I respect Peter Leithart a great deal and have read several of his books. His writings were actually a helpful part of my journey out of funda-gelicalism. Unfortunately, one can still detect the right-wing, culture-war-training, he no doubt received at Hillsdale as an undergrad. From this response, it doesn’t appear his political views have caught up to his education. Regardless, he is a true scholar, a man for all seasons as they say.
And this makes his rebuttal to Mark Galli’s editorial in Christianity Today, calling for Trump’s removal, all the more puzzling. Beyond puzzling, it is extremely disappointing as it lacks any depth of moral reason and is certainly questionable theologically.
Here are his main arguments:
- “For starters, there’s a difference between selecting a president and retaining him. Once a ruler is in power, the demands of Romans 13 kick in. We owe honor to whom honor is due, tribute to whom tribute. At times, we have to skate close to giving due to devils.”
This is a ridiculous argument. Romans 13 has nothing to do, whatsoever, with a modern democratic republic’s impeachment process or outcome. We can honor and give tribute to the office of the presidency and, at the same time, note that it has been dishonored by its holder. And in noting such, hold the person accountable.
Besides, in our day, the congress is a co- “ruler” alongside the presidency and the courts. One could just as easily argue we must give honor and tribute to the congress and respect their decision to impeach. Either way, anyone citing Romans 13 here hasn’t thought things through.
We do not live under an ancient form of kingship or divine right of rulers, whether by birth or military conquest. Thus, no, we do not have to “skate close” to the devils that under our system answer to laws, customs, institutions, other branches of government, and the people themselves. If we put the devil in, we (the congress as our representatives) can take the devil out.
Further, the suggestion here that once a ruler is, “in power,” that somehow this now gives them some sort of right to continue “ruling,” no matter their unfitness or actions, is absurd. It’s neither a biblical argument nor an ethical one.
Leithart tells us Trump is “no tyrant.” And, of course, we could reply: Only because he has been opposed and told otherwise! Regardless, it’s hardly a comforting assertion or defense. No doubt one of the underlying reasons Trump is being impeached is the fear he doesn’t understand his office, our form of government, and gives every appearance of wanting to be a tyrant.
- “[Impeachment] will embolden Democrats to pursue their agenda more aggressively. Remember what that agenda includes. The Democratic party provides a nurturing home for moral and social progressivism; it’s the party of abortion rights, of gay marriage, of a moral libertarianism that scorns the moral traditionalism of a significant sector of the American public.”
Do I need to point out that the Republican Party under Trump provides a nurturing home for racism, sexism, little regard for the poor, immigrants (children in cages), the environment, the “least of these,” and favors the rich? Do I need to point out they also appear to be under the spell of a Russian oligarchy/government that bears the US no good will? How is this better? Why should we embolden this?
Do I need to point out what while one party may despise evangelicals, the other treats them like useful idiots?
If one wants to go down that road, how about counseling evangelicals, or Christians in general, to not be taken captive by either party? Neither is a friend. And while one could make the case that many aspects of the Democratic party’s platform are more in line with a Judeo-Christian ethic than the Republican Party’s, we should keep a healthy distance from both.
Still, this misses the point entirely. Whether it is a Democrat president, Republican, Independent, conservative or progressive, if it becomes evident they are morally and intellectually unfit for the office and if they abuse that office, they should be removed—regardless of whether we think it hurts or helps us politically. My goodness, does this even need to be noted?
As to civil unrest, should we allow the mob to dictate our ethical (or any) decisions in these areas?
No matter if a pastor has an orthodox theology but is a moral failure, or if a CEO leads the company into greater profitability but is a social and legal disaster, whatever leadership one wants to speak of, we do not allow them to continue in such cases.
Outside the office of the presidency (which should require a lower threshold given its weight), Trump would have already been removed from any significant position of leadership, whether religious or secular, under the same circumstances of his clear unfitness and dereliction. Do I not state the obvious? I guess that’s where we are now.
This is not a Republican, Democrat, conservative, or progressive issue before us. This is a matter of decency and ethics. This is a matter of moral consistency, integrity and principle. This is not the time for evangelicals, for the first time in their political lives, to decide to become pragmatic Machiavellians.
Leithart makes an extremely poor case, whether of reason or theology, for keeping Trump in office. On balance, Galli makes the much better argument for Trump’s removal, mostly, because it’s a principled argument, not an expedient one.
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