"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)" These iconic and often quoted words by Jesus are desperately needed and offer a vital antidote in this impeachment moment. The truth can be hard. The truth can be elusive and inconvenient, particularly in these hyper-partisan and polarized times. Seeking and defending the truth often requires courage and sacrifice. But Jesus still offers timeless, good news — the truth will set us free.
With today’s House vote to impeach President Trump, not only will the president likely be on trial in the Senate in January, but truth itself and the integrity of our faith will be on trial. That is why this is a moment in which our prayers are also desperately needed. Because while truth is on trial in the weeks ahead, it’s not at all clear that the truth will prevail in this process.
I have often repeated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote that “the church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” This conscience is needed as our nation enters into only the third impeachment trial in our history. At its best, the church is one of the few places left in which people can come together across our growing partisan and political divide. The church should be a space in which we can engage in genuine prayer for our political leaders and real dialogue about how to best pursue the common good. The health of our democracy depends on it.
Many Americans have become numb to the impeachment process, while others have watched and interpreted it purely through a partisan lens rather than seeking a moral lens. So why should we care, particularly as followers of Christ? We should care because ethics in politics matter. We need rule of law, transparent processes, and service for the common good rather than for individual gain. We need these things because they form the lifeblood of a healthy democracy that can generate living wage jobs, affordable and accessible health care, schools where all students can thrive, criminal justice reform, bold leadership to address our climate crisis, and so much more. Embracing or tolerating lies and the abuse of power undermine a more just and equitable society and will lead us down a vicious cycle toward further polarization and, at worst, a fascist and imperial state.
When in the midst of a Senate trial, will our nation and our political leaders seek and defend the truth, or will they propagate falsehoods?
The challenge is that an impeachment is not a traditional trial; it is first and foremost a political process that can suffer from the vagaries of our broken politics. And based on Sen. Mitch McConnell’s public admission that he is colluding with the White House around the rules for the trial, the chances of a trial being robust and fair seem slim. And that matters, because this process is about more than just the charges this president is facing; it is also about the institution of the presidency, the strength of three co-equal branches of government, and the ability of Congress and the Judiciary to hold any elected official, including the president, accountable for wrongdoing or corruption.
We can respect a diversity of Christian opinion around whether impeachment is the necessary and only remedy to the president’s actions and whether the president’s offenses rise to the constitutional level of "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But what I can’t understand or respect are direct efforts to subvert the truth, deflect attention, and defend the indefensible.
By and large Republicans in the House have pursued a strategy of see no evil, hear no evil. They have largely refused to rebut the serious evidence of two charges against President Trump and instead have worked tirelessly to tarnish and discredit the credibility of the process, claiming that it is a witch hunt and sham. Instead of admitting any wrongdoing on the part of the president, their strategy has relied upon obfuscation, falsehoods and distraction. Unfortunately, these tactics have proven to be largely effective due to our polarized politics and the ways in which we consume information and news. But we shouldn’t tolerate the direct promotion of proven falsehoods that are meant for distraction and confusion. Republican surrogates who promulgate discredited conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s meddling in the 2016 election or who try to equivocate then-Vice President Joe Biden’s efforts to combat corruption in Ukraine with President Trump’s attempt to bribe a foreign ally to investigate his political rival are committing moral and political malpractice. We can’t afford to be numbed or desensitized by the partisan nature of this process.
Both sides have tried to appeal to our nation’s and the other side’s conscience. For those who question whether impeachment is necessary, they must provide an adequate answer on how else President Trump would be held accountable for potential wrongdoing, particularly in light of the absolute loyalty that he demands and fear that Republicans hold toward his control of the base.
Dr. King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which he wrote responding to the criticism of moderate white religious leaders while in jail and was released on Good Friday, 1963, offers some relevant wisdom. In the letter King writes, “I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
A handful of exceptions notwithstanding, I’m most disappointed that Republicans have by and large capitulated to the president’s demand that they pretend as though there was nothing wrong with both his phone call and his administration’s month-long actions leading up to it. Based on the existing evidence that has been provided by both career civil servants and Trump political appointees, we already have sufficient evidence to conclude that the president did engage in an effort to pressure a vulnerable ally to announce publicly an investigation into his political rival and used a meeting at the White House and the release of military aid as leverage. We can’t simply ignore that this happened, or pretend that it’s not ultimately that serious because he was caught before the scheme could be fully successful due to a whistleblower complaint. This is a moment in which appalling silence around these transgressions will buttress the status quo and undermine the safeguards in our democracy. That is why both prayer and courageous conversations are so vital in this moment. We can agree to disagree in prayer. We can then engage in civil discourse that is centered on an honest and genuine effort to seek the truth and act on our best sense of morality rather than pure party loyalty. Our shared identity in Christ should supersede every other loyalty or affiliation, including party.
In this moment of deep division and political peril, we are asking you to pray for our democracy to be protected and for truth to be revealed. Please join us in sending an email to your senators letting them know you are committing to pray for them and our country during this trial, asking that they would seek and defend the truth and act on the courage of their conscience.
Perhaps it is fitting that the House hearings took place in the season of Advent. In this season of waiting with hopeful expectation, Mary offers some timely encouragement and prophetic wisdom in her Magnificat, a song of praise found in Luke 1: 46-56. Mary captures Jesus’ core purpose as both our coming Lord and liberator, proclaiming that “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” These words predict and proclaim Jesus’ radical commitment to justice, including by comforting the afflicted and afflicting those who abuse their power. The Magnificat calls for both humility and courage, which are both desperately needed.
Dr. King also once said “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?'” Is what transpired right? I hope and pray you will join us in seeking and defending the truth and faithfully embracing the call to serve as our nation’s conscience.