It’s been about three weeks since Neil Gorsuch has been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and we’re no closer to figuring out what makes him tick, spiritually. However, there have been a few jabs at trying to gauge the spiritual temperature of his family's parish in downtown Boulder, Colo..
The most aggressive reporting has been by a British outlet, the Daily Mail, whose reporters have shown up at Gorsuch’s parish, St. John’s Episcopal. The Mail has also been sniffing about Oxford University (pictured above), which is where Gorsuch apparently became an Anglican during his studies there. It was also where he met his future wife Marie Louise. Her family is Anglican and the Mail explains that all here and here.
Very clever of them to nail down his wife’s British background and that of her family and to have interviewed Gorsuch’s stepmother in Denver.
They too see a dissonance in Gorsuch’s purported conservative views and the church he attends:.
He has been described as 'the heir to Scalia' and is a religious conservative whose appointment to the Supreme Court was greeted with jubilation on the pro-gun, anti-abortion Right.
But DailyMail.com can reveal that Neil Gorsuch's own church, in Boulder, Colorado, is a hotbed of liberal thinking -- and is led by a pastor who proudly attended the anti-Trump Women's March in Denver the day after the President's inauguration.
Another member of the clergy at St. John's Episcopal Church is outspoken about the need for gun control, and helped organize opposition to a gun shop giveaway of high-capacity magazines in the run-up to a 2013 law that banned them from the state of Colorado…
And in a twist that may surprise religious conservatives who welcomed Gorsuch's appointment, church leader Rev. Susan Springer, 58, has said she is pro-gay marriage and offers blessings to same sex couples.
The church, which trumpets its 'inclusive' ethos on its website, also operates a homeless outreach program that includes an LGBT center and a sexual health clinic in a pamphlet setting out the best places for those in need of help.
As noted in other posts here at GetReligion, Gorsuch had plenty of Catholic influence in his upbringing -- but he’s chosen the Episcopal Church (which has been dropping in numbers for decades partly because of its very liberal stances) and a left-of-center parish at that.
There are plenty of conservative Episcopal or Anglican church choices within a reasonable drive that he could attend, but his family picked St. John’s for a reason. And it’s up to reporters to tell us that reason, right? Or, as this CBN piece wonders, is Gorsuch’s attendance at St. John’s trying to tell us something?
I understand how difficult it may be to get some answers. The Mail is asking the same questions. Its long piece details how radical St. John’s really is. Unlike other media, it sent a reporter out to the church to investigate.
When DailyMail.com visited the church in Boulder, parishioners and clergy alike were reluctant to discuss Gorsuch's elevation to the Supreme Court and the liberal policies espoused by church leaders.
(One of the clergy) made repeated efforts to evade approaches from this website, while Springer is on holiday and refusing to take calls.
Visited at her home, (another parish employee) said she was not prepared to answer questions and instead directed enquiries to the church office where staff also declined to comment.
That told us a lot more than most other pieces I’ve read. For instance, this Washington Post piece had only this to say about his church:
By contrast, Gorsuch has been aggressively vetted for the court by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, and they have backed him enthusiastically. These groups even scrutinized his attendance at St. John’s Episcopal Church -- which draws from the largely liberal population in Boulder, Colo., calls itself a largely liberal congregation and advertised on its website for the Women’s March in Washington last month -- and concluded it was not a strike against him.
For their part, the church’s leaders alluded in a recent newsletter and Sunday sermon to the political divide between most of its parishioners and Gorsuch. But they added that Gorsuch’s views are not as narrow or predictable as some might think -- or fear.
“I am privileged to have spent enough time with the family to come to know Neil as a broad-thinking man, one eager to listen and learn, and one thoughtful in speaking,” wrote the Rev. Susan W. Springer. “Those foundational qualities are ones I would pray that all public servants in any leadership role in our country might possess.”
Three weeks into this vetting process and the best we can get is a parish newsletter?
The wording is odd. What is this about Gorsuch’s views not being as “narrow or predictable?” The previous paragraph alluded to a conservative group looking at Gorsuch’s church. The right wording, then, would have been something more like “loosely liberal” or “theologically left of center like his own denomination.”
Other profiles such as this Politico piece give us no hint of Gorsuch’s religious beliefs. This Mother Jones piece tells us a bit about Gorsuch’s time at Oxford and his subsequent belief in natural law as “God’s law” as an indication of the theocracy the judge could install if confirmed.
The Denver Post’s Washington correspondent gave Gorsuch’s religious background a decent shot with this piece that includes a quote from Judge Gorsuch’s younger brother about how they were raised as Catholics. But there’s no word on why the nominee switched from Catholic to Episcopalian and when.
So, it looks like the Mail has done the most work here.
It’s not surprising that Gorsuch became enamored of Anglicanism in a place like Oxford, once the home of the famous literary discussion group the Inklings, several of whose members (C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield) were Anglicans. The city practically drips Anglicanism with its zillions of chapels, its status as the birthplace of the Oxford Movement and so on.
Did the judge’s time at Oxford acquaint him with its Anglican history or the writings of its famous Anglican residents? Are there Anglican writers whose books are in his library? Has he been known to offer a C.S. Lewis quote or two?
The reasons behind why a conservative jurist would choose a liberal parish could be something quite prosaic (St. John’s may be the parish preferred by Marie Louise) or perhaps it’s the only local parish that allows the Gorsuch daughters to be acolytes. One can make all sorts of guesses.
Most curious is the fact that the Episcopal News Service has written exactly zero on the man who is currently the country’s most famous Episcopalian. Now why do you think that is?
So the coverage of Gorsuch’s spiritual bonafides seems to have hit a dead end at his parish although the Mail sure made a valiant attempt.
Someone, somewhere has the answers to all of these questions. One thing is certain: Questions about the contents of Gorsuch's head and heart are not going to go away anytime soon.