Less than two weeks ago I was invited onto a zoom call with the White House that included six female faith leaders from six western states. We were brought together to speak with White House staff about the Supreme Court decisions that were likely to be decided in the upcoming week, including cases involving the separation of church and state, gun safety, and a woman’s right to her own health care choices.
It was a somber call. We all knew the legislative branch was not going to weigh in on any of these issues, primarily because they have lost the ability to do much of anything to advance the rights of all Americans. Much to our collective chagrin, the judicial branch has become another venue for politics. We also knew there was not much the executive branch could do. The White House was limited to executive orders, many of which are being put in place as I write.
How did we get here? For decades the Supreme Court has been divided between originalists and non-originalists. Originalists believe the Constitution should be interpreted according to its meaning at the time it was written. Non-originalists see it as a living breathing document that will, of necessity, be interpreted differently throughout the course of history. (The same arguments between originalists and non-originalists exist among Christians, only over the interpretation of Scripture, not the interpretation of the Constitution.)
To me, the most disturbing reality of the Supreme Court’s judicial originalists is that their interpretation of what the Constitution meant at the time it was written increasingly looks like whatever subject happens to lead the news on conservative media channels. The founding fathers would turn over in their graves if they found out what beliefs had been attributed to them by today’s Supreme Court majority.
This increasingly extreme interpretation of the Constitution is not in line with what most Americans desire for our nation. These decisions are being made by people who have been plotting for decades to overturn the will of the true majority of America’s citizens. How can this be?
To achieve the consensus necessary to create a united nation 250 years ago, less populated states ended up with disproportionate power in the Senate and electoral college. In today’s world, conservative Americans from those states, often evangelical Christians, make no apologies for using that power to advance their agenda at the expense of the majority of Americans. One need look no further than Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court because it was “too close to the 2016 election,” while ramming through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, even though it was far closer to the 2020 election. Ethics and fairness were not important. All that mattered was power. Remember, this is the same Mitch McConnell who said, “Winners make policy, losers go home.”
Most Americans believed Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. Most Americans believe in the separation of church and state. The majority of Americans want assault weapons banned. Seventy-one percent of Americans believe LGBTQ rights should be upheld, including marriage equality. But apparently, none of that matters.
With today’s Supreme Court, the judicial branch, once the realm of caution and balance, has become a tool of the right. John Roberts has been relegated to a minor and inconsequential role as Chief Justice. He was left dangling in the wind on the Dobbs decision.
On Thursday of this week, I was invited onto another White House zoom meeting, this time with the Vice-President. There were about 150 of us who watched as she pledged the administration’s full support of women. Most of us had tears in our eyes as she passionately affirmed the right of a woman to choose. But everyone in the meeting knew the truth – the deck was stacked against us.
On Friday, after the Dobbs decision was handed down, I was invited, twice, to yet another virtual White House meeting. I was unable to attend because we were in the middle of working on script finalizations for the upcoming TEDxMileHigh Reconnect event. The first invitation was sent to the group of women who had met earlier in the week. The second invitation was sent to the LGBTQ+ leaders who had been invited to the White House a week earlier. I know why that second group was invited onto the call. We know the truth. Clarence Thomas brazenly wrote about it. We’re next.
One of my good friends, a woman I greatly admire, wrote to me Friday morning that it was the worst day of her life. She is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate people I know. There was a pall over every conversation I had with women on Friday. They have been second-class citizens for millennia, and we all should have known that 49 years of the right to make decisions about their own bodies guaranteed nothing going forward.
I know of few people who are pro-abortion. I worked as an adoption caseworker for a quarter of a century. I never dealt with a single birthmother who was pro-abortion. But I dealt with many who needed the right to choose. I was an entitled white male at the time. I began that work with an opinion about abortion, but with no real understanding. (I still don’t really understand. I don’t have a uterus.) But it didn’t take long for me to see the hearts of the birthmothers with whom I worked.
These women were not selfish. They were not dismissive of the life growing within them. In fact, it was their deeply felt love for that life and for their own (and often their other children) that caused many of them to end their pregnancies. Not one of them did it flippantly. Every single one agonized over the decision. None of the men who had impregnated them were there. In fact, most of the men had long since disappeared. For me, that work was life changing. There was no doubt in my mind. Women should be trusted to make their own decisions about their own bodies.
I pastor a church that includes many precious, wise, thoughtful, loving women. Many are survivors of sexual abuse. Many have been ostracized from their homes and places of faith because of their sexual identity or gender identity. Yet not one of them is bitter, thoughtless, or callous. They are generous, thoughtful, kind, and loving. Their struggles have given them a wisdom I can only dream of. I have had too many years of too much privilege to understand the oppression they have experienced, or the way they have been dismissed, ignored, and abused. Yet they persevere, not as self-centered, power-hungry women, but as followers of Jesus who want nothing more than to love God, love their neighbors (all of them), and love themselves.
It pains me beyond measure that it is a very different group of Christians who are behind these Supreme Court decisions. Evangelical Christians are the largest force driving this “take no prisoners” march to the right. They are twice as likely to support overturning Roe v. Wade as the rest of America. Sixty percent believe assault weapons should not be banned. Eighty-four percent believe gender is immutably determined at birth, and 66 percent believe we already give transgender people too many rights, though only 25 percent of actually know someone who is out as a transgender person. And most frightening, more than a third of them (35 percent) want America to be declared a Christian nation.
Far right evangelical Christians do not get to define what a Christian is. They do not get to define what America is. They do not get to change the message of Jesus, just because it suits their purposes. They do not get to circumvent the message of the Gospel, that it is good news for all people.
I am a Christian. I am not anti-religion, pro-abortion, or against the Second Amendment. I believe in a nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. There was a time I thought we were on our way to realizing that dream. I still believe we can realize that dream, but not unless we work to restore the rights of women, to protect the lives of LGBTQ+ people, to keep our children safe in school, and to keep our nation a place in which we have freedom of religion, not the tyranny of the far right expression of one religion.
God, grant us wisdom as we protect the rights of all Americans. Grant us discernment as we determine where to go from here. Grant us compassion as we comfort those whose lives will be made far more difficult by these decisions. And grant us hearts to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves.