Why is Amy Coney Barrett’s Christian faith off limits, but Raphael Warnock’s Christian faith is fair game?

Conservative news websites are freaking-out because Georgia senate candidate Raphael Warnock decried the “moral bankruptcy” of the American church for supporting Donald Trump in such large numbers.

Watch this 2016 speech at Howard University:

He is right. I hope Georgia elects him to the United States Senate.

Conservatives are also upset about remarks Warnock made about militarism.

Jack Holmes of Esquire makes a great point when he asks why Amy Coney Barrett’s faith is “off-limits,” but Warnock’s faith is “fair game.” Here is a taste:

We saw this ahead of the nomination hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, when Republicans got pre-outraged about potential Democratic questioning that might probe Barrett’s religious faith—including her membership in People of Praise, a Catholic group with rituals and traditions thatfall outside mainstream Church practice. Senator Dianne Feinstein blundered her way through some questioning on this front during hearings on Barrett’s appointment to an appeals court in 2017, but there was virtually no Democratic probing here this time around, surely at least in part because the pre-outrage was so intense. This stuff works.

Among the early outrage merchants was Senator Marco Rubio, who issued a statement on September 26 that was preemptively indignant. “Sadly, I expect my Democratic colleagues and the radical left to do all they can to assassinate her character and once again make an issue of her faith during her confirmation process,” he said. Assassination by radicals! That does sound bad. Questioning someone’s fitness for public office based on their religious beliefs is completely unacceptable, you see. It shouldn’t factor into how you assess their candidacy at all. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, who offered some thoughts on Wednesday regarding Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate in one of Georgia’s two upcoming Senate runoff elections.

Never mind that what Warnock is saying appears to be an adaptation of the Sermon on the Mount delivered by Jesus Christ, a guy who never was big on militarism. And never mind that Warnock can often be found speaking from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, once home to Martin Luther King, Jr., who himself said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Read the entire piece here.

Less than a week to go. Let’s check in on the court evangelicals

Trump’s favorite evangelicals are making their closing arguments. Here are some of them:

Franklin Graham believes that God works through the United States Supreme Court. It is also worth noting that he is bragging here about attending a super-spreader event:

These two tweets from James Robison are pretty revealing:

Jentezen Franklin does not seem to understand that overturning Roe v. Wade will do little to end the “abortion agenda” in the United States.

As might be expected, Jack Graham is supporting Al Mohler’s argument for Trump:

“The most successful term of a President in my lifetime”:

Christianity Today actually gave Paula White space to make her argument for Trump. What are the chances that PR man Johnnie Moore wrote this piece?:

John Hagee believes that Amy Coney Barrett is a “righteous judge.” Perhaps he is confusing the nomination of Barret with what the Pslamist says in Psalm 7:1. and Psalm 9:4.

Tony Perkins wants us to believe that he supports Amy Coney Barrett because she holds a “proper understanding” of the Constitution. He could care less about this. It’s all about Coney’s previous statements on abortion and what he believes to be her willingness to “inject social policy issues into the court.”

They said something similar about every conservative appointment in the last forty years. We will see what happens:

Look and weep?. It sounds like Bauer just dropped a royal flush in a poker game:

Ralph Reed would prefer massive crowds that are not social distanced and not wearing masks. In other words, a Trump rally. Yes, Ralph Reed supports pro-life candidates.

Wayne Grudem is still at it.

Eric Metaxas is still talking about “the end of America as we know it.”

Jack Hibbs believes God answered his prayers:

This kid called John Piper a “fool.” Now he is lecturing more pastors:

Sadly, this all Jenna Ellis and the rest of the Falkirk Center crowd at Liberty University have left:

Why is the GOP rushing the Barrett confirmation? The answer is simple: the Democratic coalition is growing

Another great piece at The Atlantic by Ron Brownstein. I find him to be the most astute political analyst working today.

Here is a taste:

Nothing better explains the Republican rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court than the record crowds that thronged polling places for the first days of early voting this week in Georgia and Texas.

The historic number of Americans who stood in long lines to cast their ballot in cities from Atlanta to Houston symbolizes the diverse, urbanized Democratic coalition that will make it very difficult for the GOP to win majority support in elections through the 2020s. That hill will get only steeper as Millennials and Generation Z grow through the decade to become the largest generations in the electorate.

Every young conservative judge that the GOP has stacked onto the federal courts amounts to a sandbag against that rising demographic wave. Trump’s nominations to the Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Barrett—whom a slim majority of Republican senators appears determined to seat by Election Day—represent the capstone of that strategy. As the nation’s growing racial and religious diversity limits the GOP’s prospects, filling the courts with conservatives constitutes what the Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz calls “the right-wing firewall” against a country evolving electorally away from the party.

And this:

Jefferson’s irritation in the early 19th century may most closely resemble the frustration building among Democrats, as the GOP races to seat Barrett before an election that could provide Democrats with unified control of government, perhaps resoundingly. In the 1800 election, Jefferson ousted Adams, and his Democratic-Republican Party took the House and the Senate, beginning a quarter-century of complete political dominance. But in a long lame-duck session after their 1800 defeat, Adams’s Federalists passed legislation substantially expanding the number of federal judges. Adams, much like McConnell now, worked so tirelessly to fill those positions that Jefferson privately complained he had “crowded [them] in with whip & spur.” (Separately, Adams and the Senate rushed to confirm John Marshall as the Supreme Court’s chief justice after the Federalist in the job resigned weeks after Election Day.) Even “at 9 p.m. on the night of March 3, 1801, only three hours before officially leaving office, Adams was [still] busy signing commissions,” wrote James F. Simon in his book What Kind of Nation.

Here we go again with the “right side of history” rhetoric

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof does not like Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. That’s fine. A lot of people don’t. But please don’t invoke “the right side of history.” (The political Right does this as well). There are no “sides” to history. Sometimes the course of human activity moves toward the values of Enlightenment progress and sometimes it doesn’t. It is the job of the historian to chronicle and interpret all of it.

When people like Kristof invoke this phrase they are not saying something about history, they are simply saying that they believe in progress. It is a political statement. When Martin Luther King Jr. said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” he was not making a historical statement, he was making a theological one.

Read his piece “Will We Choose the Right Side of History?

Notre Dame professors ask Amy Coney Barrett to “halt” the nomination process until after the election

Here is “An Open Letter to Judge Amy Coney Barrett From Your Notre Dame Colleagues“:

October 10, 2020

Dear Judge Barrett,

We write to you as fellow faculty members at the University of Notre Dame.

We congratulate you on your nomination to the United States Supreme Court. An appointment to the Court is the crowning achievement of a legal career and speaks to the commitments you have made throughout your life. And while we are not pundits, from what we read your confirmation is all but assured.

That is why it is vital that you issue a public statement calling for a halt to your nomination process until after the November presidential election.

We ask that you take this unprecedented step for three reasons.

First, voting for the next president is already underway. According to the United States Election Project (https://electproject.github.io/Early-Vote-2020G/index.html), more than seven million people have already cast their ballots, and millions more are likely to vote before election day. The rushed nature of your nomination process, which you certainly recognize as an exercise in raw power politics, may effectively deprive the American people of a voice in selecting the next Supreme Court justice. You are not, of course, responsible for the anti-democratic machinations driving your nomination. Nor are you complicit in the Republican hypocrisy of fast-tracking your nomination weeks before a presidential election when many of the same senators refused to grant Merrick Garland so much as a hearing a full year before the last election. However, you can refuse to be party to such maneuvers. We ask that you honor the democratic process and insist the hearings be put on hold until after the voters have made their choice. Following the election, your nomination would proceed, or not, in accordance with the wishes of the winning candidate. 

Next, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish was that her seat on the court remain open until a new president was installed. At your nomination ceremony at the White House, you praised Justice Ginsburg as “a woman of enormous talent and consequence, whose life of public service serves as an example to us all.” Your nomination just days after Ginsburg’s death was unseemly and a repudiation of her legacy. Given your admiration for Justice Ginsburg, we ask that you repair the injury to her memory by calling for a pause in the nomination until the next president is seated.

Finally, your nomination comes at a treacherous moment in the United States. Our politics are consumed by polarization, mistrust, and fevered conspiracy theories. Our country is shaken by pandemic and economic suffering. There is violence in the streets of American cities. The politics of your nomination, as you surely understand, will further inflame our civic wounds, undermine confidence in the court, and deepen the divide among ordinary citizens, especially if you are seated by a Republican Senate weeks before the election of a Democratic president and congress. You have the opportunity to offer an alternative to all that by demanding that your nomination be suspended until after the election. We implore you to take that step.

We’re asking a lot, we know. Should Vice-President Biden be elected, your seat on the court will almost certainly be lost. That would be painful, surely. Yet there is much to be gained in risking your seat. You would earn the respect of fair-minded people everywhere. You would provide a model of civic selflessness. And you might well inspire Americans of different beliefs toward a renewed commitment to the common good.

We wish you well and trust you will make the right decision for our nation.

Read the names of the signers here.

Will Amy Coney Barrett’s charismatic faith make her “less predictable” as a justice?

In a recent piece at The Atlantic, anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann argues that Amy Coney Barrett’s charismatic faith might lead here to be “less predictable than many presume.” Here is a taste:

In my research on charismatic evangelical Christianity, I have seen that people experience God as doing surprising, startling things, and that their sense of being surprised by God becomes proof that they are acting as he wills. I met, for example, a man who joined the Word of God (the community from which People of Praise developed) and became a charismatic evangelical pastor. Ken Wilson founded a church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with hundreds of congregants. He led that church for decades. Some years ago, his associate pastor met the woman who would become her wife. The church wanted him to fire her. But Wilson had prayed intensely about this, and he refused. He believes that it was God who changed his mind. The church then asked him to leave too—and he did.

Amy Coney Barrett is a woman who has lived out a radical critique of the modern world. She will be less vulnerable to the peer pressure of other judges than many might be, because she has a powerful moral compass, developed out of her own experience in prayer. Yes, she will likely oppose Roe v. Wade if the opportunity arises. Yes, she will likely take conservative positions. But she has a radical streak and an intensely personal God, and we should expect some surprises from her.

Read the rest here.

This is an interesting argument, but it is based on the assumption–which Barrett denies–that her religious faith will somehow shape how she understands the law. I think, in most cases, the originalism of Antonin Scalia, and not her charismatic faith, will guide her decisions. This probably means that the surprises will be few.

Why isn’t Amy Coney Barrett a model for conservative evangelical women?

Katelyn Beaty writes at The New York Times: “But to set the record straight, on handmaid and beyond, conservative Christians must do their part to imagine a broader and more humanizing vision for women’s place in the public square.”

Here is more:

So it’s worth asking: If Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith and indisputable career accomplishments make her such a young heroine of the Christian right, why doesn’t the traditional Christianity to which she adheres encourage more women to be like her?

To be clear, few in even secular communities can be like Judge Barrett. Most Americans do not enjoy the privileges of class and elite education that she has had as a federal judge and legal scholar. A flexible workplace and supportive spouse — things many men take for granted — remain elusive for many women.

But there’s another reason few Christian women can simultaneously pursue career ambitions and family life in the ways Judge Barrett has: In traditional Christian communities, women are often asked to sacrifice the former at the altar of the latter.

Read the entire piece here.

Catholic University theology professor C.C. Pecknold tweeted “Ding Dong the Witch is dead” after RBG’s death

Chad C. Pecknold is a theology professor at The Catholic University of America and writer for First Things magazine. Back in 2017, we covered Pecknold’s Twitter “class” on St. Augustine.

It also appears that Pecknold was not a fan of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Tower, an independent student newspaper at the university, is reporting on one of his recent tweets under the title “Theology Professor Tweets ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ After RBG’s Passing; Students, Faculty, and Alumni Concerned.”

Here is a taste of Shannon Rose Miekka’s piece

Moments after news broke of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, 2020, Catholic University theology professor Dr. Chad C. Pecknold tweeted a meme captioned “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” 

Pecknold promptly deleted the tweet, but not before it was screenshotted and circulated by students, alumni, faculty, and those unaffiliated with the university.

Author of Christianity & Politics, Pecknold has been a professor at Catholic University since 2008 and currently teaches four courses this semester. His Twitter has more than 29,000 followers and almost 60,000 tweets.

Four minutes after the original post, Pecknold replied to Twitter user @shannon_last, “[The tweet] was unrelated to Justice Ginsberg [sic]. Nice trolling of a political enemy though. Such great Christian charity you demonstrate.”

After Pecknold explained in a since deleted tweet that “it was an inside joke with a friend… it was up for like 5 minutes,” some followers were relieved while others were doubtful.

Pecknold has not yet publicly clarified the context of the meme and has blocked some users who asked for an explanation, such as Twitter user @RichRaho.

Pecknold replied, “I need to block you for promoting a tweet that was not about Ginsburg’s death, which was quickly deleted, and intentionally misrepresents me.”

The tweet has left Catholic University students, alumni, and faculty confused and disappointed.

Pecknold was pretty excited back in January 2019 when Ginsburg had to miss a day on the Supreme Court bench while she was recovering from lung cancer surgery: Here is a tweet from Fordham University writer David Gibson:

*The Washington Post* religion desk tackles Amy Coney Barrett and People of Praise

Here is Emma Brown, Jon Swaine, and Michelle Boorstein:

While Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett has faced questions about how her Catholic faith might influence her jurisprudence, she has not spoken publicly about her involvement in People of Praise, a small Christian group founded in the 1970s and based in South Bend, Ind.

Barretta federal appellate judge, has disclosed serving on the board of a network of private Christian schools affiliated with the group. The organization, however, has declined to confirm that she is a member. In recent years, it removed from its website editions of a People of Praise magazine — first those that included her name and photograph and then all archives of the magazine itself.

Barrett has had an active role in the organization, as have her parents, according to documents and interviews that help fill out a picture of her involvement with a group that keeps its teachings and gatherings private.

I made a small contribution to the piece:

John Fea, a prominent historian of U.S. religion at Messiah University, said Barrett would be the first Supreme Court justice to come from a charismatic Christian background.

Fea said he believes it is fair for senators to ask Barrett how she views the blending of her small, insular community and a job judging for a nation. But he said People of Praise’s belief in distinct gender roles is similar to what is lived and preached across much of America today, in faiths as different as Catholicism, the Southern Baptist Convention and orthodox Islam and Judaism.

He said that believing men should be the spiritual leaders of the family does not mean that women cannot be professionally ambitious. “Everything about Amy Coney Barrett’s career contradicts the idea that women in People of Praise can’t have careers or be successful,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

Court evangelicals are getting COVID-19

Greg Laurie, the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, has COVID-19. I like Laurie and I have benefited from his ministry, but he has taken some really strange turns in the last decade or so. When you enter the court it is easy to let the seductive power of political influence blur one’s moral reasoning. He should have worn a mask and social distanced at the Amy Coney Barrett White House event on September 26, 2020.

The above image is also from September 26, 2020. Laurie is wearing a mask.

Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins was present at the Barrett event and contracted COVID-19. In his letter of apology to the Notre Dame community, Jenkins wrote:

When I arrived at the White House, a medical professional took me to an exam room to obtain a nasal swab for a rapid COVID-19 test.  I was then directed to a room with others, all fully masked, until we were notified that we had all tested negative and were told that it was safe to remove our masks.  We were then escorted to the Rose Garden, where I was seated with others who also had just been tested and received negative results.

I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask during the ceremony and by shaking hands with a number of people in the Rose Garden.  I failed to lead by example, at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so.  I especially regret my mistake in light of the sacrifices made on a daily basis by many, particularly our students, in adjusting their lives to observe our health protocols.

Watch Laurie here.

Unlike Jenkins, there is no apology for his failure to wear a mask and social distance during the Barrett event. Laurie tells his audience to avoid politicizing his diagnosis. This assumes that mask-wearing and social-distancing are somehow “political.” Masks and social distancing are not political. They help reduce the spread of the virus. But Laurie’s uncritical support of the president–the reason he was at this event in the first place–is certainly “political.”

This New York Times photo shows Laurie standing in front of Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor who also has COVID-19. Laurie is standing next to another court evangelical, Texas megachurch pastor Jack Graham. Graham will not quarantine. He claims he is “ridiculously healthy.” Such arrogance.

80-year old court evangelical John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, also has COVID-19. He was not at the Barret event.

Unmasked court evangelicals were at the Barrett announcement

Donald Trump has COVID-19. So does his wife Melania Trump. So does the president of the University of Notre Dame. So does Utah senator Mike Lee. So does North Carolina senator Tom Tillis.

Look at these pictures from Trump’s announcement of Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nomination:

If you click on the link above you can see a larger image. Historian Ben Park summed it up best in this tweet:

And here are the court evangelicals seen in the pictures above:

Franklin Graham (no mask)

Cissie Graham (no mask)

Paula White (no mask)

Greg Laurie (no mask)

Jack Graham (no mask)

Bishop Harry Jackson (no mask)

Jentezen Franklin (no mask)

Ralph Reed (no mask)

Tony Perkins (no mask)

Jerry Prevo (no mask)

Robert Morris (no mask)

Ralph Reed and Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows share a handshake:

Here is Meadows working court evangelical Tony Perkins:

John Jenkins of Notre Dame learned his lesson:

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

I know many of you have read about the White House ceremony I recently attended.  I write to express my regret for certain choices I made that day and for failing to lead as I should have. 

Last Saturday morning I received, on very short notice, an invitation to attend the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court.  It was important, I believed, that I represent the University at this historic event to support a faculty colleague and alumna of Notre Dame who is greatly respected by academic and judicial peers, revered by her students and cherished by her friends. 

When I arrived at the White House, a medical professional took me to an exam room to obtain a nasal swab for a rapid COVID-19 test.  I was then directed to a room with others, all fully masked, until we were notified that we had all tested negative and were told that it was safe to remove our masks.  We were then escorted to the Rose Garden, where I was seated with others who also had just been tested and received negative results.

I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask during the ceremony and by shaking hands with a number of people in the Rose Garden.  I failed to lead by example, at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so.  I especially regret my mistake in light of the sacrifices made on a daily basis by many, particularly our students, in adjusting their lives to observe our health protocols.

After returning to campus, I consulted the Notre Dame Wellness Center and was advised to monitor carefully and report any COVID-19 symptoms.  In an abundance of caution, I have decided also to quarantine in accordance with University protocols. 

Thank you for your continued efforts during this semester, and for your understanding.  

In Notre Dame, 

Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C.

Will we get similar letters from the court evangelicals? I doubt it. We will see if they even quarantine.

Notre Dame president tests positive for COVID-19 after visiting the White House

Fr. John Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame, has tested positive for COVID-19. He was at the White House last week for the announcement of Amy Coney Barret as Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

Here is CNN:

On Monday, Jenkins wrote a letter to his students titled “I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask,” in which he apologized and said he would quarantine out of an abundance of caution in accordance with university protocols.

“I know many of you have read about the White House ceremony I recently attended. I write to express my regret for certain choices I made that day and for failing to lead as I should have,” Jenkins said in the letter.

When I arrived at the White House, a medical professional took me to an exam room to obtain a nasal swab for a rapid COVID-19 test. I was then directed to a room with others, all fully masked, until we were notified that we had all tested negative and were told that it was safe to remove our masks,” he explained. “We were then escorted to the Rose Garden, where I was seated with others who also had just been tested and received negative results.””I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask during the ceremony and by shaking hands with a number of people in the Rose Garden,” Jenkins added.Jenkins is on the Commission on Presidential Debates.He previously announced the presidential debate would not occur at Notre Dame citing “constraints” surrounding the ongoing pandemic.

Read the entire piece here.

More on charismatic Catholicism

In our continuing efforts to make sense of Amy Coney Barrett’s religious community, here is my friend Matthew Schmalz, professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross, on the charismatic Catholicism that informs People of Praise.

Catholic charismatics practice forms of Pentecostalism that embrace the belief that individuals can receive gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Modern Pentecostalism in the United States began on Azuza Street in Los Angeles.

Starting in 1909, African American pastor William J. Seymour led a congregation in the city that claimed to have received miraculous gifts from God, such as prophecy and the power to heal. The movement came to be known as Azuza Street revival.

Members of the Azuza Street congregation believed that they had been given the same blessings as those received by the disciples of Jesus. According to the Bible’s Acts of the Apostles, on the Pentecost – the Jewish Shavuot harvest festival 50 days after Passover – the Holy Spirit came down in the form of flames over the disciples’ heads. Afterward, it is believed, the disciples were able to speak in languages they did not know in order to proclaim “the wonders of God.”

In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and is associated with God’s action in the world.

Read the rest of Schmalz’s piece at The Conversation.

People of Praise and South Bend, Indiana

Over at Politico, Adam Wren writes about the relationship between People of Praise and the city of South Bend, Indiana. Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court has brought attention to this small Catholic community.

Here is a taste of Wren’s piece, “How Amy Coney Barrett’s Religious Group Held Shape a City“:

What’s difficult to understand outside South Bend, however, is just how deeply integrated this group is into the local community. Though the group has only a few thousand local members, and keeps a low profile as an organization, its influence and footprint in the city are significant. That influence, and its resistance to liberal changes in the wider culture, are likely to arise as issues in her Supreme Court nomination hearings, expected to begin Oct. 12.

People of Praise includes several prominent local families, including realtors and local financial advisers, who act as a sort of professional network for families in the group and provide considerable social capital to its members. In South Bend mayoral elections, campaigns have been known to strategize about winning over People of Praise as a constituency, given the fact that they live close together in several neighborhoods. The group runs Trinity School at Greenlawn, a private intermediate and high school that is considered by some to be the best—and most conservative—school in South Bend. Families from Notre Dame and elsewhere, even unaffiliated with the group, pay $14,000 to attend grades 9-12 and $13,000 for grades 6-8. Barrett served on its board between 2015 and 2017, and her husband Jesse, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is now a partner in a law firm here, advised the school’s nationally recognized mock trial team.

As industry receded in South Bend with the closure of the automaker Studebaker in 1963, People of Praise has grown to occupy some of the city’s most storied institutions. The group’s original home was the nine-floor, 233-room Hotel LaSalle, a Georgian Revival structure from the 1920s, one of the most prominent buildings in downtown South Bend. When the group moved into the building in 1975, after it was bought by Charismatic Renewal Services, Inc.,a closely affiliated nonprofit, it cleared out one floor to serve as a communal daycare, and used a former ballroom for its meetings, where members spoke in tongues and practiced healing. Some members lived there.

Trinity School occupies a sprawling mansion situated on a sylvan property on the east side of town that was formerly owned by the Studebaker family, whose factory once employed 30,000 workers. The group’s main meeting hall, which isn’t listed on Google Maps, is a former bowling alley and indoor soccer complex 10 minutes from downtown, near the Trinity sports fields.

Read the entire piece here.

I blogged about People of Praise here.

As I read Wren’s piece, I thought about all the small evangelical experiments in communalism associated with the Jesus People and the evangelical Left. See Shawn Young, Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock; Larry Eskridge, God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People; and David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.

I know these communities well. In fact, I became an evangelical in a similar community in West Milford, New Jersey. This community was theologically and socially conservative, but active in helping the poor and serving its neighbors. And yes, it did have authoritarian tendencies. One day I will write more extensively about my seven or eight year experience in this community.

I am guessing that Barrett’s adoption of black children from Haiti has a lot more to do with her Christian faith as expressed through the People of Praise community than it does her efforts to cover up some inherent racism. Of course these two explanations can be connected, but it also worth noting that human beings often act in this world in ways that cannot always be reduced to race.

And as long as we are at it, let’s keep Barrett’s kids out of it.

Randall Balmer: Evangelicals “have been outsourcing their judicial appointments to conservative Catholics”

Back in July 2018, National Public Radio reporter Sarah McCammon asked me why there are no evangelical Christians on the Supreme Court. Here is the part of my answer that made it into her story:

MCCAMMON: A major goal for many conservatives, and one supported by Catholic theology. Trump’s shortlist for the next justice was overwhelmingly Catholic. One major religious group known for its social conservatism that’s notably absent from the court is evangelicals. That’s despite white evangelicals’ influence in the Trump administration and critical role in helping him win the presidency. John Fea is a historian at Messiah College, an evangelical institution in Pennsylvania.

JOHN FEA: A lot of that has to do with the direction that the evangelical movement has taken in America.

MCCAMMON: Fea says unlike Catholicism and Judaism, which both have a long intellectual tradition, American evangelicalism has been more practical in focus.

FEA: Evangelicals are primarily concerned with preaching the gospel, with service. So as a result, you have a lot of evangelicals doing great things, but they’re not necessarily pursuing this kind of intellectual vocation because they’re out trying to win people to Christ.

Most of the evangelical lawyers with a public profile are people like Trump’s impeachment lawyer Jay Sekulow, men and women who specialize in church-state law and believe that the primary way of being a Christian lawyer to help the Right win the culture wars.

In a recent piece at CNN, Ron Brownstein explores the place of conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court. If Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, she will join John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh as Catholic justices with a conservative judicial philosophy. (Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal justice, is also Catholic).

Brownstein’s piece draws heavily from the work of Dartmouth American religious historian Randall Balmer. Here is a taste:

“You have a situation where the evangelicals have been outsourcing their judicial appointments to conservative Catholics,” says Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Dartmouth University, who has written extensively on the history of evangelical political activism.

The Catholic dominance in these selections, many observers say, simultaneously reflects an ideological convergence and an institutional divergence. The ideological convergence is that conservative Catholics, including those in the legal field, have displayed as much commitment to conservative social causes, particularly banning abortion, as evangelical Christians. The institutional divergence is that there is a vastly stronger legal network — from well-respected law schools to judicial clerkships to lower court appointments — to provide conservative Catholics with the credentials required to obtain a Supreme Court nomination than exists for evangelical Protestants.

The Republican tilt toward Catholics over evangelicals “has to do, in really simple terms, with supply and demand,” says Joshua Wilson, a political scientist at the University of Denver and co-author with Amanda Hollis-Brusky of “Separate But Faithful,” an upcoming book on conservative Christians in the legal world. “You don’t have a robust pool of evangelical Protestant lawyers and judges, whereas you do have a robust pool of conservative Catholic judges and lawyers and academics.”

Read the entire piece here.

Is Amy Coney Barrett a new feminist icon?

This is a really interesting piece at Politico. Here is a taste of Erika Bachiochi‘s “Amy Coney Barrett: A New Feminist Icon”:

Barrett embodies a new kind of feminism, a feminism that builds upon the praiseworthy antidiscrimination work of Ginsburg but then goes further. It insists not just on the equal rights of men and women, but also on their common responsibilities, particularly in the realm of family life. In this new feminism, sexual equality is found not in imitating men’s capacity to walk away from an unexpected pregnancy through abortion, but rather in asking men to meet women at a high standard of mutual responsibility, reciprocity and care.

At Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearing in 2017, Sen. Dianne Feinstein tellingly remarked, “You are controversial because many of us that have lived lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems, and Roe entered into that, obviously.”

Barrett’s life story puzzles older feminists like Feinstein because bearing and raising a bevy of children has long implied retaining a traditional life script — like staying home with the children — that Barrett has obviously not heeded.

To be sure, few mothers of seven could become federal judges, never mind Supreme Court justices. Barrett – “generationally brilliant,” according to her Notre Dame colleague, O. Carter Snead — is likely alone in this set. It all seems so unlikely: She has risen to the pinnacle of her profession while at once being “radically hospitable” to children, as Snead has described her. An enigma to many, she doesn’t easily fit into any ideological box.

If we’re really intent as a country on seeing women flourish in their professions and serve in greater numbers of leadership positions too, it would be worthwhile to interrupt the abortion rights sloganeering for a beat and ask just how this mother of many has achieved so much.

Read the entire piece here.

What should we make of Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett?

In the last 24 hours several of you have asked me what I think about Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

First, I think there is nothing unconstitutional about Trump choosing a nominee in an election year.

Second, I think there are times when a president should think about the greater good of the country. (I can’t believe I actually have to point this out, but we are living in the age of Trump). This might mean holding a Supreme Court nomination until after a presidential election. At the very least, it might also mean waiting until Ruth Bader Ginsburg is buried before choosing her successor. Joe Biden is right about Trump’s lack of basic human decency.

Third, GOP Senators are hypocrites. In 2016, Merrick Garland should have received a hearing and a vote. I am not convinced by any of the GOP attempts to reconcile their 2016 views with their willingness to give Trump’s nominee (Barrett) a hearing and a vote in 2020.

This Jake Tapper interview with Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is a perfect example of what I am talking about:

Cotton is just making stuff up here. He loves the founding fathers, but he seems to have no interest in their fears about political partisanship undermining the republic.

Fourth, no matter what we think about all of this, Barrett will be appointed to Ginsburg’s seat and it will probably happen before the election. If it wasn’t Barrett, it would have been another justice approved by the court evangelicals.

Fifth, Barrett is a competent interpreter of the law and a fair choice in light of what I wrote about in the previous paragraph.

Sixth, I direct you to my previous posts on Barrett’s religion. I have tried to put her beliefs in some kind of larger context.

Seventh, I take a “wait and see” approach on Roe v. Wade. Barrett has said it is unlikely that it would be overturned, but that was back in 2013. (It is unclear whether her comment represented her own personal beliefs or was simply a statement made by an outside commentator).

Moreover, as someone who does not believe overturning Roe is the best way to reduce abortions in America, I don’t have a strong opinion either way on Barrett’s anti-abortion record. I know I will be criticized by the Right and the Left for this position. The Right will criticize me for not embracing the conservative evangelical playbook on abortion. I have argued many times before why the Christian Right playbook is bad for the nation and the church. The Left will say that as a white male I don’t care about women’s health. This is a false binary. One can care about women’s health and still think abortion is morally wrong. I stand with the millions of American women who also believe this.

Eighth, I am worried more about what a Barrett appointment might mean for health care and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) than I am about what it might mean for abortion.

Ninth, I am not worried about Trump using a conservative majority on the court to steal the 2020 presidential election. I have no doubt that Trump will try to claim election fraud if he loses on November 3, but I can’t imagine the Supreme Court would allow him to get away with this.

Politically, Trump’s ongoing claims that mail-in-ballots will lead to an unfair election will ultimately work against him because it gives the Court and other officials time to anticipate his arguments and gather evidence to prove he is wrong.

Local coverage of the South Bend People of Praise community, 1977

Sun, Aug 7, 1977 – 30 · The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) · Newspapers.com

Later today Trump is expected to announce his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. There has been a lot of discussion about Barrett’s religious community, the People of Praise in South Bend, Indiana. I wrote about it earlier today.

If you want to dig a little deeper into the history of the South Bend People of Praise group, the August 7, 1977 issue of The South Bend Tribune devoted several articles to it. I have copied two of them below:

Here is Whitney Smith’s piece: “Charismatics: United or hell-bent for schism?”:

To some, the Charismatic Renewal has “the best potential for uniting Christians in and out of the major denominations. To others, certain practices destine the movement hell-bent for schism.

Such is the conflict facing many Christians who are concerned for the future of their faith.

Critics have raised some of the most ardent questions about a religious movement since Rev. Sun Myung Moons Unification Church. They are concerned not only because the renewal has revitalized religion for millions of Christians, but because serious conflicts have arisen out of the Charismatic communities.

“There is definitely the potential for a very serious factionalism within the movement, said Rev. Dan Danielson, C.S.C., vicar for Catholic Charismatics for the Diocese of Oakland, Calif. This is even more legitimate a concern than it was a few years ago when criticisms were first made.

At first, hard-line Catholics balked at accepting the movement

Traditionalists said the swaying bodies, waving hands and verbal outbursts of praise from worshippers seem more of an emotional response to Cod than an internal one, and therefore seem more Charismatic than Catholic.

But as Catholics are becoming more familiar with the movement, gradually they are accepting it. Pope Raul VI himself and many bishops have adopted an attitude of what Rev. Danielson called cautious optimism.

Indeed, the focus of criticism has changed.

Most criticism today is aimed at residential Charismatic communities, rather than the worldwide movement from which the communities have emerged.

Former community members claim “authoritarianism in communities such as South Bend’s 800-member People of Praise is in some ways unhealthy for its members.

Catholics attack community prayer practices as unacceptable replacements for time-honored traditions such as the private confessional.

Still others attack as unsound a fundamentalist attitude toward women, which they said results from a “too-literal interpretation” of male and female roles defined in Scripture.

Community members claim much criticism of the Charismatics stems from unfamiliarity with what the community is and what their lives are like. South Bends People of Praise community, for example, has been a puzzle to many local residents.

That’s unusual, considering People of Praise has been used as a model for other communities like it across the country, and that South Bend is communications headquarters for the worldwide Charismatic movement.

Few know about the community because the members are content to “live and let live.” When they do talk about the community to outsiders, its like listening to attorneys plead a case before a judge. They weigh every word.

They’re careful to the point of being defensive and tight-lipped to the point of convincing you they have something to hide. Even if they don’t.

Charismatics have been lambasted for everything from getting excited about God to exorcising evil spirits–a practice they call “deliverance.” So strong has been the onslaught of criticism that the Charismatics have become calloused, almost unresponsive to it.

Asked why they have remained so aloof, Tom Noe. community member, responded they are only interested in fulfilling their commitment as a community: to put the Christian tenets a lot of persons talk about into -practice in their daily lives.

According to Charismatic Conference Coordinator Tony Rowland, critics take potshots at the People of Praise out of ignorance of what it is really like. Still, some of the most ardent critics were once Charismatics themselves.

An example is Brad (not his real name), who left a People of Praise household after living there for nearly a year. 

Brad, 20, quit the community because, among other reasons, “it restricted my lifestyle.”

When Brad wasn’t working, community prayer sessions, recruitment meetings and other activities crowded his free time. Brad and the rest of the Charismastic family pooled their paychecks in the household fund for food and lodging expenses, but received only $8 each week for outside expenses.

The evil spirit of pride” was exorcised from Brad, he said, in a required “deliverance” session before a room full of others at the LaSalle Hotel.

For a year, he was not permitted to date anyone outside the community, he said. If he chose to date inside the community, it had to be “with the intention of looking for a wife,” and he had to receive permission from his “head” (spiritual advisor.)

“They wanted me to quit my job, which I really enjoy, to come to work for them in the LaSalle building. I think I should decide things about my career and marriage. In a sense, they tried to control my life.”

Such practices have been called “authoritarian” by Dr. William G. Storey, a Notre Dame theology professor who left the movement in 1970.

Another Notre Dame faculty member, Dr. Josephine M. Ford, has written more than 30 articles and books explaining and criticizing the Charismatics. Her most outspoken objections concern the treatment of women in the communities.

Dr. Ford, an associate professor of theology who is now on sabbatical in California, was expelled from the movement six years ago for being disruptive. There is an incredible subordination of women in the communities,” said Dr. Ford.

“There are male and female roles which community members interpret too literally from New Testament scripture, particularly Paul.

“You would think that Adam and Eve are more fundamental to their faith than Jesus Christ Himself.”

Rowland admitted that “a lot of our beliefs go contrary to what is going on (with women’s liberation) today. Scripture says the man is the head of the household, and that women are to support their husbands. A lot of people are apt to take this loosely.

Besides, Rowland added, a relationship in which the wife supports the husband in work does not mean she is inferior. But Dr. Ford insists that the People of Praise and Word of God (Ann Arbor) communities do treat women as inferiors.

She cited as an example a community practice that women may not step outside the traditional female roles when seeking jobs. A South Bend woman I know of wanted to become a doctor, but it was recommended instead that she become a nurse,” she added. 

Rev. Danielson and other critics of the Charismatics stress they have “a very positive attitude about the potential of the movement,” but “maintain significant differences with current leadership.” 

Communities in South Bend, Ann Arbor and elsewhere often leave discordant voices no choice but leaving the movement.

Considering that the current leadership an eight-member National Service Committee fills its own vacancies, there seems little chance for a change in philosophy that would overcome current conflicts.

Rev. Danielson and others say the only hope is for the Charismatics to work more closely within the church structure, and for the (ad hoc) committee of bishops and local diocesan bishops to become familiar enough with the communities to help overcome conflicts.

“Otherwise, the potential for a very serious factionalism is very great,” he said. I, for one, and many of the Charismatics are dissatisfied with many of the decisions that have been made, and feel it is time for a new voice to bo heard.”

Here is Kathleen Harsh’s piece, “Charismatics live together, sharing faith, good times”:

Dinners over. While that’s the time most American families clear away the dishes and tune in Walter Cronkite, the family at 1304 Hillcrest moves to the living room and tunes in the Lord.

This is not your ordinary American household.

The home on Hillcrest is one of more than 30 households in the 800-member People of Praise Community, an extension of the Charismatic Renewal.

Outside’ the spacious brick house are clusters of shade trees. Inside, 18 persons put to practice the Christian principles a lot of other people just talk about.

“You came at a very bad time,” said Mrs. Colette Rowland, the wife of the head of the household, as she bustled through the dining room in a bright yellow caftan.

Everyone in the household and that includes her family of eight, four Notre Dame students and a second grade teacher rushed about as they prepared to leave for the Charismatic Renewal Conference in Kansas City. Mrs. Rowland’s husband and a few other residents were on their way to the conference.

As if that wasn’t enough to disrupt the unusually routine household, the Rowland family is preparing to move to Belgium, where they will help organize international Charismatic prayer groups.

Despite empty chairs and the sense of change that pervaded the atmosphere of the household, life continued as if everything were normal.

Most days, the family follows a rigid schedule: prayer at 6 a m. and breakfast at 7. During the day, they separate for work or household chores. Residents are “encouraged” to spend their free time together.  They are given only one free night each week, according to household head Tony Rowland. They meet every night for the evening meal.

In the minutes before dinner started, Chris Meehan, a senior at Notre Dame, explained why he moved into the household over a year ago.

“I like the environment a lot better here than at Notre Dame,” he said, .leaning comfortably on a piece of furniture in the dining room. “Drinking is a big thing at Notre Dame, and you’re nowhere if you don’t have a girlfriend. Here, there’s  more of a family-type atmosphere.”

Chris handles all finances in the household. Although members are not all related, they pool their pay-checks each week and are given personal allotments based on need. Chris then pays the rent, utility, and food bills for the family.

Finances in households in the People of Praise Community vary, depending on the consensus reached by the members. But, usually finances are handled in a manner similar to the Rowland household. When the paychecks are pooled, a certain percentage is set aside in a fund to be used if the individual decides to leave.

The family type atmosphere Chris finds so appealing was apparent as the unusual assortment of people gathered round the dining room table. Before the household sat down to dinner, the air was filled with the whispering of 13 simultaneous conversations with the Lord. Then together they broke into a prayer, spoken almost routinely.

At dinner, Mrs. Rowland apologized because it was not served punctually at 5:30, as is household custom. Chicken, rice, green beans and peaches were served on unmatching plates and saucers–the everyday set was on its way to Belgium.

After dinner the household moved from the dining room to the air-conditioned living room to pray. The living room was even more sparsely furnished than the dining room. All that remaimed was a piano and one red sofa, on which Mrs. Rowland seated herself. The rest of the members formed a circle on the floor.

Chris, the 18-year-old son of the Rowlands, took his guitar out of the case and began tuning it. They sang from worn prayer books strewn on the floor. Some members lifted their hands up and swayed back and forth, as if in a trance, while others just closed their eyes and praised the Lord.

Alleluia, Lord Jesus,” and “we give you praise and glory,” and “I love you Lord” hummed through the air on that hot summer night as the members chanted their individual prayers.

Next they selected passages from scripture, relating what they read to problems and experiences in their everyday lives. The prayer session ended with a spirited singing of “Alleluia” complete with maracas.

One by one, they left the room.

Seated alone on the carpet was Mrs. Rowland, who with her soft French accent, told of how she came to be a Charismatic. She said the first time she attended a prayer meeting, five years ago, she felt a “very genuine authenticity of the presence of God.

“I’ve heard scripture all my life, but before it was just words. Now it has come alive.”

Mrs. Rowland said it was not a hard decision choosing to live a life in common with other people. “Once you give your life and your heart to the Lord, you naturally live according to the scripture.”

Although the role of women in the Charismatics life is something most members are reluctant to talk about, Mrs. Rowland discussed It, but not without carefully choosing each word. She added that it was a very touchy subject.

The women in the Charismatic household are given charge of cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. Tony Rowland said they follow literally the roles for men and women set forth in the scripture.

“What my husband and I do is talk things over and make a decision together. Nevertheless, the father has the responsibility of raising the family,” Mrs. Rowland said.

Although critics have attacked Charismatics for requiring women to submit to their husbands and heads of household, Mrs. Rowland said there is a lot of misunderstanding about the word “submission.”

“The key to it is unity,” she said slowly. “My husband and I are of the same mind and heart to serve the Lord. I know his mind so well that I can make a decision without his presence.” Mrs. Rowland explained that this is submission.

Betty Raven, another household member, also discussed her views concerning the roles of men and women. Betty, a Notre Dame graduate student who has an electrical engineering job at Bendix Corp., said she thinks a lot of the women’s liberation movement–specifically their stance on abortion–is “crazy. She added she did not think a person should pursue a career just for the sake of pursuing a career, saying she would quit work if she got married.

After prayers at the Charismatic household, all was quiet. The dishes were done and some members were outside in the backyard trying to make the heat bearable by talking, laughing and enjoying each others company.

Glancing over her shoulder at the joyful household, Mrs. Rowland said, They really do have a good time.” 

Should liberals fear Amy Coney Barrett?

They won’t like the way she interprets the law, but she is certainly qualified to serve as a Supreme Court justice.

Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School says Barrett “deserves to be on the Supreme Court” despite the fact that he disagrees with her on “almost everything.” Here is a taste of Feldman’s recent column at Bloomsberg:

I disagree with much of her judicial philosophy and expect to disagree with many, maybe even most of her future votes and opinions. Yet despite this disagreement, I know her to be a brilliant and conscientious lawyer who will analyze and decide cases in good faith, applying the jurisprudential principles to which she is committed. Those are the basic criteria for being a good justice. Barrett meets and exceeds them.

I got to know Barrett more than 20 years ago when we clerked at the Supreme Court during the 1998-99 term. Of the thirty-some clerks that year, all of whom had graduated at the top of their law school classes and done prestigious appellate clerkships before coming to work at the court, Barrett stood out. Measured subjectively and unscientifically by pure legal acumen, she was one of the two strongest lawyers. The other was Jenny Martinez, now dean of the Stanford Law School.

Here is O. Carter Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, in a piece at The Washington Post:

Even more reassuring to Barrett skeptics should be her remarkable humility. There are plenty of smart people in elite academia and on the federal bench, but few with Barrett’s generosity of spirit. She genuinely seeks to understand others’ arguments and does not regard them as mere obstacles to be overcome on the way to reaching a preferred conclusion. Time and again, I have seen her gently reframe a colleague’s arguments to make them stronger, even when she disagreed with them. And she is not afraid to change her own mind in the search for the truth, as I have seen in several of our faculty seminars. Such open-mindedness is exactly what we want of our judges — and what we can expect Barrett to bring to the Supreme Court, because that is who she has always been.

There is no need to fear Barrett’s faith. To the contrary, her commitment to treating others with respect grows directly out of her religious convictions. But Barrett’s love of neighbor goes beyond merely treating others with dignity. In all the time I have known her, I have never once seen Barrett place her needs above those of others.

A few years ago, a blind student matriculated as a first-year law student at Notre Dame. Upon arrival, she encountered delays in getting the technological support she needed to carry out her studies. After only a few days in Barrett’s class, the student asked her for advice. Barrett’s response was “This is no longer your problem. It is my problem.” Barrett followed up with university administration herself, got the student what she needed, and then mentored her for three years. That student just completed her service as the first blind female Supreme Court clerk in U.S. history.

Read the entire piece here.

Amy Coney Barrett and the People of Praise

It looks like Trump will nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court later today. Over the next several weeks, Senators and pundits will want to know more about People of Praise, a Catholic charismatic group in which the Barrett family are members.

So far the best short introduction to the People of Praise is Michael O’Loughlin’s piece at the Jesuit magazine America. Here is a taste:

People of Praise is a South Bend, Ind.–based charismatic community that attracts members from a number of Christian churches, though the vast majority of its members are Catholic. The group was founded in 1971, part of a Catholic charismatic renewal that emerged from the Second Vatican Council. Charismatic communities emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in the daily lives of believers. Some of their practices appear to have more in common with Pentecostal communities than with traditional Catholicism, such as speaking in tongues, healing services and prophecy.

Charismatic communities became increasingly popular through the 1970s and ’80s. The University of Notre Dame once hosted an annual conference devoted to these groups, which attracted tens of thousands of participants. Many groups have been active near college campuses. In some charismatic communities, single members share homes with families who are also part of the group. Other communities purchase multiple homes in a single neighborhood, creating a feeling of a large extended family living on the same block. Members of People of Praise pledge to donate 5 percent of their income to the group, though some give more.

Craig Lent, the leader of People of Praise, told Slate in 2018 that the community pledges “to care for each other physically, financially, materially, and spiritually.” Today, about 350 people belong to the People of Praise in South Bend, with a few thousand more in branches spread throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Their membership lists are not public.

Read the rest here.

People of Praise sounds like a movement of traditional Catholics influenced by evangelicalism, Pentecostalism (with its emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit), and complementarianism. It doesn’t sound like it is outside the mainstream of American Christianity. Critics will not like People of Praise for the same reasons they will not like Pentecostals for their faith healing and tongues-speaking, Southern Baptists for their complementarianism, and Catholics for their sexual ethics.

The former members of the group who claim People of Praise is a cult sound a lot like ex-evangelicals and ex-Catholics who levy criticisms against religious communities that make claims on the lives of their members. People of Praise is not the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like and you are free to leave.

I think we can also expect Barrett’s use of the phrase “Kingdom of God” in a 2006 commencement address will come-up again. I addressed that here.

But the issue here is not Barrett’s faith, but how and if that faith will influence the way she interprets the law. Questions about her Catholicism and People of Praise are absolutely fair game. Barrett should answer them.

Peggy Noonan has a good column on Peoples of Praise at the right-leaning The Wall Street Journal and Stephanie Mencimer has an informative piece from the left-leaning Mother Jones.