Tuesday, October 04, 2005

More on Miers the Campbellite

President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers has provoked all kinds of consternation from conservatives. Typical is William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, who complains that Miers is a weak choice, lacking a strong pedigree as a legal theorist and a strong record as a strict constructionist.

The counter-argument, well represented by Marvin Olasky, generally depends on the President's own experience. Bush knows Miers well, it is argued, as she's worked for him for years. He has no desire to repeat the mistake of his father, who on John Sununu's advice appointed David Souter, who, it has been said, Bush senior could not have picked out of a lineup. Souter, of course, turned out to be one of the most liberal justices on the court. But by contrast Bush the younger knows this appointee very well, better than any possible female appointee. He can trust her judicial philosophy.

It has likewise been argued that in Miers, Bush seeks an appointee like John Roberts: capable, reliably conservative, but also by temperament humble, and so seeking a Supreme Court of modest reach and authority, restrained in its judgments.

SWNID agrees with this analysis and offers more support. As we've noted, Miers is a member of an independent Christian church that uses the instrument in worship. In Dallas, where the Campbellite landscape is dominated by the noninstrumental churches and still in the shadow of Texas Christian University, membership in such a church is a conscious decision. Further, in Texas, which like most of the South is dominated by Baptist churches, with strong elements of Methodism, Presbyterianism and Episcopalianism, joining Valley View Christian Church looks extremely conscious and deliberate. It's hard to believe that Ms. Miers did this solely because she liked the worship band, and since she's unmarried and has no children, we know it wasn't for the youth program. She probably liked the theology at the place, amazingly enough.

And what is the theology of the center branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement? It is, first of all, "strict constructionist" about the Bible. As the saying goes, "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent." We can distinguish that stance from the other branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Among noninstrumental churches (the right, if you will), the motto may be the same, but the practice is more toward taking silence as prohibition. Among the Disciples (the left), the Bible may speak, but one can evaluate and reject on the basis of reason and experience. Those guys are the "living constitutionalists" of biblical interpretation.

Second, the theology of the center of the Stone-Campbell Movement is relatively nonideological. Independent Christian churches in general eschew debate over theological systems, seeking to articulate a clearly biblical message apart from "speculation." That's easier said than done, and the stance often hides a lot of theologizing behind claims to simple biblicism. But in this Christian's experience, there's a lot less theological partisanship in these moderate Campbellite circles than in most others. You expect at a Baptist church to find a group of hard-shell Calvinists, a group of diehard dispensationalists, and the like. Presbyterians will have their hard-shells and their hot-blooded Barthians. At an independent Christian church, you're more likely to find someone who really, really likes John Maxwell.

Third, in the Stone-Campbell center, one finds theological modesty. There's plenty of allowance for opinion, as long as the focus stays with the central message. We're not much for making sure that everyone thinks the same thing all the time. We don't think that it can be done. In fact, we think it's a distraction.

Now, let's assume that Ms. Miers goes to this church because it matches her ideals. Let's assume further that her theological ideals are roughly congruent with her legal ideals. If so, we can expect her to be a justice who will interpret the constitution thoughtfully and carefully on its own terms according to the intentions of the framers, who will freely state what the constitution does and doesn't say, who will give due allowance to the other branches of government to exercise their own powers in areas of constitutional "silence," and who will not seek to overreach with her legal reasoning to fill in the gaps. She will be conservative, but no conservative activist.

In other words, like John Roberts she'll want to restore the court to its proper balance with the other branches.

I like that. I'm sure Bush wants it. Heaven know, we could use it.

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