The Washington Post ran an article in late December of 2019 that discussed Elmbrook Church and the Christianity Today editorial regarding Donald Trump. I am adding that article to this blog’s achieves about Elmbrook as I continue to write about this church.
“Nothing in fine print is considered good news.”
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest
Matthew 11:28 NLT
The Washington Post ran an article that discussed my former church in the Milwaukee area known as Elmbrook and the Christianity Today editorial. about Donald Trump. This blog wants to capture and preserve the article and add it to the other articles that have been written about here. The article was written by Amy Wang and ran in the Washington Post on December 22, 2019. You can read the article in the original format in, “At one evangelical church, congregants dismiss the Christianity Today editorial — if they’ve read it at all.”
BROOKFIELD, Wis. — Three days before Christmas, hundreds of people filled the pews at Elmbrook Church, one of the largest evangelical Christian campuses in suburban Milwaukee. Some brought gifts for friends in tow. Onstage, LOVE, PEACE, HOPE and JOY were spelled out in life-size neon-blue letters.
For 20 minutes, the choir led the audience in Christmas carols. Outside the chapel, children ran circles around the church’s brightly lit trees. Lead pastor Lee Heyward said the theme of the day’s sermon would be love.
There was no mention of an editorial, published days before in an influential evangelical Christian magazine, that had called for President Trump’s removal from office. “None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character,” wrote editor Mark Galli.
When it published Thursday, the Christianity Today piece made waves at the White House and in evangelical circles online.
It instantly triggered a Twitter rant from Trump, who denounced the magazine as “doing poorly” and vowed never to read it again. (“The fact is, no President has ever done what I have done for Evangelicals, or religion itself!” Trump tweeted.)
The Rev. Franklin Graham, a staunch Trump supporter and the son of the magazine’s founder, the late Rev. Billy Graham, leaped to Trump’s defense, telling The Washington Post that “[my father] would’ve been very embarrassed that the magazine he started would call for something like this when there are no crimes committed.”
Less than 48 hours later, Trump’s reelection campaign announced a new “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition, launching at a Miami rally in early January.
But here in suburban Milwaukee, where Trump narrowly edged out Clinton in 2016 and where it is crucial he maintain or build support heading into 2020, there was no indication the viral editorial had changed hearts or minds — or even been read at all.
After Sunday services, at least a half-dozen Elmbrook churchgoers said they didn’t know anything about the Christianity Today piece. A few others said they had heard about it but hadn’t actually read it.
Even those who knew what it said were quick to dismiss its significance.
“That publication has been starting to go wayward for 25 years,” said Rob Muldrow, 54, a long-haul truck driver and devout Christian from New Jersey who stops by Elmbrook when he is in the area. The magazine, he said, bad been infected by the same “social justice movement” that’s infiltrating churches to try to change their culture.
“If you build the church with a bunch of nonbelievers, you’re going to have nonbelievers influencing the church,” he said.
Muldrow noted his parents canceled their Christianity Today subscription decades ago. In his hours-long drives across the country, he mostly listens to conservative religious radio stations, which is how he heard the piece.
Presented with a printed copy of the Christianity Today editorial Sunday, Muldrow scanned it and paused at the headline: “Trump Should Be Removed From Office.”
“They’re not presenting both sides so that you could come to your own independent conclusion,” he said, shaking his head. “They’re telling you what to think. And so that’s not ‘Christianity today.’ That’s not. It’s been hijacked.”
Galli acknowledged in the editorial that for years the magazine had reserved judgment on Trump. He also nodded at the political “wins” — the defense of Christianity, the conservative federal judges and Supreme Court nominees — that evangelical Christians may have seen under Trump. No more.
“To use an old cliche, it’s time to call a spade a spade,” the editorial stated, “to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence.”
Muldrow called the charges of immorality “false.”
“The people chose Trump. And our electoral college, which they keep wanting to get rid of, elected Trump,” Muldrow said. “It is God that raises someone into power for His own purposes. And it is God, in His own divine wisdom, that takes an individual out of power for his own purposes.”
Another longtime Elmbrook worshiper, Paul Berg, said he had heard about the editorial. But he also hadn’t read it.
“I just read some things [about it] online. And of course you take it with a grain of salt,” said Berg, 57. He acknowledged he was surprised that Christianity Today would come out so strongly against Trump. As a former subscriber, he was very familiar with the magazine: In the early to mid-90s, the church used to copy articles from the magazine to use for Sunday school discussions.
But Berg, who has lived in Brookfield for decades and attended Elmbrook Church since 1989, said he no longer subscribes to Christianity Today, though it had little to do with the magazine. “I don’t subscribe to anything anymore,” he said.
When presented with a copy of the editorial, Berg politely said he wasn’t interested in reading it.
“I personally don’t see he’s doing anything that others who are accusing him haven’t,” he said of Trump.
Few of Elmwood’s congregants seemed interested in discussing the editorial in public. But around the country, a few Evangelicals said conversations are taking place — in private.
Joshua Heavin, a 29-year-old Dallas resident who considers himself “basically an evangelical but on the left,” said he texted his family about the Christianity Today editorial when it came out. Many of them are passionate Trump supporters.
“I did not think, ‘Oh, this is going to turn the tide,’ ” Heavin said. “But I did see it as, this is going to be an interesting opportunity to bring something that is indisputably an evangelical institution to people I know personally and try to help them have to face some real serious problems with the president.”
His father countered by saying Trump “has kept his campaign promises — especially for draining the swamp” and by texting Heavin links to Fox News articles.
In Springfield, Ohio, one woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of alienating her more conservative friends and neighbors, said she was heartened when her pastor sent the editorial to a small group of congregants, asking for their reaction.
“We have been talking a lot about feeling conflicted,” she said, of the pastor and her smaller group from her church. “We’re actually talking about a lot of current events and trying to figure out how that aligns with our beliefs in Jesus and what he preached.”
The woman said she believes the editorial was “a really good shake-up” and that conversations about it are mostly taking place over private text messages and emails with people who have shared concerns about Trump. She has seen a couple of acquaintances post the editorial on Facebook but is not ready to do so herself with something as declarative as “This is how I feel.”
“I feel like they’re being brave. I’m not ready to do that,” she said. “I don’t even try to look at Facebook that much. There’s so much negativity out there right now about everything. I just want to see the grandkids and call it a day right now.”