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.

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.

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.” 

Amy Coney Barrett and the “Kingdom of God”

Notre Dame Law School professor Amy Coney Barrett is on Donald Trump’s short list to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Trump met with Barrett yesterday.

Back in September 2017, I called your attention to political philosopher Bill McCormack’s piece at America. Read that post here.

I also wrote about California Senator Diane Feinstein’s claim that “dogma lives loudly” in Barrett. Read that post here. In that post I republished Notre Dame president John Jenkins’s letter to Feinstein. Here it is again:

Dear Senator Feinstein:

Considering your questioning of my colleague Amy Coney Barrett during the judicial confirmation hearing of September 6, I write to express my confidence in her competence and character, and deep concern at your line of questioning.

Professor Barrett has been a member of our faculty since 2002, and is a graduate of our law school. Her experience as a clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is of the highest order. So, too, is her scholarship in the areas of federal courts, constitutional law and statutory interpretation. I am not a legal scholar, but I have heard no one seriously challenge her impeccable legal credentials.

Your concern, as you expressed it, is that “dogma lives loudly in [Professor Barrett], and that is a concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.” I am one in whose heart “dogma lives loudly,” as it has for centuries in the lives of many Americans, some of whom have given their lives in service to this nation. Indeed, it lived loudly in the hearts of those who founded our nation as one where citizens could practice their faith freely and without apology.

Professor Barrett has made it clear that she would “follow unflinchingly” all legal precedent and, in rare cases in which her conscience would not allow her to do so, she would recuse herself. I can assure you that she is a person of integrity who acts in accord with the principles she articulates.

It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge. I ask you and your colleagues to respect those in whom “dogma lives loudly”—which is a condition we call faith. For the attempt to live such faith while one upholds the law should command respect, not evoke concern.

Now Barrett is getting criticism for a remark she made about the “Kingdom of God.”

Christian conservatives like Barrett are not the only public figures who talk about the Kingdom of God.

Obama said this on the presidential campaign trail in 2007. At the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast, Obama said:

My Christian faith, then, has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years,” Obama said. “All the more so, when Michelle and I hear our faith questioned from time to time, we are reminded that ultimately what matters is not what other people say about us but whether we’re being true to our conscience and true to our God. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Jimmy Carter also believes that Christians should be working to promote the Kingdom of God. Here is an interview with NPR in which he talks about “God’s Kingdom on Earth.”

All Christians believe in some version of the “Kingdom of God.” Students of American religious history know that this phrase has been used just as much by Christians on the left as on the right. The idea of ushering in the Kingdom of God was at the heart of the early 20th-century movement known as the “Social Gospel,” a form of Christianity committed to bringing faith to bear on matters of poverty, racism, and other forms of injustice. In fact, the social gospelers talked about bringing God’s kingdom to earth a whole lot more than the Protestant fundamentalists. Most conservative Protestants in the early 20th-century showed little concern for social issues. They just wanted to get people “saved” and ready for the rapture.

But how does Amy Barrett use the phrase “Kingdom of God?” The source of all the controversy today comes from a 2006 commencement address to the graduates of Notre Dame Law School. You can read that address here. A taste:

Sometimes we’re tempted to say that a Notre Dame lawyer is a different kind of lawyer because he or she is an ethical lawyer. But that can’t be right. Our profession is in pretty deep trouble if the only ethical lawyer is the different one. When you leave here, hold yourselves to the highest ethical standards, and be leaders in that regard. But maintaining high ethical standards ought to be something that characterizes our whole profession—not something that causes Notre Dame lawyers to stand apart.

So if being a different kind of lawyer is not defined by the body of knowledge you have mastered or by the ethical standards you are expected to maintain, might it be defined by the kind of law you choose to practice? The banner hanging in the main reading room says, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Surely we can expect that, as a Catholic law school, our commitment to social justice will lead a higher-than-average percentage of you to choose to work on behalf of the disadvantaged and oppressed. We can expect Notre Dame lawyers like my own classmate, Sean Litton, who left a successful and lucrative practice at Kirkland & Ellis to work for a human rights organization with the mission of eliminating sexual trafficking in southeast Asia. Many of you, like my classmate Sean, will work in the public interest sector, and Notre Dame will be proud of you. But many of you will work in the private sector, and Notre Dame will be proud of you too. It cannot be that being a different kind of lawyer is defined by the kind of law one practices, for that would leave too many of our graduates out of the definition.

So what then, does it mean to be a different kind of lawyer? The implications of our Catholic mission for your legal education are many, and don’t worry—I’m not going to explore them all in this short speech. I’m just going to identify one way in which I hope that you, as graduates of Notre Dame, will fulfill the promise of being a different kind of lawyer. And that is this: that you will always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end, and as Father Jenkins told you this morning, that end is building the kingdom of God. You know the same law, are charged with maintaining the same ethical standards, and will be entering the same kinds of legal jobs as your peers across the country. But if you can keep in mind that your fundamental purpose in life is not to be a lawyer, but to know, love, and serve God, you truly will be a different kind of lawyer.

As she closes her speech, Barrett encourages the graduates of this Catholic law school to:

  1. Pray about their calling as lawyers
  2. Give a percentage of their salaries to the church and other charitable causes
  3. Seek a Christian community that will assist them in advance their calling as agents of the kingdom of God.

I have written a lot at this blog about the “Kingdom of God.” My understanding of the meaning of this phrase is very similar to Barrett. While some might use the phrase “Kingdom of God” to promote some kind of theocratic takeover of government, this is not how most Christians use the term.

Christians believe that the Kingdom of God was initiated when Jesus died and rose from the dead. We still live in a broken world, but we get occasional glimpses of the new creative order–the coming Kingdom– when we see acts of compassion, justice, reconciliation, mercy, and love.  Moreover, when we creative work that is good, beautiful, or based in truth we are, in some small way, building this new kingdom. A longing for this kingdom is at the center of Christian hope. This is why we pray as Jesus taught us: “They Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Here is Oxford University historian and theologian N.T. Wright from his book Surprised by Hope:

But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain.  You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire.  You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site.  You are–strange though is may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself–accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness, every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world–all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.

Here is Wright again:

What you do in the present–by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself–will last into God’s future.  These activities are not simply ways of making the present life less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we will leave it behind altogether (as the hymn  so mistakenly puts it, “Until that day when all the blest to endless rest are called away”). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

The practice of the law is a way in which Christians can live-out their callings as faithful members of the God’s Kingdom. This is what Barrett was telling the graduates of Notre Dame law school.

The real question is whether or not Barrett, if nominated and confirmed, would confuse the Kingdom of God with her responsibility to interpret the law of the United States of America. They are not the same thing.

This clip has some of Barrett’s 2018 responses to the questions of Democratic Senators during her confirmation hearings. I’d recommend stopping it at about the 2:37 mark.

UPDATE: I just read Jack Jenkins’s piece on this at Religion News Service. It includes several quotes from Catholic theologians and other experts claiming that it is perfectly fine for Senators to ask Barrett if and how her faith will shape her legal decisions as a Supreme Court justice.

Thoughts on Attorney General William Barr’s Notre Dame Speech

I find myself in agreement with a lot of Barr’s speech. Watch and decide for yourself:

Here are a few quick thoughts:

  1. Barr is correct about the founding father’s view of the relationship between religion and the American republic.  They did believe that was religion was essential for a healthy republic.  In the 18th century, Christianity was for the most part the only game in town, but I would argue that many of the founders had the foresight to imagine non-Christian religious people contributing to the good of the republic as well.  Barr fails to think about how the founders’ vision on this front applies to a post-1965 Immigration Act society.  Granted, he is speaking at Notre Dame, so I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
  2. It is unclear whether Barr is saying that the Judeo-Christian tradition is the only way of sustaining a moral republic, or just one way of sustaining a moral republic.  I would guess that he means the former, not the latter.  As a Christian, I do believe that the teachings of Christianity can be an important source of morality in a republic. As a historian I know that Christianity has been an important source of morality in the ever-evolving American experience.  (See the Civil Rights Movement for example).  And as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, when misapplied Christianity has led to some of our history’s darkest moments, including the election of Barr’s boss.  😉
  3. All of Barr’s examples of how religious liberty is threatened in America today are Christian examples.  How does he think about religious liberty for other groups?  And if Barr is correct when he says that “secularism” is a form of religion, then how are we defending the religious liberty of those who adhere to it?
  4. Barr is right when he says that the state is getting too involved in trying to regulate Christian schools and institutions.  This is indeed a religious liberty issue. I wrote a a bit about this in my posts on Beto O’Rourke’s recent remarks on tax-exempt status for churches and other religious institutions.
  5. I agree strongly with Barr about voluntary societies and their contribution to a thriving republic.  But I wondered why Barr ended his speech by saying that he will use the power of the Department of State to enforce his moral agenda for the nation.  Barr is against churches turning to the government for help in the funding of soup kitchens, but he has no problem turning to the government for help in executing his own religious agenda.
  6. Similarly, Barr seems to be speaking here not as a public or moral philosopher, but as the Attorney General of the United States of America.   How should we understand his particular vision for America–an agenda that does not seem to include anyone who is outside of the Judeo-Christian faith as Barr understands it? How does his vision apply to those who do not share the same beliefs about public schools, marriage, religion, abortion or the role of the state? How do we reconcile his speech at Notre Dame with his responsibility to defend the law for all Americans?
  7. Barr says that Judeo-Christian morality no longer has the kind of cultural power in American society that it once did.  I think he is mostly right here.  For some this may be a good thing.  For others it may be a bad thing.  But is it possible to prove that this decline in the cultural power of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America has led to a rise in illegitimate births, depression and mental illness, suicide rates, anger in young males, increased drug use and general “suffering and misery?” On this point Barr sounds like David Barton, the GOP activist who irresponsibly invokes the American past to win political battles in the present.  (BTW, Barton adds lower SAT scores to Barr’s list).  By the way, abortions have been declining.  How does Barr fit this fact into his narrative of decline.
  8. I have never bought the “look what they are teaching our kids in public schools” argument that Barr makes here.  Both of my kids went to public schools and they were exposed to a lot of ideas that contradict our faith.  (By the way, in addition to the usual suspects that evangelicals complain about, I would add an unhealthy pursuit of the American Dream that understands happiness in terms of personal ambition, social climbing, a lack of limits, and endless consumerism to the anti-Christian values my kids learn in public schools).  At the end of his talk, Barr calls on families to pass their faith along to their children. He calls on churches to educate young men and women in the moral teachings of the faith.  If we are committed to doing this well, what do we have to fear about public schools?  Some of the best conversations I have ever had with my daughters revolved around the things they were exposed to in public schools that did not conform to the teachings of our Christian faith. These were opportunities to educate them in our Christian beliefs. (I realize, of course, that there will be people who will have honest differences with me here).
  9.  Barr says that real education is something more than just job training.  Amen!
  10.  Finally, this quote from Barr’s talk is rich coming from Donald Trump’s Attorney General: “[The Founders] never thought that the main danger to the republic would come from external foes.  The central question was whether over the long haul ‘we the people’ could handle freedom.  The question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.  By and large the founding generations understanding of human nature was drawn from the classical Christian tradition. These practical statesman understood that individuals, while having the potential for great good also had the capacity for great evil.  Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites and if unrestrained are capable of riding ruthlessly roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.  No society can exist without some means of restraining individual rapacity.”  I think the House of Representatives (or at least the Democrats within it, seem to understand this better than most right now).

Cushwa Center Seminar on Judith Weisenfeld’s *New World A-Coming*

Here is a taste of Ben Wetzel’s summary of the event:

The Seminar in American Religion convened on March 24, 2018, to discuss Judith Weisenfeld’s prize-winning book, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (NYU Press, 2016). About 80 people attended the seminar, which was moderated by Thomas Kselman, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame.

Weisenfeld is the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor in the department of religion at Princeton University and has written several other major studies analyzing African American religious experiences in the early 20th century. The seminar’s commentators included Paul Harvey, distinguished professor and presidential teaching scholar in the department of history at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs; and Jennifer Jones, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame.

In 2017, New World A-Coming received the Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize for the best book in Africana religions. Raboteau (Weisenfeld’s colleague at Princeton, now emeritus), while studying most facets of African American religions, tended to focus on Protestant and Catholic Christianity. New World A-Coming, by contrast, highlights smaller religious groups like the Nation of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple, the Ethiopian Hebrew congregations, and the Peace Mission of Father Divine. These movements merged religious and racial identity, offered stark contrasts to mainstream Christianity, provided hope and vision to their adherents, and flourished in the urban north during the Great Migration even while they remained on the margins of American religious life as a whole.

Read the entire piece here.

Notre Dame’s Provost Defends the Humanities in a “High-Tech World”

Notre

University of Notre Dame Provost Thomas G. Burish informs us that “only two of the top 50 public institutions for research-and-development spending in the humanities in the 2016 fiscal year devoted more than 5 percent of their overall R&D to the humanities, while 19 of the top 50 private nonprofit institutions did.”

Burish believes this is a problem.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Even at my institution, the University of Notre Dame, which ranked second among private universities in the dollar amount of its research-and-development spending on the humanities, we should do more. Rather than shun the “tyranny of relevance” — a concept within the liberal-arts community that refers to the need to demonstrate tangible benefits of humanities-research funding — we should embrace it. If we, like many others, believe in the vital importance of the humanities in grappling with basic questions of truth, the essence of humanness, and the importance of ethical decision-making, among other crucial issues, we must invest more.

If we do not, the humanities will be marginalized by the false premise that they provide nice flourishes but are not effective in dealing with the exciting and challenging advances made possible by the latest technologies. The humanities are neither opposed to technological progress nor indifferent to it; they are valuable partners in it, and must be adequately supported to perform that role.

Read the rest here.

Liberty University Has a Long Way to Go Before it Becomes the Evangelical Notre Dame

Check out this Washington Post article about Liberty University’s ambition to become a major football power.  According to the article, Jerry Falwell Jr. wants to move Liberty football into the upper echelons of NCAA Division I football and are ready to respond positively to an NCAA invitation to join the Football Bowl Subdivision (I-A) in 48 hours.  

Here is a taste of the article dealing with Liberty’s aspirations to be an evangelical Notre Dame:

Notre Dame’s reputation, of course, is driven by much more than football. Hesburgh spent much of his presidency building the university into an educational powerhouse. He also ensured that the Vatican did not meddle with Notre Dame’s academic freedom.
Liberty’s reputation still rests largely on the Falwell name and on the school’s prominence in the political world. The late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the university’s founder, was a famous television preacher and a key figure in the Religious Right movement of the 1980s and 90s. Now, Liberty is a frequent stop on the campaign trail for Republican politicians, and occasionally for Democrats. When Falwell Jr. spoke out this month about his desire for more Liberty students to carry concealed weapons on campus, as a safety measure to deter terrorists, his comments reinforced the sense that Lynchburg is a frequent dateline for political stories.
But Falwell said that he does not want to make news. He said his speech on Dec. 4 about guns was unplanned — an impromptu set of remarks after the Heritage Foundation’s president, Jim DeMint, finished a speech earlier than planned.
“We’re not a church, we’re not a business, we’re not a political organization,” he said. “We’re a university.” 
I have visited and even spoke on the Liberty campus.  It is an impressive place.  If the facilities are any indication, Liberty has a lot of money.  With such resources they just might be able to become another Notre Dame.  But in order for that to happen, Liberty will need to do several things.
First, it will need to be a more open place.  Here is another quote from the Washington Post article:
Falwell said the university has no political or religious litmus tests. “I’d say Liberty is Christian with a capital c, conservative with a small c,” he said. Many of its students lean to the right, politically. “It’s not required. It’s not what we seek,” Falwell said. “It’s what we attract.”
It seems like Falwell Jr. is being a bit disingenuous here.  Liberty does have religious litmus tests for its faculty members.  I also wonder how an outspoken liberal Christian who affiliated with the Democratic Party would fare at Liberty?  Students enroll at Liberty because they believe it is a safe place where professors will not challenge their core conservative values.  It is hard to believe that Liberty does not “seek” these kind of students.
If Liberty wants to be a world-class university, it will need to be more open to Christian scholars who do not subscribe to the conservative brand of evangelical religion that Liberty currently peddles.  This would not only include moderate and liberal evangelicals, but mainline Protestants and Catholics.  I don’t see that happening any time soon.
Second, Liberty will need to hire research faculty and support them in their work.  Liberty does not have to give up its commitment to teaching in order to do this, but it will need to start funneling money into its academic programs.  It will need to provide some kind of tenure system for faculty, establish well-funded endowed chairs, and lighten the heavy teaching loads that faculty currently experience. This is a huge financial commitment. It also requires, as I noted above, loosening the doctrinal restrictions at the university so that they can attract this kind of quality faculty.
Third, Liberty will need to do something about what appears to be the autocratic hand of Jerry Falwell Jr.  When I was doing research for my recent post on Falwell and guns, I was amazed at how many Liberty faculty and students I contacted were unwilling to talk (even off the record) about their distaste for Falwell’s remarks on this issue.  I can’t say for sure why they were unwilling to talk. Perhaps it was out of loyalty to the institution.  Or maybe it was out of a fear of losing their jobs. Such a culture needs to change if Falwell is serious about Liberty becoming the evangelical Notre Dame.
My advice to Liberty University would be stop worrying about Division I football, lobbing grenades into the ongoing culture war, and monitoring the views of its faculty, and start shoring up the quality and diversity (within the limits at a Christian university) of its academic programs. When this happens I just might believe Falwell Jr. when he says that “we’re not a church, we’re not a business, we’re not a political organization,..we’re a university.”

Chris Gehrz on Whether Liberty University is the Evangelical Notre Dame

Is Liberty University the Protestant Notre Dame?  Not even close.  

When Liberty University starts to invest its money in a world-class faculty, gives them the time and the opportunity to do world-class research, and develops Ph.D programs taught by those world-class faculty, it might be on the way to this distinction.   But I just don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon.  The doctrinal requirements for those who teach at Liberty are just too narrow. The campus and its administration are just too driven by one political persuasion.  Jerry Falwell’s legacy plays well among young conservative evangelicals whose parents were part of the Moral Majority in the 1980s, but it does not play well among all evangelicals.  Many evangelical scholars who want to maintain academic respectability in their guilds may shy away from a teaching post at Liberty because of its connection to the Christian Right. Liberty may be growing, and it may have tens of thousands of online students, but world class universities are not measured in terms of numbers.

Chris Gerhz, aka The Pietist Schoolman, has addressed this question in a much more thoughtful way than I have done above.  Here is a taste of his post “Is Liberty University “The Protestant Notre Dame?

In a 2013 story in the Washington Post, Falwell, Jr. affirmed his goal was “To create for evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is for Catholics and Brigham Young is for Mormons.”
Now, a key difference here is that Notre Dame (and Brigham Young) are highly regarded as national universities with strong academics, while Liberty struggles to break out of the pack among “Regional Universities (South)” in the U.S. News survey. (It’s #80 this year. For the record, Notre Dame is tied for 16th among National Universities, while BYU is #62 in that category.) One of the most common complaints about Liberty is its high attrition rate, and not just among online students. From the 2013 Post story:
Turbocharged growth inevitably raises questions about quality, and Liberty’s academic reputation has not risen as fast as its enrollment. About 47 percent of its first-time, full-time students graduate within six years, federal data show, below the national average of 58 percent. Liberty officials say such statistics reflect an admissions policy geared more toward opportunity than exclusivity.
Indeed, there may be something to Falwell, Jr.’s claim that an admissions policy emphasizing “opportunity over exclusivity” can and should “redefine what is considered an academically prestigious university in the future.” (It’s increasingly nauseating to find Ivy League schools like my graduate alma mater trumpeting their single-digit undergraduate acceptance rates…)
But even if he can overtake some fellow Baptists in Texas for the “Protestant Notre Dame” title — and Baylor leaders have been using that line since the Baylor 2012 strategic plan was announced in 2002
…even if it could be detached from the partisan political commitments of a school that required students to attend a Tea Party senator’s announcement of his presidential candidacy but disinvited a moderate Baptist because it was “just uncomfortable with some of the things” he’d written…