While I was giving my basement a long overdue cleaning this week, I have been streaming in the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor from C-Span and tried to form a more educated and balanced opinion about the lady. So far, what I “know” is little more than hype, propaganda and sound bytes from both the left and the right, which are usually fairly worthless bits of junk information that amount to little more than yellow journalism.
Yesterday’s speeches were all flowery pomp and ceremony, with the down and dirty questioning starting tomorrow. There were no surprises and everything seemed fairly routine. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham made the statement that he expected her to be confirmed, barring an unexpected meltdown during the Senate upcoming vetting process. I don’t really know that much about Ms. Sotomayor, but from what I can tell from a man-on-the-street perspective, she seems reasonably qualified to hold this position. I was glad to hear her actually get to talk today although I kept leaving the room and didn’t catch it all.
However, while I hesitate to jump on the bandwagon and label her as an “activist judge”, there is one thing about her that seems to keep coming up that concerns me quite a bit. It is manifesting itself in different ways, but the core issue seems to be whether or not she believes the Constitution of the United States of America is a static document or not. Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope,” states that [the Constitution is] “not a static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world.” I have a very hard time believing that this former Constitutional Law professor would nominate anyone who did not share this core tenant of his and this frightens me greatly.
Similarly, I believe that one of the core issues surrounding evangelical Christianity today is the fact that fewer and fewer Christians are willing to take the Bible for what it says, the way it says it and change their lives accordingly. Instead, the preference is to take the Bible and change it accordingly to fit the life practices and viewpoints of the reader. There is a world of difference between taking a portion of Scripture and making it relatable to your audience within a given culture and taking the Bible and making it relative to that culture.
Relatability ensures that the learner understands the concept(s) being taught by using examples or illustrations that are either universally common to mankind or have been taken from a particular culture itself. For example, I have been teaching Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at a local prison and the question came up from an inmate as to whether or not a private individual could purchase individual stocks or mutual finds and if it was advisable to do so. My answer started with what a good financial counselor can do for you in terms of explaining options, setting short and long term objectives, etc.
INMATE #1: But is this dude needed? Do you HAVE to have him involved?
AARON: Unless you have a license to buy and sell securities yourself, which most investors do not have, then yes, a third party has to be involved.
INMATE #1: What about E-Trade and stuff like that? They’ll help you, right?
AARON: No, they’ll just execute the transaction for you, but you have to tell them exactly what you want them to do on your behalf.
I was starting to lose this guy when one of the FPU small group leaders (also an inmate) pipes up and says,
INMATE #2: It’s like this man. You can’t go into court and represent yourself unless you’re crazy. You have to have someone else help you. Do you want to have the court appointed public defender do it? Or would you rather have a blue chip defense attorney handle things for you? One will do what you say and hopes you win, the other will do all the work for you, hates to lose and knows how to grease the system so that you both win and you tell your friends.
INMATE #1 Oh, okay. Cool.
Inmate #1 sat down, having had his question answered to his satisfaction in terms that he easily understood. THAT is relatablity. The message wasn’t watered down. The illustration used took instances from the seeker’s current reality. The information given required the seeker to make a choice between options with varying outcomes. The learner was shown clearly that there is more knowledge out there than what he has, and in the cases related to that topic, he should defer to the expertise of a professional. The message is given to the learner using a static, unchanging set of facts.
In this instance, the learner who asked the initial question (Inmate #1) has chosen to use the wisdom gleaned from Inmate #2 and will now mold their future decisions around that knowledge. Effectively, it is the knowledge that has become static and the future actions that have become dynamic.
If the knowledge were not static, then Inmate #1 would effectively be choosing their own life as the static object, thus relegating the new knowledge gained to becoming dynamic. There has to be one and the other. If both are static, there is zero room for relatability as the object at hand has become very black and white and rigid. If both are dynamic, then there is no structure to work within and if it does exist, it is a matter of time before it is barely recognizable as the original object.
Which brings me to my point. Both the Bible and the Constitution of the United States should be (and traditionally, always have been) viewed as static documents that are relevant within a contemporary context regardless of time and evolved culture. It is the responsibility of those who place themselves under the authority of these static documents to exercise the will of the authors and not exercise their own will upon the documents. Otherwise, the original intent is lost and we no longer have a stable target to aim at or a standard from which we glean guidance.
To use theological terms, for both the Bible and the Constitution, we should be reading things OUT of the documents (exegesis) and not reading things IN to the documents (eisegesis), or both take on dynamic attributes that were never the original intent, but quickly become the practice and only compound with time. A dynamic equivalent of any document is completely subject to the person doing the equivocating and when that person is 1/9th of the highest court in the land whose job it is to interpret the document itself, the slope can get slippery in a hurry.
It is my fervent prayer that if (and more likely, when) Ms. Satomayor is confirmed, that she will come to treat the Constitution as a static document that can be read in the context of an ever-changing world as our forefather intended when they wrote it.
God bless America!