Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Least Worst Option

With Christmas over for another year, it’s time for the usual abrupt swerve.

Christianity Today’s December 19 online edition contains an editorial unambiguously entitled “Trump Should Be Removed from Office”, in which Mark Galli takes aim at the President of the United States. I managed to miss it until now. Adam Ford did not.

While Galli’s strong stand will surely generate serious pushback from more than a few of his readers (after all, the president won 81% of the evangelical vote in 2016), CT’s editor-in-chief had already announced his upcoming retirement early in 2020. Thus, it will fall to Galli’s successor to manage whatever fallout his political posturing may produce.

Forget the Nuance …

There is nothing particularly nuanced about Galli’s position. A few choice quotes from the editorial:
The facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”

“Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”

Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?”
There is much, much more. So much so that I wouldn’t even attempt to fisk it all.

CT was founded by Billy Graham in 1956, though Graham had not been involved with the magazine for many years prior to his death. His son Franklin responded to Galli’s editorial by telling the New York Times, “My father would be embarrassed,” and tweeting that “Christianity Today has been used by the left for their political agenda.” He also shared (for the first time) that his father voted for Donald Trump.

So there’s that. Take it for whatever it is worth.

Those Unambiguous Facts

There are many glaring logical, factual, and argumentative flaws in Galli’s editorial, but one of the greatest is his categorical statement that “the facts in this instance are unambiguous.” The level of naivety evidenced by such brisk confidence is more than a little embarrassing. It has all the plausibility of “The science is SETTLED!”

In fact, these so-called “facts” are about as ambiguous as it’s possible for facts to be. Whatever has come out of the dog-and-pony-show put on by the Democrats in Congress, and whatever may come out of any future Republican Senate proceedings in response, the one thing we can guarantee is this: we will never get all the facts. We are getting non-stop partisan spin on both sides, both in the process itself and in the reporting thereof. We are getting lies stacked on misinformation, manipulation, prevarications, perjury and escapist fantasy. Anyone who has not already observed this is best off staying light years away from political commentary.

Even the questions asked by Democrats conducting the so-called “hearings” were carefully contrived to produce answers that fit their pre-scripted narrative, unlike in a court of law, where leading questions must be restated in order to allow the witnesses to answer without prompting and in their own words. If ever there was a time for Christian public figures to reserve judgment and proceed cautiously in making rash and unsupported public statements, this would be it.

Need we remind Mr. Galli that “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him”? Since only one side of the case was presented in the congressional hearings, the soundest and most biblical approach is to wait until the President testifies, the Senate deliberates, and the matter has been formally concluded before publicly weighing in — assuming of course that a satisfactory conclusion is even possible in this political climate. That has yet to be demonstrated.

Loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments

Next, we get this equally confident and vastly more unsupportable assertion: “That [President Trump] should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.” I loathe the practice of invoking the Lord’s name to make a personal opinion appear more authoritative, as if moral posturing constitutes some sort of meaningful argument. It irritates me even when the opinion is arguably correct. It bugs me a whole lot more when it is dead wrong.

In fact, the Powers That Be always acquire their positions as a result of God’s sovereign choice. “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” This is true regardless of their character. It is true whether we elect them or whether they simply announce themselves as dictator. And while there are certainly very clear, moral qualifications for Christian leaders in homes and churches spelled out for us in the New Testament, no such moral restrictions on human character constrain our God in allowing or even imposing secular leadership on the governments of the nations. Let’s get real: the “Creator of the Ten Commandments” sent the prophet Elisha to anoint the wicked Hazael to be king over Syria. This anointing was not conditioned on Hazael keeping God’s commandments; in fact, the man had to murder his predecessor to fulfill Elisha’s prophecy. The Creator of the Ten Commandments called the unscrupulous and violent Nebuchadnezzar “my servant”. He instructed the Gentile Christians through the apostle Peter to be obedient to emperors and governors. Many of these, history tells us, were spectacularly vile individuals.

Loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments demands we respect God’s choices. Even the mysterious ones. Maybe especially those.

God will do what he will do, and we cannot presume to judge him in that. It is for this reason that David rightly refused to put his hand on “God’s anointed”, even though Saul was a wicked, foolish and often uncontrollable man. By the lofty standards of personal impeccability Mr. Galli requires, I have to assume he would gleefully have impeached King David himself. So tell me, would you rather have Absalom, or Sheba, son of Bichri? Because in this political climate, I can assure you that you won’t get to keep Mike Pence ... at least, not for long.

Free to Obey Conscience

The Christian in a democracy is of course always free to vote his conscience and to share his opinion about how he arrived at his conclusion with others. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s certainly fine for Mr. Galli to make his case that all Americans ought to have voted the same way he did, or that the Senators who now control the President’s fate should see his actions in the same light as Galli does. What is absurd is presuming that God shares his opinion. The scriptures simply do not make personal character and sexual history the measure of a man’s fitness to occupy an earthly position of power. They just don’t. Other factors known only to the Divine Mind are always in play, and we need to respect that and dial back the pious indignation a notch or two. Throughout the last few thousand years, God has allowed and even deliberately chosen some horrendous people to lead the kingdoms of this world. To oppose them then would have been to oppose God.

I am curious what exactly has changed.

This being the case, then, if Mr. Trump’s marital infidelities or hysterical tweets are at all relevant to a choice made either at the voting booth or in the Senate, I suggest they are relevant a good way downstream from, say, his creditable performance on the abortion issue, which has terrified feminists and progressives shaking in their boots. Priorities, folks, please.

With a Straight Face

And speaking of abortion, let’s deal with the final bit of Galli bizarreness, in which he actually asks (presumably with a straight face himself), “Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?”

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes … if indeed we must be forced to make such an absurd choice at all. The abortion industry is an apocalyptically wicked conspiracy, affecting literally tens of millions of unborn human beings in the U.S. and sullying the consciences of tens of millions of foolish, deceived women and their diabolic enablers. We can say it is a great evil that cannot be tolerated, and do so honestly, even if we were horrible people ourselves, and doing horrible things. Truth is truth, wherever one finds it.

But let’s be realistic: NO ONE is saying that the “bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end.” OF COURSE it matters. It matters to President Trump, who will account for his character and actions to God. It matters to the wives he has cheated on and the wives he has cheated with, if he has. It matters to his children, to their families, and to the families of those involved in his infidelities, I’m sure. It matters to the men who imitated his example and the women they mistreated. All that matters in the end. Of course it does.

But does it matter as much as abortion, or starting and perpetuating more useless wars in the Middle East, or any other major issue affecting the lives of millions of Americans? Please, don’t be a moron. Sheer scale has to factor in here somewhere, as do piles of dead bodies.

Infidelity bad. Abortion worse. Millions of abortions, much worse. Not complicated.

At the Voting Booth, or in the Senate

A Christian does not have to like President Trump to vote for him, or to hope and pray that these impeachment proceedings end with him still in office. Some Republican Senators may decide to vote their consciences, either for or against the President. Others may conclude President Trump may indeed be guilty of the things he is charged with, but decline to remove him from office anyway. That will be between them and God. There is still the matter of whether what the President is alleged to have done even violates the U.S. Constitution, which Galli insists upon, but I have yet to see any effort to demonstrate. There is also the matter of how the President’s motives are to be assessed: was he really just trying to sabotage a political opponent for personal gain, or is it remotely possible that in his role as as Head of State, in keeping with his promise to “drain the swamp” and hamstring the Deep State, he was seeking to reopen a legitimate investigation into criminal acts committed abroad by the former Vice-President and his son? I do not hear any public discussion about that aspect of things, and you can be sure the Democrats would prefer the subject not be raised in the Senate.

In any case, nobody involved is being asked to choose between perfect and awful. They are being asked to choose between awful and much, much awfuller.

Given that reality, what is required of Christian Americans at this juncture in history is not virtue signaling, error-filled arguments and empty rhetoric, either for President Trump or against him, but simply quietly holding their noses and choosing the least worst option available to them. If they cannot do that, declining to do anything at all will serve just fine.

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