To be honest, it was a bit disconcerting: I was the first to the microphones in front of the largest pool of reporters I’ve ever faced. I had just stepped outside the Supreme Court building after arguments in the second day of cases on the question of same-sex marriage in America. Over a two-day period, I had listened attentively and taken careful notes–even paused to pray with my eyes and ears open–as lawyers for and against a constitutional right for homosexuals to marry presented their cases, seemingly without taking a breath–in front of the nine justices perched atop their imposing bench. All but one justice interrupted each of the attorneys numerous times, peppering them with questions–sometimes dry and academic–at others time acerbic and even denunciatory. In the nearly twenty years I’ve been monitoring the High Court, it was one of the most spirited courtroom exchanges I can remember.
Of course, I approached the whole exercise in strong support of marriage as defined by one man and one woman in a sacred and exclusive union before God and man–what I prefer to call these days, Holy Matrimony. Notwithstanding this deeply held conviction, I do understand the confusion in our culture over the element of love and bonds of affection, sometimes between persons of the same sex, and the longing to express those feelings in the form of marriage. While I seek, in a pastoral way, to appreciate those important feelings, I remain convinced Christian marriage is not an option for a man with a man or a woman with a woman. This is a pastoral challenge to me and to all my ordained colleagues, but that’s a different topic. Let me return to the matter at hand.
It was clear from the start of these two historic marriage cases that the proponents of same-sex marriage vastly outnumbered proponents of opposite-sex marriage, both inside and outside the courtroom. It was also easy to identify where each of the nine justices stand on the question: Clearly Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan are squarely for making some constitutional path for recognition of same-sex marriage. Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito clearly are not. While I expected Chief Justices Roberts to be ambiguous in his disposition toward the matter, he wasn’t during questioning. He seemed very skeptical of the claims made in both cases that limiting marriage to male with female violates the Constitution. That leaves Justice Kennedy, who at times sent firm signals of being pro-same-sex marriage rights, and at other times projected mildly skeptical ones, but, still, on the whole, appeared to be sympathetic to the argument that prohibiting gay marriage does violate equal protection. So, based on what I saw and heard, and considering other intelligence data I gathered from very good sources, here’s my prediction:
A slim majority will affirm that states retain the right to define for themselves what constitutes marriage, but only for now. In other words, the Court will reserve the right to step in again in the future–and at any time–if social progress on this issue lags too much. This will likely be a very narrow and limited allowance and one that is uncertain at best. In other words, they will punt on the question of the states, encouraging the continuance of “social evolution” through the democratic process, but not forever.
On the other hand, a slim majority will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an unconstitutional meddling of the federal government in the matter of legal marriage, thereby granting federal recognition to same-sex marriage and indirectly encouraging it along. In other words, by a slim majority, the High Court will likely assist in the acceptance an institutionalization of same-sex marriage in American public life–and they’ll do so as early as this spring.
Now, where does that leave Christians–and other religious believers–who hold strictly to marriage as defined only by one man and one woman in a sacred bond before God and man? Well, in the same place we’ve always been: as a minority in society. Because Christians (of every tradition) had gained the social and political ascendency in the US over as much as the last 200 years, we became spoiled. We started thinking of ourselves as the final arbiters of social mores, practices, and principles, but we have never really been that in world history. Even in the biblical record, believers have always been a minority. Jesus made this quite clear when He said,“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Becausenarrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Minorities must behave very differently than majorities, and we must re-learn what that means. We must also fully engage a new reality and prayerfully meet all of its challenges, as the church has always done. The new reality includes same-sex couples, married and otherwise, who are parents to children, who are growing up in a world that includes their same-sex parents and those of others. That’s the new cultural landscape in America. For those in Christian ministry, we must reach out to same-sex couples and to their children, just as we do everyone else. We must also find a new language through which to convey timeless truths. In all cases, we must do it with Christ-like love and Christian compassion.
The people of God have always been challenged in the world, and we must prayerfully rise to this challenge, not withdraw from it. I must admit, it’s a bit daunting. I felt that yesterday when I stood alone in front of scores of reporters at the Supreme Court. All the other proponents of traditional marriage had flown the coop and left me by myself to defend our position. At first, I resented it, but then I thanked God for it. It was a good rehearsal for what’s coming in the days ahead.
Little is ever said about the religious sentiments of our Supreme Court justices–at least the ones currently sitting on the bench. My good friend and Supreme Court advocate, Jay Sekulow, who did his PhD work in the general subject, examines historically how the personal beliefs of “Supremes” (as we affectionately call them in my world) have affected their legal opinions over the years. (For the very interested reader, I highly recommend Jay’s book, Witnessing Their Faith: Religious Influence on Supreme Court Justices and Their Opinions, available at our online bookstore.) As with anyone, religious beliefs–or the absence of them–play a significant role in how the justices see the world, see the constitutional questions placed before them, and render the opinions that they do. So, here’s a religious profile of the current nine justices–and the world they inhabit. I’ll begin with the latter; that is, the world the justices inhabit.
Unlike the two elected branches of federal government–the legislative (congress) and the executive (the president), there are no chaplains or identifiable clergy present in the professional world of the Supreme Court justices. In comparison, the Congress has it’s chaplains (the House of Representatives has a Catholic priest and the Senate has a Seventh Day Adventist minister), and virtually every president has had a selection of spiritual advisers, usually pastors they know. None of the federal courts have official–or even unofficial–spiritual advisers of any kind. This is in keeping with the idea that the courts are religiously “neutral.” But, like any human institution, the courts are–well–occupied by humans. That means religion–or the lack thereof–does play a role in the lives and decisions of the justices–but not as blatantly as it does in the other branches.
I’m happy to tell you that at the Supreme Court–which is the epitome of the judicial branch (there are hundreds and hundreds of lesser federal courts spread all over the country)–some religious exercises do occur. For example, every time the Supreme Court “sits” to hear a case, the marshal of the court stands at the side of the imposing bench, strikes the gavel and proclaims, “Oyez, Oyez! [Old French for "Hear Ye! Hear Ye!] All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court.” (You can listen to a sample here: http://www.oyez.org/node/62977) This is sometimes controversially referred to as the “prayer” of the Court. The announcement does invoke the name of God and His saving action; so, whether one considers it to be a prayer or not, it actually is. The Supreme Court building itself includes religious elements. Moses, along with other religious figures, is found in the bas-reliefs along the frieze above the justices and to their left. The Hebrew Lawgiver is also found at the center of the East Pediment on the outside of the building and above it’s less-known but ceremonial East Façade. The obvious rounded-top tablets of the Ten Commandments, complete with Roman numerals I-X, decorate many of the bronze gates inside the actual courtroom itself. (In an official court brochure, the Court’s curator associates these tablets with the Decalogue.) The current Chief Justice, John Roberts, has continued a tradition begun by his predecessor, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in leading an annual Christmas carol sing for invited guests in one of the High Court’s conference rooms–and, yes, there is a Christmas tree displayed for a short time right outside the courtroom in the Great Hall. Our ministry conducts the only National Day of Prayer observance on the plaza of the Court each year, something that was expressly forbidden and punishable under law just a few years ago. Every year several of the justices attend the Red Mass, a special service held in their honor at Washington’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral the Sunday before each new court term. Only Justice Ginsburg refuses to attend, citing as a reason a past sermon she sat through that was, in her words, “outrageously anti-abortion.”
As far as personal behavior, at least one of the justices makes an almost daily pilgrimage to a church near our ministry house and we often encounter him on his way to or from morning prayer. Bibles can be seen on the desks and tables in the chambers of some of the justices, as well as in the offices of other court personnel. Here’s what I know about the religious sensibilities of the nine justices themselves:
Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Sonya Sotomayor are baptized Catholics, but they vary greatly in their religiosity and personal commitment to faith. (More about that further down.) As for the others, Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan are born Jewish, but are largely non-practicing. An interesting note on Justice Breyer: While he was raised nominally Jewish, he married a non-Jewish English woman, presumably an Anglican. I’ve met their daughter, Chloe, an Episcopal priest who often attends court social functions in her clerical collar. Justices Ginsburg (a widow) and Kagan (a life-long single) are known to be non-religious. (Although in her youth, Justice Ginsburg once served as a summer camp “rabbi.”)
In my opinion, those of serious Christian faith include John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. Antonin Scalia is in a class by himself as a classical, Latin-rite, terribly devout Roman Catholic with a son, Paul, who is a much loved and admired priest in the Washington, DC, area. (As I write this, I must say that Clarence Thomas impresses me as a “Pente-Bapti-Catholic.” By that, I mean he has the passionate Christian faith of a Pentecostal, the language, demeanor and Bible-knowledge of a Baptist, and the liturgical reverence of the Catholic that he is!) Anthony Kennedy is somewhere toward an observant Catholic, while Sonya Sotomayor appears to be wholly non-religious. (Though her mother–with whom I said a prayer in the backroom of the US Senate hearing chamber on the first day of her daughter’s confirmation process–is a devout woman of faith.)
That’s about the picture of it. Again, Jay Sekulow has proven the point in his research: faith–or the lack thereof–does matter with the Justices and their opinions, therefore it matters to the state of the law and to American culture, and thereby, to Western civilization. Pray for the Justices–they need it!
By now you probably know one of the things we do at Faith and Action in Washington, DC, is to stage a live nativity vignette in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and in view of the U.S. Capitol. I’ve been asked by lots of reporters why we do this. The answer is, for several reasons.
First, we stage a live nativity because it is literally a beautiful way to convey the true “reason for the season,” as they say. The message of Christmas–or as we like to call it, CHRIST-mas–is often lost in the hurly-burly of the frantic and commercialized western holiday. Here in Washington, it happens even more so because members of Congress, and the people who work for them, are always in a terrible rush to get out of town and back to their own families and constituents. The Live Nativity program is a spectacle that stops people in their tracks and invades their frenetic day for just enough time to give them pause, and allow them to think about the reason we even have Christmas on the calendar. There is also enough fragmentary knowledge of this Holy Day–and enough sacred memory in our culture–that just about everyone instantly recalls the true Christmas story when they see Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the shepherd boys, and the Wise Men (not to mention the townsfolk, live camels, donkeys, sheep, and oxen–ahem–calf-posing-as-an-oxen) marching down First Street between the Plaza of the High Court and the esplanade on the East Lawn of the Capitol Building. This is the most powerful way to convey the timeless message, “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
Second, in all the franticness of Washington, DC, “seeing” something is far more attention-grabbing–and lasting–than hearing something. After eighteen years in this city, I’ve come to the conclusion that official Washington suffers from ADD on a grand scale! Plus, with Washington’s main export being “words,” another word jumble kind of gets lost in the soup. Here, preaching can become just another interest group’s soap box. But a drama, with actors in period costume–and live animals–and the melodic harmonies of carolers–become an irresistible distraction from the usual. It literally “arrests” attention. People have to stop and look, and talk, and take photos and videos with their phones. Police officers walk up to touch a camel for the first time. Clerks come streaming out of their offices to gaze, point, and chatter with others. The smoked-glass executive sedans with their unseen VIP passengers, slow down as they pass by. Let’s just say, it’s a great way to put the attention of Washington on the message that really matters–and in the process, remind our top elected and appointed officials they are not the world’s saviors–but, in fact, are in need of the only True Savior born in Bethlehem.
Third, we stage this live nativity drama in front of the Supreme Court as a very important statement about the inalienable God-given rights we enjoy as His creatures–and as a reminder to the Justices of the Supreme Court that they are the guardians of these rights. The freedom to practice one’s religion, to express oneself in the public square, to peaceably assemble with others, are enshrined in the Constitution–and the Justices are the guardians of that Constitution. Our Christmas procession is an aesthetically pleasing and poignant reminder of the duties with which the members of the Court are charged. Plus, our presence in front of the highest court in the Land telegraphs a message to all American citizens and to the elected and appointed officials that govern them: If we can do this in front of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC, than citizens across the country can certainly do this in front of their town or county courthouses, town or city halls, or state Capitol buildings!
So, now you know why we stage our annual Live Nativity on Capitol Hill. Maybe it will inspire you and your church, school, or community group to do the same in your locale. Maybe you’ll join us tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM ET–at least in prayer, if not in person–to help herald the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Here are the details:
Faith and Action Production of the Live Nativity, Wednesday, December 5, 2012, 10:30 AM ET
Beginning at the Faith and Action Ostrowski Ministry House (109 2nd St NE, Washington, DC 20002) and proceeding to the US Supreme Court and US Capitol. For more information, see our website: www.faithandaction.org
It’s been over a week since I sat in the august chamber of the United States Supreme Court, listening to Chief Justice John Roberts deliver the most watched-for opinion in as long as 40 years. It was a real roller-coaster ride for me–just about as terrifyingly brief as the theme park version. As the Chief began, it seemed clear a majority of the justices had shot down the president’s signature legislation. A moment later, it became clear they had not. I went outside the court, addressed clergy and lay activists, did a few media interviews, then laid prostrate on the pavement in repentant prayer for a government that had egregiously violated it’s God-given boundaries.
Having said that, I must tell you two more things: I found myself in deep conflict. I know many people who will benefit greatly from this law–my own family members among them. I was deeply concerned for those who thought if the law had been struck down, they would have been bereft of the health care they so desperately need. I’m sorry for those anxious months of waiting. Of course, only time will tell whether government can deliver on its many promises. After all, it has let us down more than once. My greater concern, though, is for the unwilling patients–that is the pre-born and “being-born” for whom the government is sure to deliver its promised maiming and death. The health care law will be a huge boost to the abortion industry and to its merchants of death and suffering.
Now for the second thing I wanted to say, which may be harder for me to explain. I don’t blame John Roberts for any of this. John Roberts did not make the law on which he ruled. That was the Congress at the instigation of the President. I blame them. John Roberts did what I would expect him to: he held to his convictions. He doesn’t want the Court to be an activist one for the right or for the left. The way I know John Roberts, I believe he was quite sincere in believing this was the way to accomplish that objective.
I know plenty of my colleagues and friends–especially the Supreme Court lawyers among them–strongly disagree with me. They believe John Roberts abandoned his conservative, constitutionally-based beliefs. Well, I’ll leave the legal analysis up to the legal experts. They’ll determine how sound Robert’s constitutional reasoning was. My concern is only the judgment of the man I know; a man of sincere Christian faith, deep devotion to his family, and love of his country. He also has a brilliant mind, yet he remains remarkably humble and very approachable.
From my pastoral perspective, John Roberts is a good man, even if, in the estimation of many, he made a bad decision in this case. I’m enough of a Calvinist in my theology to believe none of this escapes the knowledge, nor will, of an Almighty God. If it reminds us of anything, it’s that we can never place our ultimate hope for anything in the hands of human beings. God is our source. We must always turn to Him–and not to government–to help us. The liberals cannot save society–as they have hoped to do for more than a century now–and, now we know, neither can the conservatives!
Please continue to pray for Chief Justice John Roberts and his family. I’d be overjoyed to tell him you are doing so.
PS Perhaps the worse news for many: It’s back in our hands as the electorate. Pray for your members of Congress, then contact them. Tell them how you feel and what you want them to do. Write the President. Write Mitt Romney. (Or, Ron Paul, for that matter!) Get registered–and vote. Then, perhaps you won’t need anything from John Roberts or anyone else. You will have been used by God in answer to your own prayers!
“But your name shall be . . “ Genesis 17:5
Monday began a new term for the US Supreme Court. The calendar of cases set for review always begins on the first Monday of October. You may have seen our article or video on the Red Mass, the annual church service held in Washington the day before to pray for and recognize judges, lawyers and all those involved in the law. Several of the “Supremes” (as they are affectionately known here in Washington) usually attend.
This year we asked you and your church to join us in praying for the Supreme Court justices by name. The reason we did that is because that’s how God sees them–in fact all of us–as named individuals, not as an anonymous block.
Names are important things. The Bible is filled with names, including several for God. We learn Adam’s name immediately after he is created. In the angelic command to Joseph, he was told to name Jesus. We all know what it’s like for someone to remember our names–it means we’re important to them.
There’s another dimension to names. Names indicate individuality, uniqueness, something special that sets us apart from others. It has to do with our identity–and even our dignity. “Hey Rob,” is always a compliment when compared to, “Hey you.”
When it comes to people in public office, we often think of them as, well, “them” or “they.” Besides simply being rude and disrespectful, there’s a bigger problem with this. “They” are never “us.” In other words, “they” are something different from what we are–and if “they” are different, then we can treat them differently from how we treat ourselves.
Here’s the big problem with that outcome: It violates the command of God, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31) If we have names–and we want our names to be respected–then we must respect the names of others. Believe it or not, “those” Supreme Court justices have names.
Not only do the justices have names, they have nicknames, genealogies, personal stories, personalities, and everything else any one of us has. In other words, they are real people–like us.
This is how we at Faith and Action know the justices. Not as an anonymous block, “The Court,” “the Justices,” “those characters,” “the liberals,” or “the conservatives,” the majority”, or “the minority,” or, as someone recently wrote me in an e-mail, “those idiots.”
Unless someone wants to be called an idiot, they shouldn’t call anyone else an idiot. At least that’s how the command has it. And, if they don’t want to be known simply as “them,” or “those ‘somethings,’” they–each by name–should call others by their names.
This is why we asked you to pray with us for the justices–Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas–by their names. Putting a name with a face is the beginning of a relationship. Praying for someone with their face in your mind and their name on your lips is an even greater relationship. In fact, the greatest gift you can give to someone is your prayers because it links that person to God, whether they know it immediately or not.
So, if you wonder how we relate to the members of the High Court, we relate to them as individuals, known and loved by God. Like every other person in high government office, they have souls, stories, and people who know and love them. They are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, mentors, friends. They watch movies, read books, play sports, go out with buddies, listen to music. The Justices also cry, and laugh. They feel pain. , and, yes, pray.
The next time you think of “The Court,” try thinking of them as Sam, Stephen, Ruth, Elena, “Tony,” John, “Nino,” Sonia, and Clarence. It may change your heart towards them–and help you to pray.