Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas, and International Christian Academy on Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nev.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

‘Civil war’ among evangelicals is the last thing Trump needs

Christianity Today, one of the nation’s leading evangelical publications, published a striking editorial last week, condemning Donald Trump’s actions in the Ukraine scandal as “profoundly immoral” and the president himself as “morally lost and confused.” It added, “The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration.”

It wasn’t long before the Republican returned fire, not by defending his actions or his principles, but by insisting he’s delivered on the evangelical community’s political goals – which in Trump’s mind, entitles him to support from evangelical publications.

But stepping back, the president wasn’t just bothered by a critical editorial; he also seemed concerned about a division among politically active Christian evangelicals, whose support he sees as a core element of his Republican base. As he heads into a re-election year, Trump expects this voting bloc to march in lock step behind him, and the Christianity Today’s editorial represented dissension the president apparently sees as dangerous.

It was against this backdrop that a rival publication, the Christian Post, published a rebuttal, accusing Christianity Today of, among other things, adopting an “elitist posture.” As the New York Times reported, this led a Christian Post editor, Napp Nazworth, to resign in protest.

In an interview on Tuesday evening, Mr. Nazworth said he wanted the publication’s politics section “to be an open space for both sides.” He said the site had worked to include voices that praised and criticized the president, and he objected to labeling the column as an editorial representing the site’s opinion.

“There was an impasse. We couldn’t find a compromise,” he said. “I said, ‘If this is what you represent, you’re announcing that The Christian Post is joining Team Trump.’”

The Post, it’s worth noting for context, did run an opinion piece from a contributor this past weekend, arguing that the Senate should convict Trump and remove him from office, because the U.S. Constitution “is more important than abortion.”

It’s all part of what the Daily Beast described as “a spiraling evangelical Christian civil war” over Trump, his misdeeds, and the proper response from the faith community.

And while it’s best not to overstate matters – polling suggests Trump’s support among evangelical Christians is much higher than among Americans in general – these divisions and public conflicts are exactly what the president’s re-election campaign hoped to avoid.

For his part, the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson wrote in his latest column, “Christians are called to be representatives of God’s kingdom in the life of this world. Betraying that role not only hurts the reputation of evangelicalism; it does a nasty disservice to the reputation of the Gospel.”

That’s almost certainly not what the White House wants to hear.

Postscript: Trump attended Christmas Eve services at an evangelical church in south Florida this week, rather than the more progressive church near Mar-a-Lago where he and First Lady Melania Trump were married. As the Palm Beach Post added, “It is unlikely that the first-couple’s absence from Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach and surprise appearance at Family Church Downtown gained or lost the president votes among either congregation.”