How the Christian Value of Truthfulness Could Inform The Aftermath to the Mueller Report

In my forthcoming book Reforming American Politics: A Christian Perspective on Moving Past Conflict to Conversation, I propose that one “Way Forward” for Christians to work toward such reformation is to eschew the hyper-partisanship that is evident when the first question that is asked about any public policy issue is “What does my political party say?”.

Rather, Christians should substitute their “Christian lenses” for their “partisan political lenses,” by “digging deep down” to uncover the “Christian values” that should inform their position on the particular issue, values such as love, humility, courage, truth, justice, patience and hope.

In this musing, I will propose a possible aftermath to the Mueller report that could emerge if Christians took seriously the Christian value of “truthfulness,” as called for in the biblical exhortation for Christians to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4: 15) and the biblical teaching that “love … rejoices in the truth” (I Corinthians 13: 4,6).

But my proposal is not just intended for consideration by Christians. The value of truthfulness is a “human value” that should be shared by all persons of good will, whatever their religious or secular faith commitments. Therefore, my proposal calls for a collaborative effort on the part of all who embrace the value of truthfulness.

It should be obvious to any American citizen who has not been living under a rock that the value of truthfulness is notably absent in most of the current debate about how to process the Mueller report. Consider, for example, the debate as to how to process Mueller’s letter of response to Attorney General Barr’s four-page response to the full report that emerged from his extensive investigation. Mueller expresses his dissatisfaction with Barr’s response to his report as follows:

[The Barr memo] did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of the investigation … this threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the department [of Justice] appointed the special counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigation … There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.

It is obvious that Mueller is questioning whether Barr’s four-page report adequately captures the “truth” relative to the matters that were investigated. Therefore, anyone who is committed to the value of truthfulness should want to provide Mueller with an opportunity to explain how he believes the truth was compromised. Whether President Trump committed an impeachable offense cannot be discerned until Congress hears Mueller’s reasons for his dissatisfaction with  Barr’s report. Any claims to “transparency” are nullified by attempts to prevent Mueller from testifying before Congress. And asking for such testimony from Mueller is not a “do-over” since it is covering new ground; the reasons Mueller has for his rejection of the Barr report.

The quest for “truth” also requires that Congress hear from other persons, such as Don McGahn, whose testimonies can shed further light on the question of whether President Trump obstructed justice. 

Orchestrating such Congressional hearings is not an instance of “politicizing” the issue in a partisan manner. Rather, it is required by the Constitutionally mandated responsibility of the legislative branch of government to provide “oversight” of the executive branch, Carrying out that mandate can be viewed as a commitment to be “true” to the U. S. Constitution. 

Of course, President Trump is strenuously resisting all such attempts at Congressional oversight. That should not thwart Congress in carrying out its Constitutional responsibility. If Congress does so, the outcome of this current deadlock will likely be settled in the Courts, which is another legitimate expression of the separation of powers that America’s Founding Fathers had the wisdom to establish.

At what point in time, if any, in this “messy” process are impeachment proceedings called for? My view is that it will be only after the Congressional hearings that I call for above have been completed that the House of Representatives will have sufficient clarity as to the “truth” regarding whether President Trump has committed offenses that warrant impeachment proceedings. And if such impeachment proceeding are initiated, that is NOT an expression of partisan politicizing. Rather, it is another instance of Congress carrying out its constitutional responsibility.

Of course, many Democrats are concerned that the House initiating impeachment proceedings will be “political suicide,” since there is little to no chance that the Senate will impeach the President and any attempt to do so will simply reinforce President Trump’s very effective political strategy of painting himself as a victim of a giant hoax.

My response to that concern is that it is another instance of the hyper-partisan politicizing that is eating away at the foundations of American Democracy. Impeachment proceedings ought to be initiated only because Congress judges that it is the “right thing to do” in light of the mandates of the U. S. Constitution. But deciding on impeachment proceedings on that basis, will require commitment to another “Christian value (and “human value”) beyond truthfulness that is also sadly lacking in the political realm: Courage.

It appears that I have succumbed once again to my penchant for “outlandish naivete” in light of current political realities, especially in my call for processing the Mueller report on the basis of a commitment to the value of “truthfulness.” I close with a reflection on the cause of that possible “fatal flaw” in my proposal, with a reminder of how I have chosen to address that cause.

The rampant problem with current American politics is NOT that politicians and their supporters do not believe in the “truth” of their political positions. The problem is that they typically hold to their truth-claims with a vengeance, believing that they have captured the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the political issue at hand and the positions taken by their political opponents are absolutely devoid of any elements of truth.

As I report in my forthcoming book, this dogmatism that my beliefs about what is true are unassailable, (“I can’t possibly be wrong”), which too easily morphs into fanaticism, is a symptom of the “tribalism” that increasingly infects every area of discourse, not just politics. The tell-tale sign of such tribalism is an “us-versus-them” mentality that effectively silences “them” (They are wrong, “me and my group” are right, so why should we even listen to them?). If one takes the position, as I do, that “political equality” involves everyone having an equal stake in the political system by having their voices heard on “an even playing field,” then such silencing of the “other” is pernicious and certainly does not contribute to the quest for truth about the matter at hand.

The increasing pattern of tribalism in our culture does not bode well for my proposal that the doing of politics should be informed by the quest for truth, and my further argument (in my forthcoming book) that bipartisan “respectful conversation” about political disagreements is the best way to gain a better approximation of that truth. 

So, because of the prominence of tribalism in our culture, I hold out slim hope of convincing a large number of Christians, and others, in the abstract, that they should pursue the truth by means of respectful conversations about disagreements. So, what to do?

About eight years ago, I decided that the only way to combat such tribalism was not to complain in writing, but to model a “better way”; a “Christian way.” Hence I initiated my Respectful Conversation project on my website, informed by the primary premise that providing a welcoming space for someone who disagrees with me to express that disagreement and then to talk respectful about that disagreement is a deep expression of love (which is too often neglected or violated by many who claim to be followers of Jesus, who commanded his followers to love others). It is my hope and prayer that those who follow my website will go and do likewise, entrusting the results to God.