Mark Galli made news last week with his editorial in Christianity Today calling for President Trump’s removal from office on moral grounds.
It’s not the first time that the editor of the evangelical magazine has called Trump’s leadership and morality into question.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Galli approved an editorial that implored readers to “not be silent about Donald Trump’s blatant immorality,” writing that the candidate was “the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.”
In April 2017, just months into the Trump presidency, Galli wrote another editorial, “What to do with Donald Trump’s soul.” In it, he wrote, “the gospel of Jesus Christ casts the behavior of Trump in a transcendent light, and that light looks to us like darkness.”
But last week Galli called for Trump’s removal from office on the grounds that he is immoral, and that the character of the country’s leader is vital to the nation’s well-being.
The message sparked debate in and outside the evangelical community. On a typical day, the magazine’s website has 300 to 500 readers at a time. In the peak hours after the editorial published on Thursday, there were 15,000 to 17,000 readers on the site, Galli said in an interview Sunday with The Times.
By Friday night, the magazine had lost 600 of its roughly 80,000 subscribers, and received countless messages from Trump supporters lambasting the piece, he said. But Galli said he also has done about a dozen media interviews, received more encouraging notes of support than not, and the magazine gained 1,800 new subscribers, he said.
“I wasn’t aware of the deeply felt need...for a leading evangelical institution to speak out” publicly and clearly about the “public moral character” of the president, Galli said.
The 67-year-old California native has been the editor for the Illinois-based magazine for seven years, and worked at the magazine for about two decades total. He wrote the editorial to capture the timeliness of the impeachment vote, just weeks before he is scheduled to retire as editor in chief.
The timing is coincidental, he said. While the Mueller investigation findings seemed murky and always shrouded in a layer of fog and confusion, the findings of the impeachment hearing were clearer to Galli.
“For me, what was the clarifying issue was the business of the president of the United States using his power to manipulate the heads of foreign governments to essentially harass and harangue one of his political opponents,” Galli said.
On Sunday, Christianity Today’s president and CEO, Timothy Dalrymple, published a post addressing the controversy stirred by Galli’s editorial and to support the editor without endorsing his writings.
“Galli has stood in the trenches for men and women of faith for over three decades. He has been an outstanding editor in chief. While he does not speak for everyone in the ministry—our board and our staff hold a range of opinions—he carries the editorial voice of the magazine,” Dalrymple said. “We support CT’s editorial independence and believe it’s vital to our mission for the editor in chief to speak out on the issues of the day.”
Galli was born in San Francisco and grew up in Santa Cruz — liberal hotspots and somewhat unlikely cities in which to develop strong evangelical influences. And yet Galli has spent much of his career at Christianity Today, which Billy Graham founded in the 1950s.
“When I was a teenager...my mother had a conversion experience actually watching Billy Graham on TV,” Galli said.
During a difficult emotional time, Galli’s mother got on her knees in their home, in front of the the television, and accepted Jesus Christ, he said. A few months later, on Dec. 19, 1965 — 54 years, to the day, before Galli published this editorial — he too accepted Christ during an altar call at church.
Galli’s upbringing in California, his college years at UC Santa Cruz and serving as a pastor at a Sacramento church that “was much more liberal than I was” all prepared him for instances when his religious and political views don’t align with the majority, he said.
“That’s been my whole upbringing and the way I approach things,” he said. “With people with whom I disagree strongly ...the first thing I try to do is understand them charitably: Why do they believe what they believe, how did they come to that conclusion? I really enjoy the conversations we have.”
The language of the editorial is harsher than a conversation he would have in real life, he said, but the sentiments stand.
He doesn’t think that he will necessarily change minds. In fact, “not a single person has said that” he did change their mind about their support of Trump, he said. But he considers it his duty as editor to the say “most truthful and honest thing” he can during important moments in history, and to do so without any animus toward Trump or more conservative evangelicals.
Like those evangelicals who support Trump, Galli shares their anti-abortion stance and support for religious freedom. But he said he doesn’t understand why Trump’s supporters seem to dig in their heels when defending what he considers the president’s immoral behavior.
“It’s something much deeper and much more visceral and, I’ll be honest with you,” Galli said, “I’m not quite sure what’s going on.”