When Faith in Power Trumps Truth

For many white evangelical Christians, the pursuit of power trumps the search for truth – and thus for justice.  For these Christians, “keeping the faith” is about having the right belief and thus using the political process in an attempt to impose their one true faith on others.   Numerous white mainstream Christians are also power-oriented.  For them, “keeping the faith” is about protecting the privilege they possess by not risking speaking reality and moral truth to political power. A telling example of the pursuit of power overriding getting at the truth is the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

President Trump’s conservative pick for the Supreme Court appeared to be a shoo-in, which elated evangelical Christians.  Judge Kavanaugh would tip the Supreme Court’s balance of power in favor of “the sanctity of life” and “religious liberty” — theological shorthand for biblically-based pro-life beliefs used to control women’s bodies and license discrimination against LGBTQ persons.  With Kavanaugh’s confirmation on track, the Supreme Court was about to tilt to the right, and with it white evangelical Christians’ quest for power gaining further traction.

But, then, psychology professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford appeared, alleging that a drunken Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her 36 years ago when she was 15 and he 17 and both in high school.  As reported, she shared her allegation in a letter to her California congresswoman Anna Eshoo — after Kavanaugh appeared on President Trump’s short list of Supreme Court nominees and could possibly become the next Justice.  Eshoo passed Ford’s letter on to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, with Ford’s request that her identity not be disclosed.  Finally, in an interview with The Washington Post, Ford came forward, explaining her decision: “Now I feel like my civic duty is outweighing my anguish and terror about retaliation.” (“Washington Post: Kavanaugh accuser comes forward,”By Eli Watkins and Ariane de Vogue, CNN, Sept. 16, 2018)

Dr. Ford’s allegation of young Brett Kavanaugh as a drunken, would-be rapist created great unease among evangelical Christians, who saw Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation as the answer to their prayers.  At this moment of great concern, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stepped forward, during an evangelical “Christian right” Value Voter Summit, and declared, “President Trump has nominated a stunningly successful individual.  You’ve watched the fight, you’ve watched the tactics.”  McConnell then said, “But here’s what I want to tell you: in the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court.” The evangelical Christians responded “with a standing ovation.”  McConnell continued: “So my friends, keep the faith, don’t get rattled by all of this – we’re gonna plow right through it and do our job.”  Words that also elicited strong applause. (“Mitch McConell Says Republicans Will ‘Plow Right Through’ Confirming Brett Kavanaugh,”By Sebastian Murdock, www.huffingtonpost.com, Sept. 21, 2018)

In fact, the Value Voter Summit ‘Evangelical activists” were reported to “want Republican leaders to act more forcibly to send Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, expressing skepticism about the decades-old allegations of sexual assault levied against the federal judge.”  Tony Perkins, Family Research Council President who organized the Summit conference, “said Republicans needed to ‘move much more aggressively,’ contending the Senate had been ‘very accommodating’ to California college professor Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than 30 years ago when they were teenagers.”  And “Gary Bower, the president of American Values and a former policy aide to President Ronald Reagan, told the summit that he was praying for Ford but cast doubt over the allegations.”  Bauer said about Ford: “I don’t know her values but what she is saying is unproven and I would argue unprovable.” (“Evangelicals push Senate Republicans to confirm Kavanaugh,” By Ken Thomas,  AP News, Sept. 21, 2018)

For these evangelical Christians, “keeping the faith” is about the pursuit of power, not the search for truth.  In fact, finding out the truth is their greatest enemy.  Thus they did not welcome an FBI investigation of Dr. Ford’s allegation that could uncover the truth or falsehood of her testimony. Their minds are made up – of rigidly held biblically-based beliefs.  The last thing they want is an investigation that could challenge their beliefs – and their predatory motives.  For them, the greatest danger to “Keeping the faith” is truth itself.  “Keeping the faith“ is about “plowing through” the truth, not uncovering it.

Using religious faith to avoid searching for the truth is revealing.  A paternalistic Gary Bower was not the only one “praying for Ford.”  In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Kavanaugh said, “The other night, Ashley and my daughter Liza said their prayers.”  And, “Little Liza, all of 10 years old, said to Ashley, we should pray for the woman.  That’s a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old.  We mean no ill will.” (“Brett Kavanaugh’s Opening Statement: Full Transcript,”By The New York Times, The New York Times, Sept. 26, 2018)

Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony included a number of other references to his own “keeping the faith.”  He produced calendars of his yearly high school schedule in an attempt to prove that he was not at the place where Dr. Ford said he sexually assaulted her.  He then took the occasion to say about his calendars: “Some have noticed I didn’t have church on Sundays on my calendars. I also didn’t list brushing my teeth and for me,” he continued, “going to church on Sundays was like brushing my teeth.  Automatic. Still is.” (Ibid)

“Keeping the faith.”  Judge Kavanaugh testified that he “never had sexual intercourse or anything close to it during high school or for many years after that.  . . .   For me and the girls who I was friends with,” he said, “that lack of major or rampant sexual activity in high school was a matter of faith and respect and caution.” (Ibid)

In his testimony, Judge Kavanaugh cited a number of affirming emails and texts from women who knew him in college.  One, “a self-described liberal and feminist . . . said, ‘Deep breaths, you’re a good man, a good man, a good man.’ ”  Another texted, “Brett, be strong.  Pulling for you from my core.”  And a third texted, “I’m holding you in the light of God.”  And wife, Ashley, “has been a rock.  I thank God every day for Ashley and my family.” (Ibid)

Judge Kavanaugh’s closing words were also about “keeping the faith.”  He concluded: “My family and I intend no ill will toward Dr. Ford or her family.  But,” he said, “I swear today under oath before the Senate and the nation before my family and God, I am innocent of this charge.” (Ibid)

The last Senate Judiciary Committee member to interview Judge Kavanaugh was Republican Sen. John Kennedy.   His final questions reveal how the orchestration of “keeping the faith” attempted to drown out repeated calls for an independent FBI investigation to get at the truth of the allegations facing Kavanaugh.  Kennedy’s concluding questions and Kavanaugh’s response:

“‘None of these allegations are true?’ Kennedy asked.”
“‘Correct,’ Kavanaugh said.”
“ ‘No doubt in your mind?  Zero. 100 percent certain.’”
“ ‘Not even a scintilla?’  Kennedy pressed.”
“Not a scintilla.  100 percent certain, Senator.”
“Kennedy concluded: ‘Do you swear to God?’”
“Kavanaugh obligated: ‘I swear to God.’ “

With that, “the hearing was over. (“The 7 most important moments from Brett Kavanaugh’s Sensate testimony,”By Dylan Scott, www.vox.com, Sept. 27, 2018)

Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee members repeatedly asked Judge Kavanaugh to call for an FBI investigation of the sexual assault allegations brought against him.  And each time he replied that he would do whatever the Committee wanted, knowing that the Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee was set to confirm him, and opposed an FBI investigation.  (See “A Democratic senator tried to get Brett Kavanaugh to commit to an FBI investigation.  He would not,”By Ella Nilsen, Vox, Sept. 27, 2018)

Dr. Ford took a polygraph test, which indicated she was telling the truth. She also called for an FBI investigation into her charges.  The fact that Judge Kavanaugh has not offered to take a polygraph test nor called for an FBI investigation suggest that he may be hiding something behind his protestations of innocence.  For him, it appears to be safer to “swear to God” before an accommodating Senate Committee member than to swear to tell the truth before FBI investigators.

“Keep the faith.”  We don’t know about Dr. Ford’s faith.  She did not refer to “God” or “church” or “prayer” in her testimony.  She described being sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, and evidently did not feel the need to wrap her account in religion to make it appear more truthful.  Even President Trump said her testimony  was “very compelling,” and called her a “credible witness.” (“Trump calls Christine Blasey Ford a ‘Very Credible Witness,’ “By Renae Reints, Fortune, Sept. 28, 2018)

Truth can stand alone, without religious adornment to make it authentic. In fact, a bottom line of “keeping the faith” is discovering and speaking truth to power – upon which justice depends.  Sadly, in certain mainstream Christian denominational circles, getting at the truth often takes a back seat to maintaining power.

For many mainstream Christian leaders, when confronted with a controversial political issue, “keeping the faith” often means keeping quiet.  Why? Because confronting conflict-laden issues could rile and alienate certain of their own denominational base of support, and also risk their denomination losing political privilege. For numerous Christian leaders, “keeping the faith” is not about the grace of God but about not falling out of the good graces of those who have political power.

We have yet to hear from The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops, or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or other mainstream Christian denominational heads joining the American Bar Association’s call for an FBI inquiry into the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.  In a letter, the ABA reminded the Senate Judiciary Committee that “each appointment to our nation’s highest court (as with all others) is simply too important to rush to a vote.”  Thus the ABA urged the Committee “to slow down the confirmation process . . . until the FBI has time to do a full background check of the claims made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and other women.” (“American Bar Association urges FBI probe into Kavanaugh allegations,” CBS/AP, www.cbsnews.comSept. 28, 2018)

But, fortunately, we have heard from the Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who released a statement opposing Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.  The Bishops stressed the Supreme Court’s critical role in ruling on “presidential authority and power, women’s reproductive rights, affirmative action, voting rights and a host of other major cases.”  These Christian faith leaders said that they were “greatly trouble[d]” by “the allegations made against” Kavanaugh “by (three to five women),” and stated that “not one, but each of the accusers should be allowed to testify.”  They criticized the Republicans’ “mad rush to get this nominee confirmed.”  And they faulted Kavanaugh for not requesting an FBI investigation into the allegations made against him.  The A.M. E. Bishops ended their opposition to Kavanaugh’s appointment with: “ We ask and urge our congregants to immediately call the offices of the United States Senators who represent you in Washington D.C. and call upon them to vote against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.” (“COB Statement: Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court Confirmation,” www.ame-church.com, Sept. 27, 2018)

Another prophetic model is the reported example of the Jesuits’ America magazine that had endorsed Judge Kavanaugh, and withdrew its support of him after Dr. Ford’s allegations against him became public. The magazine’s editorial stated “it had no special insight into whether Kavanaugh or Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth.  But it said that the nomination was no longer in the interests of the country and ‘should be withdrawn.’ “The editors also said, “If the Republicans proceed with his nomination, they will be prioritizing policy aims over a woman’s report of an assault . . . Were he to be confirmed without this allegation being firmly disproved, it would hang over his future decisions on the Supreme Court for decades and further divide the country.” (“Catholic magazine withdraws endorsement of Kavanaugh nomination,” by Associated Press, www.mercurynews.comSept. 28, 2018)

Truth is non-partisan and non-sectarian.  It is truth that reveals reality – and the demand for justice. Thus searching for the truth should be a cornerstone of “keeping the faith.”

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.