Writing as an evangelical Christian who has taught ethics as a professor at the college and graduate school level for 42 years, and as the author of a major textbook on Christian ethics and another widely used book on the relationship between politics and the Bible, I wish to respectfully differ with Mark Galli’s editorial, “Trump Should Be Removed from Office” (Christianity Today, Dec. 19, 2019).
Galli gives six reasons why Trump should be removed, either by impeachment or at the next election: (1) He attempted to “coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of his political opponents,” and this was “a violation of the Constitution.” (2) This action was also “profoundly immoral.” (3) “He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals.” (4) He has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women” and “remains proud” about these things. (5) His Twitter feed contains a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies and slanders,” and this makes it “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” Finally, (6) although the president has admittedly done some good things, “none of the president’s positives” can outweigh his “grossly immoral character.” Later he says that Trump has a “bent and broken character” and is guilty of “gross immorality and ethical incompetence.”
He concludes by warning evangelicals who support Trump not to “continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency,” because this will damage “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the Gospel.”
These are strong words indeed. But are they true? Consider them in order:
(1) Did Trump violate the Constitution?
Galli fails to say exactly what part of the Constitution he thinks Trump violated. He claims that Trump tried to “coerce a foreign leader,” referring to a phone call from Trump to President Zelensky of Ukraine on July 25, 2019. The transcript of the call shows that Trump referred to the fact that Joe Biden bragged about stopping Ukraine’s investigations into Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company that had been paying Biden’s son Hunter around $600,000 per year to serve as a member of its board. Joe Biden boasted that when he was vice president, he withheld $1 billion in loan guarantees in order to force the Ukrainian government to fire the prosecutor in charge of that investigation.
When I understand that background, it seems to me reasonable for officials of the U.S. government to investigate whether there was any corrupt dealing connected to Hunter Biden. I do not know if there was any corruption or not. My point is only that the situation raises enough suspicion to warrant an investigation.
Regarding the Constitution, I claim no specialized expertise or legal knowledge. Like Galli himself, on this point I write as an interested citizen, not a legal expert. But I read in the Constitution that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (Art. II, Sec. 1, 3). That implies the president is empowered to investigate allegations of illegal activity. And I know of nothing in our Constitution or laws that says there is anything wrong with seeking help from a foreign government in investigating possible corruption.
Is the situation different because Biden is a political opponent of President Trump? I see nothing wrong with the president doing things that will bring him personal, political benefit. It is preposterous to claim that it is unconstitutional for the president to act in a way that is politically beneficial. And when someone announces that he is running for political office, that does not mean he can no longer be investigated for prior wrongdoing. The opposite should be true.
Galli provides no basis for his claim that the president violated the Constitution, and my conclusion is that it is incorrect.
(2) Was Trump’s phone call “profoundly immoral”?
Galli also fails to show how Trump’s conversation with the president of Ukraine was “profoundly immoral.” It is not immoral to investigate possible corruption—it’s what governments should do.
In the New Testament, Peter writes that government officials are sent “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14).
But is it wrong to investigate possible wrongdoing by someone’s political opponent? I do not even see how it could be “minimally immoral,” much less “profoundly immoral.” Galli uses strong words, but he has not given us any convincing evidence to back those words up.
(3) What about Trump’s association with convicted criminals?
Another reason to remove Trump from office, according to Galli, is that he hired and fired people who later became “convicted criminals.” But our country holds a person responsible for his or her own wrongdoing, not for the wrongdoing of others (unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it). Galli implies that Trump should be removed from office for the wrongdoing of people who worked for him. This is the unjust principle of “guilt by association.” I’m glad that God did not hold Jesus to that same standard (remember Judas, who served as treasurer for the 12 disciples and Jesus; see John 12:6; 13:29). In the Old Testament, Ezekiel says: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).
Galli is arguing that Trump should be “removed from office” on grounds that are not in the Constitution and not even morally just.
(4) Immoral actions before Trump became president
Galli also wants to remove Trump from office because he has admitted to “immoral actions in business and his relationship with women.” At this point Galli must be referring to actions done before Trump was elected president, because he has not admitted to any immoral actions while in office. In addition, I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business, so Galli’s accusations seem overly broad.
But regarding immoral actions with women, Galli is correct. He is apparently referring to the Access Hollywood tape released Oct. 7, 2016 (the tape contained a recording of lewd comments made by Trump in 2005 about kissing and groping women). Trump released a videotaped statement the following day saying, “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize. … I pledge to be a better man tomorrow and will never, ever let you down.” So on what basis does Galli say that Trump “remains proud” of these things?
Do evangelical leaders brush off Trump’s immoral behavior?
Galli claims that evangelicals “brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior.” But I know of no evangelical leader who “brushed off” Trump’s words and behavior, for they were roundly condemned.
I myself wrote on Oct. 9, 2016, in Townhall.com, “I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election. His vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Exodus 20:14) … His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.”
But Trump did not withdraw, and I voted for him anyway, because in the end I thought he would make a far better president than Hillary Clinton. If we judge President Trump on the basis of his conduct during his three years as president, I think there is no basis for claiming that he has engaged in immoral conduct either with women or in business.
(5) Do Trump’s tweets show that he is immoral?
But what about Trump’s Twitter feed? Galli says it contains “a habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies and slanders,” and is “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” But is this true?
Before people condemn Trump’s tweets by merely reading about them in a hostile press, they should read them for themselves. Anyone can do this at Twitter.com. After reading a full week of Trump’s recent tweets, it seems to me that Galli has made a false accusation. The most objectionable thing that I see is that Trump labels his political opponents with derogatory nicknames (Crazy Nancy Pelosi, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Adam Shifty Schiff), but that impoliteness comes nowhere close to being a “near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
I see in these tweets a president who is rightfully proud of a healthy economy, a stronger military and the appointment of 187 federal judges who are committed to judging according to what the law says and not according to their personal preferences. Such accomplishments are morally good benefits for the nation. Far from being “morally lost and confused,” Trump seems to me to have a strong sense of justice and fair play, and he is (I think rightfully) upset that the impeachment process in the House was anything but just and fair.
Are Trump’s tweets full of lies?
Galli also claims that Trump’s tweets contain a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies and slanders.” Galli himself gives no examples, but the Washington Post on Dec. 16 carried an article, “President Trump Has Made 15,413 False or Misleading Claims over 1,055 Days.”
What exactly are these alleged lies?
The Post article contains a link to their “Fact Checker” webpage, where the “lies” are listed by category. The most common one (repeated 242 times) is Trump’s claim that the U.S. economy is now “perhaps the strongest economy in our country’s history.” But the Post says this is a lie because “By just about any important measure, the economy today is not doing as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton—or Ulysses S. Grant.”
What the Post doesn’t tell you is that it depends on what you are measuring. If we judge by the total economic output of the United States, it is completely true to say that we are currently living in “the strongest economy in our country’s history.” Trump is not lying, but the Post is using some other measurement (such as percentage growth rate) in order to claim that Trump has told this lie 242 times.
Other “lies” alleged by the Post, such as those regarding the USMCA trade agreement, military spending and the July 25 phone call, follow the same pattern: Upon closer inspection, the accusations do not hold up.
(6) Does Trump have a “grossly immoral character”?
Galli’s final reason for removing Trump from office is that “none of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”
It is a deeply serious matter to accuse someone of having a “grossly immoral character,” for if the accusation is believed, it destroys a person’s reputation, and a good reputation is more valuable than untold riches. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Therefore, before we make an accusation like this, it is important that we base it on an abundance of clear and compelling evidence.
Jesus told us how to evaluate someone’s character: we should look at the fruit that comes from his life. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:43-44).
Judging character by results
We have three years of results (or “fruit”) that have come from Donald Trump’s presidency, and, in my judgment, the fruit has been overwhelmingly good:
- The appointment of two Supreme Court justices and many federal judges who are committed to interpreting the Constitution and the laws according to the original meaning of the words and not according to their personal policy preferences.
- Tax cuts that have resulted in remarkable growth in jobs and wages, with the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years and the lowest black and Hispanic unemployment rates ever recorded.
- Massive elimination of wasteful government regulations, giving a strong boost to business and job growth.
- Strengthening our military with passage of the largest defense budget in history.
- Standing up to China and firmly opposing their longtime theft of our intellectual property.
- Moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and being a strong friend of Israel.
- Supporting laws and actions that protect the unborn child’s right to life.
- Building as much of a truly effective border wall as could be built in the face of opposition.
- Withdrawing from the misguided Paris Climate Accord, which would have significantly increased energy prices in the U.S.
- Issuing executive orders that protect religious freedom.
- Revoking the Waterways of the U.S. regulation, which wrongly took control of millions of acres of people’s private property.
- Gaining approval for the Keystone pipeline, the Dakota access pipeline and oil exploration in a tiny section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
- Regaining energy independence for the United States.
- Rescinding Obama-era regulations that required schools to allow biological boys to enter girls’ restrooms and locker rooms in high schools.
- Driving ISIS out of large areas it had controlled in Iran and Syria.
- Supplying Ukraine with needed weapons to defend itself against Russia.
- Persuading several NATO allies to increase their defense spending.
- Protecting freedom of speech on public university campuses by denying federal funding to institutions that do not protect student speech.
- Promoting more ability for parents to be able to choose their children’s schools by appointing Betsy DeVos, a veteran school-choice advocate, as secretary of education.
I do not think a man of “grossly immoral character” (as Galli alleges) could produce this many good results. Trump’s character is not perfect, and I will not try to defend everything that comes out of his mouth. Sometimes his words are coarse and even vulgar, and I object to that. But no leader is going to be perfect, and such coarse language fades in significance compared to these massive actions for the good of the nation. Therefore, I still think these results show that he is a good president.
Some will ask, “Isn’t he responsible for the toxic, highly polarized political atmosphere we now live in?”
I don’t think there is only one cause, and I’m willing to admit that Trump’s name-calling is one factor. But remember that it is the political Left, not conservatives, who have rendered themselves “the Resistance” and have continued to do everything they can to prevent the Trump administration from even functioning.
It is not conservatives but the political Left that supports sanctuary cities (hindering enforcement of immigration laws rather than seeking to change the laws through the political process). It is the Left that has instigated shouting at Trump administration officials and their friends until they are driven out of restaurants and their families are terrified in their own homes. It is the Left that has repeatedly disrupted congressional hearings with shouted protests. It is the Left that has abandoned established procedural rules and precedents, fair play, and due process in congressional hearings. It is the Left that has organized mass protests to prevent conservative speakers from even being heard on university campuses. These actions do not belong in a healthy society.
The New Testament tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2).
Harm to the Gospel?
Galli concludes by warning that evangelical Trump supporters will harm “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the world’s understanding of the Gospel.” Evangelical Trump supporters have roundly and universally condemned his past immoral behavior. Character matters. But the moral character that Trump has demonstrated while in the White House, his unswerving commitment to his campaign promises, his courage, and his sound judgment on one policy issue after another are commendable.
And the future of the nation also matters. It matters a lot, not only for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren, but also for the rest of the world, for whom a strong United States is the primary bulwark against tyranny and oppression. And it matters for the future of the church, for which freedom of religion remains a precious benefit not shared today by Christians in numerous other countries.
On issue after issue, it appears to me that President Trump is changing the direction of the country for the better. When I weigh these results against his sometimes imprecise and coarse speech, there is no comparison. ©2020 Wayne Grudem
Adapted from a longer article originally published at townhall.com.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Wayne Grudem is Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, Arizona. The opinions expressed here are his own and should not be understood to represent the viewpoint of Phoenix Seminary.
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