As an evangelical Baptist clergy person and American citizen, I believe in free speech and peaceful demonstrations, but I emphatically oppose and condemn the attempted insurrection and occupation of the Capitol building that occurred on Jan. 6, 2021.
The irresponsible words and actions of the president temporarily disrupted the constitutional responsibility of the House and Senate to certify the 2020 presidential election and facilitate the peaceful transfer of power.
President Trump must be held accountable for this travesty. He incited his followers, who then endangered the lives of our governmental leadership. This represented a repudiation of his responsibility to uphold our Constitution, threatened American democracy and led to the death of five people.
To be transparent, I published a “statement of conscience” on Aug. 2, 2016, in response to Trump gaining the Republican nomination as their presidential candidate. I withdrew my membership in that party because I did not wish “to be affiliated with a party that has been taken over by a candidate that exhibits demagogic behavior and attitudes.” As an independent, I voted for third-party candidates in 2016 and 2020.
Now, in 2021, Americans should hold the president accountable for his latest actions. Accordingly, I propose a multifaceted response.
During these next two weeks, if the president will not resign voluntarily, Vice President Pence should consult with the Cabinet secretaries to invoke the 25th Amendment and work with Congress to remove him from office. Concurrently, impeachment proceedings should be initiated by the House of Representatives in order to provide pressure on Trump to leave.
Following the transfer of power to the new Biden administration on Jan. 20, a thorough investigation, preferably led by a special blue-ribbon and bipartisan commission, should investigate and provide a full account of the insurrection.
The commission should have the authority to detail the role President Trump played in organizing, inspiring and inciting the mob that attacked the Capitol. Simultaneously, criminal investigations by appropriate legal agencies should be vigorously pursued.
Considering long-term responses to this anti-democratic incident, the Republican Party needs to reflect on how its leaders and members rationalized and enabled the president’s demagogic behavior and attitudes for four years.
Let’s face it, the Republican Party lost its soul. The party must sincerely apologize and repent, taking responsibility for their misplaced support.
Looking forward, Republicans must forthrightly reject Trumpian populism and its attendant authoritarianism. If the party wishes to play a constructive role in the future of our country, it must return to its historic center-right platform.
America needs a counterpoint to progressivism because a healthy democracy thrives on a respectful competition between rival ideological perspectives.
Democrats should be comfortable with most of what I have said thus far. However, I fear that political progressives are in danger of succumbing to similar temptations that captivated the right under the influence of Trump’s seductive lies. These temptations all have one thing in common – the goal of dividing Americans from one another.
From the very beginning of his political rise, Trump boldly and unapologetically voiced prejudice and demonized his opponents. Sadly, I have seen manifestations of intolerance by liberals, with opponents (or even simply people who don’t toe the line 100%) attacked, vilified and ostracized (“cancelled”).
Decades ago, the Democratic Party was an ideological big tent party. It had leaders who were military hawks and doves. The party even included both pro-choice and pro-life elected officials.
Today, such diversity, which welcomed liberals, moderates and conservatives, is virtually absent (which is one reason why I became an independent). Similarly, Trump has driven out many Republicans who cannot stomach his personality cult.
Let’s be honest. Christians from all theological sides also have contributed to the rancor and divisiveness that afflicts our contemporary society.
I am saddened by how many of my progressive Christian friends have attacked evangelical and conservative brothers and sisters on social media. “All evangelicals are guilty of _____ (fill in the blank)!”
Likewise, I am appalled that my evangelical friends too often display intolerance and belittle or denigrate progressives.
We all have been part of our society’s problem, even while imagining “my side” is righteous and just. Perhaps we need to pay renewed attention to Jesus’ question: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)
It is time for Donald Trump to be removed from office, which he has disgraced.
American society is deeply divided and the widening gulf that separates us from one another spells doom for our society unless we discover new ways to break down barriers and humbly listen to one another.
An ordained Baptist minister, he serves as historian for the Baptist World Alliance and affiliate professor of church history at Northern Seminary. At the end of 2019, Spitzer retired as general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA. He is the author of Baptists, Jews, and the Holocaust (Judson Press, 2017).