The Impeachment Trial, Coronavirus, and Best Reads of the Week
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
With the End in Sight
The impeachment trial went as expected. The House managers and the President’s defense made their cases, the Senators asked questions, and the motion to hear from more witnesses failed by two votes, 51-49. For all the ups and downs of the week, new news from John Bolton’s book manuscript, the posturing of different factions, and the marshalling of various arguments in the Senate chamber and on Twitter, the President looks to be on course for acquittal when the Senate votes Wednesday. Support and opposition for impeachment have remained steady throughout the trial, and since October, Americans have cooled on impeachment. Slightly more Americans thought Trump should be impeached, but fewer believe he should be removed.
One interesting development is how many of the accusations being lobbed across the political aisle are exactly the same on both sides. Americans are mad about the same issues, but view them differently. Both sides think the other is dishonest. Everyone believes this process is destroying the democratic system. Both sides believe this was a sham trial. Everyone has quoted Alexander Hamilton. Both expect more from our elected officials. Both believe the other side will cheat in the election.
This highlights two important developments in American politics. First, people care less about the facts and more about their political affiliations. We have to remember that there are answers to a lot of these questions. Did Adam Schiff coordinate with the whistleblower? Did Trump tell Bolton to hold up the aid until Ukraine announced an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma? Was there evidence of corruption in Ukraine? Did Ukraine interfere in 2016? Is there more information that is being hidden? As Christians, we have to remember that the truth matters, and not just someone’s curated version of the truth; facts matter. At the same time, some of these questions are matters of opinion. What is an impeachable offense? What are the limits of presidential authority? What was Trump’s intention with Ukraine? These questions have mainly been decided by political affiliation.
Second, when two groups charge each other with the same offense, the root issue is power, not the facade. This is a power struggle of epic proportions, and we are watching it play out in the institutions of the United States government, among the people of America, and in our own hearts. We want power over our opponents. What are we willing to do to get it? What lengths are we willing to go to in order to keep it?
Nothing is ever certain in the political future, but Trump will likely be acquitted Wednesday, and each side will repeat their talking points - and some of them will be absolutely right - but the acquittal will deliver the presidency back to the people. Trump’s behavior and leadership and the Democrats’ charges and machinations will be weighed and judged in November, in the ballot box, by the American people. And that’s the way it should be.
Stories to follow:
The coronavirus continues to spread. The WHO and HHS Secretary Alex Azar have declared the virus a public health emergency. Nearly 18,000 cases have been reported and almost 400 deaths from the virus that began in Wuhan, China but has spread to over 50 countries. The city has now been quarantined, air travel has been cut off from China, and the reverberations are being felt across the globe. The connection of the modern world makes the potential of an epidemic more likely, and the spread of false information has outpaced the virus. Within weeks, cases of the virus were identified across the world. Hopefully this connection will also fuel a rapid response to contain the spread and produce medical advances to limit the death toll. Compared to the yearly flu outbreaks, the impact of the new coronavirus is still relatively small, but misinformation and the lack of standard medical procedures and hygiene guidelines have caused the threat of an international pandemic to loom.
Willow Creek confessed to more negligence in handling cases of sexual abuse. This time it’s Gilbert Bilezikian, a mentor of Bill Hybels and a popular teacher and theologian. The elders confirmed in a public statement that even after complaints had been heard, Bilezikian was allowed to serve and teach, without any public communication about his sinful actions or the limitations imposed by the Elder Response Team. Sadly, Willow Creek has handled every step of this process poorly. They initially defended Hybels, suppressed and intimidated victims, and refused to stand up to their founding pastor. Since then, both of Hybels’ successors and all of their elders have resigned. For many years Willow was an example of how to build a great church, for those still watching, Willow now serves as an example of how to destroy a great church. We know that God can work good out of evil. Let’s hope their example leads to more transparency, purity, accountability, and godly leadership in churches across the world.
The Church of England stood firm on biblical sexuality; now it's archbishops are apologizing. In 2019 the church issued pastoral guidelines on civil partnerships, same-sex marriage, and sexual activity. With regard to same-sex partnerships, the church was solidly biblical and historical; “The Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged. For Christians, marriage – that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity.” But this week, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, issued an apology for the hurt and division the statement caused. Despite making this apology, the bishops did not contradict or retract the pastoral guidance. As pressure continues to mount, it will be instructive to see how the bishops react. For now, the Church of England remains, albeit apologetically, to a biblical understanding of sexuality and marriage.
The President will give the State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The speech is expected to highlight Trump’s accomplishments and sound a message of optimism for America’s future. If the address avoids impeachment and Trump casts a vision of hope and progress, that won’t just be a win for Republicans, that will be a win for the nation.
Two new books, one by Vox founder Ezra Klein and the other by journalist Christopher Caldwell, tell the story of America’s division. Klein focuses on the psychological and political realities of polarization while Caldwell focuses on the historical process of division. I’m looking forward to reading both books. Sullivan does more than summarize their arguments, he appraises and applies them, and the conclusion is less than encouraging. For all the various assessments of American polarization, few know what to do about it. This is the measure of great leadership, and this is where I believe America is lacking in 2020. Average leaders summarize the past, great leaders shape the future. Sullivan highlights our need for great leadership to move America forward.
“What Does it Mean to ‘Act Like a Man’ in 1 Corinthians 16:13” - Denny Burk
In the last chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul tells the church leaders to be strong and to act like men. But this has become a troubling text, not just culturally, but in the pulpit and in the church. What did Paul mean when he said that? In the Greek, he uses a rare, but straightforward term that Burk interprets through a double meaning: be strong and act like an adult. It’s impossible to escape the fact that the Bible teachers there are differences between men and women. Sometimes those differences are difficult to nail down. Burk walks through a helpful survey of this text and of one of Paul’s most mysterious words of encouragement.
“Old People Have All the Interesting Jobs in America” - Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg
This is a fascinating point: in a world that says the most interesting jobs are had by 25 year olds with computer science degrees wearing t-shirts to work in Silicon Valley, Tyler Cowen says the most interesting jobs require wisdom, age, and experience. This is not just a nod to age over beauty, it’s an encouragement to every young person that experience matters. Variety, failure, experience, and delayed gratitude all lead to wisdom.
“Hell Will Not Unsettle Heaven” - David Mathis, Desiring God
Hell and wrath are two of the more difficult doctrines in Christianity. And, What about the people I love who don’t know Christ? Is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Mathis displays amazing compassion in this article as he walks through what the Bible says about Hell, God’s wrath, and those who don’t know Christ. These questions should unsettle us, but resources like this help us to see God’s plan, his wisdom, and his goodness.