The nation just experienced a profoundly historic and disorienting moment when the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Though his removal from office is highly unlikely given the makeup of the Senate, the moment demands whatever analysis Christian reflection can bring. On this occasion, there are no easy answers. And there’s no easily citable Bible verse a Christian can use to vindicate his or her opinion.
Instead, a response to something as significant and momentous as impeachment—a moment that vividly captures the idea we are a nation of laws, not men—requires a more textured response than simply saying “innocent” or “guilty.” Or, for that matter, deducing impeachment thresholds to a president’s adherence to the Ten Commandments (using that standard, what president would not be impeachable?).
The complexities of the moment are manifold. For one, Donald Trump is not a sympathetic figure for Christians to rally behind, despite what many of his most ardent Christian defenders say. I say that as a Christian and a political conservative who has worked at the intersection of religion and politics my entire career, and who now teaches political ethics at one of the nation’s largest seminaries. I and many others like me are in an unenviable position: it seems like a judgment of God on our nation that a person who embodies narcissistic impulses and who routinely makes reprehensible comments is in charge of an administration whose policies I prefer over the alternative. That’s how bad things are.
On the other hand, the circumstances surrounding impeachment hardly appear impartial, which is what our Founders envisioned. While impeachment is certainly political given the Constitution’s limited description on the matter, an understanding has underwritten our republic that something as significant as removing a president from office ought to be a bipartisan affair, where the “high crimes and misdemeanors” are so obvious that removal seems not only warranted but necessary. The truth, however, is Democrats have sought the president’s removal from office before he was even sworn in. The party-line vote in the impeachment vote reflects the entrenched realities of impeachment.
I won’t pretend to be an expert in the intricacies of the impeachment debacle. I’ll happily grant that it appears President Trump’s actions with Ukraine are suspicious and indefensible. But I’ll leave it to more enlightened constitutional minds than my own if whether his actions should be elevated to the level of an impeachable offense. Regardless, Democratic leadership has severely undermined their case for impeachment by making it look partisan. While both sides can make an argument, a terminal form of Trump Derangement Syndrome and Trump Devotion Syndrome has beset large swaths of the media, Democratic Party, and Republican Party.
This makes thoughtful analysis all the more difficult for Christians because we’re a people who should be interested in truth above all else. We ought to desire to cut through the chatter. As a political conservative who favors a good number of the Trump administration’s policies, my commitment to the Ninth Commandment prevents me from defaulting into political hackery. I’m not allowed to turn a blind eye because I prefer the policies of this White House to ones offered by Democrats. Christians should not approach impeachment primarily through the gloss of partisanship as difficult as that may be. We have a higher calling. But truth is in short order with the impeachment escapades. That means in a situation like this, where both sides are telling their side of the story, prudence and restraint are the sure paths.
So what might truth-seeking look like in a moment when the truth seems less important than scoring a political victory? It requires asking a fundamental question: Is there a definitively Christian response to impeachment, as to who is definitively right and wrong? I hope I would not be alone in saying this, but I cannot draw a straight answer to that question from the Bible.
The Bible is a profoundly political document in how it reflects on the nature of humanity and the ordination of government. But “impeachment” is not in the Bible, though a multitude of fallen, corrupt political leaders surely are. The Bible understands how political leaders and nations fall—by casting off wisdom and rejecting God’s authority over their lives. Political confusion occurs because someone abandoned the requirements for justice and fair dealings (1 Kings 3:28; Proverbs 29:4). The narrative of scripture tells of interaction with corrupt officials and empires, so twenty-first-century Christians are not charting in altogether foreign waters. A Christian response to Trump’s impeachment must be understood primarily through the lens of Christian reflection about the fallibility of persons and systems. The Bible may not offer a direct one-to-one prescription on impeachment. It does, however, unveil a portrait of humanity subjected to the decaying effect of sin and rot.
Nations rage not only in their rebellion (Psalm 2) but in their vanity. A nation that jettisons the wisdom of general revelation and just judgment is engaged in a futile conquest of God’s created order, the God who ordains the boundary markers of every earthly leader. God only laughs in derision when they reject wisdom and sound judgment. This bears similarity to the moment at hand, where both sides seem compromised and committed to securing victory over a just reckoning. We must understand that when the noble task of statecraft is reduced to political theater, we are experiencing God’s judgment. The inability to arrive at a clear, unbiased judgment by our earthly magistrates is God’s judgment. We live in an era of obfuscation and ephemeral triviality.
As Christians, we ought to be a people who pray for a commitment to truth and justice; this means, necessarily, living with detached distance to the center of political power to speak truthfully. This is the dilemma of the political moment. While I much prefer the policies of the Trump administration, I cannot allow that to dictate my commitment to truth. We should be a people who seek to bring clarity, not whataboutism.
Our American political order is deeply compromised. It’s a disorienting and cynicism-inducing time on all sides. The president does not often act with virtue. He supports policies and personnel that I much prefer, but full-throated defenses are too much. His opposition has a bloodlust-like desire to see him dethroned at all costs, gutting impartiality.
What does this mean? We must pray for our nation. We need virtuous leaders who can see through the fracas, who are beholden to conscience, not reelection. We can never give up on this. Government is ordered for our good and protection. We can never abandon its commission to secure a just environment where its people thrive.
What’s more, at a time like this, we need calm and sober-mindedness. People have made politics their identity and idol, both of which are cheap substitutes for the fullness of life God has destined us for. MSNBC and FOX News do not get the last word over us as Christians.
I’m reminded in moments like this, as important as political participation is, the devolution of politics to circus-like entertainment is a pox on all our houses. It means detached judgment may be what is called for. We cannot worship at the altar of frenzied excitement. It may mean heeding the advice of Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan, who once wrote that “there are many times—and surely a major election is one of them—when the most pointed political criticism imaginable is to talk about something else.”