Donald J. Trump was impeached, and always will be, as William J. Clinton was. His presidency will be marred by it, along with his track record of deceit, racism, divisiveness and lawlessness. The impeachment trial itself was fascinating to watch, as was the thorough analysis of the process in real time by historians, former members of Congress and journalists. The end result, which was almost assuredly a given from the onset, will have a significant impact on the future of governance in this ongoing experiment called democracy. Apart from the political nature of the proceedings, it struck me as wholly remarkable that in this secular republic, in which the founding documents themselves prohibit the establishment of a religion by the government, we open the action by beseeching a god, and not just any god, but the God of Christianity.
Barry Black, the Senate Chaplain, is a Seventh-day Adventist, a specific type of Protestant who emphasizes the second coming of Jesus Christ, marking them as very patient folks. He got some attention for one of his prayers in particular:
“Eternal lord god, you have summarized ethical behavior in a single sentence: Do for others what you would like them to do for you. Remind our senators that they alone are accountable to you for their conduct. Lord help them to remember that they can’t ignore you and get away with it, for we always reap what we sow. Have your way, mighty God. You are the potter; our senators are the clay. Mold and make us after your will. Stand up, omnipotent God. Stretch yourself and let this nation and world know that you alone are sovereign. I pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.”
There’s a lot to unpack there, but let’s start with his admonition to the Senators present that they can’t ignore the overseeing tyrant in the sky. Somehow, He will make them accountable. Considering that two of these Senators have very publicly stated they will not abide by the oath they took, so help them God, it must be assumed that Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are closet atheists. They aren’t in the least concerned that this eternal all-powerful God will smite them, and based on His track record, I think they’re making a safe bet.
The golden rule was credited to Yahweh by the good Chaplain, but as any inquiring mind already knows, that’s misplaced as its origins can be traced to ancient Egypt, and was credited to one of their gods, and is prominent in ancient Chinese philosophy as well. The political arena is a highly suspect place to invoke this message of reciprocity as it is ripe with actions the doer never wants reciprocated.
The oddest thing in all of these types of requests of the Almighty is that we mere mortals, clay for the eternal potter as the Chaplain suggests, should have the temerity to request anything at all. The God of Christians is all knowing, all seeing and all powerful. Some suggest He has a grand plan we can’t possibly divine, yet we insist on making suggestions on how He should implement it. Chaplain Black is actually asking God to make himself known; to stand up and let the world know He’s the monarch around here (although the Senate of the United States is about to proclaim Donald Trump as one). I think we should learn our place. Finally, the Chaplain removes any doubt that he may be speaking as a deist to a generic god, as he prays in the name of Jesus, the man Christians claim God fathered with the help of a young Mary in Palestine some 2,000 years ago or so.
As it turns out, we have one of the very founders of the nation to thank for this breach of constitutional etiquette, as Benjamin Franklin implored that we seek the assistance of Heaven before each day’s business, as it would be highly improbable that an empire could arise without the aid of the Almighty. James Madison disagreed with Franklin, and felt the establishment of a chaplain violated both equal rights and constitutional principles. The idea has been challenged in court, eventually winding its way to the Supreme Court which ruled interestingly that the chaplain could remain on the basis of tradition. They argued it was customary to pray; that it’s a part of the fabric of society. Not exactly a decision rooted deeply in legal and constitutional arguments.
So the irony remains intact: a nation prohibiting the establishment of a religion marks its official business each day with a religious prayer and prominently features In God we Trust on its currency.