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6 min readNov 24, 2020


Evangelicalism in America is nearing extinction due to the movement’s devotion to politics at the expense of its original calling to share the gospel, according to Mark Galli, former editor-in-chief of Christianity Today.

“The evangelicalism that transformed the world is, for all practical purposes, dying if not already dead,” Galli said during the “Conversations that Matter” webinar hosted by Baptist News Global Oct. 8. He spoke with BNG Executive Director and Publisher Mark Wingfield in an hour-long webinar that is available for viewing on BNG’s YouTube channel.
















Now semi-retired, Galli served 20 years at Christianity Today and is the author of a new book, When Did We Start Forgetting God: The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future.
While he has identified at times as Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican and recently becoming Roman Catholic, Galli said he has remained true to his evangelical upbringing that emphasized evangelism and spiritual renewal.
“I am an evangelical Catholic,” he said.
Galli spoke on an array of other topics including the culture war divisions between Americans, the polities that divide churches, and how dialogue may help pastors and others hurdle those barriers.
That editorial
But he hit on a very high-profile topic, too: his December 2019 Christianity Today editorial describing President Donald Trump as morally unfit to hold office and arguing for his removal. It was published during the Congressional impeachment hearings.
“He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud,” Galli wrote. “His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
The piece generated severe backlash from the right, including from the president himself. The viciousness of responses often was hard to bear, Galli said.
The one possible thing he would redo, he said, is the headline — “Trump Should Be Removed from Office” — that placed the emphasis on politics, when it was faith that motivated his position, Galli explained. “I was making moral arguments to fellow evangelicals. But it sounded like a political comment.”
The editorial was not, as some claimed, an effort to back Trump’s opponent in the 2020 election. It’s just that Trump has “such deeply flawed moral character” that he needs to leave office, Galli said.
Trump has “such deeply flawed moral character” that he needs to leave office.
He has no quarrel with conservative evangelicals who acknowledge Trump’s flaws but still vote for him because he lines up on issues important to them, Galli said.
There were certainly plenty of those in 2016, according to a pre-election Pew survey that Christianity Today published titled, “Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not for Trump.”
Rather than citing issues like abortion, religious freedom and support for Israel as rationale for voting Trump, white evangelicals were much more concerned about the economy four years ago, Galli recalled. “I get it. I disagree with their choice, but I respect their wrestling.”
On the other hand, he said he does not understand those evangelicals who refuse to criticize Trump on moral grounds, who believe liberals need some shaking up and describe the president in messianic terms.
He recalled an anecdote about a pro-Trump Christian describing the president as sitting “at the right hand of the Father” and said of this ideology: “That’s idolatry, clearly and simply.”
Demise of evangelicalism
To explain the demise of evangelicalism, Galli cited the legacy of Billy Graham, who even in advanced age preached to invite men and women of all races and cultures to Christ. “He was the glue that held evangelicalism together for many years,” Galli said.
“An unfortunate symbol of what evangelicalism has become is epitomized by his son, Franklin,” he continued. “Franklin stands for evangelicals on both the right and the left who believe that politics is an essential work of evangelical faith.”
“Franklin (Graham) stands for evangelicals on both the right and the left who believe that politics is an essential work of evangelical faith.”
One symbol of that politicization is an organization called Evangelicals for Trump.
“In describing themselves in that way, they have become just another political interest group, taking the great name ‘evangelical,’ with all its theological and doctrinal and gospel history and meaning and putting it in the service of a political candidate,” Galli asserted.
And from his vantage point, the news is no better from the evangelical left.
“What’s really troubling to me is that instead of decrying this coopting of the term ‘evangelical’ for political gain, the evangelical left has only mirrored this tragic move when they recently formed a group called Evangelicals for Joe Biden.”
Evangelical groups that focus almost solely on social justice and cultural change, instead of sharing the gospel, are contributing to the decline, too, he said.
“As a result, we’ve started to let the agenda of the world determine the agenda of the church, and we’ve sidelined evangelism and church renewal as the result.”
Galli said he noticed this trend during the hiring process at Christianity Today beginning in the 1990s. Candidates overwhelmingly were interested in cultural analysis, and perhaps one in 10 story ideas pitched was about evangelistic outreach.
For the most part, he added, the lack of interest in that founding mission of faith sharing exists across the board.
“I am going to go so far as to say that our fascination with social amelioration, and political activism, has watered down the evangelical faith to the point that it looks little different than mainline Christianity,” he said.
“We’ve forgotten that the genius of evangelical faith was its singular focus: spiritual renewal. ‘You must be born again’ was preached to individuals and to whole churches and denominations, from George Whitefield, John Wesley, to Charles Finney, to Dwight Moody to Billy Graham. It was preached in the First and Second Great Awakenings, it was preached by the circuit riders, and at local Baptist revivals every year or many times a year.”
Yet, that message is not being preached much nowadays, and there will be consequences, he said. “Evangelicals today no longer have a laser focus on evangelism and spiritual renewal. As a result, I believe they will fade away as will the very term.”
Who will the Lord raise up?
But Galli predicted the mission of evangelism will continue, possibly under a different name.

















“In every generation, the Lord raises up some Christians to whom he gives the charism of evangelism and spiritual renewal. What they will be called in the future, I don’t know.”
“In every generation, the Lord raises up some Christians to whom he gives the charism of evangelism and spiritual renewal. What they will be called in the future, I don’t know.”
Citing the tradition of various orders within Roman Catholicism — Benedictines, Franciscans, Jesuits and so forth — he suggested one way to reclaim evangelicalism is for those called to evangelism to rise up as a holy order across the church universal.
With some portion of the church focused on evangelism, then Christians can be involved in the public square, love their neighbors and work for social and political justice, he added. “Christians should not run away from culture but dash right into the middle of it and do whatever it takes to show forth the righteousness of God.”
Friendship amid differences
Galli explained that he’s developed these insights partly in becoming Catholic, which has provided a different vantage point from which to view evangelicalism and the wider church.
Regarding Christian unity, he said: “I don’t know if there is a reason for us to be apart, but it’s hard to get together because no one is willing to give up anything. For example, talking to a Methodist and a Presbyterian reveals little difference, “but Methodists don’t want to give up their bishops and Presbyterians don’t want to submit to bishops.”
Divisions within congregations, especially politically driven ones, must be addressed delicately, Galli said, suggesting pastors preach on the Bible from the pulpit and speak with parishioners aside from their sermons about politics.
But he acknowledged that even the Bible has been politicized in the current climate.
“Unfortunately, everything is perceived as political,” he said. “We just have to remind ourselves there are more important things than politics.”
Former Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia lived that approach, he said. They did not let ideological differences prevent a friendship.
“That is something American leaders ought to be promoting,” he concluded.