jasonbwatson

February 9, 2020

Strange Bedfellows

You’ve no doubt heard the old proverb that politics makes strange bedfellows. Never have I experienced the reality of that on a personal level more than I have over the past couple of months, thanks specifically to the impeachment of Donald Trump.

Back in December, Mark Galli, who was the editor in chief of Christianity Today, wrote an editorial advocating for the impeachment of President Trump. I do not disagree with what Mark Galli said about Trump as a person, but being immature and nasty on Twitter is not an impeachable offense. Galli’s assertion that the “facts are unambiguous” about Trump’s phone call with Ukraine shows his lack of political understanding and his fervent desire for Trump to go. Sadly, he failed to realize that using impeachment to remove Trump because you don’t like him is just as wrong for evangelicals as it is for Democrats.

Shortly thereafter, Timothy Dalrymple, CT’s president, wrote to effectively defend Galli’s editorial. Dalrymple made some valid points, but he politicizes the term “evangelical.” What Dalrymple fails to acknowledge, and what was a huge problem with Galli’s editorial, is that if those who dislike Trump’s character and personal baggage–and I count myself in that group–allow that to become justification for impeachment, an incredibly dangerous precedent will be set. Impeachment has to be reserved for that for which it was intended or we risk seriously weakening our form of government. Does Trump have flaws? Absolutely. Should we jump on board the silly allegations from House Democrats to remove him? Absolutely not. The ends do not justify the means.

That whole situation left me, in the eyes of many anyway, defending President Trump, which is not something I have been inclined to do. He has done some wonderful things as president, including recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, appointing pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, defending prayer in schools, attending the March for Life Rally, etc. But he has also demonstrated immaturity, lack of tact and badgering/belittling behavior toward his opponents. In short, he has usually been anything but presidential. For those reasons, I cannot say that I like President Trump. It is almost a reversal of what the situation was like when Ronald Reagan was president. Many people who did not agree with Reagan politically liked him personally. Now, I agree with Trump politically quite often, but I cannot stand him personally.

Last week my proverbial bedfellow changed when I asserted my respect for Mitt Romney’s decision to vote to convict President Trump on one charge of the impeachment. I said then, and I say now, I do not agree with his conclusion, but after listening to Mitt Romney’s interview with Chris Wallace I do respect his decision to vote his conscience. Is that not, after all, exactly what we expect our elected officials to do?

Well, that position met with some opposition among my own friends but it met with far more opposition among Republicans and conservatives around the nation. One friend insisted to me that conscience was not what senators were to use to inform their vote; instead, they were to rely on the Constitution and on the facts that were presented. But I disagree; the two are not separate. Obviously, Mr. Romney felt like the actions of Mr. Trump were consistent with the constitutional threshold for impeachment. He said as much in the interview. Accordingly, he was voting his conscience and the Constitution by voting guilty on one charge. Article II of the Constitution specifically says “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Romney thought Trump’s actions rose to that level. He interpreted the “facts” as rising to the level of impeachment and thus, based on those facts, he believed guilty was the right vote. His conscience dictated that he vote accordingly–according, in other words, to his understanding and interpretation of the facts. He interpreted the Constitution strictly and that is precisely why he voted the way that he did–he believed that an impeachable offense had occurred, based on the facts and evidence he had received.

So, whether we agree with him or not–and as I said, I don’t–Romney’s conscience dictated that he do what he thought was consistent with his oath. Romney heard the facts that were presented, and in his interpretation, they met the threshold for impeachment. He then voted what he thought the facts warranted–guilty on one charge, not guilty on the other. He did what he thought was right, not what he knew his party wanted him to do. And that, by the way, is constitutional. He was faithfully executing his responsibility, just as he swore he would do. The fact that I, or seemingly most any other Republican, did not agree with his interpretation of the facts does not mean that he was wrong. (To throw another strange proverbial bedfellow into the mix, for these same reasons, I also respect Tulsi Gabbard’s earlier decision to vote “present”).

No “high crimes” are found in the Constitution. Article II, Section 4 says, “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (emphasis added). Obviously, then, impeachment can occur for offenses other than treason and bribery, but what those other offenses are is no spelled out. Abuse of power would certainly be one of them. If I thought Trump had abused his power then I might even agree with Romney. Based on the testimony I heard, I do not think he did, so I disagree with Romney. But I still respect his willingness to vote what he thought was right, knowing full well—as he was reminded by Chris Wallace—that he would face the full wrath of Donald Trump and an ongoing cold shoulder from his party. In short, there was no good reason, politically, for Mitt Romney to vote the way that he did. He knew that President Trump was not going to be convicted because there was no way there were going to be enough votes to meet the required two-thirds supermajority. So while others have chosen to attribute his vote to his personal animosity for Donald Trump, I am choosing to take Mitt Romney at his word. I cannot fathom any other reason why he would take the political risk he took to vote that way. And those consequences came swift and heavy. One person who had the audacity to say “Good for Romney” in response to a post on the Huck’s Army Facebook page stating that Romney was going to vote to convict, and asking for comments, received an immediate response from another individual saying “You are a jerk.” Really? Having a difference of opinion on Romney’s actions from the expected condemnation makes him a jerk? Why? Plenty of others called Romney pathetic, a disgrace, a traitor, a turncoat, a snake, a moron, a RINO and a Democrat masquerading as a Republican. Let’s not forget that just eight years ago Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee for President of the United States!

Furthermore, I was deeply troubled by how many people—professional pundits and social media commentators alike—who ridiculed Romney for invoking his faith as one of the reasons for doing what he thought was right regardless of the political consequences. We cannot want a politician to be both influenced by his faith and to ignore his faith. Many Republicans, and particularly many conservative Republicans, advocate for political positions, and even political action, that is based on and derived from a sense of morals that is often rooted in Judeo-Christian faith. Romney is a Mormon, of course, but most Mormons are quite conservative morally and socially. Would we really want a candidate or an elected official who was not influenced by his faith? How deep, sincere or meaningful would such faith be, anyway, if an individual were able to set it aside when considering some of the most important decisions he would ever make?

Finally, Romney’s vote also brought to light another matter that is worthy of serious consideration. Much has made of the fact that with his vote to convict, Romney became the first U.S. senator ever to vote to convict a president of his own party. That’s troubling to me, but not for the reason you probably think. Many seem to be taking the position that Judge Jeanine Pirro so obnoxiously took yesterday on her FOX show “Justice with Judge Jeanine.” “Permit me to introduce you to a non-leader,” Pirro began, before reminding viewers that Romney was the first senator to ever commit such a perfidious act. “How dare he!” she went on. “How could he? And why would he?”

Pirro went on to call Romney an “embarrassment” and to say, “Your jealousy of this man [Trump] is a constant rage burning within you because you can never rise to the heights that he has. Because guys like you fold like wusses and you don’t have any selflessness or the ability to think about others, as Donald Trump has thought about making America first.” Pirro later concluded her childish rant saying, “How about you get the hell out of the United States Senate?”

(By the way, add Pirro to those who lambasted Romney’s reference to his faith. She said, “Do you ever wonder why people never mention God or religion — only bring it up when they get caught doing something or when they need an excuse for something they did? What a bunch of phonies.” I don’t know how often Pirro expects Romney to mention his faith in order for it to satisfy her standards, but this is certainly not the first time he has mentioned it).

By now you have likely gathered that I was not only unimpressed with Pirro’s monologue but also with her position. I said that I am troubled by the fact that Romney is the first senator to vote to convict a president of his own party—but the reason that troubles me is because it hasn’t happened before. Donald Trump is the third president to be impeached, joining Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton on that short list. There were eleven articles if impeachment filed against Andrew Johnson, though senators decided that eight of them were objectionable and only considered three. Like Trump, Clinton faced two charges. Why would it take until the sixth impeachment charge for a senator to vote for conviction of a president of his own party? That fact reveals two possibilities, neither of which are appealing.

On the one hand, it could indicate that impeachment charges thus far have always been politically motivated. That would be tragic. As I have already argued in this space, impeachment is to be used for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Those are not political matters. If we allow our elected officials to pursue impeachment out of political motivation then we will have a serious problem.

On the other hand, if impeachment articles have been legitimate and not motivated by politics, Romney’s first-ever vote could indicate that senators are more loyal to their party than they are to what is right. How did I reach that conclusion? Well, it seems improbable that there could be six articles of impeachment that were not politically motivated and yet all proved to be erroneous charges. But if the impeached presidents were actually guilty of even one of those charges, and the evidence supported that conclusion, but no senator of the president’s own party would vote accordingly, what other conclusion could there be? The votes on Trump’s impeachment actually confirm this likelihood, as it also was the first time ever that no member of the opposing party joined in support of the president.

George Washington warned sternly against “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” in his Farewell Address. Blind allegiance to party, said Washington, “serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.” In other words, no good can come of it! Washington’s advice then? “[T]he common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

As he so often has, Washington proves once again to be prophetic. We are seeing unmistakable examples of the “spirit of party” in the United States just about every day. This does not bode well for our nation or for our future.

Oh, one more thing regarding strange bedfellows… I don’t even like Mitt Romney.

June 6, 2012

Heard and Seen

In the June issue of Tabletalk magazine Ed Stetzer has an article entitled, “Preach the Gospel, and Since It’s Necessary, Use Words.” You may recognize the well-known saying Stetzer is addressing in his article; supposedly St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” At least that’s Stetzer’s rendering of it; I have seen it in a slightly different version, but that is irrelevant to this discussion. In the first paragraph of his essay Stetzer says that there are “two basic problems with this quote and its supposed origin. One, Francis never said it, and two, the quote is not biblical.”

I am not concerned with whether or not Francis said it. Stetzer says that according to Mark Galli there is no record of Francis ever having said it, and I reckon I’ll just take his word for it because, as I said, it really doesn’t matter. What I think does matter though is Stetzer’s assertion that the idea is not biblical. Before I share my thoughts on that, though, I think I should let Stetzer speak for himself (and quote Galli).

Stetzer cites Galli’s claim that the quote suits our culture well with this quote: “‘Preach the gospel, use words if necessary’ goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets, Jesus and Paul put on preaching. Of course, we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns.” (I don’t know where Galli wrote this; Stetzer doesn’t say). Stetzer then goes on to say that the quote “gives an incomplete understanding of the gospel and how God saves sinners. Christians are quick to encourage each other to ‘live out the gospel,’ to ‘be the gospel’ to our neighbors, and even to ‘gospel each other.’ The missional impulse here is helpful, yet the gospel isn’t anything the Christian can live out, practice or become.”

Stetzer makes a bold claim when he asserts that the idea articulated in the quote in question is not biblical. After all, for a Christian, that is–or certainly should be–the deciding factor. If something is not biblical, that is synonymous with saying that it is wrong. So, I suppose I will need to respond with a bold claim of my own. While there are several words that come to mind, I’ll go with this one: ridiculous. For Ed Stetzer to suggest that preaching the gospel without words is not biblical is ridiculous. According to dictionary.com that means “causing or worthy of ridicule or derision; absurd; preposterous; laughable.”

Stetzer goes on to say that, “The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce.” I do not disagree with this, of course. The gospel–literally, the “good news”–is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth as a human, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins (and yours), was buried, rose again three days later, was seen alive by thousands, ascended to heaven where He now sits at the right hand of the Father, and will come again some day. None of that is anything I can do, and it is, as Stetzer writes, something I, and every other believer, is called to announce.

The trouble comes in the fact that Stetzer seems to assume that the announcement has to be made by words. I–and whoever it was who said what has been attributed to Francis–do not agree. It is not enough for me to simply say I do not agree, though–or at least it should not be. Rather, let me explain to you why I do not agree, and provide biblical support for my position.

First, Paul, when writing to the church at Philippi, wrote, in 4:9, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things…” (ESV). I would, for the purposes of this discussion, emphasize that four-word phrase “and seen in me.” The message of the gospel requires a verbal announcement (words) but it also requires a demonstration–a life lived out in a manner that is consistent with the words that are proclaimed. And, I might add, it generally requires this both before and after the words. The actions are the book ends that support or hold up the words.

In the same letter, Paul encourages the believers to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. Why? “[S]o that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit…” (Philippians 1:27, ESV). In other words, Paul told the believers to preach the gospel with their lives, and if they did so, he would hear about it. Actions would lead to words.

In Matthew 5 we read Jesus Himself teaching that actions are indeed an essential part of preaching the gospel. In verse 13 Jesus calls believers to be salt. That takes action. After all, salt is an actual thing; to borrow from and rearrange another passage of Scripture, it will not do you any good if you ask for salt and I say, “There you are, pretend your food has been salted.” Nope; that won’t work. You need me to give you real salt. In the next verse Jesus says that each believer is like a light, and that believers are not to hide their lights but to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Same thing–action required.

Another well-known quote I heard numerous times growing up but have no idea who originally said is, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The meaning is, of course, that if someone really believes the gospel it will be evident in the way he or she lives their life. Belief leads to action. While I agree with Stetzer that the gospel message needs to be proclaimed with words, I dare say that his assertion is far more dangerous than any danger he sees in the “live out the gospel” position. Why? Because there are many, many believers who preach, teach and live like the gospel message is nothing but words. What I mean is that I have heard many times–and likely you have, too–someone say, “If you’ll just say this prayer,” or “If you ask Jesus into your heart….” If this is news to you than I hate to disappoint, but there is no magic in saying the words. Words in and of themselves are just that–words. They do not mean anything; they are mere sounds that literally linger but a moment in the air. It is the meaning of the words that matters, and the meaning comes from whether or not I act in a way that indicates my belief in the words I speak.

Stetzer gives only one nod to the point I am trying to make in his article, and that comes in this statement: “While the process of making disciples involves more than verbal communication, and obviously the life of a disciple is proved counterfeit when it amounts to words alone, the most critical work that God has given to the church is to ‘proclaim the excellencies’ of our Savior.” Stetzer ends his article with four ways in which Christians should use words, and I do not disagree with any of them. Sadly, however, the words alone simply are not enough.

If I tell my wife I love her but my actions never demonstrate that love will she believe me? Not for long. Neither will anyone else. That’s why the words in and of themselves are not enough; the action is required. In fact, if you want to take Mr. Stetzer’s argument to its logical extreme, the very gospel he so wants Christians to proclaim with their words would not exist if words were all that was necessary.

What do I mean by that?

Well, if words were really the most important thing, God could have had His Son come to earth and tell everyone that He was the Son of God and that He could pay the penalty for their sins–and that if they would just believe Him their sins would be forgiven. If words were what mattered, Jesus did not have to die. Instead, I–and anyone else–could simply express my belief that Jesus could die, rise again, conquer sin, hell and the grave, and provide a way for my sins to be forgiven. But God is not concerned with whether or not I think Jesus could do that; He wants to know if I believe Jesus did do that.

So, Mr. Stetzer, I respectfully disagree with your premise. Not only do I disagree with your assertion that to preach the gospel always and when necessary to use words is not biblical, I would actually embrace the exact opposite argument–that to suggest that the gospel can be preached without actions is what is not biblical. The gospel demands action; it demands lives that are “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” So let us live lives that draw people to Christ, that open doors for words to be spoken, and that cause those outside of the church to ask about Jesus.

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