Mitt Romney voted yesterday to convict President Trump of abusing his power. (He voted to acquit the president on the charge of obstructing Congress.) While the president was acquitted on both charges, Romney became the first senator in US history to vote to convict a president from the same party in an impeachment trial.
In 1999, no Democratic senator voted to convict President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. In 1868, no Democrat voted to convict President Andrew Johnson.
My purpose today is not to respond personally or politically to the senator’s decision. Rather, it is to think biblically about the reaction to his action.
Many Republicans are voicing their displeasure at a decision they consider a betrayal of the senator’s party. Democrats are praising his courage in opposing a sitting president from his own party.
If the Republicans are right, Sen. Romney was wrong. If the Democrats are right, the Republicans are wrong.
None of this should surprise us.
“We must serve God rather than men”
The rancor on display during the president’s State of the Union address is still making news. Commentators have noted that President Trump did not shake Speaker Pelosi’s hand before the speech (he did not shake Vice President Pence’s hand, either). Speaker Pelosi’s ripping up of his speech afterwards has become a meme trending on social media.
A Washington Post columnist noted that the exterior of the House end of the Capitol was covered in plastic tarp and scaffolding for repairs, which seems symbolic of our times.
Divisions in Washington reflect deep divisions in our nation. Whether the subject is abortion, same-sex marriage, religious liberty, or a host of other issues, evangelical Christians hold very different positions from religiously unaffiliated Americans.
In this post-Christian culture, it is vital to remember that unity is not uniformity. God’s people have historically spoken boldly and courageously for biblical principles. Think of Moses demanding that Pharaoh release his people from slavery, or Nathan exposing David’s sin (2 Samuel 12:1–15), or Daniel warning Belshazzar of pending judgment (Daniel 5:17–23), or Peter and the apostles refusing the Sanhedrin’s demand that they cease preaching the gospel (Acts 5:27–32).
Their proclamation is our commitment: “We must serve God rather than men” (v. 29).
At the same time, we are required to speak graciously rather than abrasively, redemptively rather than defensively. When you and I “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” we are to do so “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15–16, my emphasis).
Behaving “with gentleness and respect” does not exempt us from opposition. Rather, it describes how we are to respond to it.
James Koester of the Society of St. John the Evangelist noted: “God’s gift of love to us in Jesus does not separate us from those who are different. It unites us, in one loving embrace. We forget that when we believe we are God’s favorite, to the detriment of all others.”
“Speaking the truth in love” must always be our commitment and example (Ephesians 4:15).
Chaotic times call for godly character
The continued partisan gridlock in Washington undermines our confidence in governance.
According to Pew Research Center, only 17 percent of Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (3 percent) or “most of the time” (14 percent). Lest we conclude that this problem is unique to the Trump administration, we should note that Americans reported the same percentage of trust in 2011 during the Obama administration. By contrast, 73 percent of Americans trusted the federal government in 1958 under President Eisenhower; 77 percent reported such trust in 1964 under President Johnson.
In addition, the debacle in the Iowa caucuses is likely to contribute to the continued erosion of America’s confidence in our electoral process.
Between 2000 and 2012, the number of Americans who said they were confident that our country’s vote was being counted fairly plunged from about 50 percent to 20 percent. Nearly three-quarters of Americans are worried about Russian meddling in our elections.
Faced with a pending crisis, Joseph pointed to God as the source of wisdom (Genesis 41:16), then led the Egyptian nation with wisdom (vv. 46–49) and grace (Genesis 50:19–21). As an exile in Babylon, Daniel demonstrated such “wisdom and understanding” that the king “made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon” (Daniel 1:20; 2:48).
God’s word is clear: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). When we choose integrity, our character positions us to be used by God (Proverbs 21:3) to draw others to him (Matthew 5:16).
“No king but King Jesus!”
Our culture is more rancorous and divided than at any time in my memory. But it is always too soon to give up on God.
When Jonah proclaimed the message God gave him for Nineveh (Jonah 3:1–4), “the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (v. 5).
When Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Dutch Reformed minister, began praying and working for spiritual awakening in colonial America, the resulting movement doubled church membership in New England and birthed hundreds of new churches. Americans’ newfound commitment to spiritual freedom led to their desire for political freedom, so that the motto of the Revolutionary War became, “No king but King Jesus!”
Scripture and history teach us that our omnipotent God uses courageous and godly Christians in chaotic times as catalysts for spiritual transformation.
Can he use you today?