Like many of my fellow Americans, I watched the impeachment debate held on the floor of the United States House of Representatives yesterday.
The debate unfolded quite like I anticipated, as Democrats argued for impeachment while Republicans offered opposition.
However, one moment struck me more than any other. Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Georgia) made an argument on the House floor that Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Loudermilk’s Democratic colleagues offered President Trump.
Rhetoric that infuses religious narrative into a legal debate often muddies the waters, but Loudermilk’s comment is disturbing on another level.
First, Pontius Pilate was not worried about Jesus’ rights. He was more worried about keeping the peace and favor of Rome.
In other words, by leaving Jesus’ sentencing to the crowd, Pilate was selfishly looking out for himself (Mark 15:1-15).
The call for crucifixion by the crowd and religious leaders provided Pilate with cover.
For Rome, keeping peace at all costs was more important than anyone’s rights, especially the rights of a rogue rabbi from Nazareth.
Therefore, to compare the treatment of Jesus by Pilate to the treatment of President Trump highly misinterprets the biblical narrative and misunderstands the reality of Pilate’s actions toward Jesus.
Second, equating the impeachment of a president with the crucifixion of Jesus demeans the historical and spiritual nature of the cross.
While the impeachment of any president is serious business and should be considered with great care, the outcomes of the scenarios are quite different.
Now that President Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives, if convicted by the Senate, the president will be removed from office. For Jesus, his conviction meant the worst kind of death imaginable.
Mark reminds us, “And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. … At three o’clock, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:21-40). Impeachment is NOT crucifixion.
Third, placing the president on the same footing as Jesus appears to be a misguided application of Scripture at best or a blatant heresy at worst.
Christians are often guilty of lifting our elected leaders to divine status when the reality persists they are simply fallible men and women like all of us. President Trump is not Jesus; neither is any other president for that matter.
Blurring the lines between Jesus and a president dangerously elevates humanity to divine status.
To paint such pictures and use such language violates the very first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (including presidents) (Exodus 20:3).
In the New Testament, Paul argued for the supremacy of Jesus when he wrote, “Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
As much as we admire our elected officials and want to maintain political power, we cannot afford to equate the impeachment of any elected official with the Passion of Jesus. Jesus is much more valuable to the world than any president.
There is a reason first-century Christians referred to Jesus as the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15) but it had nothing to do with the impeachment of a president.
If the leaders of the world really wanted to follow Jesus, they would embrace his teachings and care for the people who meant the most to him.
Again, Paul in Philippians writes, “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
We all need to breathe this week, emptying ourselves of pride and hubris. We need to pray for our elected officials, including our president, as they work through the impeachment process.
More than anything, though, we need to remember to mind our rhetoric, knowing presidents are fallible people – and Jesus is Lord.