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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Questions for Pastor Throckmorton and His Editorial About Establishing a Christian Supreme Court

First of all, let me say Tim Throckmorton, Senior Pastor at Crossroads Church in Circleville, is an acquaintance whom I greatly respect. I know Tim to be a devout, devoted minister who serves the community. He is a fine man. I do not, in any way, write this entry to besmirch Pastor Throckmorton. I would never challenge his knowledge of theology; however, since the election is a temporal matter, I feel I must disagree with his editorial in the Daily Times.

Mr. Throckmorton writes that this election matters to him for a number of reasons, and he offers three points:

Point 1: “The next president will appoint not one but up to perhaps four United States Supreme Court justices and this election will determine not only who they will be but what kind of world my grandchildren grow up in.”

Point 2: “Every indication is that within the next ten years things could dramatically change if Justices like former Justice Scalia are not appointed. My friend Jim Garlow writes, “Freedoms come in 'threes.' Political freedom, economic freedom and religious liberty coexist together. Take one away and the other two will eventually disappear. One cannot exist without the other two.” 
Point 3: “This election will affect the rest of my life! A supreme court that is no longer shaped by the Constitution our founders gave us will probably last for the remainder of my lifetime... and yours.”

(Tim Throckmorton. "Why this election matters… to me."  
Portsmouth Daily Times. October 14, 2016.)
Refuting Point 1

The President does not directly appoint Supreme Court justices.

The appointment and confirmation of Justices to the Supreme Court involves several steps. Each of these is set forth by the Constitution and have been refined by decades of tradtion. The candidates are nominated by the President (Article II of the Constitution). Then, they must face a series of hearings in which both the nominee and other witnesses make statements and answer questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which can vote to send the nomination to the full United States Senate. Justices must have the “advice and consent” (approval) of the Senate by a majority. Confirmation by the Senate allows the President to formally appoint the candidate to the court.

The Supreme Court will not effectively determine the course of American society.

As far as “determining” the world in which Americans live, the Supreme Court does not have that kind of all-reaching power. In fact, the Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power to check, if necessary, the actions of the President and Congress. The power of the Supreme Court is limited by the other two branches of government. The whole Congress also has great power over the lower courts in the federal system. District and appeals courts are created by acts of Congress. These courts may be abolished if Congress wishes it.

Here is a very useful analogy:

“The Supreme Court is like a referee on a football field. The Congress, the President, the state police, and other government officials are the players. Some can pass laws, and others can enforce laws. But all exercise power within certain boundaries. These boundaries are set by the Constitution. As the 'referee' in the U.S. system of government, it is the Supreme Court's job to say when government officials step out-of-bounds. 

(“The Role of the Supreme Court.” Adapted from The Presidency, Congress, and the                                                    SupremeCourt. Scholastic Inc. 1989.)

It is false to assume that unless we have judges like Scalia, Christians will be severely threatened.

This is the presumption that if the court moves in a more liberal direction, there is a great risk that Christianity will being grossly restricted or even banned.

Christian leaders have threatened and used civil disobedience when the Supreme Court did not support their cause. It is well within their rights to protest peacefully any ruling of the Supreme Court. For example, they did this with the issues of gay marriage and gender identity.

Still, it is an inconceivable over-generalization that protecting a civil right like gay marriage presents a threat that will be “the beginning of the end of Western Civilization” – something touted by Deacon Keith Fournier, a Catholic deacon, and Mat Staver, the founder of Liberty Counsel, in their “Pledge in Solidarity to Defend Marriage.” Christians are not victimized by gay marriages. Churches have always had the right to discriminate whom they will marry as evidenced by the Roman Catholic Church that refuses to marry those who have been divorced unless the prior marriage has been annulled by the Church.

In spite of right-wing Christian rhetoric to the contrary, the Constitution is a secular document. The separation of church and state is clearly defined. A true democracy must hold certain limitations on the exercise of a particular religion as it applies to matters of state. It also accepts that all religious “truth” is equally valid and equally protected – that includes the religions of Jews, Muslims and those who eschew all religions. It is important that the Supreme Court stands against the establishment of a theocracy as it insures all citizens have liberty and justice.

Justice Scalia, himself, opted not to probe the intensity or validity of a plaintiff’s religious conviction. Get too deep into second-guessing matters of spiritual belief, he noted in his landmark 1990 opinion denying peyote-using Native Americans an exemption from everyday drug laws, and there’s no getting out: “What principle of law or logic can be brought to bear to contradict a believer’s assertion that a particular act is ‘central’ to his personal faith?” Neutral laws must hold sway, or every religious objector becomes, in Scalia’s words, “a law unto himself.”

(Dahlia Lithwick. “Scalia v. Scalia.” The Atlantic. June 2014.)

Refuting Point 3

The point that we may face a Supreme Court that “will no longer be shaped by the Constitution our founders gave us” is emotional language without logical support.

Our judges and courts constantly struggle both to uphold the Constitution and to insure it remains a living document, not just aged words in a single rigid, literal interpretation. To suggest that the Supreme Court makeup somehow encourages a world in which “Christians are being beheaded” and “Christians chaplains are being purged” and “first graders can no longer be called boys and girls” is argument by emotive language.

Substituting facts and evidence with words that stir up emotions in an attempt to manipulate others into accepting the truth of an argument is not acceptable in any court of law. Invoking the reference to our founding fathers to defend the fears of the right is an appeal to patriotism, a ploy often used by politicians to bolster their status. I have even known religious leaders who employ emotion deceitfully.

Mr. Throckmorton, you say: “My friend Jim Garlow (an evangelical leader in the political arena) writes, 'Freedoms come in “threes.” Political freedom, economic freedom and religious liberty coexist together. Take one away and the other two will eventually disappear. One cannot exist without the other two. The genius of America is that it had all three, until recently.'”

This is the same Jim Garlow who in 2014 called in to the “Point Of View” radio program to discuss his participation in the Vatican’s summit on marriage. During the course of the conversation, Garlow offered up a rather interesting argument against the acceptance of gay marriage...

“All the people who advocate for so-called same-sex marriage ought to have to live in homes in which the plumbers who built them, or the electricians who built them, didn’t understand the difference between the male and female end of piping or plumbing or of electrical as well and see how that home works out for them.”

The same Jim Garlow who wrote on Facebook …

“My 'Trump vs Hillary' article added 100,000 shares in 5 1/2 hrs. Now at 3,100,000. In spite all of Trump's very obvious sins, weakness & shortcomings (yes, they are many. U don't need to tell me) I would like to help in some small way to assist in electing him with the hope that we might save freedom for the globe, save the republic... & protect us all from Jezebel 2.0.”

Mr. Garlow may need a lesson on just exactly what freedom entails. It appears he cannot restrain from judgmental condemnation and name calling while using religion to advance his personal beliefs. He is not a person I believe when he tells me American genius.

To Close

Pastor Throckmorton, I respectfully submit the following in response to your invoking the founding fathers: 

Thomas Jefferson, a son of the Enlightenment, once revised the Gospels to 'remove the gold from the dross.' Jefferson was convinced that the Gospels had some worthy information and some information that was added later by his 'superstitious biographers.' Jefferson’s version of the life of Jesus removed the miracles, included some of Jesus’ ethical teachings, and then ended abruptly with Jesus’ death and the stone rolling over the tomb.”

(Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble. “Justice Antonin Scalia and the Foolishness of Christianity.” February 13, 2016.) 

It seems from the beginnings of this nation's history, leaders have struggled with their religious beliefs, especially as they pertain to matters of government. The author of the Declaration is no exception. I still believe in our system of government and trust that the changes to all branches will serve the public.

Mr. Throckmorton, my friend, I believe the Supreme Court makeup is not enough reason to support a particular candidate for the presidency – especially after President Obama's choice was not even given the courtesy of a review. And, if I may make an assumption, even though your editorial did not actually name your choice, I believe you support Donald Trump.

Believing that Donald Trump is a savior of Christian beliefs is simply misjudgment spurred by discontent with politics. Please reference that students at Liberty University, one of the largest evangelical Christian colleges in the country, have issued a public statement denouncing Donald Trump, highlighting the increasingly bitter divide among conservative Christians about whether to continue supporting the Republican nominee. 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the heart of Jesus’ teaching involved welcoming the downtrodden and embracing social outcasts. He taught to accept those that society rejected – people like lepers, the poor, and other outsiders – much like the spurned immigrants, those with gender differences, and even the second-class status of women today. The bible that Jesus read and believed and preached, the Hebrew Bible, bears witness to the same principles.

Does rich, acidic-tongued businessman Donald Trump represent these values, even remotely? You may think so. I do not. I refuse to allow his scare tactics and bullying behavior to effect my choice of candidates. If Trump has been born again, as he claims, he has not accepted the charge of changing his disturbing, even obscene behavior.

Trump is possibly destroying the platform of American Christians. I agree with Daniel K. Williams, professor of history at the University of West Georgia and author of Defenders of the Unborn. Williams writes ...

"For the sake of their principles and their faith’s credibility, evangelicals who have reluctantly backed Mr. Trump in order to get a conservative Supreme Court may want to ask themselves how it will look to the rest of the nation if churchgoing, 'pro-family' Christians remain some of the last ones propping up Mr. Trump’s candidacy after droves of other Republicans have denounced their party’s nominee for his morally offensive statements.

“Something greater than the Supreme Court may be at stake for American evangelicalism in this election, though most Christian right advocates do not yet realize it. If conservative evangelicals’ support for Mr. Trump requires them to retract their convictions about the values of decency, marital fidelity and Christian virtue in public life, are they at risk of attempting to gain the Supreme Court at the cost of their movement’s soul?”
(Daniel K. Williams. “Why Values Voters Value Donald Trump.” The New York Times. August 20, 2016.)

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