Musings About Faith and Justice

A Palm Sunday Protest Rally (Photo credits: Flickr / Fibonacci Blue)
Written by Guy Nave

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson gave her SCOTUS confirmation acceptance speech on the South Lawn of the White House two days before Palm Sunday. For Christians, Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the week of his crucifixion.

On this Palm Sunday, I reflected on how the issue of faith and Christianity manifested itself during the confirmation hearing process of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson began her April 8 confirmation speech by thanking God.

First, as always, I have to give thanks to God for delivering me as promised and for sustaining me throughout this nomination and confirmation process. As I said at the outset, I have come this far by faith, and I know that I am truly blessed.

Judge Jackson recalled how immediately after Biden announced on Feb 25 that she was his SCOTUS nominee, she stated she was “truly humbled by the extraordinary honor of this nomination” asserting, “One can only come this far by faith.”

During the confirmation hearings, Judge Jackson’s faith was frequently called into question. On the first day of official questioning, Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson the weird and inappropriate question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are?”

While Jackson never hid the fact that she is a Christian, she reminded Graham that there is no religious test for office in the United States.

Later during the hearings, Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana asked Jackson her thoughts regarding when life begins. When Brown Jackson admitted she didn’t know, Kennedy asked, “Do you have a belief?”

“I have personal religious beliefs that have nothing to do with the law,” she answered. When Kennedy persisted in his questioning, Jackson stated, “I have a religious belief that I set aside when I’m ruling on cases.”

While Jackson’s response is the perfect response with respect to how faith and public service are expected to relate, I often find myself troubled by the public understanding (and demonstration) of Christianity embraced my many self-professed Christians, especially politicians.

Many of the members of Congress who asked insulting, disrespectful and blatantly racists questions of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson are the same ones proclaiming the importance of their Christian faith and values.

Their so-called Christian values were on display as they grilled and interrupted Judge Brown Jackson over and over again asking hypothetical and metaphysical questions that have little (if any) bearing on what Supreme Court justices actually do.

As I listened to opponents of Brown Jackson repeatedly skew Jackson’s judicial record, accusing her of being “soft on crime,” I wondered how Jesus’ “beliefs” and record would fair in front of these same members of Congress if Jesus were subject to a confirmation hearing.

While I am in no way comparing Judge KBJ to Jesus nor suggesting that Jesus would make a fair and impartial SCOTUS justice, I am curious why the record of the ONLY SCOTUS justice to have served as a federal public defender was depicted as “soft on crime” simply because she did her job of upholding the constitution and defending accused criminals.

On this Palm Sunday I thought about how Jesus was often criticized for his defense of people often despised and looked down upon by the religious and political system of his day.

While many political leaders today craft laws and policies that marginalize and oppress the most vulnerable members of society, I reflected this Palm Sunday on the fact that Jesus is recorded as having said,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

I imagine any politician making such a claim today would most likely not hold office very long.

Jesus was not a member of the political elite. He was opposed by the political elite. Jesus was executed because he dared to challenge the political elite by speaking truth to power.

Jesus’ execution — a Roman crucifixion — was a political execution. Crucifixion was a form of execution often imposed upon those considered to be a political threat to the Roman empire.

Similar to many modern day social justice marches, Jesus and his followers marched into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday seeking the liberation of people suffering under the political and religious oppression of the Roman empire.

As a follower of Jesus, I am acutely aware of the painful paradox represented by the fact that it was and continues to be thousands (if not millions) of self-proclaimed evangelical Christians who claim to follow Jesus and yet supported the hateful rhetoric and practices of Donald Trump and the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capital.

Christians have been (and continue to be) complicit in the politically sanctioned oppression and marginalization of the most vulnerable members of society.

Because of this Christian complicity, I feel compelled to remind Christians as we enter into Holy Week that the Christian life is fundamentally about a choice — a political and theological choice.

According to Christian tradition, on the day we now call “Palm Sunday,” Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on a donkey through the east gate of the city while the Roman governor rode in on a horse with his soldiers through the west gate. Jesus’ action presented people with two choices regarding which kingdom they desired — the kingdom of Rome or the kingdom of God.

Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God over the kingdom of Rome!

The confession of the earliest followers of Jesus was, “Jesus is Lord,” meaning Caesar was NOT “Lord.”

I believe people and communities that claim to be followers of Jesus have to ask, “what does the confession, ‘Jesus is Lord’ mean today.”

As followers of Jesus, do Christians choose the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Rome? Do they choose to follow Jesus entering the east gate or an imperial leader entering the west gate? Is Jesus Lord or is Caesar Lord?

What happens when Christians genuinely contrast the teachings of Jesus with what I consider to be the amoral values of our present imperial leaders?

Who will Christians choose to follow? What choices will they make, and HOW will they demonstrate those choices?

As we enter into this Holy Week, days after the historic confirmation of the the first black woman and public defender in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, I hope every Christian will ask, “What does my loyalty to Christ require of me at this moment in history?”

All across our nation and across the world, people are clamoring for change. People are clamoring for justice and fairness. Various kinds of oppression are plaguing our planet.

As Christians sit with the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during Holy Week, Christians have a choice to make: do they follow the ways and teachings of Jesus who entered Jerusalem and proclaimed “my house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL people,” or do they follow the ways and teachings of imperial leaders who are concerned primarily with the well-being of the political and economic elite of the world?

I pray during this Holy Week, Christians choose to follow the ways and teachings of Jesus rather than the ways and teachings of imperial rulers.

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About the author

Guy Nave

Guy Nave is a professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. His research focuses on the topics of Christianity, religion and social justice, the social construction of religious meaning, and race-religion-and-politics. Professor Nave is currently researching the power, politics, and meaning behind the rhetoric of "change."

He is the author of several articles and book chapters, and he served as a New Testament Greek translator for the 2011 Common English Bible. His commentary on 2 Corinthians is published in the African American New Testament Commentary, and his book, The Role and Function of Repentance in Luke-Acts has been identified as “the standard scholarly work on repentance in the New Testament.”

Guy Nave received his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Yale University. In addition to his blog posts here, he is a frequent contributor to Sojourners Magazine's online "Commentary" blog series.

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