Impeach a president? Check the Bible

Impeachment is the process by which an official of the government is charged with criminal action. Over 10% of the world’s nation have impeachment provisions.[1] The US Constitution established the process by which impeachment is conducted in the United States. Article One of the United States Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power of impeachment and the Senate the sole power to try impeachments. The Constitution defines impeachment at the federal level and limits impeachment to “The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States” who may be impeached and removed only for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”[2]

Impeachment in the United States is a two step process with the first step initiated by the House of Representatives which requires a majority vote to impeach. The second step is initiated by the US Senate and requires a 2/3 vote to approve, resulting in the removal from office. The US House of Representatives has voted to impeach two different presidents in its history, one for Andrew Johnson, and one for Bill Clinton. The US Senate did not reach a 2/3 majority to convict and remove either president from office. Nevertheless, their political power was substantially compromised as was their legacy.

Impeachment manifests itself in history only after the biblical canon was closed. The first impeachment occurred in the British political system in the latter half of the 14th century.[3] As a result, the Bible does not speak about impeachment directly but speaks about the behavior characterizing impeachment at length. The Bible was written over 1,400 years while history was dominated by the rule of monarchy. However, the ascent of the individual began to bloom almost 1,000 years ago.

The Magna Carta (1215) was instrumental in establishing the path to constitutional law and freedom against monarchical abuse of authority. It recognized the individual rights against monarchical rule. Samuel Rutherford, a Presbyterian minister, furthered the cause of freedom and individual rights when he wrote the seminal book “Lex, Rex” (The Law is King) in 1644. In essence, Rutherford wrote that the law is king and if the king and the government disobeyed the law, then they were to be disobeyed.

This understanding of law was predicated upon natural law as revealed in the Bible. Natural law comes from God’s general revelation of the world around us and is embedded in our conscience. The Declaration of Independence took another major step in preserving freedom and the rights of the individual against the state when Jefferson referenced “…the laws of nature and nature’s God.” He also recognized that man “was endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

It became clear that a body of work, derived form biblical teaching over hundreds of years, posited that both the law and individual rights came from God. God provides man an ordered legal system based upon good judges (Exodus 18:13-16, 23:1-8, and Deuteronomy 1:16-17, 19:15-21). God tells us in Micah 6:8,”…to act justly, and to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Finally, God established the three pivotal foundations of government in Isaiah 33:22, “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is He who will save us.” Of course, God will judge all those in rebellion as described in Acts 17:31.

It is clear that the American system of law was predicated upon natural law which provenance is derived from biblical revelation. In addition to understanding that leaders should be held accountable to biblical principles, it is useful to reflect on the individual’s responsibility when confronting leaders who rule apart from moral authority.

Romans 13:1-7 has historically been considered propositional truth (within western civilization) regarding the role of government in society and describes the relationship between the individual and the state. It says,” Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

Some biblical teachers incorrectly assert that Romans 13:1 commands the Christian to obey the government leaders in all circumstances and that rebellion against authority is wrong. This teaching is unsound as the Christian should resist evil leadership all the way up to and including rebellion. There is a biblical role for civil disobedience. It is right to hold leaders to the precepts of Judeo-Christian law, as well as, to break the law when there is a direct and specific conflict between God’s law and man’s law.

There are many Biblical passages that contradict the popular teaching that Romans 13:1 should impose compliance to the government by the Christian irrespective of the government’s moral behavior. Six major examples that illustrate civil disobedience on the part of God’s people include: Exodus 1 (with the Hebrew midwives not killing infant boys as they were commanded), Daniel 6 (with Daniel and King Darius) where the King issues a decree to pray only to him, Mark 6:18 (where John the Baptist criticized Herod for having his brother’s wife), Acts 4-5 (where Peter and John are commanded not to preach the gospel but did so anyway), Daniel 3 (with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar), and Revelation 13:13 (where we are told to resist the mark of the beast.)

Each of these examples has three elements in common. First, there was a direct and specific conflict between God’s law and man’s law. Second, in choosing to obey God’s higher law, the law-breakers paid the consequences of their disobedience. Third, God honored their disobedience. Finally, Romans 13:3 says “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” This passage would make no sense to the German Christian who believed that Romans 13:1 dictates compliance to rulers and who were under Hitler’s rule since Hitler did commit terror and did so against those who did right. The Romans 13:1 passage is clearly not teaching that Christians should be blindly obedient to corrupt rulers. The Bible does not teach that the Germans should have been submissive to Hitler in his evil rule. We are instructed to disobey all tyrants whether it is Hitler, Stalin, or any other ruler whose law opposes the teaching of Christ.

The Bible never teaches to obey evil or to obey Satan. We must obey God and resist Satan. Romans 13:1 teaches that we should obey our leaders only up to the point where their leadership does not violate God’s law. For those Christians that teach opposition to civil disobedience, there is a clear misunderstanding of the meaning of Rom 13:1.

Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great theologians of the 20th century, tried to assassinate Hitler after realizing that no one was going to stop Hitler. Hitler attempted to use Romans 13:1 to force church compliance with his evil plan. He even removed the cross from churches and placed a swastika in its place. The Barmen declaration of faith (which gave rise to the schismatic “Confessing church”) said the church would not be an organ of the state. Only 700 of 18,000 German Protestant pastors refused to comply with Hitler’s takeover of the church, for which many were arrested. No theologian of any merit would expect the Christian who is reading Romans 13:1 to cooperate with evil.

Abraham Kuyper, a theologian who became prime minister of the Netherlands in the early 1900’s, said: “When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin.” James 4:17 says “To him that knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin.” Bonhoeffer said “Silence in the face of evil, is itself evil.” George Washington also understood that human government is a “dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Those that teach blind obedience to corrupt leaders clearly misunderstand the intent of Romans 13:1.

Dr. Francis Schaeffer, another of the great 20th century theologians, said that when the ruler is “contrary to the Word of God, those who hold that office abrogate their authority and are not to be obeyed. And that includes the state. The state is a delegated authority to punish evil and protect the good. When it does the reverse, it has no proper authority. It is then a usurped authority and as such it becomes lawless and is tyranny.”[4]

Some Christians falsely teach that we should not rebel against authority. How could they therefore justify the American Revolution? The colonies were in rebellion against the British crown. Further, it is important to remember that the great heroes of the faith have spoken the truth to kings, often imperiling their own lives, e.g. Paul before King Agrippa, Daniel before King Nebuchadnezzar, Elijah before King Ahab, and others such as Esther, Joseph, Moses, Jeremiah, and other prophets. Christianity grew from the blood of martyrs that stood fast against evil. The history of Christianity is abundant with civil disobedience and the expression of opposition to unrighteous rule.

Proper interpretation of the Bible requires that the one verse must be understood in the context of all scripture. A text that is taken out of context is usually a pretext for false doctrine. If one passage does not harmonize with all of scripture, it is being interpreted wrongly.

The word “governing” in the Romans 13:1 passage is the Greek word huperecho, which translates to “morally better or excellent.” The word is NOT referring to the unrighteous leader. Paul is writing (in Romans 13:1) that the ruler is morally excellent or better. One must ask the question, why was Paul so frequently imprisoned and persecuted? It was because he was in rebellion against the religious and civil authorities that opposed his teaching. Advocates of passive obedience to authorities completely misunderstand Romans 13:1 as Paul himself was the model for disobedience. Jesus was righteously disobedient when confronting the moneychangers in the temple whereupon the chief priests and teachers of the law began conspiring to kill him. Peter was also similarly disobedient to the authorities.

James Willson wrote “The Establishment and Limits of Civil Government” in the 19th century where he examined the Christian’s role regarding government from a biblical perspective and concluded that the Christian must stand against unrighteous rule. Proverbs 29:2 states that when the wicked rule, the people groan. Powers are given by God to His agents to enforce His will and His laws, not those of Satan.

Governing authority is delegated to man to do His will. However, God has allowed Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Pilate to rule. God allows what “is” despite it not being what it ought to be. He permits evil but tells us to hate evil. God allows Satan to do certain things but commands us to resist Satan. Hosea 8:4 says “They set up kings without my consent, they choose princes without my approval.” How can it be that God permits evil?

The Augustinian theodicy is an argument that addresses the evidential problem of evil. The Augustinian theodicy maintains that God is perfectly good and not responsible for evil or suffering. He creates man as free creatures with moral agency who are responsible for their volitional actions. Evil, like love, is a choice of a free will agent. God may allow evil but is not the author of it. Those who are innocent of the evil perpetrated against them, and belong to God, can trust in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This may work out for their good in this life or the next. In any event, God still requires the believer to stand against evil in their free will decision. This includes civil disobedience against unrighteous rulers. This civil disobedience response may start with legal reform within the existing system to outright defiance of man’s law. Discernment from the Holy Spirit is essential in determining the right course of action. Similarly, impeachment is a last resort legal mechanism to discipline leaders who violate the law. It is both rare yet potentially necessary.

God may allow certain things but not approve of them as He is sovereign and His ways are beyond tracing out. Romans 13:3-4 says the ruler is God’s servant. It is inconceivable to assert that Satan is God’s servant, therefore this passage is referring to righteous leadership. God has ordained the role of civil government, but not so for evil rule. Similarly, God has ordained the family, but not so for sociological experimentation. Finally, God has ordained the church, but not so for heretical teaching. Resistance to tyranny that opposes biblical truth is therefore obedience to God.

It is clear that the Bible teaches that not all human authority should be obeyed. It is clear that history shows us (through the American Revolution and Nazi Germany, among other examples) that not all human authority should be obeyed. It is clear that great Christian teachers (Dr. Charles Stanley, Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, and others) believe that not all human authority should be obeyed. We are called to be salt and light in the world. It is only a superficial analysis that believes all human authority should be obeyed. Only leadership that aligns with God’s law deserves obedience. It is clear that any Christian teacher that promotes blind obedience to government authorities clearly does not understand the meaning of Romans 13:1.

We can see that the expression of individual rights against unjust authority has a long history. We can also see that the Bible teaches that civil disobedience is warranted against ungodly leaders. We can also see that the constitutional authority established by the founders of our nation (and based upon Judeo-Christian principles) embraced the possibility of removing leaders from office who opposed the law.

James Madison, widely considered as “the father of the Constitution” said, “…the aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous while they continue to hold their public trust.”[5]
For the first time in US history, a sitting US Attorney General has been cited for contempt of Congress regarding unresponsiveness to subpoena orders.[6] Clearly, there is something different about the hubris of a president who said about himself, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” It is this type of hubris that leads to dangerous excess.
An examination of whether impeachment is appropriate for our current president rests upon a number of questions. Some of those questions include:

Was the President involved in obstruction of justice, or criminal behavior, with respect to the IRS investigation, the Benghazi investigation, the Fast and Furious investigation, or others?

Was the President culpable in not enforcing laws that the executive branch is charged with enforcing, e.g., DOMA, etc.?

Was the President in violation of Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution which calls for the President to protect states from foreign invasion? (and other decisions not to enforce the security of our borders).

Was the President in violation of the separation of powers by means of ongoing and defiant unilateral executive actions, e.g, Obamacare, EPA regulations, etc.? Of course, there is the collection of well-known lies about Obamacare that may not violate the law but clearly reflect ethical failures.

Was the President’s Department of Justice guilty of illegal race based policies regarding voter fraud as exposed by former Justice attorney J. Christian Adams? This includes the dropping of voter intimidation charges against two Black Panthers brandishing weapons in front of a voting location in Philadelphia and the stated intention by political appointees to ignore voter crimes committed by African Americans, Latinos and other minorities.

As the impeachment process begins in the House of Representatives and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, has said that “We have no plans to impeach the president,” Boehner told reporters in Washington, adding quickly that “we have no future plans” either. Boehner has decided instead to pursue a lawsuit against the President that a majority of constitutional scholars agree will be rejected by the courts due to the lack of legal standing to bring such a lawsuit.

Psalm 9:15-18 says “The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden. The LORD is known by his justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands. The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God. But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.”

This analysis has shown that a proper understanding of biblical truth confirms that Americans should consider civil disobedience with respect to unrighteous executive actions taken by our President. It has also shown that constitutional provisions exist for impeachment and begin with a vote of the House of Representatives. It is apparent that the Speaker of the House regards this decision as a political decision, not a moral or legal decision. As politics is downstream from culture and moral relativism is the zeitgeist of the culture, it appears probable that desultory investigations will continue on the road to nowhere and the prospects of defending the constitution will take a back seat to indifference and cowardice. At a time when moral clarity is required to resolve significant constitutional threats, we are finding that neither our leaders, nor our people, are up to the challenge. Israeli politician Abba Eban may have been prophetic when he said (often misattributed to Winston Churchill)[7] “Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources.” Let us hope such optimism eventuates within the people of our nation. Let us also hope that our representative leaders are emboldened to pursue the foregoing investigations with fervor and purpose to reveal the truth so that the impeachment chips will fall where they may.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment
[2] U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment
[4] Francis Schaeffer. A Christian Manifesto. Good News Publishing, 1981. p.91
[5] Federalist No. 57. James Madison
[6] http://beforeitsnews.com/terrorism/2014/05/obama-puts-holder-in-contempt-of-congress-first-ag-in-history-2448652.html
[7] http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/11/11/exhaust-alternatives/

2 thoughts on “Impeach a president? Check the Bible

  1. Diane Wilkerson

    It’s possible to agree with the entire premise of the article and still disagree with the conclusion. Social, political, and even Christian public dialog of the day seems all about “gotcha” or the goal to “gethca”. What could happen if Christian leaders stood up, brother and sister, shoulder to shoulder, and spoke of peace and understanding, compromise and love. It’s all about what the other person or party did wrong. How about lifting up what is right and good. Gary Lyons speaks of our losing young people by the thousands from the body of Christ because they think its much hypocrisy. They don’t understand how we can claim to be Christians and talk so much about punishment, wrong, retribution and retaliation. Impeaching the President may be doable, but does it make it wise for the whole body to take the country down that road. Someone, stand up and in the name of God, talk peace and love. The future of Christianity as we learned it and knew it is at stake.

    Reply
    1. Brad Hughes

      It is worth noting that the paramount attribute of Christ is His holiness. It doesn’t matter whether young people abandon Christ because “they think it is much hypocrisy.” There are many people in hell who claim that Christianity is hypocrisy. Their opinion does not matter. What matters is His truth. It is also important to remember that Christ divides. He divides time (B.C vs. A.D.). He divides families (Matt. 10:34). He divides right from wrong (Luke 17:3). He divides light from darkness (John 3:19). He divides life from death (1 John 5:11-12). Our founders knew the importance of His teaching. They knew the importance of right and wrong. A President that defiantly commits wrong neither honors biblical truth nor honors the spirit and the intent of the Constitution. The future of Christianity is in good hands, not because man has any influence on it but because Christ is sovereign and His will shall be accomplished. He is not frustrated by man. Many people think too much of man and too little of God. It is time to reset priorities and choose wisely this day whom we shall serve. Joshua 24:15 confirms, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

      Reply

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