Mark Galli went to work on Thursday morning, as usual, in his second-floor office at Christianity Today in the Chicago suburb of Carol Stream. He turned on his computer, as usual, and prepared to write.
What he wrote surprised even him.
Galli is editor-in-chief of the magazine, which was founded in 1956 by the prominent evangelist Billy Graham. It’s not a primarily political publication, but, as Galli explained when I talked to him on Friday, people kept asking if he was going to write about the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, a popular figure among evangelical Christians.
Finally, on Thursday, he decided he should write something.
“I was going to do the typical on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand, let’s-let-the-process-run-itself-out piece,” he said when we talked. “But something in me said, ‘That doesn’t work.’ I proceeded to write the editorial that came out of my fingers.”
What came out of his fingers, under the headline “Trump Should Be Removed from Office,” was this:
“The impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Donald Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath.”
“The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people.”
What came out of Galli’s fingers was also a caution to Christians who continue to support Trump:
“Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?”
Galli is 67, a native Californian who has lived for three decades in the suburb of Glen Ellyn. Now an Anglican, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister but relinquished his ordination when he turned to journalism. He became managing editor of Christianity Today in 2000 and has been editor-in-chief since 2012.
He calls himself “a huge pro-life guy” and an advocate of religious freedom, but he rejects the argument that just because Trump has acted and talked in defense of those stances, Trump deserves to be defended.
“I’ve tried to be as charitable as I can to my evangelical brothers and sisters who voted for Trump,” he said.
But, as he wrote in his editorial: “None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”
One of the most significant points Galli made in our conversation was about what makes a country healthy, strong. The economy matters, but it’s not the only thing.
“Most people don’t seem to think that morality and ethics are as concrete as other things in our lives,” he said. “But if a country and its leaders fail to hold minimal moral standards, it’s super-destructive.”
Almost as soon as Galli’s editorial was published, it exploded in the media. His phone rang all day Friday. His email inbox was flooded. He has been surprised by “the depth of the appreciation.”
“Most of the people I’m hearing from are saying, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you,’ with 20 exclamation points,” he said. “People have been looking for someone to say this. It has been hanging over their hearts and minds for months, if not years.”
Not everyone has been grateful. The Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of the late Rev. Billy Graham, said on Facebook that his father would disagree with the editorial. President Trump weighed in on Twitter, calling Christianity Today “a far left magazine,” which “has been doing poorly.”
“I won’t be reading ET again!” he vowed.
“Unfortunately,” Galli said, “Mr. Trump is misinformed in his tweets. I’m center-right. Some of our people are center-left. We’re not failing journalistically.”
Incidentally, Galli’s editorial also took issue with Trump’s tweets: “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.”
Galli said he has received several threats in response to the editorial but tries not to take them seriously.
“That type of anger and the wanting to strike out at others, I just don’t get it,” he said. “It makes me so sad.”
Galli is retiring in early January, and plans to spend more time fly-fishing, fixing up the house, playing with his six grandkids and working in a program that helps settle refugees. But when people ask him if the editorial was a parting shot, he says no.
There are simply times and places, he said, when you must speak up.
“You feel called,” he said.
And to those who call him courageous, he also says no.
“It was the right thing to do.”
Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.