Tom Minnery is the Vice President of Focus on The Family, one of America's most influential evangelical organisations. FOTF and its founder, James Dobson, have been at the forefront of a movement called Justice Sunday. In a nutshell, the movement is essentially a protest against perceived liberal bias on the part of the Federal Judiciary of the United States.
A second Justice Sunday was held last weekend in Nashville, Tennessee. The New York Times published an editorial about the event. In today's Times, Tom Minnery had this letter published:
In "Justice Sunday Reloaded" (editorial, Aug. 16), you say that "Americans may tell pollsters that they favor more morality in public life, but we doubt that this is what they have in mind."The problem is that Minnery, and obviously everyone else involved in the Justice Sunday movement, does not understand the role given to the judiciary in the constitution. Minnery sees judges "usurping" the authority of both the President and Congress/Senate by blocking certain legislation from passing.
"This" refers to the involvement of Christian Americans in the democratic process - a right guaranteed them, and every American, in our founding documents.
The Justice Sunday II telecast was nothing more than people of faith - the "values voters" of last November - expressing their deep concern with the federal judiciary's usurpation of powers from the executive and legislative branches and their desire to see constitutionality restored to our government.
These views are hardly out of the mainstream. Americans overwhelmingly disagree with the Supreme Court's decision on eminent domain and support public displays of the Ten Commandments.
It's past time to restore order and reason to the halls of power in Washington, especially the Supreme Court's chambers.
V.P., Government and Public
Policy, Focus on the Family
Colorado Springs, Aug. 17, 2005
Well as far as this non-American knows, there is nothing legally wrong with such an activity. These judges are not "usurping" a legitimate authority, they are merely exerting their own form of legitimate authority that has been granted to them by the Constitution.
There is no doubt that federal judges have their own biases. Some are arch-conservatives, while others are quite progressive. Many judges exist between these two extremes.
The New York Times editorial that sparked Minnery's letter asserts that the only reason why Justice Sunday proponents are angry is simply because judges are making decisions that they disagree with. This is what the editorial said:
Attacking judicial activism may be good politics, but it is a phony issue. In a recent Op-Ed article in The Times, Paul Gewirtz and Chad Golder showed that the most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, voted to invalidate laws passed by Congress - a good measure of judicial activism - far more often than the justices considered most liberal. What the Justice Sunday II speakers object to is not activist judges, but judges who disagree with them.Unless someone can prove the Thomas/Scalia record wrong, I will take the word of this editorial and the reporting of Gewirtz and Golder.
It's not that the Justice Sunday people are not entitled to their opinion - of course Evangelical Christians should participate in the democratic process. The problem is that they are aiming their protests in the wrong direction.
The solution, according to these proponents, is to ensure that Judges are not considered to be "activist", which, in their language, essentially means judges who will interpret the constitution through the eyes of conservative Christian values.
Such an attitude will obviously make America's liberals choke on their cannabis smoke - but that's a normal reaction. These liberals are trying to ensure that the nation and those in power are amenable to the liberal cause. Nothing wrong with that at all - it's just a normal day in American politics.
The problem is that the Justice Sunday proponents are, through their own words, attempting to do away with the power of the judiciary by making it subject to the executive and legislative arms of the government. In other words, they want to ensure that judges will be compliant with what the President and Congress want.
Such a situation goes against the grain of the US Constitution. The judiciary is meant to be separate from the executive and legislative arms of government. When they act to strike down a law from congress, it is only because they see a higher authority - the US constitution - as contradicting this law.
For example, the President and Congress may get together and pass a law that states that black people should no longer vote. Even with the law being passed by the normal activities of government, and even with popular opinion agreeing with the idea, the court would strike down the law as being contrary to the constitution.
The example I've given is naturally an extreme one. Neither the current president, nor congress, nor popular opinion would ever sanction such a racist law in 2005. Yet its very extreme nature allows us to understand something rather important - when it comes to making laws, the Constitution matters more than popular opinions or political power.
The best way forward is to amend the constitution - this is the solution that both liberal and conservatives in the US should aim for. If the liberals want to strengthen the Roe vs Wade decision, then they need to gain more political power to ensure that a constitutional amendment can make it stronger. If the Justice Sunday people want to set up laws that oppose abortion, then they should gain political power in order to get a constitutional amendment through. If an "activist judge" goes against the clear text of the constitution (and its amendment), then the solution is simple - remove the judge from his position. As it stands at the moment, none of these "activist judges" have done enough to be impeached.
The problem is that, by acting the way they do, the Justice Sunday people, including James Dobson and Tom Minnery, confuse their followers with regards to the US constitution. Moreover, they also have fallen into the very American trap of investing too much power and authority into the position of President than is actually described in the Consititution. The President is not a monarch, and yet the way some Americans act, King George is their God-appointed leader. The same attitude is present in businesses, who worship and deify the magical CEO, as well as in churches, where the head Pastor is to be listened to and obeyed without question. That such authority should be vested into one individual is alien to both the US Constitution and the Bible.
And, of course, there are some (including myself) who see the current crop of American evangelical leaders as being led astray by false teaching. Influences like Kingdom Now theology, The Latter Rain Movement and Christian Reconstructionism are acting in the background to ensure that Dobson, Minnery and others (including, most sadly, Al Mohler) make decisions based on a pseudo-spiritual, but ultimately unbiblical, theology.
All Justice Sunday will do is make their proponents angry. They will fail in their attempt to remove these so-called "activist judges" simply because they will come up against the text of the constitution.
But as an evangelical Christian myself, I can see greater problems ahead. The American evangelical church is spiralling out of control because so many pastors preach neither the Gospel nor the Word of God. The actions of the evangelical church today reflect this massive structural defect in the American church's foundations. So many evangelicals support FOTF, but remain ignorant of Dobson and Minnery's relationship with conservative Mormons and Moslems to further their political ends. From what I understand, Dobson rarely mentions the Gospel in his radio broadcasts, and it is certainly not central to the message he gives. As for his relationship with corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff - we'll just let the judge determine the extent of that one.
The future of American evangelicalism is grim. At this point in history, the movement probably has the greatest amount of respect and political power that it has ever had, yet the evidence seems to be clear that their influence will wane. Already, 15% of Americans state that they have "no religion" on their census forms - it was 8.4% in 1990. This statistic will only get worse.
It is quite ironic that the current level of evagelical activism is symptomatic of a serious problem within the church - a problem that will eventually lead America away from the Gospel and from eternal life. That's what happens when the church preaches works and not grace.
From the Theosalient Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.