I Pledge Allegiance to…
The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was referenced many times during Amy Coney Barrett’s judicial hearings, by the senate committee members and by Barrett herself. On many occasions, when asked a question Barrett felt she should not answer, she quoted what is known as the Ginsburg rule, “no hints, no previews, no forecasts.” She invoked this rule so often, that after a while, I began to wonder if this might be what it means to “take a name in vain.”
I wanted to find out what Ginsburg meant by this rule and went on a google search for information regarding her judicial hearing. I was delighted to find a transcript of the entire judicial hearing online. 1
Ginsburg was nominated to the U. S. Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1993. To be honest, I knew little about her until a few years ago, and am grateful to a few young women from Central Christian College of the Bible for inviting me to watch the documentary RBG: Hero, Icon, Dissenter with them.
I pondered why it took me so long to hear about this iconic woman. I know the reason. After dipping my toe into politics in the mid-80s, my naïve and elevated view of politics – as the primary means to regulate morality issues in the United States – experienced a reality check: all politics it seemed was prone to immorality, greed, power-brokering, and any other form of avarice you can drum up.
I’d seen how politics prevailed in the organized church, so I hightailed it quickly out of that public domain, determining to equip future Daniel’s and Daniella’s to stand for justice and truth in their generation in whatever vocations they found themselves called to.
I turned my focus elsewhere. By 1993, when Ginsburg was nominated, we had moved from Denver to a small town in the Midwest. I was extremely busy educating four teens at home, working with my husband in ministry, and developing my own business. But truth be told, had I heard about Ginsburg at that time, I may have looked at her askance – simply dismissing her as someone representing the wrong political party.
I held Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed by a President (Reagan) to sit on the Supreme Court in 1981, in high regard, as did many of my conservative companions – that is, until we were informed by our fundamental leaders that she deviated from the Republican platform by siding in favor of Roe v. Wade. You can read a summary of this in a recent New Yorker article.
Allegiance to … the culture
How easy one succumbs, without warning, to the worldview of their surroundings. It requires diligence and discernment on our part as Christians to determine if we are allowing culture “to squeeze [us] into its mold” (JB Phillips).
The early Christians living under the empire of Roman government did not seek to impact that political system. Instead lives pledged in allegiance to Christ – went about the work of transforming hearts with the Gospel message. Nor did they teach a private faith in contrast to a public faith. Faith was worked out for all to witness. This is how they transformed the culture.
Allegiance to Rome shifted to Christ. Allegiance to worldly systems shifted to God’s system. Allegiance to one’s self shifted to caring for the other – the vulnerable, the orphan, the widow, and the outcast. Apparently, caring for one another, and those different from themselves, was a high priority for Jesus and for those now living in the new kingdom.
I still find this to be one of the most troubling elements of the Christian walk to sort: nowhere in the New Testament do we read of the Gentile Christians encouraged to engage in the political machinations of Rome nor were they charged to take a political office in any city.
There are over 7000 appeals to the United States Supreme Court every year. The court is not obligated to hear all of these, but after careful review they do accept to 100-150 cases.
I mulled this over for a bit, because it is a sobering reminder that many individuals are left disappointed, devastated, believing the lower courts have judged unfairly on their behalf. 2 There’s much to be concerned about in this regard.
The early believers were compelled to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions so we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim 2:2) seems to have been the plan. There’s plenty of work to do. In this “upside-down kingdom” inaugurated by Christ, how might today’s Christian citizens of the United States conduct themselves today?
Allegiance to … the Author’s Intended Meaning
My views about men and women’s roles in society and in the church, along with a few other theological positions, are different today than those that I held back then. I was confident then that my beliefs came straight from the Biblical text – a verse here, and a verse there – and that this was sufficient in my mind to support my views. After all, it appeared to be the method used by many leaders in the churches I attended to arrive at their conclusions on many issues.
Little did I know that studying the Biblical text in its original language, by searching for the author’s purpose for writing, and seeking to understand the context of the original audience, that the Word of God would open up with remarkably fresh understandings and more compassionate applications for today.
In a way this is the approach that Amy Coney Barrett – if confirmed to the Supreme Court – says she plans to follow when adjudicating cases brought to the U.S. Supreme Court. One method she identified is that of an Originalist: “all statements … must be interpreted based on the original understanding ‘at the time it was adopted’”. 3 The other is that of a Textualist who would ask, “what would the original hearer have understood the text to mean?” 4
The documents of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the 27 amendments, and each law and statute thereafter, if brought before the Supreme Court during her tenure, will be examined to determine whether a troublesome case passes the test of the original author’s intended meaning in the time in which it was written. Only after rigorous investigation will a judgment – in favor of or against – be determined.
If only we were that committed when interpreting the Biblical passages. Cherry-picking personal favorite court cases will not suffice. The profundity of the task before Amy Coney Barrett requires a commitment on her part to do her due diligence to understand the documents from the past in order to dispense justice and truth for all those in the present.
This is a lesson today’s church leaders should get behind: Cherry-picking through the Scriptures to support a personal agenda is an injustice to the original documents of the Biblical canon in and of itself and is an injustice to the people they serve.
I Pledge Allegiance … to Christ
A Christian’s allegiance, in my mind, is first and foremost given to Christ’s eternal kingdom, walking in his ways in whatever vocation to which we are called. For some that may indeed be a political or judicial vocation. Many are rightly concerned about Barrett’s religious views and political affiliations that may affect her capacity to judge rightly.
There will be “no hints, no previews, and no forecasts” for the future of this nation.
My prayer is that those who have pledged allegiance to Christ, who have taken upon themselves the very name of Christ have not taken his name in vain.
Regardless of where we work and worship, may we as Christ-followers, be encouraged to “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because [we] know that in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).