Evangelical Ethics Professor Rebuts Christianity Today Op-Ed, Sees 'Nothing Wrong' With Trump 'Doing Things' For Personal and Political Benefit

Evangelical ethics professor Wayne Grudem rebutted the Christianity Today op-ed that called for President Donald Trump's removal from office, writing in a December 30 column that he personally saw "nothing wrong with" a president committing actions for personal and political gain.

"My response is that I see nothing wrong with the president doing things that will bring him personal political benefit," Grudem, a professor of theology and biblical studies at the Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, Arizona, wrote in his column for Townhall, a conservative news site. "In fact, I expect that every president in the history of the United States has done things that bring him personal political benefit every day of his term. It is preposterous to claim that it is unconstitutional for the president to act in a way that is politically beneficial."

In the op-ed, Grudem offered beat-by-beat responses to points made by Christianity Today editor Mark Galli in an editorial that argued that Trump should be removed from office. It was published December 19, a day after the House of Representatives impeached the president. Galli wrote that the president had used his power to pressure a foreign country for his own personal gain, a "profoundly immoral" act that was one reason to remove him from the presidency.

Grudem acknowledged that, like Galli, he was by no means an expert on constitutional law but rather an "interested citizen." However, he argued that an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son's dealings in Ukraine were worth it, regardless of the fact that Biden and Trump are potential political opponents. Furthermore, he wrote, there was simply nothing unconstitutional or wrong about Trump's actions regarding Ukraine.

In an email to Newsweek, Galli responded to Grudem's argument that Trump's actions for his own "personal political benefit" were permissible because other presidents had certainly done things for similar reasons.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Grudem is suggesting that if everyone does something, it can't be wrong," Galli wrote. "I would think a Christian theologian could do better. It is always wrong to seek personal gain from a public office. That anyone in power (including Mr. Grudem and myself, in our own little spheres) are weak at resisting this temptation is no reason to turn a vice into a virtue."

In a January 6 phone interview with Newsweek, Grudem said that he had read this article, including Galli's statement, and that his opinion of the president's actions had in no way changed since his piece was published by Townhall on December 30.

"It's obvious to everybody in American society that any time a politician gives a campaign speech, or meets with donors...while in office, that brings political benefit to the person," Grudem said. "If there's a collective moral sense in society of right and wrong, it's not offended by a politician doing things that help him politically. That's part of what it means to be a politician."

In the column, Grudem also disputed Galli's claim that Trump's "immoral" actions with women were cause for removal, because Trump committed those actions before he took office and had apologized for them. Grudem acknowledged that he called for Trump to resign from the presidential race in 2016 because of his belief that Trump's "vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God's command" against adultery. He ultimately voted for him, he added, because Hillary Clinton as president would have been a worse alternative.

In the conclusion of the piece, Grudem wrote that he would vote for the president in 2020. Furthermore, he told Newsweek on January 6 that he had received "overwhelmingly a great amount of appreciation" for expressing a view of the president's actions that was contrary to Galli's.

Grudem also stressed to Newsweek that he thought vigorous debate and the exchange of ideas about political issues was important, and that he was grateful to live in a nation where such disagreements could be openly discussed.

"I'm all for an open, free democratic society in which people like Mark Galli and I are able to express our different viewpoints and argue for them in the public square," he said. "And I think it's the sign of a healthy democracy that his article could be published and my article could be published and other articles on the same topic could be published."

Grudem is not the first prominent evangelical to jump to the president's defense after the publication of the Christianity Today op-ed. As Newsweek reported, almost 180 evangelical leaders (including the daughter of the Reverend Billy Graham, who founded Christianity Today) signed a letter condemning the piece.

Update 12/30, 5:30 p.m.: This article has been updated to include a statement from Mark Galli, the Christianity Today editor who wrote the op-ed calling for the president's removal from office.

Update 1/6, 5:00 p.m.: This article has been updated to include quotes from Wayne Grudem, the ethics professor who wrote the piece in Townhall rebutting Mark Galli's op-ed.

Donald Trump Visits Church In Las Vegas
Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee for president, attends a worship service at the International Church of Las Vegas on October 30, 2016. Chip Somodevilla/Getty