If the conventional analysis is to be believed, a key reason so many white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump last November 8 was concern over who'd get the ninth seat on the Supreme Court. And, any other seats opening up over the next four (or even eight) years.
For many, if not most, of these voters, the nomination of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver would appear to have been cause for celebration. He takes an "originalist" view of the Constitution, just like the late jurist he would replace, Justice Antonin Scalia.
My co-GetReligionista Julia Duin has written about the dearth of coverage of Judge Gorsuch's faith, but, much like a bad meal of gas-station sushi, the problem keeps coming up. And who better to belch forward another glaring omission than The New York Times, where the top editor breezily admits "we don't get the role of religion in people's lives," and moves on to the next thing?
This time, the "we-don't-get-the-role-of-religion" thing becomes glaringly obvious.
The Times is taking a look at one of the most contentious faith-based issues of the 21st century, that of the definition of marriage and how that definition will fare with Judge Gorsuch on the high court. "Gorsuch Not Easy to Pigeonhole on Gay Rights, Friends Say," reads the headline. From the story:
Democrats and their progressive allies are marching in lock step to oppose Judge Gorsuch, whose record they find deeply troubling, and gay pundits are painting him as a homophobe. But interviews with his friends -- both gay and straight -- and legal experts across the political spectrum suggest that on gay issues, at least, he is not so easy to pigeonhole.
In nominating Judge Gorsuch, Mr. Trump has picked a man with impeccable legal credentials and cast him in the mold of the justice he would succeed, the late Antonin Scalia, who once accused the court of being swayed by a “homosexual agenda” and voted against legalizing same-sex marriage. Judge Gorsuch has said he cried when he learned of Justice Scalia’s death.
Like Justice Scalia, Judge Gorsuch regards himself as an originalist, meaning he tries to interpret the Constitution based on the text as written by the founding fathers. But he is three decades younger than Justice Scalia was when he died. He has had two openly gay clerks, and he lives with his wife, Louise, and their two daughters in liberal Boulder, Colo., where his church, St. John’s Episcopal, welcomes gay members.
That leads some friends to wonder if his jurisprudence might be closer to that of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has carved out a name for himself as the court’s conservative defender of gay rights. Justice Kennedy wrote the landmark 2015 opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage -- a decision some analysts trace to his upbringing in tolerant California.
Did you catch that? The Gorsuch family attends an Episcopal congregation that "welcomes gay members."
That is the only reference to religion and gay rights you'll find in the entire story. No discussion of how or whether St. John's position influenced the judge. No quote from any member of St. John's, let alone from the head cleric there.
That cleric, described by The Christian Post as "a very liberal, pro-LGBT female rector named Rev. Susan Springer," would surely have something to say. Or, perhaps, the Rev. Springer would not have something to say, opting for pastoral discretion. But the only way to find out would be to ask the Rev. Springer, and there's no indication the Times picked up the phone. Or sent an email or tweeted or whatever.
Now, Christian Post reporter Samuel Smith apparently didn't call the Rev. Springer either, but he did offer some well-researched insights into whether or not the homilies delivered at St. John's might have an impact on the "originalist" nominee, thanks to comments from Episcopal analyst Jeff Walton of the doctrinally conservative Institute for Religion & Democracy:
"There is no question that it is a Lefty parish," Walton explained. "Out of curiosity, I looked on their webpage. They have some anti-gun rights stuff. The pastor there, she was at the Women's March in Denver. There were all kinds of red flags. But just because she has those views as the rector, doesn't mean that everybody who participates there has those views."
"At IRD, we have supporters who are very conservative but go to churches that have more liberal clergy," Walton added. "The liberal clergy will occasionally spout off about something and these congregants will roll their eyes at it and let it wash over and it is not that big of a deal. That may be the situation [at St. John's]."
Smith also quotes Walton's observation that St. John's is Boulder's "social parish," where the elite meet to greet. (The family of the late Jon Benet Ramsey attended, albeit years ago.)
"This is where the professional class goes to church. In those sorts of parishes, the political sentiments of the rector don't carry as far as they might in another parish because people are not going there primarily for political organizing purposes," Walton explained. "They are there because it is basically sort of a class thing."
Now, I'm guessing it didn't take all that long for the Christian Post to find the very accessible Walton and arrange a chat. I'd imagine Walton would be equally happy to speak with The New York Times, should they call him. (Disclosure: Walton was a source of mine at the Deseret News.)
But instead of probing the judge's feelings about St. James, the Times ignores what might seem a hyper-obvious angle on a complex, emotion-laden story. The faith angle. The angle its top editor says they "don't get."
Do not be at all surprised if this, er, comes up again in the coming weeks as Judge Gorsuch faces hearings and a Senate confirmation vote. The New York Times has the chance, still, to try to get it right.