WASHINGTON (BP) – Southern Baptist leaders called for prayer and the restoration of civility in public discourse in the wake of the highly divisive battle that ended with Brett Kavanaugh’s narrow confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Senate confirmed Kavanaugh, 53, in a 50-48 roll call Oct. 6 after an already bitter struggle over President Trump’s nominee escalated when sexual assault allegations were made against the federal appeals court judge. The vote followed party lines in the Republican-majority chamber with one exception: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined the GOP in supporting Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh — whom opponents fear will push the Supreme Court in a more conservative direction, especially on the abortion issue — is expected to sit in on the high court’s oral arguments for the first time today (Oct. 9).
The confirmation vote came two days after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) delivered a report to the Senate on its latest scrutiny of Kavanaugh following assault accusations that dated to his high school years in the early 1980s. After reading the report, some senators said the investigation provided no corroboration of the allegations.
Southern Baptists outside and inside Congress said they would pray and appealed for prayer.
“Now that the confirmation process is over, we must pray for healing for our country after a time of such division,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), “and for the future of the Supreme Court, especially in the areas of religious freedom and human dignity.”
Moore also said in written comments for Baptist Press, “One of the reasons the Supreme Court is so important is because of the way the judiciary has taken more and more power unto itself over the past several decades. We pray that Justice Kavanaugh and the other justices on the Court will have wisdom and discernment as they decide cases that will affect the lives of millions of Americans, born and unborn, for generations to come.”
Evan Lenow, associate professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted, “During these very contentious days, it is important for us to heed Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 where he urges him to pray for all people, especially those in authority, ‘so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.’
“I hope that we do not forget the final part of this admonition — to live in godliness and dignity,” Lenow, director of the seminary’s Land Center for Cultural Engagement, said in written comments to BP. “While much of the political discourse of our day is rancorous, we need to remember that we should be dignified and gracious with all people, especially those with whom we disagree.
Many foes of Kavanaugh — considered an originalist who interprets the Constitution based on its initial meaning — fear his confirmation will upset the balance of the high court. Trump nominated him to replace Anthony Kennedy, often a swing vote between factions on the bench.
Abortion-rights supporters are particularly concerned that Kavanaugh could be a fifth vote to reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Kavanaugh’s record as an appellate judge has received favorable reviews from nearly all pro-life and religious freedom advocates.
No abortion cases are pending on the Supreme Court’s docket for this term so far, but there are 14 involving the controversial issue before federal appeals courts, according to a Sept. 7 article in The New York Times. Those include state restrictions on the procedure and requirements for abortion providers.
Religious freedom and gender identity cases also are absent at this time from the high court’s 2018 term docket, but the justices could review some lower court decisions on those issues before it adjourns in summer 2019. Among these:
• Kennedy v. Bremerton School District is an appeal by Joseph Kennedy, a Washington state high school football coach who was suspended for kneeling and praying on the field after games. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in 2017 the school district did not violate Kennedy’s First Amendment rights. He has asked the justices to review and overturn the appeals court’s opinion. The ERLC joined in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Kennedy.
• Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is an expected appeal to the high court of a 2017 ruling by the Oregon Court of Appeals against Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of a bakery who declined to design and bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. In June, the state Supreme Court declined to review the opinion, upholding a decision by the Oregon Bureau that found the Kleins’ refusal was based on unlawful discrimination and fined them $135,000.
• R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission involves an appeal to the justices of a Sixth Circuit Court decision that a family business violated federal employment protections by refusing to permit a male worker who identifies as female to dress in women’s clothing, thereby defying its dress code, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In July, Harris Funeral Homes asked the Supreme Court to review and overturn the opinion they said redefined Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include gender identity in sex discrimination protections.
David McKinley, pastor-teacher at Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., and a periodic columnist in Baptist Press, noted, “For all of the division and controversy surrounding our president and his pejorative comments, he has consistently delivered judicial appointments that undergird and uphold the convictions and concerns of many citizens who have long felt coerced and suppressed by aggressive and invasive court rulings.
“The case against Judge Kavanaugh in which he remained resolute in his innocence did not withstand scrutiny as it moved from the hearing floor to the highest investigative agency in our land,” McKinley said in written comments to BP. “He has been confirmed and it is time to move ahead. I pray he serves our nation well.
“As believers we know this battle is only a reminder of our need to pray for the repentance, reform and reconciliation only God can bring within a nation,” McKinley said. “And we need to do all we can to make peace within our communities, building up faith, hope and love through the witness and good works of our churches to the glory of God.”
With its Kavanaugh vote, the Senate has now confirmed 69 of Trump’s federal judicial nominees since he took office in January 2017, and he has about the same number awaiting confirmation. In 21 months, senators have approved two Supreme Court justices, 21 circuit court of appeals judges and 46 federal judges. At the appeals court level, Trump has had the most impact in the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, where five of his nominees now serve, and the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati and Seventh Circuit in Chicago, each of which have four of his nominees on the bench.
The Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch — Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee — in 2017.
The 50-48 confirmation vote for Kavanaugh resulted when Sen. Lisa Murkowsi, R-Alaska, implemented the unusual Senate practice of pairing her vote with a colleague. Murkowski, the lone Republican to oppose confirmation, voted no but quickly withdrew her vote to be counted “present.” She did so because Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., was attending his daughter’s wedding in his home state and unable to vote.
A judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for 12 years, Kavanaugh was approved 57-36 by the Senate in 2006 after a three-year delay following his nomination. Previously, his experience included time as a senior associate counsel and staff secretary for President George W. Bush, as well as a Supreme Court clerk for Kennedy.
John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention, told BP, “Not in my lifetime or my father’s lifetime has so much national capital been expended to confirm a Supreme Court judge. I am not sure it mattered too much who the candidate was. There was going to be an ideological war waged and many wounds.
“We are in desperate need of the Holy God to awaken the citizens of this republic to its principles of governing and responsibility of common courtesy toward one another,” Yeats stated. “Recent actions should not surprise us when the percentage of lostness is at an all-time high in proportion to our population. Historically, prior to the great spiritual movements in our nation, the depravity of mankind is in full public display and it leads the people of God to desperate prayer. The body of Christ has a unique opportunity to cry out to God for our nation — to cry out to God about the lostness of men and women. … This is no time for God’s people to grow weary but to demonstrate great faith in our mighty God who holds the course of nations in His hand.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written by Art Toalston and Tom Strode at Baptist Press.)