In a recent CNN article titled, “A Supreme Court without Protestants?” Dan Gilgoff highlights the incredible possibility that the Supreme Court could include no Protestants; a dynamic as rare as Catholic Presidents. John Paul Stevens, the only existing Supreme Court Protestant, is now retiring; leaving room for a replacement whose religious subscription may fall in line with the current contingency of Jewish and Catholic faiths. Historically, this is a big deal. As Gilgoff notes, Protestants have had a history of flooding the ranks of legal and governmental authority in the hopes of influencing the nation of their convictions and ideals. With the disappearance of Protestants on the Supreme Court, it appears that these “onward Christian soldiers” have now turned their attention elsewhere.
This is no surprise to me. In my own denomination (United Methodist), there has been a “beating a dead horse” approach to the subject of church growth and congregational livelihood. The main line local churches are declining at an ever-increasing pace. The Barna Research Group indicates that “mainline church membership dropped by more than one-quarter to roughly 20 million people—15 percent of all American adults” between 1958 and 2008. The outward expressions of church and society, such as influencing the direction of government, can only thrive as much as the local church.
Those mainline church statistics, however, also include Roman Catholicism –yet Catholics make up the majority of the Supreme Court counting 6 judges. Gilgoff explains this by stating that both Catholic and Jewish “traditions have long pursued legal degrees as a way to assimilate into a majority Protestant country.” Perhaps, but I’m more inclined to think it’s simply a coincidence. In my opinion, Roman Catholicism and Judaism suffer greatly from the same ill that plagues the mainline Protestant Church –nominal allegiance. It’s more common today that those individuals will proclaim loyalty to a tradition as a statement of identity rather than faith conviction…especially people in government positions. This may seem judgmental, but as a mainline pastor religious passivity is perhaps the most evident problem in every local church I have experienced. It’s quite probable that religious affiliation is simply an afterthought with many of these judges and other elected officials.
The exception here is Evangelical Protestants, whose outcry for national morality and reclaiming what they believe to be a country “founded on Christian ideals” (a common misunderstanding, but that’s for another blog) have led to a focus on raising up young legal reformers. In the 80’s, evangelical leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson opened legal departments in their schools: Regent University and Liberty University. Although George W. Bush failed at bringing evangelical Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court in 2005, Gilgoff admits that the appointment of an Evangelical Protestant “may not be too far off.” Evangelical Protestants, in all their fervor, may indeed accomplish what they have set out to do. After all, it was the mainliners that successfully sought to infiltrate the government with their faith convictions for all those years. With the same motivation and ardent beliefs, Evangelicals may one day turn the tides of constitutional law.