There is hypocrisy and then there is hypocrisy--and then there is this. Two conservative Christian groups are warning the U.S. Senate that Supreme Court Justice nominee John Roberts should not be subjected to any sort of religious litmus test.
Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said in a prepared statement that members of the Senate Judiciary should make a public statement that any questions regarding Judge Roberts' faith tradition are out of bounds.
The statement continues: "It is extremely troubling that Judge Roberts would have to face any religious litmus test concerning his confirmation to the Supreme Court. This sadly reminds us that religious bigotry still exists in America and hearkens back to the days of political witch-hunts and racial discrimination."
Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council had this to say: "There is no religious test for office in the United States, but what some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are saying is Judge Roberts, if you want to be on the Supreme Court, you better not take your Christian faith seriously. That's a religious test and this is unconstitutional."
And of course, both Schenck and Mahoney are absolutely correct. The U.S. Constitution affirms that no religious test ban be applied for public office. Unfortunately, they don't really mean it.
If Judge Roberts were a pro-choice Episcopalian or even a liberal evangelical, the National Clergy Council and the Christian Defense Coalition would be opposing his nomination at the top of their lungs. We know this is true because that's what they were doing before Judge Roberts was named as President Bush's nominee.
A few days before the announcement Mahoney said: "It is my prayer that the president will put forward a nominee who will respect the Constitution and will protect America's greatest natural resource--her children. The greatest threat to the survival of America's children is not terrorism, it is abortion."
Schenk, for his part, had this to say on the occasion of Justice O'Conner's retirement announcement. "Justice O'Connor's resignation is the most critical of any of the justices because her replacement will turn the direction of this court. We are already praying and working for a nominee that will not waffle as she did." Waffling, of course, on the issue of abortion.
So, in other words, these Christian groups are opposed to a religious litmus test so long as it doesn't interfere with getting a candidate who believes like they do. Then, once that is accomplished, they don't want a religious litmus test to challenge their candidate's religious views. Therein lies the hypocrisy.
My concern here is not where Judge Roberts stands on abortion or any other conservative religious position. He is free to believe what he believes—as are we all. My concern is the manner in which Christian groups conduct themselves in public.
There is no integrity in claiming to support the constitutional idea of no religious test for public office, while at the same time insisting the president nominates someone who reflects their conservative Christian values. The fact is, while decrying a religious litmus test they are imposing one.
If political groups insist on bearing the name of Jesus as part of their identity, then politics as usual is not acceptable. Taking on the name of Jesus means they are called to a higher standard.
To do anything less only serves to discredit what the Bible calls "the name that is above every name."
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.
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