immigrants and with protectionist jargon that preys on turning economic insecurity into ugly “us versus them” identity politics. When evangelicals should be leading the way on racial reconciliation… are we really ready to trade unity with our black and brown brothers and sisters for this angry politician?
 

It made many of us wonder why it took so long to heed the warnings of R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who declared on national television (after Mr. Trump secured the Republican nomination),

I hope every one of evangelical Christians in America thinks about what it’s going to mean to vote for someone, much less to publicly support someone, that we would not allow our children to be around…Can we put up with someone and can we offer them our vote and support when we know that that person [is] … a sexual predator? This is so far over the line that I think we have to recognize we wouldn’t want this man as our next-door neighbor, much less as the inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And long term, I’m afraid people are going to remember evangelicals in this election for supporting the unsupportable and defending the absolutely indefensible.
 

Indeed, since Donald Trump’s election, the warnings from evangelicals (some of which are catalogued in Addendum A) have mounted. Christianity Today is simply the latest evangelical voice to repudiate Mr. Trump.

 

But the sad reality is that among American evangelicals, this remains a minority view. Evangelicals lose moral credibility when they choose to vote for someone who, as Galli put it, “has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud.” The image of Christ as a voice of love is tarnished when evangelical followers actively support someone who has repeatedly and openly bragged about being a womanizer, sexually assaulting unsuspecting women (not just in the infamous Access Hollywood tape but in decades of on-air interviews), and entering the dressing rooms of teenage beauty pageant contestants, as well as someone who has been credibly accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct over twenty times since the 1980s, and has made sexually inappropriate remarks about pre-teens and even his own daughter. Moreover, evangelicals lose their claim to moral superiority when they ignore Mr. Trump’s numerous criminal and immoral activities, including those compiled by Ben Parker, et al. (summarized in Addendum B). Of course, those to whom this letter is addressed already may know all these details and may have repudiated Mr. Trump accordingly.

However, we believe the situation has reached a new low that now makes vocally repudiating the institutions and leaders of American evangelicalism that have entangled themselves with Mr. Trump a moral necessity.

In an open letter by The Christian Post to Christianity Today, nearly 200 high-ranking American evangelical leaders condemned Mr. Galli’s article (prompting one Christian Post editor to resign in protest). The signees dedicated most of their responses to celebrating Mr. Trump’s electoral victory and praising his political “accomplishments,” but spent only two lines actually addressing Galli’s primary concern: that American evangelicals are supporting “a human being who is morally lost and confused.” In response to this criticism, the authors did not deny Mr. Trump’s sacrilegious behavior but, rather, simply wrote,

“We are proud to be numbered among those in history who, like Jesus, have been pretentiously accused of having too much grace for tax collectors and sinners…”

We believe this assertion reveals a double standard on the part of the signatories since these same evangelical leaders have shown little interest in extending this same level of grace to Democratic presidents or other segments of society whose political or social goals they do not share. More importantly, however, we believe such a selective interpretation of grace is incompatible with the kind of grace actually taught and practiced by Jesus.

Mr. Galli is not objecting to the idea of showing Mr. Trump “grace,” which is the act of forgiving and embracing repentant sinners. He is objecting to American evangelical Christians ignoring, excusing, and even embracing Mr. Trump’s blatantly unrepentant immoral behavior in order to maintain racial privilege and political power in American society. By the nature of their reply to Galli’s concern in their open letter, the American evangelical leaders involved have cemented Galli’s worst fear: they have sacrificed their moral credibility and cast doubt upon the seriousness of their concern for issues like abortion or family values. But more importantly, their response has betrayed the very gospel they claim to uphold by invoking Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized and oppressed of his day—the same kinds of people that Mr. Trump’s administration has treated so cruelly—as a rationalization for their continued support of Trump, despite his deliberate, continual flaunting of moral, ethical, and legal norms.

To paraphrase Edmund Burke (the “Father of modern conservatism”), we believe that by standing silent in the face of wrongdoing, one is complicit in its success. Our conscience, therefore, demands that we repudiate those who engage in wrongdoing, regardless of whether we agree with their political or social goals. And we call on people of good conscience of all traditions—and especially evangelical Christians—to join us in doing so.

We are not the first to call for such action. In 2018, John Pavlovitz wrote,

If your faith leaders can’t find their prophetic voices to defend children caged like animals and isolated from their parents and refused refuge, are they really worth looking to for guidance on how to live one’s faith, know God’s will, or emulate Jesus? If they have silent tongues and feet of clay in these days, why should you remain and nurture such moral impotence?

And we realize that to some our call to repudiate corrupt and politically entangled evangelical leaders and institutions may seem an extreme step (and it is). But we also believe that the consequences of doing otherwise are even more extreme.

If the mistake was insignificant, or this were the minority view among evangelicals, we would simply call upon the evangelical community to condemn this viewpoint. But since the mistake is egregious and it is, by all measures, the view of the vast majority in American evangelical institutions, it is time for those who know better to separate themselves from those corrupt institutions and their leaders. Just as the underground Confessional Church separated itself from the German Evangelical church in the 1930s, by way of the Barmen Declaration which declared that current political convictions should not influence church teachings, we call on evangelicals to end the cult-like determination to ignore, excuse, and justify Mr. Trump’s blatant and obvious depravity.

As further evidence that the evangelical leaders who have wedded themselves to Trump should be repudiated, we offer their own actions. When confronted with statements of Mr. Trump that are racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, or known falsehoods, they occasionally critique his “word choices” but almost never address the underlying prejudicial nationalism behind it. When confronted with demonstrably factual reports of the behaviors of Mr. Trump that they would condemn if done by almost anyone other than him (such as credible allegations of sexual assault and fraud), they dismiss them by repeating his ubiquitous "Fake News" mantra.

Now, they have tried to rationalize teaching their followers to ignore Mr. Trump's behaviors in order to support him on the ballot by calling it "prudential voting." They have excused their alliance with a man whose words and deeds are often manifestly at odds with the life, teachings, and behaviors of Jesus (such as the cruel and inhumane condemnation of refugees or the separation of migrant children from their parents), by claiming (as several of them did at a recent “Evangelicals for Trump” rally) that Mr. Trump was appointed by God, that Mr. Trump is a modern-day King Cyrus sent to protect Christianity, or even that Mr. Trump's presidency will hasten the Second Coming of Christ. But all of these are distractions. None are relevant to Mr. Galli’s concern (and ours) about “the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.” Nor are they relevant to our concern for those who share our distress about Mr. Trump’s degrading influence, but still consider themselves evangelical; and it is to such persons that this open letter is addressed.

To refuse to call out Mr. Trump's immoral actions (as detailed in Addendum B) is to lose moral authority, integrity, and to become complicit in them. Indeed, moral and legal complicity in such actions is why certain Trump officials have left the Trump administration (Addendum C), why many of his associates have renounced him (Addendum D), and why the plethora of Trump associates, who have already been indicted for or convicted of criminal activity, reflect so badly on Mr. Trump and those who continue to support him (Addendum E).

As Brian McLaren wrote:

Watching Trumpism’s near total takeover of white American Evangelicalism … I think it’s time for all white Evangelicals of conscience to consider withholding their consent from churches that aren’t vocally and actively resisting, and then re-invest their time, intelligence, money, and energy where they will benefit the common good rather than the narrow, conservative, patriarchal, right-wing agenda of Evangelical whiteness and religious supremacy…Evangelical leadership is [simply] too compromised.

Ours is not a call to adopt or reject any theological doctrine, to abandon the term “evangelical,” or to abandon the practice of evangelism. Rather, our hope in issuing this call is that a mass movement of Christians of good conscience, repudiating in one voice the corruption of evangelical leaders and their institutions, and calling them to turn away from their adulation of the Golden Idol they have made of Mr. Trump, might become the genesis of a more healthy evangelical revival.

Until such time as those evangelical institutions and leaders disentangle themselves from the corrupting power and privilege that their complicity with Mr. Trump is providing them, we call upon Christians of good conscience to disentangle themselves from them, join us in repudiating them, and be prepared to explain why. We know it won't be easy. We know it may take different forms for different people. But we believe that to heal our individual consciences, to heal the conscience of our country, and to heal the conscience of American evangelicalism, it must be done.

 

Signed,

  1. Pastor Nancy Amos (UMC)

  2. Sam Andress, MAT

  3. Rev. Peter M. Antoci, PhD

  4. Lindy Backues, PhD

  5. Rev. Randall Balmer, PhD

  6. Michael Barram, PhD

  7. Rev. Cary Bass-Deschenes, MDiv (ELCA)

  8. Dr. Alan Bean (Executive Director, Friends of Justice)

  9. Youth Minister Amy Bartleson Balcam, MA

  10. Rev. Trudy Betts, MDiv (Christian Church DOC)

  11. Rev. Sherman Bishop, MDiv (ELCA)

  12. Daniel Bollerud, MDiv (ELCA)

  13. Minister Jane Brda (ELCA)

  14. Rev. Penelope Bridges

  15. Brother Will Byrd (Order of St. Benedict)

  16. Rev. Dr. Kit Carlson

  17. Patrick Carolan (Vote Common Good)

  18. Terry Chapman, MDiv

  19. Mike Clawson, PhD

  20. Rev. Ralph Clingan, DMin (PCUSA)

  21. Graeme Codrington, MTh, DBA

  22. Bishop Randy Dean, MS (Randy Dean Ministries)

  23. Pastor E. Wayne Dreyman, DMin (ELCA)

  24. Prof. George Dunn

  25. Pastor Hart Edmonds (PCUSA)

  26. Pastor Madeline Edwards, MDiv (UCC)

  27. Rev. Kelli Eldridge, MDiv (UMC)

  28. Jack David Eller, PhD

  29. Elder Cheryl E. Essex (PCUSA)

  30. Evan Fales, PhD

  31. Marie Fleming, MDiv (Christian Church DOC)

  32. Pastor Ken Fuquay (PCUSA)

  33. Deidre Anne Evans Garriott, PhD

  34. Pastor Brian Gaughan, MA

  35. Susan, Gillespie, MDiv

  36. Nicolas Gross, PhD

  37. Rev. Jerry Hammonds (Church of the Nazarene)

  38. Linda Harding, MDiv (Christian Church DOC)

  39. David Harris, DMin (UMC)

  40. Jonathan Harwell, MA, MLIS

  41. Pastor Dan Hays, MDiv (ELCA)

  42. Pr. William Hennessy

  43. David Henry, MDiv

  44. Rev. Randall Herman, MDiv (ELCA)

  45. Gordon Hess, PhD

  46. Benjamin Hitzfeld, MDiv

  47. Rev. Barbara Holzhauser, MDiv

  48. Rev. David Hoover, MDiv

  49. Rev. Susan Hoover, MDiv

  50. Rev. Ken Howard, MDiv, MEd

  51. C. Brent Hoy-Bianchi, MDiv

  52. Minister Mark Hurt (Emerald Therapy Center)

  53. Rabbi Charles David Isbell, PhD

  54. Allen Johnson, MATS (Christians For The Mountains)

  55. David Kyle Johnson, PhD

  56. Rev. Karen B. Johnson

  57. Paul Johnson, MA (Paul Johnson Music Productions)

  58. Susanne Johnson, PhD

  59. Ray Jones, DMin (PCUSA)

  60. Ast. Prof. Thomas E. Keefe

  61. Jay Kelly, MA

  62. Harry Kennon, DMin (UMC)

  63. Keary Kincannon, MDiv (UMC)

  64. Pastor Robert Kippley (ELCA)

  65. David King, MDiv (UMC)

  66. Joseph Klotz, Jr., MDiv

  67. Rev. Nancy Koester, PhD (ELCA)

  68. Jonathan Kratz, MSW, LCSW

  69. Pastor Brian Krause (ELCA)

  70. Rev. Barbara Lohrbach, MDiv (UCC)

  71. Rev. Nancy MacLeod, MPTh (Anglican Church of Canada)

  72. Rev. John Malget, MDiv (Christian Church DOC)

  73. David Mayo, MDiv

  74. Rev. Dr. Paul A. McAllister

  75. Pastor Beth McCaw, MDiv

  76. Rev. Gregory McCaw

  77. Joel McCoy, DMin

  78. Pastor Kenneth McIntosh, MDiv (UCC)

  79. Rev. Dr. Lyle McKee (ELCA)

  80. Brian McLaren

  81. D.G. Montalvo, MAGL

  82. Eric Moore, PhD

  83. Rev. Alfred Moss, PhD

  84. Pastor Kork Moyer

  85. Pastor Aimee Mulder, MDiv (Church of the Nazarene)

  86. Robert Mullins, PhD

  87. Rev. John W. Nash (UMC)

  88. Pastor Nate Nims (Grace UMC)

  89. Pastor Doug Ogden (ELCA)

  90. Dennis Okholm, PhD

  91. Trevecca Okholm, PhD

  92. Pastor Josh Olds

  93. Judith Oleson, DMin (Director, Tom Porter Program on Religion and Conflict Transformation)

  94. Pastor Rolf Olson, MDiv (ELCA)

  95. Doug Pagitt

  96. David Plummer, MDiv (Executive Director, Coalition of Spirit-filled Churches)

  97. Prof. Marilyn Raatz, MA

  98. Pastor Donald Reisig, MDiv

  99. Rev. Patti Ricotta (Life Together International)

  100. Rev. Carlos Rincon

  101. Pastor Scot Ruffatto, MDiv (ELCA)

  102. Eric Sarriot, PhD

  103. Theodore Schick, PhD

  104. Rev. Ellen Schoepf, MDiv (ELCA)

  105. Darren M. Slade, PhD

  106. Kathleen Henderson Staudt, PhD

  107. Minister Mary Stone, MS

  108. Rev. Susan M. Strouse, D.Min. (ELCA)

  109. Eleonore Stump, PhD

  110. Don Thorsen, PhD

  111. Allyson McKinney Timm (Executive Director, Justice Revival)

  112. Kenneth Williford, PhD

  113. Dorothy Whiston, DMin

  114. Rev. Dolores Flaming Wiens

  115. Prof. Emeritus Paul Wiens

  116. Dean W. Zimmerman, PhD

 

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