Integrity in the political arena is rare. Regardless of facts or circumstances, people so instinctively align with their party or “tribe” that many Americans have become nearly indifferent to critical thought or the search for truth. This is partly why Christianity Today editor Mark Galli’s December 19th editorial supporting the impeachment of President Donald Trump ignited much controversy. Few would have predicted such a response from a magazine whose religious readership has widely benefitted from Trump’s pro-life and conservative policies. Given the circumstances, one might admire Christianity Today’s provocative editorial for its refreshing integrity and presumed courage to oppose the hand that feeds it. One might even consider Mr. Galli himself a modern-day Sir Thomas More, willing to risk everything to challenge the powerful in the name of morality.
If only that were the case.
While Mr. Galli’s expressions are certainly worthy of consideration, upon reflection, his editorial is actually troubling and takes a position More himself would have surely declined.
From the start, Mr. Galli acknowledges that his editorial treads onto unusual grounds for the magazine, noting that while “the typical CT approach is to stay above the fray and allow Christians with different political convictions to make their arguments in the public square,” the magazine’s editors “feel it necessary from time to time” to make their opinions known. Apparently (and curiously, given Mr. Galli’s impending retirement from CT in January), Galli feels this to be one of those instances.
Despite any typical reluctance to weigh in on such issues, Mr. Galli’s editorial nonetheless boldly charges forth, recognizing that while some of those seeking to impeach Mr. Trump may have questionable motives, “the facts in this instance are unambiguous.” He further claims, also without hesitation, that “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,” which he concludes is “not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.” Mr. Galli ends by calling “a spade a spade” and suggesting that because the President lacks a sufficiently presidential character, Christians are in some way morally obligated to support his impeachment.
Just like that.
What’s perplexing about Mr. Galli’s opinion is how quickly he draws final legal conclusions on a legal issue without concern for something also necessary for integrity and something else More himself held dear: the law.
Indeed, Mr. Galli—someone without any apparent legal training—plays judge and jury against Mr. Trump in an assessment that lacks relevant legal analysis, including any judicial interpretation of the Constitution and specific analysis of the articles of impeachment. This he does even when actual legal professors concede there is room for debate on whether or not the President violated the Constitution. By ignoring the law in order to impeach a man with questionable morality, Galli and Christianity Today not only lack prudence but tread on dangerous ground—on ground which St. Thomas More would not likely to have ventured.
One of the noble functions of the law is to preserve individual rights and protect the innocent from unlawful actions. When people diminish the law in favor of an expedient “fix” against someone it deems flawed, however, such actions not only reek of dogmatic Puritanism but more importantly, they diminish the law’s ability to protect the rest of its citizenry.
Perhaps a scene from the 1960 play A Man for All Seasons about St. Thomas’s martyrdom illustrates the point best. In the scene, More’s future son-in-law William Roper, his daughter Margeret, and his wife Alice encourage him to arrest Richard Rich, an objectively villainous man who More’s family (correctly) suspects will betray him. They too suggest More must use the law against him because Rich is “bad.” More’s response, however, is instructive:
ALICE: Arrest him!
MORE: Why, what has he done?
MARGERET: He’s bad!
MORE: There is no law against that.
ROPER: There is! God’s law!
MORE: Then God can arrest him.
ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication!
MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what’s legal not what’s right. And I’ll stick to what’s legal.
ROPER: Then you set man’s law above God’s!
MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact—I’m not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can’t navigate. I’m no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt if there’s a man alive who could follow me there, thank God.
ALICE: While you talk, he’s gone!
MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
ROPER: So you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
In other words, St. Thomas More recognizes the harm inflicted upon society when one gives in to the temptation to dismiss the importance of the law in pursuit of a given morality. Unfortunately, it appears Galli and Christianity Today failed to recognize the same.
Legal minds can certainly disagree as to whether Mr. Trump violated the law, but no one (especially those disconnected from the impeachment process) can say with such confidence that Trump’s vices obligate the Christian community to support his impeachment. By prematurely using Trump’s character as an excuse to dismiss or bypass the actual law, society will hurt no one but itself. After all, once the law is set aside in pursuit of such devils, what will be left to protect the innocent when the devil finally turns around?