Elizabeth Lynne Cheney has represented Wyoming in the US House of Representatives since 2017. The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, she chaired the House Republican Conference, the third-highest position in House Republican leadership, and was presumably on a path to serve as Speaker of the House someday.
Then, after the January 6 assault on the US Capitol, Cheney supported the second impeachment of President Donald Trump. In July 2021 she was chosen for the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack and was named its vice chair two months later.
As a result of her opposition to the former president, she was defeated last night in a landslide, losing the Republican primary to Harriet Hageman, a political newcomer who was endorsed by Trump.
Cheney won election in 2020 with more than 68 percent of the vote. However, President Trump won Wyoming that same year with more than 70 percent of the vote. When Cheney later stood against Trump, many Republicans in her state felt forced to choose between the two. The result was the end of what the New York Times called “the Cheneys’ two-generation dynasty in Wyoming.”
This is the nature of democracy. After the US won the Persian Gulf War in 1991, President George H. W. Bush’s approval rating surged to 90 percent. The next year, he lost reelection to Bill Clinton. After the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, Winston Churchill was likely the most popular British prime minister of all time with an approval rating of 83 percent. Two months later, he lost reelection in a landslide.
In a democratic political system, the voters have the last word. This fact makes for representative governance, but it is also indicative of a deeper issue I’ve been exploring lately.
“He is the greatest enigma”
I am reading Thomas S. Kidd’s new work, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh. Kidd, a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University and one of the most insightful evangelical scholars of our time, describes his book as “a narrative of Jefferson’s moral universe more than a traditional biography.”
To that end, while he calls our third president “a genius of rhetoric and one of the greatest writers in world political history,” Kidd also says of Jefferson, “among the Founding Fathers he is the greatest enigma—and the greatest source of controversy.”
For example, he asks, “How could the author of the Declaration of Independence keep hundreds of human beings in bondage? How could he carry on a long-standing sexual relationship with one of his bondspeople, who was also his dead wife’s half sister?”
Kidd observes, “For all his blazing intellect and inspired rhetoric, Jefferson held a host of beliefs and inclinations that were unreconciled, and maybe irreconcilable.” He adds, “The dissonance between stated belief and practiced reality is perhaps more acute for Jefferson than any other American, ever.”
If I refuse to step onto an airplane
This “dissonance between stated belief and practiced reality” may be especially “acute” for Jefferson, but I am wondering if it is also a continuing consequence of the society Jefferson helped create.
When Gallup asked Americans, “Do you believe in God?” 92 percent said they did. But roughly half that number—47 percent—have taken the most basic practical step in response to such “faith” by joining a church, synagogue, or mosque. Only 47 percent of Americans believe abortion is morally acceptable, but 72 percent say “the decision about whether to have an abortion should belong solely to the pregnant woman.”
If I told you that I believed in medicine but refused to see a doctor, or claimed that I have full confidence in air travel but refused to step onto an airplane, you might note a similar “dissonance between stated belief and practiced reality.”
What is the root of this dissonance?
The American democratic experiment was birthed in the European Enlightenment. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Immanuel Kant identified enlightenment as “the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act.” As Jefferson famously declared, the founding truths of our national independence are “self-evident.”
If I can decide for myself “what to believe and how to act,” I can also decide whether to act on what I believe (as with faith in God vs. church membership). And I must grant you the same freedom (as with the morality of abortion vs. the right to abortion).
“There’s something about his eyes and his voice”
In contrast to American individualism and consumeristic autonomy, we are exploring this week the biblical mandate, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This countercultural command transforms us from consumers into worshipers and from voters into disciples. It calls us to ask of everything we think, say, and do, not “How will this benefit me?” but “How will this glorify God?”
The paradoxical consequence is that the more we live for God rather than for ourselves, the more we position ourselves to experience God’s best for our lives. As wise King Solomon noted, “The fear of the Lᴏʀᴅ is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 15:33).
To that end, I’ll close with a reflection from one of my favorite writers and theologians.
Frederick Buechner passed away Monday night at his home in Rupert, Vermont, at the age of ninety-six. Buechner wrote novels, essays, and personal memoirs that deeply touched my mind and heart with his artistry and authenticity.
In Wishful Thinking, Buechner noted, “It is as impossible for man to demonstrate the existence of God as it would be for even Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate the existence of Arthur Conan Doyle.” But we can do better than logical proofs: “A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross—the way he carries me.’”
Is Christ carrying you today?
How will you glorify him for such grace?
NOTE: For more on practical ways to trust God for his best, see my latest website article, “A ‘limited’ nuclear war would starve millions of people.”