A Word of Grace and Truth

Grace and truth. Neither is in great supply these days. Grace and truth can be scarce in the church or at family holiday gatherings, but they are virtually unicorns in American politics, rumored to be real but never actually seen. In our post-fact era, there is no such thing as truth, for reality is whatever my favorite cable channel or internet site says it is. And in our hyper-partisan political culture, where political opponents are no longer fellow citizens but enemies of the people, grace gives way to demonization. In the eyes of Democrats, Republicans are racist, cowardly, and enslaved to the wealthy elite. In the standard rhetoric of Republicans, Democrats are anti-religious intellectuals bent on undermining American security with open borders, while redistributing wealth to eliminate the need to work. The absence of grace and truth in our politics increasingly bleeds into how we relate to our neighbors, family members, and church kin.

But during Christmas, we Christians celebrate the coming of the Christ, the Word of God made flesh who, as John’s Gospel tells us, is the bearer of God’s light and life, full of grace and truth. At Christmas we look anew for the signs of Emmanuel, reassurance that the light of the world still shines in our darkness. And at Christmas we recommit to being God’s light, living as the children of God we are called to be, sharing grace and truth with others.

In our moment, speaking truth and grace in a barbarous political culture is an important witness to the Word made flesh. I think it is what Christianity Today was trying to do recently when the magazine’s editor publicly questioned evangelical support for President Trump. In an editorial published a week before Christmas, Mark Galli argued that Donald Trump’s actions before and during his presidency were “profoundly immoral” and that the president himself (as reflected by his own Twitter account) was “a near perfect example of a person who is morally lost and confused.” He also called out evangelicals’ unwillingness to criticize the president’s behavior, charging that such unquestioning fidelity is unbefitting “loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”

Christians legitimately disagree about how to connect the principles of our faith and our political choices. Galli’s editorial—and the uproar that followed—made clear that evangelical Christians disagree about those connections, apparently more so than poll numbers sometimes imply. But I think the editorial was Galli’s attempt to discharge his Christian responsibility to follow the Word, full of grace and truth, by speaking some truth in grace himself.

As the press has covered extensively, the Christianity Today editorial did not go over well with many evangelical Christians. Some of Galli’s detractors objected to the mixing of politics with religion. But those who subscribe to a strict separation of religion and politics hold to a rule the Bible itself does not recognize. Truth is truth, whether it has to do with private morality or politics or the intersection of the two. The Gospel of Christ is not just an individual feel-good spirituality. It is political; it has to do with glorifying God by how we relate to one another, treat one another, and care for one another. It defines our obligations to God largely through our duties to one another, as individuals and as a society. Truth is truth, wherever it falls. Galli was reflecting this conviction when he spoke his hard truth to his fellow evangelicals, even as it ventured into the realm of politics.

Other critics objected to Galli’s apparent indictment of evangelicals’ religious integrity. In fact, he was questioning the consistency and integrity of Christian Trump supporters’ faith. Galli’s message fell hard on the ears of many of his readers because he rendered judgment, not only on the president, but on his evangelical supporters. But the tone of the editorial makes clear that he did so with love, as a brother in the faith. Contrary to popular sentiment, it is possible to package judgment with grace. Christian tradition reminds us that as we stand before God in our sin, God does just that, offering both judgment and grace. In that same spirit, Galli spoke a hard and critical truth, but he did so with Christian grace. Critique—even indictment—and grace are not opposites. They often walk the same path as response to the reality of human sin.

Grace and truth. The willingness to speak words that need to be spoken but to do so with love and respect. That’s what Christianity Today tried to do in its editorial, and the fact that so many Christians failed to see it for what it was speaks to how unreliable a hold we have on the holy tandem in Christ, the Word of grace and truth among us.

I don’t know how much to expect that the editorial will be a wake-up call for American evangelicals to become more discerning in their support for this president—to celebrate his political priorities if they are yours, but to call out what every Christian should recognize as unbiblical greed, self-absorption, dishonesty, and unapologetic toxicity. Will Christians find the courage and integrity to speak the truth and demand truth, when either political party tempts us with a darker path? Will we expose falsehood for what it is, even when it is personally or politically inconvenient? And will we pursue truth not in the brutal ways of the world, but with Christian grace? Can we live gracefully with our families and friends, in our politics, and as American and global citizens, even as we disagree honestly and openly about very important things? In our commitment to grace and truth, we testify to the Word of God in Christ, the one whose light the darkness cannot vanquish, no matter how much darkness seems to gain all around us. Grace and truth are the Gospel, our Christmas hope. But they are also our Christian task.