“Public officials are ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous.”
The disgraceful derby scrambling in the wake of Obergefell has yet to settle out; with presidential candidates struggling to find ways to evade the U.S. Constitution, or taking up the notion of just calling the whole marriage thing off, an Alabama attorney named Win Johnson has appealed to Gov. Robert Bentley (R) to opt out of the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Johnson, for his part, is a state official, a director at the Administrative Office of Courts, which in turn oversees the courts for state Chief Justice Roy Moore.
It seems a striking letter; Charles J. Dean reported, for AL.com:
In harsh words and a lecturing tone, a lawyer who works for Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has written a letter seemingly directed at Gov. Robert Bentley rebuking him for saying Alabama will obey the U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage legal.
And let us be clear; part of the problem with excerpting the letter is that the whole thing really is a show and a half. Christian supremacism, abdication of duty, rejection of the Constitution, and hey, even a Godwin violation just to hit for the cycle. Again, let us be clear: All for hatred in Jesus’ name, amen.
The fundamental argument here is that nobody can be equal unless Christians, specifically, are selected to tower above everyone else, a privileged exemption from the supreme law of the land. And the thing is that they know it, too. Mr. Johnson, for his part, attempts to annex government for God, declaring the triumph of Jesus and proclaiming:
Public officials are ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous. If the public officials decide to officially approve of the acts of the wicked, they must logically not protect the righteous from the wicked. In fact, they must become protectors of the wicked. You cannot serve two masters; you must pick – God or Satan.
And he does go on, in that strangest of manners many have become accustomed to, the real behavior we might pretend isn’t real because, let’s face it, even an honest description of what Mr. Johnson is doing denigrates Christians.
While his zeal is such that the point about self-denigration and demeaning Christian faith will likely evade him, it is also clear that Mr. Johnson knows he is out on a limb. Asked if he regretted anything about the letter, he responded, “I regret sending it to the governor’s legal adviser”, which is probably absolutely true because as it stands, an attorney who serves as a director in a state office has just used his credentials to advocate open rebellion against the supreme law of the land.
Which, in turn, is why he went out of his way to write:
It is not rebellion for you to say, “Your interpretation of the Constitution is wrong, beyond your authority, and detrimental to this nation.” In fact, it’s your duty. You’re not opposing the rule of law, you’re upholding it by saying that.
Which, in turn, is facially nonsensical. Consider the implications of the following retort: Yes, it is in fact rebellion to declare a higher law in order to refuse to obey the supreme law of the land.
Ponder, please, the fact that such a retort should be required.
It is one of our common jokes, that conservatives cannot tell the difference. Indeed, such a nonspecific rejoinder offers myriad applications. At its core is the proposition that one cannot be equal under the law unless one is supremely above the law. That one is harassed or demeaned by the lack of a protected right to harass or demean others. That one is harmed specifically unless they have the right to harm arbitrarily, or for the sake of aesthetics.
Here’s a fun one: We might wonder how Chief Justice Moore and Mr. Johnson feel about recognizing adulterous heterosexual marriages in defiance of Christ.
And there really is nothing about Mr. Johnson’s argument that isn’t paradoxical. To declare a higher law in order to overthrow the U.S. Constitution in Alabama, and call it rule of law?
It is called Christian nationalism, and it is about as unsettling as the term sounds; author Michelle Goldberg, in 2007, described what this movement looks like:
I’m going to skip ahead to this part about a conference that’s held every year in D. James Kennedy’s church in Fort Lauderdale, which is called―well, he has something called the Center for Reclaiming America, and then he has a large church called Coral Ridge Ministries, and he’s actually the third most-watched televangelist in the country. He’s a little bit less-known than some of the others, but he’s been very, very politically active. He has an office in D.C. that exists just to evangelize young Hill staffers, and they frequently bring in high-ranking Republicans, and have these prayer luncheons.
At the latest conference, he had Mike Huckabee, who’s one of the Republican candidates for [president]. But this is a couple years ago, so:
Every year, for the past twelve years, D. James Kennedy has hosted the Reclaiming America for Christ conference, usually at his Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. The event brings together hundreds of committed Christian nationalists for two days of lectures, seminars, and devotions that, as the 2001 conference website puts it, “chart the path for believers to take back the land in America”. Speakers have included Roy Moore, David Barton, and Rick Scarborough, as well as the occasional GOP operative like Clinton prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Former Vice-President Dan Quayle delivered a speech in the first Reclaiming America for Christ Conference in 1994. In his book, Eternal Hostility, Frederick Clarkson described the scene:
Quayle’s speech was unremarkable, except for his presence during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance―to the Christian flag―which preceded his remarks. The Christian flag, white with a gold cross on a blue field in the upper-left corner, flies outside Kennedy headquarters. The assemblage recited together: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty for all who believe.”
For all who believe. Reclaiming America for Christ is a place where the Christian nationalist movement drops its democratic pretenses and indulges its theocratic dreams.
This is an important point to remember: What we are seeing is not new. It is in fact a distillation of ideological undercurrents and implications woven into the fabric of our traditions. This beast roars because it is wounded; its legions are taking damage and losing ground on nearly every front.
So what we are witnessing, while not entirely unique in history, is indeed rare. The foundations of a traditional inequity, long accepted as the way of things, trembles, and supporters and opponents alike have cause to wonder if perhaps this time it breaks. A certain Christian identity―a term fraught with variables―is all that remains for particular groups traditionally empowered in manners demonstrably unjust. To the one, that Mr. Johnson’s appeal should be an Alabama thing is not in itself surprising; this is also taking place as the Yellowhammer State must countenance the fact that the Civil War really is over, and has been for a long, long time.
What a curse for Alabamans, to accept the fact that they are Americans.
And then there’s that bit about hatred and harm and discrimination in Jesus’ name.
I mean, really. At some point, it starts to sound like they see their faith as a curse, too.
May God have mercy upon them. For the rest of us, though, a modicum of pity would probably be helpful; these are psyches in crisis, after all.
Or, you know, just sing along: Jesus loves the antisocials, antisocials of the world ....
No, really. Even after all this, what, really, is anyone supposed to say? Does the observable fact that the discourse has tumbled to these foetid depths have any significance?
Image notes: Top ― The Demon Sisters cope with the self-inflicted damge of of their ill-conceived plan. (Detail of frame from Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, episode 8, “… Of the Dead”) Right ― Win Johnson, director of legal staff at the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts, in unattributed photo via AL.com.
Dean, Charles J. “Roy Moore’s lawyer to Gov. Bentley: ‘Public officials are ministers of God'”. AL.com. 30 June 2015.
Goldberg, Michelle. “The Rise of Christian Nationalism”. KUOW Speakers’ Forum. 18 October 2007.
Johnson, Win. “Time for Public Officials to take their stand one way or the other”. June 2015.
Oliver, Mike. “‘Minister of God’ letter sparks call for the resignation of Alabama courts official”. AL.com. 30 June 2015.
Paul, Rand. “Government Should Get Out of the Marriage Business Altogether”. Time. 28 June 2015.
Weigle, Luther, et al. The Bible: Revised Standard Version. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1971.