A lot of people are concerned about who will become the newest U.S. Supreme Court justice—and rightfully so. The nine individuals who make up the Supreme Court have made key decisions in the life of our country. Their decisions have impacted the course of our nation far longer than much legislation by those who elected them.
Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Obergefell v. Hodges—these are just some of the regularly cited cases nine people have decided.
Given the import of such decisions, a lot of people—about 255 million—ought to be concerned about who will replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the bench. But perhaps not in the way you might expect.
Our role in the future
We might think the fate of Ginsburg’s open seat is in the hands of 101 people—President Donald Trump and 100 U.S. senators. While that may be largely true at this point, the general population still has influence in the short term. The estimated 255 million voting-age adults in the United States still can contact their respective U.S. senators to voice their concerns.
These same adults need to give attention to the long term, as well. In a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” such decisions—no matter how far removed we may think we are from them—are the culmination of our collective involvement years before.
I’m not referring to who we elect to city councils, local school boards and home owners’ associations, though these decisions matter. My meaning is much broader. I mean, how are we treating one another? What behaviors, tactics and political maneuvers do we allow to stand? What are our children learning from us now that they will practice in adulthood?
If we truly are concerned about who becomes one of nine U.S. Supreme Court justices, we won’t get excited when the decision is in the hands of 101 people. That’s like putting on our seatbelt when our car is about to hit a tree.
If we truly are concerned about the Supreme Court, we will get excited when those nine individuals are in our care, growing up in our homes, schools, churches and communities.
We will pay attention to what they are learning from us from the very beginning. We will be intentional in teaching them from childhood to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.
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What I learned early
What I see happening among our politicians today is a logical outcome of what started about 40 years ago when I was a little boy.
In 1978, Newt Gingrich introduced his version of Republican politics—a “war for power,” as he described it. The rest is history he was glad to recount two years ago for a reporter from The Atlantic.
Gingrich’s style of politics was to break up bipartisan coalitions and to disparage and demonize opponents. He was a master of media, using C-SPAN—and then Fox—to his advantage. He ruthlessly went after “liberal Democrats” and deemed moderate Republicans ineffective.
Frankly, it all sounds much like what was happening in the Southern Baptist Convention at the same time. Ironically, the religious version started about 40 years ago, too, with the annual convention in Houston in 1979.
While conservatives in secular and Southern Baptist politics alike could be said to have succeeded in their aims, one outcome of their respective successes is deep division, bitterness and distrust—none of which is a formula for “a more perfect union.”
Looking for a desired future
In the religious version, those who did not align with what supporters called the conservative resurgence either opted out of the SBC or found themselves deemed outside “friendly cooperation” with the convention. Individuals and churches considered unfriendly to the SBC joined other denominations, formed new groups or remained unaffiliated entirely—a sad though livable rupture.
If the secular version mirrors the religious version as closely as the religious mirrored the secular, what might this mean for our nation? What happens when some Americans deem other Americans outside friendly cooperation? A similar sad but livable rupture doesn’t seem possible in the secular version.
The clearest example we have for such circumstances in national life resulted in a devastating civil war. I would like to think repeating this outcome is unacceptable.
Yet, rather than correct course away from rupture, our political leaders seem to be pushing headlong toward it.
In the short term—between Trump’s announcement this weekend and the end of the confirmation process—those who desire union must appeal to their elected officials to give up what we’ve been practicing for 40 years. Rather than continue tactics that aggravate and perpetuate division, we must practice what will bring us and hold us together—the kinds of things Christians should be good at.
In the long term—between today and the year 2060—we must be mindful that those who govern us tomorrow are being raised among us today. By how we live now, they will learn either to “seek the welfare of the city” or to tear it apart.
In both the short and long term, secular and religious, may we who claim Christ remember his commands to love God and to love people—who are created in God’s image. And may we live “in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work,” which we were created in Christ Jesus to do (Colossians 1:10, Ephesians 2:10).
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.