Beware the Ideologues

The ideologues are out in full force these days. These ideologues are visionary theorists who embrace a range of narrowly defined positions with considerable passion. And they are both conservative and liberal. You will see more and more of them as the Senate begins its confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts in coming weeks. Their rhetoric will be strong, their emotions very high, and their knives carefully sharpened. But they will contribute very little of substance to an important civic discussion that such an event actually warrants.

Ann Coulter, one conservative voice I can personally do without most days, has already suggested that John Roberts is another "stealth nominee," likening him to present Supreme Court judges David Souter, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor. And liberals on the far left have also begun their expected attacks on Roberts’ views on abortion. I am convinced John Roberts will rise above this partisan din and be confirmed, maybe quite easily. I hope so.

What fascinates me in this is how much the far left and far right are alike at times. For example, Ann Coulter and James Carville are striking similar in some ways. Both are shrill, very predictable and always, always incredibly passionate. They make for good TV. Rarely does either one doubt their insights. And they both show almost no degree of serious intellectual humility. For them the world is pretty black and white. And for them the Supreme Court should be packed with ideologues just like themselves. Roberts doesn’t fit their stereotype so both will oppose him.

Conservative Bill Kristol suggests that Roberts is "an establishment conservative, not a movement conservative." In layman’s language this means he is a reformer, not a revolutionary. It also means that he has a truly conservative judicial theory and thus deeply respects present law and the past work of courts, even bad courts. This is also why he referred to abortion as "the law of the land" in his 2003 hearing. Unless you have been asleep for the past thirty years it is the law of the land. I for one want it changed, sooner than later. I also believe that changing it will take much more than a winner-take-all battle over narrowly defined ideology within the makeup of the Supreme Court. We must change hearts and minds! That will take more than a few court battles over the next few weeks.

I find it interesting that President Bush did exactly what he promised in nominating John Roberts. In the last campaign he, not John Kerry, promised to not interview candidates with a litmus test. The reports that we now have say that Roberts was asked not one question about his views on social "hot button" issues. This is what clearly infuriates Ann Coulter and other conservatives. They believe in a "litmus test." It also drives certain liberals up the wall, probably making the Roberts confirmation much easier than some think.

This political picture is not unlike like what I also see in many congregations and church ministries in America. We are driven by ideologues, on both the left and the right. What we need are "establishment conservatives," or reformers who truly love the church and find both the heresies and schisms that threaten her equally detestable. It is much, much easier to pick a side, to come down hard on one important issue, and thereby to miss something very important in God’s purpose.

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