Impeaching Dead Presidents


Mood swings are part of the human condition.  So it’s no surprise that the history of the human race is also marked by wild, irrational tides sweeping in extreme directions. Back in 1863, Americans wanted to honor George Washington prominently in the newly completed US Capitol building.  A renowned artist was commissioned to paint a fresco on the underside of the capitol dome.  Today you can still marvel at The Apotheosis of George Washington that depicts the first president elevated to the status of a god and seated among divine beings in the heavens.  Don’t miss the point: he’s seated in Heaven as a god, not a saint!

It’s a majestic fresco, but I’ve always hated it.  There’s only one God and his name is not George.  Indeed, Mr. Washington was a modest man who would never have tolerated such an irreverent comparison during his lifetime.  But by the 1860’s the country was emotionally charged, war drums were already pounding, and the impeccable character of the late first president was one of few things everyone could agree on.

So it’s painful to see angry mobs running toward the other extreme today.  We all agree that slavery is the darkest blot on the history of our nation, and it’s on the record that George Washington was one of many who owned slaves in the colonies.  Amazingly, even some well-educated Americans have actually been caught up in the delusion that this sin outweighs everything else the man ever did.  It matters not that he fought to win our liberty, or served as a unifying first president, or even that he refused to be crowned king for life! The rumbling has already begun that statues must come down; schools and institutions must be renamed.  To some, George Washington is nothing more than a despised human trafficker and a disgrace.

As Christians, you and I appreciate the simple principle that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Even saints have sinned.  The only reason any of us can ever stand before God hopeful and unashamed is that someone has carried our condemnation for us.  Christ has exchanged his righteousness for our fetid rags of guilt and shame. That’s why Scripture never conceals the fact that David committed adultery with the wife of one of his oldest and most loyal generals.  Worse still, he finally ordered the death of that trusted friend in order to conceal the illicit pregnancy and claim the woman for himself.  How can it be that God is a holy God and yet David can be described as a man after His own heart?  Grace is messy.

So it’s actually ungodly to demand that capable leaders must also be morally flawless in order to serve their country.  Nobody is.  That explains why a woman caught in adultery walked away unharmed after Jesus concurred with her death sentence, but insisted the first stone should be cast by someone who had never sinned.

It’s also outrageous and irrational to judge historical figures by present day standards that evolved in a different environment decades later.  Many of us in 2017 are offended by President Roosevelt’s order that Japanese-Americans should be rounded up and relocated at the onset of World War II, but we have the advantage of knowing how everything turned out.  He made that call in different circumstances under unimaginable pressure. We cringe when we read about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but President Truman had to sign that order back in 1945 having been advised that the military invasion of Japan could result in another 4 million casualties and 800,000 additional deaths among US fighting forces.  Wouldn’t it be grand if you and I could delay all our hard choices fifty years until we could confirm how everything had turned out?

The desire to erase painful national history is rooted in ignorance and immaturity. History is dead and gone, for better or worse.  Bad history doesn’t enslave and destroy people, but bad memory can.  There’s a reason we build Holocaust Museums.  We say “Never Forget,” so that it will never be tolerated again.  The same should be true of slavery.  Let’s not deceive ourselves with the illusion that great people are not capable of serious mistakes.  We all are.

The irony here is so rich.  Matthew 7 doesn’t actually command us not to judge other people, as is commonly suggested.  In context, it reminds us not to judge unfairly; not to hold others to unrealistic standards we could never meet in our own lives.  Christ’s warning is that people who judge unfairly will be held to the same unjust standards.  So the angry idealists assailing Washington and Jefferson are doing precisely what the Bible warns against.   Witch hunts can feel unifying and even satisfying in the moment.  They invariably lead to painful history, easier to prevent than erase.

And lift up the Cross!


2 thoughts on “Impeaching Dead Presidents

  1. The declaration of Independence was the first effort at rectifying Slavery.
    The statement “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” was a statement on Human Rights. The founding Fathers understood what it meant to abolish Slavery. They knew it was not going to happen overnight.
    It took 85 years and a civil war for America to detach itself from the addiction that Slavery had become and drove its economy. The first civil rights enactment came a year after the war that defined US citizenship and affirmed that all citizens were equally protected by the law. It took another 100 years before we saw the civil rights act of 1964 archive the goal the founders foresaw. It outlawed discrimination on the basis of race and required equal access to public places and employment.
    The experiment at that point was working together with the Constitution.

    I can understand a people who reject the glorification of those who sought to continue the practice of slavery, especially those who were cruel to their ancestry. It is however complete ignorance to ignore the contributions of those who signed the Declaration of independence, those who inherited slavery and took actions to end it when the opportunity presented itself. The founders of our nation are such persons.
    It is not just ignorance that is fueling the fires of discontent. It is the principalities and powers, it is the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. It is these things that seek to destroy the experiment that man can be governed by the people for the people.
    It is man who is ignorant and the ignorant are the useful idiots of the real culprits in the current social war.
    Ignorance is easy, learning the facts of a matter and basing ones decisions on it is not.
    Jesus said flesh and blood have not revealed this to you but My Father who is in Heaven. God opens the eyes of the blind; he closes those of the wise in their own conceits. God gives wisdom to the simple, He shuts down the wisdom of the wise. It is no surprise that the world has no fondness for truth. This latest statue craze is yet another birth pang.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s