Pardon Me, I Don't Get It

John ArmstrongPolitics

Today was dubbed "Justice Sunday" by a number of conservative Christian organizations. A nationwide television simulcast was hosted by folks at Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, among others. The point of justice being promoted here is about stopping the filibuster in the Senate that has kept Bush judicial appointees from an up or down vote before the whole Senate. You would have to be politically news dead not to have heard about this issue and the impending actions to be taken in the Senate in the near future.

So what’s there to "not get" about Justice Sunday? Several things. First, the people who are conducting this effort suggest that the Senate’s refusal to vote on judicial nominees is somehow tied to the faith commitment of the nominees themselves. Second, the sponsors of Justice Sunday insist that the liberals in the Senate are beholden to special interest groups, thus they wield this power to block votes because of these particular groups. Of course they do. My question is "Who doesn’t?"

Personally, I confess that I would like to see these nominees voted up or down too. What alarms me about Justice Sunday, however, is the inconsistency I see in the arguments being advanced. First of all, is this particular issue really about "faith" or is this more directly about the political will to power? We have a huge divide in America about ethics in the marketplace and the courts. I agree that we have a problem and that the power used by the courts is sometimes out of place. But this is precisely why we have three branches in our government, with various means for keeping us from quick and simple solutions. To suggest that the Senate Democrats are abusing the Constitution by using the filibuster is a bit odd historically. This same technique was used to legally protect racism in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The way it was finally stopped was by changing the laws that preserved racism and by making it necessary for the courts to consistently apply these new laws to the respective cases they judged. Change is possible, but it is never a quick or easy process. The requirement of a "super majority" in the Senate is in the Constitution for a reason. I am not absolutely sure that we should throw this provision out so quickly. I would like to hear more debate about it and see how the American people view these things over the course of some time. I fear conservatives want to turn back the direction of forty plus years of legal and moral drift on the basis of one close national election. This would be the quick and easy solution.

What is ultimately needed, as I indicated, is a much slower and more difficult process. We need a complete change of thinking at the most basic level of society, namely in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. The church’s role is to address this change by the power of the gospel of Christ. (This is why Pope John Paul II, in the 1970’s, told American priests that they had to choose. They could be priests or civil servants but not both at the same time!)

Modern evangelical activists often cite the Civil Rights movement favorably when it comes to talking about changing the direction of our courts and our culture. I remind you that the Civil Rights movement worked to change minds and hearts on the matter of race and then made a clear case for basic fairness and justice that first won the day. Then the legislatures and courts had to follow. In these present cases conservatives are seeking to alter the direction of an entire society without doing the kind of spade work that brings about a real change of mind about abortion, marriage, and of related social/moral issues. It seems at times that we think the sheer "will to power" is enough to justify almost any action we wish to take so long as our goal is worthy.

I find Justice Sunday a real anomaly. Pictures of church sanctuaries with flag draped platforms do not engender confidence that we can still make proper distinctions between the gospel and patriotism. This is a touchy subject for many but let’s face it—we are the only country in the world where Christians put the flag alongside the pulpit and the Bible.

Finally, when Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, says Justice Sunday "is not about faith, but [is] a debate about fairness for people of faith, any faith," I truly wonder what he means. If this is about "people of faith" then how can it not be about "faith" itself? These distinctions make me very nervous. I wonder just how far the conservative Christain movement will go in confusing it’s political ideology with spiritual and moral change that comes only by the power of the gospel of Christ.

The continual references to the "Judeo-Christian" faith that I hear from conservatives are more than alarming as well. What exactly is this "Judeo-Christian" faith? The gospel is not about nationalism and the future of the United States. The gospel is about the cross of Christ, which will always be an offense to Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Have we traded gospel ministry for political activism? I do wonder. And I have to confess, I saw very little in Justice Sunday broadcasts that seemed like an argument for real justice for the oppresed. I saw a lot about wanting to change the culture on our time table and in our particular way. I think we can do much better than this. I want to change the culture too. I just question the methods some want to use.

I also still pray that we will regain confidence in the message of the gospel and go back to preaching it with clarity and power. The loss of Christ’s supremacy in our churches is startling to me. If the churches don’t put Christ in the proper place how can they ever hope to impact the culture in the long run? Maybe we need to meet the real enemy of moral breakdown first. When we do I fear we will see that the real enemy in our culture is in the church. As someone wrote some years ago, "I went to look for the world and found it in the church." Only a holy church can impact an unholy culture, socially and politically.