Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

SPECIAL: The Threat to American Democracy
distributed 1/30/20 - ©2020

I write today, filled with fear and grief about what is happening in the United States.

What I write will be offensive to some of you, and if so, I hope you'll reply so that I can better understand your perspective. But I venture with urgency into bitter conflicts about the impeachment trial because the US Senate is about to take votes that could dramatically reshape US governance far into the future.

Below, I've copied the text of a letter that I just sent to my hometown newspaper, The Denver Post. That's the core of what I need to say today. Jump down if you're in a hurry. For this mailing list, though, I want to provide an introduction and some context.

Eco-Justice Ministries, through the last 20 years, has placed our focus on churches, and the role of religious institutions in protecting God's creation. Our ongoing emphasis on "transformational ministry" has looked to faith communities as institutions that shape values and worldviews. While we have ventured into political advocacy on critical issues, politics hasn't been our home turf. We've often posed the question, "What does it mean to 'be the church' in a world with great ecological and social justice crises?"

I'm convinced that, for those of us in the United States, "being the church" means speaking prophetically when our very system of governance is under attack. Without a functioning democracy, then we -- as churches and as individual citizens -- are not able to be effective advocates for climate justice, or for the protection of species, or any of the other issues related to the protection of God's creation.

An editorial in The Christian Century last November said,

democracy depends on a rough agreement on some facts and a recognition that the rule of law and constitutional order have some definite meaning. Without a horizon of shared truth, politics becomes simply the exercise of brute force, a world in which the only relevant question is who has the muscle to impose their will. This is the world Trump wants us all to inhabit. It is not a world in which democracy can survive.

The way the impeachment trial has played out, especially in the last couple of days, has broken down any recognition "that the rule of law and constitutional order have some definite meaning." We are on the verge of a changed political order.

I urge you to pray about what is happening to this country. And I hope your prayers will motivate you to action. Call your senators, and be passionate in stating your opinions. Speak to your friends and neighbors. Write to your newspaper, and post on social media.

I fear that the script has already been written for the next few days. But as citizens and as people of faith, we cannot and we must not be silent.

My letter to the Denver Post:
We're not just talking about Donald Trump anymore. The ever-more-desperate defense team in the president's impeachment trial is about to re-write American democracy for all future generations.

In the face of persistent evidence of Mr. Trump's misconduct, his lawyers are now asserting that a clear abuse of power for personal political gain is not an impeachable offense. If a president warps government policy and leans on other nations to get re-elected, Mr. Dershowitz tells us, that's perfectly normal.

Other elements of the president's defense claim an astonishing level of immunity from congressional investigation. While executive privilege allows the protection of certain documents, Mr. Trump has ordered the entire executive branch of the government to refuse any request for information related to impeachment. Congress is being blocked from its constitutional duty to have oversight of the administration.

If Mr. Trump avoids conviction by the Senate, then these dangerous assertions become legal precedent, and can be claimed by any future president. Mr. Trump and any of his successors effectively will be above the law. The sacred principle of a balance of powers between branches of the government will have been lost.

If the votes go as expected in the coming days, the functional rules for American democracy will have been changed, and the President of the US gains more of the power of a dictator.

The unbreakable partisan divide in US politics has brought us to a point where party loyalty is allowing the devastation of our constitutional system. Is there not a single Republican in the Senate with the wisdom and the courage to speak out?

Peter Sawtell
Denver, Colorado


In the last four months, I've written twice with an exclusive focus on matters of impeachment. Considering Impeachment with Clear Values named two core principles: that no one is above the law, and that we must speak the truth in love. The Great Impeachment Divide was, in some ways, a less urgent preface to today's letter, with a concern that partisan loyalty places democracy at risk.

As history plays out this week, may we be clear and vocal about our beliefs and values.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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