I am seldom surprised anymore and yet, sometimes it just “lands wrong on the ear” as an old friend of mine used to say. During last week’s Senate confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame law professor whom President Trump has nominated to serve on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the questioning went far beyond legal philosophy and qualifications. There were several lawmakers who interrogated Ms. Barrett about her devout Catholicism, suggesting that her faith would impede her ability to serve as a judge. “Do you consider yourself an ‘orthodox Catholic’?” asked Dick Durbin of Illinois, himself a Catholic, taking issue with Ms. Barrett’s use of that term to describe those who strive to align their lives fully with the Church’s teachings. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii darkly insinuated that Ms. Barrett would apply Catholic morality to decide cases. But Dianne Feinstein of California took things furthest. “Dogma and law are two different things,” she said. “And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.” When Feinstein called Barrett’s nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals “controversial,” the message to Catholics and other religious Americans was clear: Faith is a problem if you want to serve in public office. Let’s take just a second and define the word dogma: a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.
You don’t have to look far into the vocabulary of our nation’s founders to see that they were quite the dogmatic sort! John Adams said, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity.” Not lawyerly enough you say? How about John Jay, who among other things authored the Federalist papers and was the Original Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” Or lastly consider the words of Elias Boudinot who was the first attorney admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar and a framer of the Bill of Rights… “Let us enter on this important business under the idea that we are Christians on whom the eyes of the world are now turned… Let us earnestly call and beseech Him, for Christ’s sake, to preside in our councils… . We can only depend on the all powerful influence of the Spirit of God, Whose Divine aid and assistance it becomes us as a Christian people most devoutly to implore.”
And for that matter, Senator, were it not for the dogma of our founding fathers we would have certainly never celebrated the 230th anniversary of the Constitution of the United States just a few days ago! It was 1787 as delegates were assembled together in Philadelphia to construct the document we know of today as the Constitution of the United States of America. The weather was hot and they were about to adjourn, when Ben Franklin stood to address President Washington and the assembly: “How has it happened sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sirs, were heard and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor… And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall without His notice, It is probable that an empire cannot rise without His aid? We have been assured Sir in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this. I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and byword down to future ages. ….I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and it’s blessings on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed in business.” And as every Senator well knows, their work cannot begin until a prayer to the God of Heaven is given by a minister. May the dogma of scriptural truth and influence live loudly through us!
Tim Throckmorton is the former Executive Pastor of the Plymouth Heights Church of the Nazarene in Franklin Furnace Ohio and the Portsmouth First Church of the Nazarene in Franklin Furnace, Ohio. He is currently the Senior Pastor at Crossroads Church in Circleville, Ohio.