If [a leader] were a true and devout Christian he would be glad that you entrust nothing to him, and would praise and approve you for keeping so close a watch on him. Since he acts in accord with God’s will, he is willing and content to have his actions brought to light by you or anyone else.”
-Martin Luther, Temporal Authority
In U.S. public life we have recently experienced the impeachment of our President in the House of Representatives, followed by his acquittal in the Senate. The charge of abuse of power received far more media attention than did the charge of obstruction. I think, however, that obstruction deserves more attention, especially in light of the religious tradition to which we—Lutheran Christians—are heir.
Lutheran Christians have a balanced assessment of humanity: we are simultaneously saints and sinners. We are saints by God’s grace, and sinners because of our evolutionary inheritance (i.e., “original sin”). There is no sphere of influence apart from our sinfulness, and therefore, there is no sphere of influence that does not benefit from accountability. Accountability is not a guarantee against sin, but is an expression of God’s law (see quote above). A “true and devout Christian” recognizes humanity’s ever-present sinfulness and, therefore, welcomes accountability. Our President did not request such accountability in the impeachment proceedings, but instead actively worked to oppose it. Our president’s actions in this respect are deeply inconsistent with the Christian calling, regardless of whether or not one concludes they merit removal from office.
We—Christians in the public sphere—are called to public office in order to seek to enact God’s will. We are, however, never free of sinfulness, and always benefit from accountability. With accountability comes opportunities to create greater and greater approximations of the Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Without accountability, however, sin reigns—and the wages of sin are death (Rm 6:23).