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April 21, 2009

Justice Clarence Thomas: 'There are some cases that will drive you to your knees'

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was asked how his religious faith influenced his work on the court during a dinner honoring winners of a high school essay contest.

"I think that it really gives content to the oath that you took," Justice Thomas said. "You say, ?So help me God.' "

"There are some cases that will drive you to your knees," he added. "In those moments you ask for strength and wisdom to have the right answer and the courage to stand up for it. Beyond that, it would be illegitimate, I think, and a violation of my oath to incorporate my religious beliefs into the decision-making process."

(h/t Howard M. Friedman)


While Justice Thomas gives the right (even perfect) legal answer, his response is biblically wrong.
A true Christian cannot checkout his or her religious beliefs at the door when it comes to any kind of decision-making involving moral matters. He speaks of “wisdom to have the right answer”. However, a Christian sense of right or wrong comes from the Bible and is ultimately grounded in scriptures
His philosophy might make him a good judge (according to the standards set by a pluralistic and worldly society) but it makes him a poor follower of Christ if he can allow the judicial system to override the call of conscience from his faith.
A Christian cannot merely hide behind the excuse of “I was just applying the law”, he or she must ensure that his decision do not ultimately contradict the word and will of God or resign.

Naaman the Syrian was aware of this conundrum after being healed by Elijah, He knew that the proper discharge of his responsibilities as commander of the Syrian army (2 King 5:18) would lead him to violate the second commandment (Exodus 20:5) and that he would need forgiveness from God. While in light of the progress of revelation Naaman actions were not perfect (refusing to sin even at a great cost is better than asking for forgiveness for a sin that one thinks cannot be avoided)
Justice Thomas while well intentioned seems to place his oath as a supreme justice before an oath to put God first
It is time that American conservatives realize that as citizens of the kingdom, even patriotism and the often exalted principles of American democracy and Justice (which are still part of word system) can be at odds with the Word of God and that one might have to choose between two masters
Serving the country (the earthly one) is not always the same as serving God

Correction Naaman was healed by Elisha not Elijah

Alan, I'm glad to see that you are one of the growing number of believers who are willing to speak the truth. You're right, you can't "check your religion at the door" as some suggest. There is often a big difference in being "born again" (John ch 3) and being a follower of Christ. (Also known as Christian) One will get you through the door into heaven the other will bring honor and glory to God.

All born again believers are called to follow Christ, all are told to lay down their lives (not always literally) but there are few who actually follow through.

As much as it pains me to write it I think that Justice Thomas is right in this issue. There is man's law and God's law. We live in a secular society and have for quite a while. I can't think of many cases where following the letter of man's law will require violating God's law but I am sure there are some. I do not want a required prayer in schools because I fear what that prayer would say.

In many issues I think that the law of the land and the law of God are actually overlapping. The law of the land says we should give people rights to a trial. The law of God is not explicit about this, but hints at it.

Thomas gave a good answer.
Re comments that Thomas is "biblically wrong" because "a true Christian cannot checkout his or her religious beliefs at the door": The Bible is pretty clear that allegiance to the state and to God must be distinct, but both are important. Also, we should look to God for wisdom in making difficult decisions. I think that's all Thomas is saying; nothing unbiblical about it.

Alan and Tim, to follow your thoughts to their logical conclusion, how is it honoring Christ to use Scripture as a foundation for judicial activism, legislating Bible verses out-of-context from the bench? Is Christ's kingdom of this world? Let us speak carefully what honors Christ, lest we call good evil, and evil good.

You have misunderstood my point. I am not advocating judicial activism or theocracy for the USA. I do not believe that it is the role of the Church (and believers in the Church) to make unbelievers obey God's laws; how could they? God's laws are only for those who are regenerated and have been indwelled by the Holy Spirit. However, just like unbelievers cannot please God by trying to follow His laws. Believers have to be guided by Scriptures regardless of the situation and their position in life. This means that ALL the decision we take, must seek to honor God and His will. If we are in a position where our duty contradicts Scriptures, we must resign. The issue is not so much about using the bible to legislate from the bench; it is about not letting his duties as a judge contradicts his profession of faith.
You speak of honoring Christ, this is the main concern of my post, honoring God means that a Christian will not call good (or legal) what the Bible identifies as evil or evil (illegal) what the bible calls good
If one is not capable to reconcile his duties with his Christianity, one should resign
What Thomas should have said is that he prays on his knees so that all his decisions would honor God and that the day he will be faced with a legal matter that he cannot reconcile with his faith, he will have the courage to resign

You said
“The Bible is pretty clear that allegiance to the state and to God must be distinct, but both are important”
It would be good if you could provide the necessary biblical references
What the Bible says for sure and that is more relevant to the discussion is that allegiance to God must take precedence to the allegiance to man and its institutions whenever they conflict (Acts 4:19; 5:29 see also John 12:34)

I think this is a fundamental disagreement, but I think there are many things that are legal but immoral. And the judge's role is to rule on the legal, not the moral.