With the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, those admiring that jurist’s particular variety of constitutional originalism stopped to reflect upon his legacy and influence. One thing that the observers of the intersection of the cultural and the theological can count on is the inability of the average Baptist pastor or minister to pass over the opportunity to invoke nearly any event as a rhetorical device for the purposes of berating the congregation as well as anyone else within earshot.
On his website, Russell Moore published a column titled “What The Church Can Learn From Justice Scalia’s Life”. For the most part, the analysis is an approving appraisal and explanation of Scalia’s philosophy of jurisprudence. However, there are points at which Moore can’t resist the urge to get in slight digs.
For example, Moore writes, “One can disagree with Scalia on these principles, and one can argue that he occasionally seemed to contradicted them.” But the same criticism could just as easily be said regarding Russell Moore.
For example, Moore sits on the board of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference. Would Moore sit on the board of an organization titled the National Confederate Leadership Conference?
From there, Moore proceeds to invoke the death of Justice Scalia as a platform and a pretext from which to bash his fellow Evangelicals.
For example, Moore praises Scalia’s prescience to foresee or extrapolate where the judicial rulings of the present might nudge the moral developments of the future. Moore contemplates, “Why were evangelicals so slow to advance the pro-life witness? Why were evangelicals caught so unaware by the shifting family structures in the United States?”
Moore answers these questions that he raises rhetorically by noting that the shortcomings he has pointed out in Evangelical social thought were the result of failing to see ahead of time how culture moves and for in part accommodating the “divorce revolution”. Maybe so, but the answer in part goes beyond that.
Many Evangelicals failed to see the direction in which culture moved because for generations probably up until the time Francis Schaeffer came into prominence and in some circles even later most Evangelicals had been indoctrinated and conditioned to have as little to do as possible with the culture whatsoever. The good Christian, it was often expounded from the pulpit, did not seek to investigate the issues and challenges of the day on their own.
Instead, you were simply expected to accept whatever your pastor was willing to tell you about them. An interest in anything beyond the casseroles at the church potluck supper was considered “worldly”.
Media and forms of art were considered evil not necessarily on the basis of content but rather in and of themselves. You can’t really subject the students in your Christian school to a curriculum consisting of not much more than grammatically diagramming Bible verses and where about the only professionals exhorted as examples to emulate are missionaries to foreign fields and then sit around dumbfounded as to why so few graduates from such settings go on to careers in strategically important fields such as law, medicine, government, or media.
Russell Moore really strives to bore the assembled a new one as he moves towards the conclusion of his analysis. In particular, Moore praises Scalia’s aptitude to befriend his opponents.
Of this tendency, Moore writes of Scalia, “He was certainly one of the most combative justices in print and in argument in history. Even so, he had a strong friendship with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Was that an inconsistency?”
Moore answers his rhetorical question, “No. This was confidence. He knew that his ideas could prevail, so he didn’t see the persons who opposed him as those to be avoided or shunned. He knew that his convictions were clear, so he didn’t play tribal politics by isolating himself with an ideological cocoon.”
Speaking of “tribal politics”, once again, it must be asked, if Russell Moore enunciates that phrase in such as say as to imbue it with negative connotations, why does he sit on the board of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference? Moore is likely nothing more than the organization’s token gringo. For outfits with such ethnically explicit names are all about tribal politics and don’t give a rodent’s hindquater about good of the nation as a whole.
Justice Scalia is to be commended for his many contributions in the effort to preserve what little remains of America’s constitutional liberties. However, in light of the circumstances surrounding his passing, as with all who achieve lofty status or position (including Russell Moore most likely as well) one will find that his ultimate loyalty was probably to the elite and its continued perpetuation rather than a set of enduring principles necessarily.
For example, the hunting lodge from which Justice Scalia transitioned into the Afterlife was owned by the International Order of St. Hubertus. According to the Washington Post (a mainstream media institution and not Alex Jones mind you), the International Order of St. Hubertu is an order where its exclusively male membership gathers to prance around in silky green robes while slaughtering animals not so much for subsistence hunting but rather for the thrill of taking another creature’s life.
Even worse, this organization is itself believed to have ties to Bohemian Grove. For those not familiar with that particular term, that is a place deep in the woods of California were many elites thinking they are so much better than the rest of us that they are the ones that will determine the course of our lives gather before a giant owl statue ritualistically pledging to bring about the New World Order. The ceremonial proceedings usually conclude with drunkenness, occasionally orgies, and (if certain conspiracy theorists are to be believed) sometimes even a human sacrifice or two.
Pastor Moore could have attributed this observation to just an aspect of Scalia’s personality that enabled the jurist to find that murky balance between standing for one’s principles and the degree of compromise necessary to prevent the political or judicial process from getting eternally mired in interminable gridlock. Instead, Moore utilizes the point to once again bash the mere pewfiller over the head.
Moore writes, “If our friends and acquaintances are all those who agree with us or our politics, then it could be that politics is our god. And if our friends and acquaintances are all those who agree with our theology, then maybe our talk about mission is just talk.”
If this is how Evangelicals in general and Baptists in particular act in Moore’s estimation, much of that fault lies in how the leaders of the movement have indoctrinated their respective congregations, followers, and students (not necessarily in error) over the past several decades.
Among churches of a more doctrinally rigorous nature, it is simply not enough to earn the status of good or even satisfactory Christian by attending worship on a semi-regular basis and to attempt to apply what is taught in such gatherings in the normal course of life. Instead, formal organized religious exercises and church attendance are to become the focal point of one’s existence.
For example, you are also obligated to attend Sunday school, Sunday evening, and possibly even a variety of small group studies during a given week if your church is sufficiently large enough where these cell groups are not necessarily so much about studying objective doctrinal content but more about confession and denunciation of shortcomings in a manner not surprisingly different from what might take place in a prisoner of war camp. But if your church isn’t large enough to provide an assortment of such groups, fear not. For yours will likely include a midweek service.
This will likely be marketed or specifically presented as a “prayer meeting”. Pewfillers will also be shamed of manipulated into attending from the pulpit as well. The common rhetorical set up for this will begin with explaining how prayer is simply talking with God and who doesn’t enjoy talking to or spending time with those we hold most dear. As such, it is concluded, if you fail to show up for prayer meeting, you must not really love God all that much.
But the thing about that conversation is that it really needs to be a two way exchange if the train of thought and ongoing dialog is to consist of more than the equivalent of a telepathic voice message. Furthermore, often what transpires is that pastorally led prayers end up being a combination of an extension of the sermon and newsletter announcements by other means. But at least when the sermon and newsletter announcements are made as sermon and newsletter announcements rather than as extended prayers, you don’t have to sit there with your eyes clamped shut for fear of being called out for it by the pastor who must need the privacy to quickly pick his nose.
This extended exposition must seem like an unrelated tangent. However, it does provide a bit of explanation as to why the Christian probably doesn’t have much time to hobnob with reprobates outside of the church.
Of course Justices Scalia, Ginsberg, and even Elena Kagin are probably going to hit it off. Though most aren’t going to have the courage to say it, both Roman Catholicism and Judaism are two religions that love their booze. So what exactly are upper class Jews supposed to bond over with blue collar Baptists that have had it drilled into their heads their entire lives (and possibly even rightfully so) to avoid alcohol at all costs? A love of pork barbecue that the Jew isn’t even supposed to eat unless they are of the variety that invokes that particular identity not so much because of a devotion to Old Testament teaching but rather as something to invoke quickly to justify an often noticeable hostility towards anything even remotely Christian?
In this situation of whether to interact or separate, the mere pewfiller cannot hope to prevail in terms of avoiding some manner of verbal chastisement. For often these clergy live by a double standard that they would not approve of if they saw it manifested in the lives of their fellow believers.
For example, in Spring 2015, there was a bit of ecumenical excitement in the air as it was announced that NBC planned to broadcast a dramatic miniseries titled “AD”. The purpose of the drama was to provide the viewer with a bit of narrative insight into what the early Church centered around the Apostles might have had to deal with following the Resurrection of Christ.
But instead of supporting this undertaking as a respectful attempt by the entertainment industry to present the founding of the Christian faith even if not entirely accurate down to the tiniest painstakingly exact detail but in a way that might spark the curiosity of an individual to investigate further if so inclined, a number of ministers and theologians openly criticized the production. Interestingly, instead of pointing out where the narrative might have strayed from the Biblical record, Pastor Randy White on an episode of “Standing For The Truth” droned on and on about the producer of the miniseries Roma Downey being a Roman Catholic sympathetic towards the New Age movement. White continued on by calling into question Evangelical leaders such as David Jeremiah that set aside differences with this competing system of theological interpretation to emphasize the common first century heritage shared by these distinct brands of Christianity.
From the vehemence of that particular episode, the average listener might come away with the impression of the importance of limiting one’s exposure to Roman Catholics if one wants to be considered the kind of person that puts faith first in one’s life. But apparently that is the kind of rule Pastor White expects everyone else to abide by with the exception of himself. This particularly seems to be the case when it comes to individuals that can advance Pastor White’s own career or rather ministry (to put it in terms that sound less secular and more pious).
For example, on “Standing For The Truth” (the very same program on which nearly one year prior he condemned fellow Evangelicals that had cooperated with a Roman Catholic in terms of promoting a cinematic production inspired by Biblical sources), Randy White deliberately name-dropped how highly he thought of his good friend Brett Baier who just happened to be a Fox News anchor. White also confessed that Baier also happened to be Roman Catholic but one whom White was proud to call his friend because of Baier’s sincerity to do the right thing despite the theological differences that White went out of his way to downplay in this instance. So why can’t Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett be thought of in a similar fashion as an alley with whom Evangelicals can at times cooperate regarding shared aspects of the faith?
Towards the conclusion of his tirade, Russell Moore pontificated, “And if our friends and acquaintances are all those who agree with out theology, maybe talk about our mission is just talk.” In essence, you, average Christian, are to be chewed out from the pulpit if you associate with people that are now Christian as defined in a narrowly dogmatic manner and you are going to apparently be chewed out nor if you don’t have any friends that are not Christian in a narrowly defined dogmatic manner.
In response to Dr. Moore’s catch 22, is it really the average pewfilling Christian that talks so much about mission? Or is that more so those that run or administer the church and related paraministries?
Missions does have its place in the life of the church and by extension the life of every believer. However, it is the occupational ministerial class that has placed what could legitimately be considered a disproportionate emphasis upon formalized missionary outreach to the exclusion of many other as legitimate Christian undertakings.
For example, back during what seemed the verge of a pending ebola epidemic, Ann Coulter dared question why couldn’t those inclined towards acts of piety try rescuing their own homeland from the perils of spiritual destruction for a change rather than these backwards lands from which a single microbe hitching a flight on an unsuspecting airliner could potentially lay waste to much of the industrialized world. For enunciating such insightful speculation, professional religionists castigated and condemned Ann Coulter much more vociferously than they ever did for her apparel of questionable modesty.
If professional clergy such as Russell Moore want to talk up missions but do nothing about it in terms of their own lives, then it is indeed a problem and they should be criticized for it. However, if the average believer hears these admonitions but after reflection conclude that the Holy Spirit is leading them to focus upon other callings and areas of ministry just as essential to the fulfillment of God’s will in this world, there really is not anything regarding this matter that the Christian ought to feel guilty about.
Justice Scalia will be remembered as one of the great minds of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It is too bad the lesser minds of this era have invoked this jurist’s name for the purposes of manipulating those over whom they have been granted a modicum of authority and influence.
By Frederick Meekins