By the time President Bush announced his choice for Supreme Court justice, many activists probably felt as if they had been on a day-long roller coaster ride. For twelve hours, cable news and the Internet were filled with speculation and rumors. As each name floated, those with a stake in Bush’s choice reacted, often angrily. And some of those reacting were Christians.
In the guessing game, John G. Roberts, a great choice in my book, was at least the fourth “next member” of the Court. The first name mentioned, Judge Edith Clement, spent much of Tuesday as Sandra Day O’Connor’s presumptive replacement.
Clement’s lack of a “paper trail” that explicitly stated her judicial philosophy had many conservatives, including Christians, worried, even angry. They feared that she would be a “stealth candidate,” like David Souter, who would move to the left once confirmed.
This concern, while understandable, made three unsupported assumptions: first, that Clement really was a Souter-in-waiting; second, that she was actually the nominee; and third, if activists made enough noise, they could pressure the president.
When speculation shifted to another candidate, many activists breathed a sigh of relief, but during the hours Clement spent as the front-runner, saw more than one meeting regarding a possible third political party—and panicky phone calls to the White House, and alarmist traffic on the Internet, as if we could control events.
Now, I understand the concern, of course. There’s a lot at stake in this and subsequent nominations. But I’m troubled by the lack of political sophistication among Christians. In matters of culture, we must view issues and events from a long-range perspective. The cultural mess we’re in didn’t get this way overnight or even over a decade. Arresting the slide and reversing the direction of our culture will take even longer.
For instance, even if the Supreme Court were to reverse Roe—which I pray they do—the struggle for the sanctity of human life would simply shift to state capitals. Christians would have to convince their fellow citizens to outlaw or severely restrict what had previously been deemed a constitutional right.
Likewise, once we’re confident that the Supreme Court won’t create a constitutional right to same-sex “marriage,” we’re still left with the task of preserving the traditional definition of marriage. We still have to persuade people that marriage is more than a private arrangement based on nothing more than mutual affection. If we’re not prepared to do that, then no matter how many justices we get on the Supreme Court, we’re only buying ourselves some time.
Someone who viewed his battles from a long-term perspective was the great Christian abolitionist and parliamentarian William Wilberforce. This perspective enabled him to take setbacks—and there were plenty—in stride. If he lost one skirmish over the abolition of the slave trade, he would learn from it and return better prepared.
And Wilberforce never lost sight of the need to persuade those outside the seat of power. That’s why he distributed literature all through England. So, by the time Parliament banned the slave trade, the people of England were in agreement with him. And Wilberforce would never have allowed the excesses of the twenty-four-hour news cycle to get to him, even if the reported setbacks were real. Neither should we.
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William J. Stuntz, “Police Powers,” New Republic, 19 July 2005.
Jonathan Chait, “Social Selection,” New Republic, 15 July 2005. (Subscribers only.)
Collin Hansen, “Conservative Religious Groups Praise ‘Originalist’ Roberts Nomination,” Christianity Today, 20 July 2005 .
Ted Olsen, “Weblog: Jane Roberts for Supreme Court Justice!” Christianity Today, 21 July 2005 .
BreakPoint Commentary No. 050708, “Rule of the Clerks: Behind the Scenes at the Supreme Court.”
Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity (NavPress, 2002).
C. John Sommerville, How the News Makes Us Dumb (InterVarsity, 1999).
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