How Christianity Today Smeared Fellow Evangelicals

By Robert Gagnon Published on December 24, 2017

On tough prudential judgments, evangelicals should be able to disagree. This includes deciding for whom one should vote. Alas, Christianity Today seems to have a different view. The day after Roy Moore’s defeat, CT made it clear that if you supported Republican Moore over Democrat Doug Jones you are:

  1. a “fringe evangelical”
  2. who “sold your soul,”
  3. who “changed your view of ethics,” and
  4. worked for the destruction of evangelicalism, not “salvation.”

The article, “How #Black Women Saved Evangelicalism,” is written by John Richards. Richards is the managing director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. His article appeared on Ed Stetzer’s CT blog. Stetzer is Richards’ boss at Wheaton.

Stetzer is not only a CT contributing editor and holder of the Billy Graham chair in Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton. He’s also the executive director of the same Billy Graham Center. There is no question that Richards reflects Stetzer’s views. For his “selling your soul” charge Richards cites a recent NPR interview of Stetzer.

How does Richards think “Black women saved evangelicalism”? Not by abstaining from the Alabama vote or by writing in a third moral candidate. No, they saved evangelicalism by voting 98 percent for Democrat Doug Jones.

What does Jones stand for? Jones is in favor of abortion, “gay marriage,” and “transgender rights” (men in women’s rest rooms, locker rooms, and sports teams). He also favors activist judges who amend the Constitution. He is strongly opposed to religious liberty protections. How this voting for Jones honors the legacy of Billy Graham is beyond my knowing.

Name-Calling Among Evangelicals

This is just more of the same name-calling that we have seen from other evangelical “Never-Moores.” Never mind that voting for Moore was not an endorsement of any alleged four-decades-old sexual assaults. Moore himself vigorously denied committing these acts and calls the behavior repugnant. Never mind that this happily married man for 33 years is known to his wife and female acquaintances (including ex-girlfriends) as the most gentle and polite man possible toward women. Never mind that this does not fit the profile of a “sexual predator” and “pedophile.”

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Never mind too that one could make the opposite case. That the sell-outs are those who, by voting for Jones, tacitly supported his ungodly political agenda. Never mind that the most vigorous opponents of Moore were strongly against him even before any of these allegations. None of that matters, right? 

Richards’ piece wasn’t a one-off at CT. Mark Galli, editor in chief of CT, adds charges in his own editorial, titled “The Biggest Loser in the Alabama Election.” Supporters of Roy Moore are guilty of:

  1. “hypocrisy” and
  2.  “sabotag[ing] not only their political cause but … the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Galli is more nuanced and less direct than Richards and Stetzer. He grants that “sometimes it really is a choice between the lesser of two evils.” He also distinguishes between supporters of Trump and Moore who “condemn the[ir] immorality” and those who “justify or ignore [their] moral failings.” (He says that the latter are taking a road that “leads to no less place than hell.”) But by the second half of his piece, Galli is condemning all those who supported Moore over Jones.

I did not detect a suggestion that voting for Doug Jones would be hypocritical or a hell-bound sabotage of the gospel. For an editor who claims to dislike polarizing rhetoric, this damning of fellow believers is a bit ironic.

Lessons From The Past

This is not the first time something like this has happened at CT. On Oct. 10, 2016 Executive Editor Andy Crouch accused evangelicals who voted for Trump of flirting with idolatry (“Speak Truth to Trump”).

He made this charge not just against those who were enthusiastic supporters of Trump from the beginning of his campaign. He made it against even those who reluctantly supported Trump as the only alternative to Clinton. Crouch did not accuse supporters of Hillary Clinton, with her distinctly anti-Christian program, of hypocrisy. 

The irony is that CT has become more rather than less partisan in these recent elections, while condemning fellow evangelicals of the same. Politically they belong to the light while other evangelicals belong to the darkness or at least serious shades of gray. 

This is not the last time evangelicals will face a difficult election choice. Next time let us treat each other with charity.

When one calls other believers “hypocrites,” one must be prepared to have the label turned back on oneself. Like other high-minded evangelical entities (from example, The Gospel Coalition and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), Christianity Today has no problem honoring sinful people whose achievements even the Left admires.

An Abusive Double Standard

Over the years it has offered many a glowing tribute to MLK. Rarely one hears mention of his “womanizing.” “Womanizing” is here a euphemism for his sexual immorality that spans his civil rights years. I have no problem with celebrating King’s civil rights accomplishments and stirring rhetoric. My concern is the abusive double standard.

When celebrating MLK, the good folks at CT don’t see themselves as fighting against “human decency” and a “holistic gospel ethic.” The don’t believe they’re “co-opting the core values the Christian faith requires of us all,” and “compromising the very principles they champion.” They don’t think they’re violating the biblical teaching to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:22) or hypocritically trying to “help the country become godly again by [honoring] people whose godliness is seriously questioned.” Yet they hurl such accusations at Christians who vote for Trump or Moore.

People like David French respond: Roy Moore was no MLK! Who said he was? Are we saying that sexual standards apply only to those who have not achieved great things? This is just what they have accused supporters of Trump and Moore of, ironically.

Evangelicals and Charity

Christianity Today should apologize to its readers. It publishes many good articles and has many good people work on its staff. Yet that does not give it license to name-call fellow evangelicals for making the sort of prudential judgments that they themselves commend.

Moore’s political career is finished. However, this is not the last time evangelicals will face a tough election choice. Next time let us treat each other with charity.

 

Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., was formerly professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon), among other works.

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