As an evangelical minister, I cast my early ballot in Virginia for Joe Biden. The last time I voted for a Democratic candidate for president was 44 years ago, when I chose Jimmy Carter, because he was unapologetically born-again. This time it wasn’t so easy. I worked almost my entire adult life for a pro-life social, political, and religious agenda, but I’ve lately concluded politicians are the worst people to inject into the painful abortion equation. However, many of my fellow believers who, like me, plan to vote this time for the Democratic ticket because they see Trump as corrosive and immoral, also see in his nominee to the High Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the specter of a solid anti-abortion majority and therefore an answer to years of prayerful longing.
Personally, I don’t like the fact that Republicans are being so flagrantly hypocritical by plowing ahead with Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings after they denied President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merritt Garland, the same courtesy. As a Christian, I’m mindful the Bible instructs us to behave “beyond reproach,” and, this hearing is, let’s just say, very reproachful. My brethren, however, will overlook such discourtesy if it means securing votes against abortion, which they see as the greater sin, outweighing anything Donald Trump has done or may have done in the past.
Of course, the Constitution grants the President singular power to appoint federal judges, and the U.S. Senate the singular authority to confirm such nominees at its own discretion. This bald-faced politicking by Majority Leader Mitch McConnel may be unseemly, but it’s neither unconstitutional, nor a breach of Senate rules. If one believes President Obama should have gotten his appointment (as I do), it suggests President Trump should get his appointment.
One word of warning to the Democrats who will use their constitutional and Senate rule-based power to try to thwart President Trump’s nominee from being seated: Evangelicals like me, and the even more numerous Catholics who have tentatively moved into the Democratic column because of Mr. Trump’s massive failings, will be watching to be sure Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs are not placed on trial this week. U.S. Senators should need no reminding that the Constitution prohibits a religious test for office.
Bringing Judge Barrett’s religious beliefs and practices into question in a political tribunal would send the wrong message to a wave of religious conservatives who have decided to vote — perhaps just this once — for a Democrat. While I don’t believe most Democratic senators hold any prejudice against people of faith, questioning or skepticism about Judge Barrett’s religious background would give content producers at Fox News, Breitbart News Network, and many other conservative platforms just the material they need to scare away many new religiously-motivated crossover voters.
During this week’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Democratic senators must stay away from religion entirely and focus on Judge Barret’s record, her judicial philosophy, competency, and temperament. Only by doing so can Democrats retain their new supporters and remain, well, “above reproach.”
Rev. Rob Schenck is an ordained evangelical minister, author, and conference speaker. He spent 25 years on Capitol Hill as a missionary to top elected and appointed officials and currently serves as president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington, DC. Over a 40-year career, Rob campaigned for numerous Republican candidates, but is now a registered Independent voter and supporter of Joe Biden.