WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump blasted a prominent Christian magazine on Friday, a day after it published an editorial arguing that he should be removed from office because of his â€œblackened moral record.â€
Trump tweeted that Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine founded by the late Rev. Billy Graham, â€œwould rather have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President.”
The magazine â€œhas been doing poorly and hasnâ€™t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years,â€ Trump wrote. He later questioned whether the magazine would prefer a Democratic president â€œto guard their religion.â€
Some of his strongest evangelical supporters, including Grahamâ€™s son, rallied to his side and against the publication. Their pushback underscored Trumpâ€™s hold on the evangelical voting bloc that helped propel him into office and suggested the editorial would likely do little to shake that groupâ€™s loyalty.
Rev. Franklin Graham, who now leads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and prayed at Trumpâ€™s inauguration, tweeted Friday that his father would be â€œdisappointedâ€ in the magazine. Graham added that he â€œfelt it necessaryâ€ following the editorial to share that his father, who died last year after counseling several past presidents, voted for Trump. The president thanked Graham for the disclosure.
Christianity Today â€œrepresents what I would call the leftist elite within the evangelical community. They certainly donâ€™t represent the Bible-believing segment of the evangelical community,â€ Graham told The Associated Press in an interview. He wrote on Facebook: â€œIs President Trump guilty of sin? Of course he is, as were all past presidents and as each one of us are, including myself.â€
The magazineâ€™s circulation is estimated at 130,000. In the editorial titled â€œTrump Should Be Removed from Office,” Editor-in-Chief Mark Galli wrote that Democrats “have had it out for” the president since he took office.
But Galli asserted that the facts “are unambiguousâ€ when it comes to the acts that led to the presidentâ€™s impeachment this week by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
Trump â€œattempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the presidentâ€™s political opponents,â€ Galli wrote, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden. â€œThat is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”
The schism among Christians about Trump dates back to before his election. Prominent Southern Baptist Russell Moore warned that Trump â€œincites divisionâ€ in a 2015 op-ed. The essay cited the Bible in asking fellow Christians to â€œcount the cost of followingâ€ him. It later earned a tweeted lashing from then-candidate Trump.
After Trump defended the organizers of a 2017 white nationalist rally that turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, one member of his evangelical advisory board stepped down, citing â€œa deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration.â€
But no such break has occurred between the president and the core of his evangelical base. Trump is deeply popular among white evangelical Protestants, with roughly 8 in 10 saying they approve of the way he is handling his job, according to a December poll from The AP-NORC Center.
Many prominent evangelicals have only intensified their support for Trump as Democrats moved to impeach him, circling the wagons despite Trumpâ€™s personal history, which includes multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, deeply divisive policies and profanity laced comments.
At the heart of that backing is what pro-Trump evangelicals view as the presidentâ€™s significant record of achievement on their highest priorities, such as his successful installation of more than 150 conservative federal judges and his support for anti-abortion policies.
â€œNo President has done more for the Evangelical community, and itâ€™s not even close,â€ Trump said in his tweets. He declared that he â€œwonâ€™t be reading ET again!â€ using the wrong initials to describe the Christian publication.
Johnnie Moore, a member of Trumpâ€™s evangelical advisory board, tweeted that during the â€œhyperventilatingâ€ over the â€œinconsequentialâ€ editorial, he was at Vice President Mike Penceâ€™s residence, â€œwhere dozens of evangelicals who actually lead MILLIONS were celebrating Christmas undistracted by impeachment & grateful” for the administrationâ€™s policies.
Adding that Christianity Today â€œonly represents a certain segment of evangelicals,â€ Moore tweeted that â€œthis is not a game changing moment or hardly a surprise.â€
Another Trump evangelical adviser, Southern Baptist megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, tweeted that the magazine is â€œdyingâ€ and â€œgoing against 99% of evangelical Republicans who oppose impeachment.â€
The editorial did not take a position on whether Trump should be removed by the Senate or by popular vote in the 2020 election, calling it â€œa matter of prudential judgment.” But Galli wrote that the need for Trumpâ€™s removal â€œis not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”
The editorial came one day after Trump became the third president in American history to be impeached. The House charged him with abuse of power in pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations of Biden, and with obstructing Congress in the ensuing probe.
Asked Friday in an interview with CNN about Trumpâ€™s critical tweets, Galli said the presidentâ€™s characterization of the magazine as far left was â€œfar from accurate.â€ But Galli, who is set to retire from his post next month, also said he is realistic about the impact of his words.
â€œI donâ€™t have any imagination that my editorial is going to shift their views on this matter,” Galli said of the president’s supporters. â€œThe fact of the matter is Christianity Today is not read by the people – Christians on the far right, by evangelicals on the far right – so theyâ€™re going to be as dismissive of the magazine as President Trump has shown to be.â€
Schor reported from New York.