Accountability Is a Prerequisite for Healing | Sojourners

Accountability Is a Prerequisite for Healing

The U.S. Capitol stands as Democratic lawmakers draw up an article of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Jan. 11, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

I have been filled with a divine rage since armed insurrectionists, instigated by the president, violently sieged our Capitol last week. There must be accountability. In one move toward that, 10 Republicans joined all 222 House Democrats in voting that President Donald Trump incited an insurrection. He is now the only U.S. president to be impeached twice. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and the nine other Republicans who joined her described their vote to impeach as a vote of “conscience.” Invoking that word made me think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s wisdom:

Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right.

Many Republican leaders will invoke Dr. King on Monday but I wish more of them had considered his words before voting on impeachment. King’s vision of beloved community is the antithesis of the dystopian vision of “Make America Great Again.” While the 10 Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment should have interrogated their conscience much sooner, I’m grateful that they voted at great political and personal risk. Their actions send a clear message that this is not a vengeful partisan exercise. It’s now on Republican senators to vote their conscience to convict Trump. As Cheney said, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Many on the Right have argued that an impeachment only inflames political divisions in a time we need to heal and move forward as a nation. But this disingenuous argument ignores the past four years of Republicans’ complicity in Trump’s politics of division, fear, hatred, and vitriol, which culminated in the dangerous lie that the election was stolen due to widespread voter fraud. It is impossible to separate the insurrection from that lie — and from the Republicans who perpetuated it for months. Where were the calls for unity in November? Where were they after courts at every level, including those led by Trump nominees, ruled against the baseless claims of widespread fraud? Conscience should have motivated Republican politicians then to speak the truth, even at political cost. Rather, their appeasement of the president’s anti-democratic efforts to disenfranchise Americans helped pave the way to last week’s insurrection. In his powerful remarks condemning the armed insurrection, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said it best:

The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden — and the duty — of leadership. The truth is that President-elect Biden won this election. President Trump lost.

As Jim Wallis and I wrote last week, we believe that Trump poses a clear and present danger. His words and behavior on Jan. 6, and the months leading up to it, incited a mob that resulted in the death of five people and could have killed so many more, including members of Congress and the vice president. This is an impeachable offense. While impeachment will not remove the immediate threat since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is adamant about beginning a trial after the inauguration, it is essential to our nation’s future to bar Trump from ever again holding public office and weaken his grip on the Republican Party. Accountability through impeachment sends a needed message that no one is above the law and the Constitution, even a president in his final days in office. It shows that a president and his enablers cannot directly undermine and incite attacks on our democracy without consequence.

Trumpism is rooted in the lie that some people are more valuable than others, and by extension, that some people are more American than others. Of course, this is not new, given our nation’s long struggle with the demons of white supremacy and nationalism. But Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results are new and must never become a precedent. We must reject the dangerous false equivalency that many Republican politicians are making between the largely peaceful protests over the summer against systemic racism and the violent insurrection at the Capitol seeking to overturn an election. Only by telling the truth, by lamenting and confessing the ways our nation has not lived up to its ideals, and by demanding justice and accountability can we truly move forward with urgent work of healing and transformation.

This moment of conscience should not be limited to members of Congress. It calls all of us into courageous witness. Healing our nation’s deep divides and wounds from the longstanding cancer of white supremacy requires that all of us exercise conscience over expediency. It requires greater conscience from the private sector. Hallmark, Walmart, and many other companies have withdrawn financial support to members who voted in favor of decertifying the vote. That’s a good start. Healing requires all of us to have more courageous conversations with family members, coworkers, and fellow congregants who have been swayed by or are captive to Trump’s lies. It requires that pastors call for repentance from those who enabled and propped up this president. It requires repentance from everyone who downplayed the risk Trump posed to our nation or who didn’t speak or act against it. For followers of Christ, healing requires speaking out against the alarming resurgence of white Christian nationalism — a false gospel and dangerous perversion of the Christian faith that has helped fuel Trump and contributed to the armed insurrection.

For Christians, a call to conscience must originate from our commitment to Christian discipleship. As Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Built into the DNA of Sojourners is a commitment to serve both as a prophetic witness and a bridge builder for the common good. But accountability must be a prerequisite for opening the door to bridge-building. White supremacy and domestic terrorism must be rejected and condemned. There is no room to compromise or equivocate.

It has long been a mantra that there is no lasting peace without a commitment to justice. Similarly, there can be no deep and lasting reconciliation without a commitment to justice. Justice requires accountability for wrongdoing and evil actions. In his letter to the Roman church, the Apostle Paul prescribes two fundamental roles for government, which are to restrain evil and to promote the common good (Romans 12). Failures to restrain — and punish — evil throw sand in the gears of pursuing and realizing the common good. The prophets also said it was imperative to name and confront evil: “And I will punish the world for [their] evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible" (Isaiah 13:11). As hard as it can be, we can and must love our enemies while also working to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

As we enter the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, we must remember and live out his words that “Peace is not just the absence of tension, but is the presence of justice.” We should heed Pope Paul V’s injunction, “If you want peace work for justice.” We must all pray against the worst demons of our nation and for our better angels at the soul of our nation. I invite you to join Sojourners and a broad cross section of Christian denominations and leaders who are praying and acting for peace between now and the inauguration. With 20,000 National Guard troops stationed in Washington, D.C., and real threats being made on state capitols around the country, prayers and action for peace with justice can serve as a vital way to foster healing in the critical days and months ahead. You can learn more at


On Sunday, Jan. 17, we invite clergy to preach and post their sermons using the hashtag #PeaceWithJustice, remembering King’s vision of the beloved community and insistence that “Peace is not just the absence of tension, but is the presence of justice.”


On Monday, Jan. 18, a 24-hour prayer vigil will begin, organized by local congregations. Share your prayers online with the hashtag #PeaceWithJustice.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19 from 7-8:30 p.m. EST, we will host a virtual prayer service. Ecumenical church leaders will offer their prayers for #PeaceWithJustice in our nation on the eve of the inauguration. You can RSVP here.


On Wednesday, Jan. 20, we encourage you to publicly mark the inauguration beginning at 11 a.m. EST via tweetstorm, sharing comments, testimonies, and commitments on Twitter — all with the hashtag #PeaceWithJustice. We hope this tweetstorm will help change the narrative leading up to the inauguration ceremony, calling for peace with justice even amid the threat of violence.

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