It did not take long in the public impeachment hearings to demonstrate that the central facts are not in question. Donald J. Trump abused his office as president of the United States by (within the scope of current investigations) creating a bribery scheme to trade public money and official acts for personal and political gain.
The whole case stands, at this point, on whether enough lawmakers can agree that abusing public office for personal gain is grounds for removing a president from office. Everyone understands, whether they acknowledge it publicly or not, that this is an abuse of power, and that it is properly called “bribery.” But the political process depends on whether the votes exist to remove the president from office. So far, the Republicans’ bet is that they can withstand the facts in order to hold on to power.
They, along with their white evangelical supporters, are making that bet as part of their ongoing fight against the changing landscape of the country. The Republican base and their elected officials see the tide changing. Powerful people of color – especially women and queer people of color – are rising in prominent public and private positions. Technology amplifies the voices of those who formerly could be canceled by the powerful. An administration founded in backlash to the first black presidency of the republic rightly sees this as an existential crisis.
“The world that would dare to receive the Christ child must first impeach a few things, including every Herod.”
The idea of sharing power threatens entrenched white interests. For those interests, represented by Trump but extending to white folks of every political stripe, the moment feels apocalyptic. And every good apocalypse needs prophets.
The book in the Hebrew Bible named for the prophet Jeremiah is built around a series of political crises in ancient Israel. These crises ultimately end in the world-shaking event called Exile, an event that much of the Bible is organized around and regularly refers to. In the crisis of the Exile, at least two groups of prophets line up to speak to the powers in the capital city of Jerusalem, and to speak to the people as well.
Jeremiah stands as one of the few prophets of the one true God of the universe. His oracles to the entrenched powers of his day are not comforting. He challenges them to repent of their wrongdoing and to make reparations for their sin. Consequently, Jeremiah is not a very popular person around the palace.
Opposite Jeremiah are a team of “court prophets.” Their jobs, as they understand it, is to bring a word from God, but their words always fail. Instead of speaking truth, they comfort the comfortable. They encourage the king to hold on to power in spite of all the facts. They famously cry, “’Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (6:14). In sum, the court prophets tell the king and the entrenched powers what they wanted to hear. The path to the destruction of Jerusalem was built by these court prophets, those who uttered deceit in the name of God.
“Jeffress has built a career around trivializing the Gospel in support of white nationalism.”
The United States of America is not ancient Judah, and any comparison between our time and theirs needs to be done carefully. But it is clear that there is no shortage of court prophets today. They are ready to defend entrenched power against the rise of the oppressed demanding recognition of their full humanity. In these moments of impeachment, the court prophets have lined up to defend the president, led by a few prominent, white evangelical leaders.
None is more outspoken than Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas.
You may know Jeffress as a TV preacher and Trump’s theological lap dog. He appears on FOX News regularly to assure the faithful that the president’s racist and immoral practices are OK, his own ordination notwithstanding. Jeffress has built a career around trivializing the Gospel in support of white nationalism. He is precisely the preacher Ezekiel refers to when he says, “The prophets have… divined lies, saying ‘Thus says the Lord’ when the Lord has not spoken” (22:28).
You might say that Jeffress stands in a long historical tradition of the court prophets. Though the Bible they claim to love shows the failure of such a career, no small number of preachers regularly soothe the powerful with their empty words.
“These prophets not only weep. They also organize.”
But even a stopped watch is right twice a day, as the saying goes. And to my surprise, Pastor Jeffress got it right the other day, though he seemed not to know it. On Fox Business, he said, “The effort to impeach President Trump is really an effort to impeach our own deeply held faith values.” Glory, glory hallelujah! Jeffress saw the light.
The effort to impeach Trump, if it is to be worthwhile, is precisely an effort to impeach the faith values that brought us a President Trump. It is an effort to impeach white supremacy. It is an effort to impeach brutality against migrants. It is an effort to lift up workers rather than bosses. It is an effort to stop the destruction of God’s creation. It is an effort to dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery.
The effort to impeach the faith values that brought us a President Trump is part of the liberating work of God in the world. The prophets of this work weep, like Jeremiah, with parents separated from their children. They weep with those in cages because of mass incarceration. They weep with those who are hungry and homeless while billionaires refuse to pull their weight. They weep with those bankrupted trying to pay for life-saving medical care. They weep at the perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, twisted to justify those evils.
But these prophets not only weep. They also organize.
From the earliest moments of his ministry, Jeremiah is prepared by God for the work of prophetic ministry in the world. There will be weeping, but also the victory of building. There will be loss, but also the joyful organizing of a world where the poor and broken-hearted can flourish.
“I am appointing you today,” God tells Jeremiah, “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). The fault lines that run through society will destroy some places we hold sacred – like family tables during holidays or church sanctuaries filled with people who think they are white. Before unity, there will be division. Peace, peace? First a sword (Matthew 10:34). The exposure of our fractures will create the opportunity for healing.
As we hurtle towards the long nights ahead of us, the trembling hope of Advent awaits. Advent lectionary readings always begin with the apocalyptic. Christian tradition understands that the moments before salvation require prophetic visions and judgments. The world that would dare to receive the Christ child must first impeach a few things, including every Herod. But not just Herod – also the prophets and priests and disciples who help prepare the way for a Herod or Nero or Pharaoh or Trump.
Each year’s Advent readings, following the apocalyptic texts, turn our gaze to Mary. Her prophetic ministry offers a song that echoes Jeremiah’s call:
“My soul magnifies the Lord…,
who has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
who has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53).
These are the days for magnifying the Lord by impeaching the powerful from their throne, and by lifting up those who have wept for many long nights.