King George III once referred to the American Revolution as a Presbyterian revolt.
After the House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump, a member of the Salem Presbytery in North Carolina wrote an epistle entitled “The Church Knew the Dangers of Dictators.”
Specifically, he appealed to Presbyterians to remember the centuries-long connection between the Presbyterian form of church government and the evolution of constitutional democracy in the United States.
After the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, Presbyterians in Mecklenburg County — as the story has been told — gathered at the Charlotte courthouse in May to issue the Mecklenburg Declaration, which proclaimed independence from Great Britain.
The ratification of the Constitution occurred 14 years later, in 1789. James Madison, the architect of the checks and balances written into the Constitution, had been a student under John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister and the president of Princeton University.
When making the case for the Constitution, in Federalist Papers No. 10 and 51, Madison wrote:
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
A government, based upon three separate and equal branches of government — legislative, executive and judicial — was created to prevent too much power from being placed in the hands of one person.
At the close of the Senate trial of Donald Trump, nothing less than the freedom of the American people is at stake. That is, if we are to abandon a system of government that provides checks and balances on power that would otherwise go unchecked.
The apparent decision to allow the president to get off the hook, now, without several key witnesses being heard, is to invite presidential mayhem from here on out. No one — not even Trump himself — knows to what extremes he may yet drive us.
Think about the latest (Jan. 29) high-voltage argument of “celebrity” Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz: If the president asserts that he is pursuing what is in the national interest, then it is constitutionally acceptable for him to proclaim any falsehood — and to commit any political or military act!
This heretical notion is the logical product of Attorney General William Barr’s theory of the unitary executive: that neither Congress nor the federal courts can tell the president what to do — or how to do it — in regard to national security matters in particular.
There are more Presbyterians in the U.S. Senate than any other Protestant denomination.
If as few as four of the 11 Republican senators — who are Presbyterian — had supported a full-fledged trial, it would have been a victory for good government.
Alternatively, if retiring three-term Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a Presbyterian, had signaled he would join Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), that combination would have probably ensured witnesses were heard in the Senate. The final vote to not hear witnesses failed 49-51.
I interviewed a former Davidson student who is a lawyer in Nashville and knows Alexander.
He told me: “Lamar will not vote to hear witnesses unless there is an iron-clad agreement that there will be eight to 10 Republicans who have committed to vote that way.”
Yet, Alexander — after coming out against witnesses — made it clear Friday that he thought Trump was guilty of the charges in the House indictment.
It is time to rally members of our church against a man who has, on occasion, described himself as a Presbyterian.
Let the voters of every religious faith take to heart the wise saying from Proverbs 24: 12 — as found in the Berean Study Bible:
“If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know about this,’ will not He who weighs hearts consider it? Does not the one who guards your life know? Will He not repay a man according to his deeds?”
Do not say in 2020 what you may have been able to say in 2016: I did not know what this tyrant was like.