I often begin my letters to our congregation with the simple salutation, “Dear Friends in Christ.” I do this because I write to our congregation not as random people but as people with whom I have a closer relationship than almost any other I have. There are more intimate ones – I am married and I have children. There are more familiar ones – I have friends and colleagues. But there are not ones beyond those which are closer because we are all parts of one Body – the Body of Christ.
I mention this because our Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is a fellow Christian. He is a member of the Body of Christ. He is a friend in Christ. I would urge him to withdraw as a nominee – and I hope Christians supporting him withdraw their support. I do not make this call for partisan reasons but for theological and spiritual ones.
It is so easy for us to confuse the partisan with the political. Partisan means one party over another. Political means the difficult work of navigating the differences and connections between various groups and individuals to achieve the common good. Political is what is achievable for the whole – partisan is what is a “win” for my group only.
As a priest and pastor I am committed to political wins, wins that achieve a greater good for the community, but could care less about what is a win in terms of partisanship. A partisan “win” would be a political loss in this nomination.
I am pro-life, anti-death penalty, and pro-LGBT rights – so I have no idea where I should be in terms of partisan politics but I hope that I have a solid sense of where I need to be in terms of advocating for the dignity of all people. I have a sense of where I need to be in advocating for women to be heard – and more than heard – valued as made in the image of God. Honored as sisters in Christ in whom we can seek and serve Christ.
As I look to the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh I can only say that there are any number of other potential justices who will protect the sanctity of life. There are potential justices who will vote to protect the second amendment. There are potential justices who will advocate for limited government. However – Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination will ensure that those positions are forever bound up with an opposition to every woman’s right to be heard and right to not be used as a plaything and have both her value and testimony disregarded when those are inconvenient.
Why risk the basic freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and guarded by the highest court for someone who has not demonstrated the basic character nor honesty we’d demand from a pastor or school teacher? Why risk our national character for a generation on someone who’d treat our sisters, mothers, and friends with such a lack of decency when there are so many jurists unstained by these kinds of accusations that we could put forward?
If this was just a political stunt then surely justices Roberts and Gorsuch would have been similarly accused and abused. This is not partisan – it is moral. Justice Kavanaugh is not being denied justice. He makes $220,000 per year and is on the second highest court in the land. He has a place of honor.
Over and over we see Jesus stand at the side of the abused. We see him value the testimony of women whom others persecuted or disregarded. We see him pull to his side, call to his service, and cherish women whom society thought unworthy of his attention. He lifts up the voices of those who thought no one heard them and told them that he heard them – he believed them. He believed in them.
We are in a time when we must give far greater weight to the testimony of those who have been ignored for too long. The evidence is systemic, it is heavy, and it must push us toward change. This is less about the specifics of even this one nomination than it is about how we will hear and respond to abuse we’ve condoned as a culture for too long. The burden of proof must be on men now – to prove they are strong, able, and courageous allies and advocates. The burden of proof must be on us because the burden of the sin is on us too. The burden of distrust is on us. The burden of fear that we cause and ignore every day is on us.
This is not just about the bodies of women but about the souls of men too – and it is not well with our souls.
Those who sit on our highest court should be beyond question – above dispute. Justice Kavanaugh is not that. I do not argue that he should be deposed nor subject to an inquisition but merely that Christians should want more from our leaders – especially ones to be appointed for life who will make decisions about the worth and dignity of people every day. No decision he makes would be free from the graphic and disturbing subtext that will always echo from Dr Blasey Ford’s testimony.
We are a faith that preaches forgiveness. We are a faith that believes even the most troubled past can be redeemed. However that process of individual forgiveness and redemption must begin with a change of heart – an earnest turning toward those we’ve hurt and seeking to enter with compassion into the hurt we’ve inflicted. This turning toward the victim is a turning toward Christ who is the saving victim.
Justice Kavanaugh has not demonstrated the requisite honesty we must look for in a Supreme Court nominee. He did not acknowledge that he could have made mistakes, that he’s a changed man, that his heart hurt for what Dr Blasey Ford had endured. A Justice without compassion, without a heart that shows it can and has been changed, cannot be an agent of true justice.
Giving power to people does not change them – it reveals more fully who they truly are. What we have seen of Mr Kavanaugh thusfar leads me to believe that giving him further power would be unwise. More than that I believe it would be damaging to all the women who will once again know themselves unheard and unvalued. It would be damaging to him too for it would ensure that such power would feed his shadow self – the self that so far seems unable to express or allow for an honest accounting of who he was and is.
He began this journey, in his very first statement as a nominee, by claiming that no president had ever talked to more people and done more work in finding a nominee than President Trump had with him. Is that remotely believable? Even the President’s supporters must roll their eyes at such a statement. So for a journey that began with such a stretching of the truth let it end with the reasoned, unalloyed truth of Dr Blasey Ford’s testimony.
When we place someone, for decades, in a place to judge the lives and choices of millions of Americans, we should hope that they are able to make choices free of the pressures and anger of the day. Judge Kavanaugh is unable to do that. Whether I or we think him a decent or desirable choice in terms of jurisprudence alone is irrelevant. He simply can’t do the job free of the anger and impatience of the world in the way another justice without this history and baggage could.
More than that – he has the distrust and frustration of so many women embodied in his nomination that lies at the root of the “me too” movement. Might he be a good Justice? Maybe. Might be be a good Justice for our time? It seems not. Let the president and congress give us a Justice, conservative as she or he may be, that fits our time and whom we can imagine serving for life with integrity, dignity, and honor. Let them give us a Justice who can give us a sure sense that every voice will be heard and every person valued with an eye toward doing justice, loving mercy, and serving humbly.
Martha jane chilcott said:
Well written and analyzed as usual, Robert. I am proud to identify with the congregation which you lead as rector.