Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Lapsed What?

Each of the Washington Post and New York Times runs a front page story today detailing how Harriet Miers became a born-again Christian and suggesting how that conversion may be important in understanding her personality and future performance on the Supreme Court. Isn't that nice? Are the two stories really describing the same woman?


"She decided that she wanted faith to be a bigger part of her life," Justice Hecht, who now serves on the Texas Supreme Court, said in an interview. "One evening she called me to her office and said she was ready to make a commitment" to accept Jesus Christ as her savior and be born again, he said. He walked down the hallway from his office to hers, and there amid the legal briefs and court papers, Ms. Miers and Justice Hecht "prayed and talked," he said. She was baptized not long after that, at the Valley View Christian Church. Ms. Miers, born Roman Catholic, became an evangelical Christian and began identifying more with Republicans than with the Democrats who had long held sway over Texas politics. She joined the missions committee of her church, which is against legalized abortion, and friends and colleagues say she rarely looked back at her past as a Democrat.

Hecht remembers that when Miers made partner at their law firm, the first woman ever to do so, she began to question what life was all about. He said they would often put their feet up and trade Big Questions: Is there a God? Who is He? What difference does it make? Miers had attended Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches as a girl, and her mother was religious, but Miers told Hecht she wanted a "deeper faith."Hecht believes she may have supported abortion rights at the time, although he said she had not thought about it much. "Well, let's go to my church," Hecht told her. That was Valley View, where Hecht played the organ and taught Sunday school.
Well, at least the two papers agree that Valley View got her in the end. If it is worth while doing a big spread on the supposed significance of a candidate's religious orientation, isn't it worth while getting right what faith she left as well the one she joined?

But I don't think all this poking around in Ms. Miers' religious orientation is such a good thing at this time of her nomination. The United States Constitution expressly prohibits religious tests for federal appointments - a prohibition that some members of the Senate came awfully close to flouting at least in spirit, as it were, during the Roberts confirmation. That Constitutional prohibition hasn't lapsed. Yet the Times and the Post both seem eager to encourage public pressure on the Senate to disregard that Constitutional imperative even more egregiously this time out, especially by suggesting that Ms. Miers should be presumed to share this-or-that tenet of what may generally be believed at Valley View.

But the Constitutional provision is not the whole story by any means. If there is any "zone of privacy" left to one taking high public office, surely that zone encompasses one's religion. Ms. Miers seems a rather private woman, and she has not, to my knowledge, indicated that she wants the media to invade her privacy in this respect. Yet, just as the Times was caught investigating John Roberts' adoption of his two children - an almost inexpressibly contemptible violation of his and their privacy - we now have front page stories about Ms. Miers' religious orientation and trumpeting how significant that orientation is in understanding her suitability for the Supreme Court.

This is not meet. This is not right. This is not just. At least not in my book it isn't.


Another good reason to stay away from questions concerning someone's religious orientation:

Miss Miers left Valley View three weeks ago, when Mr. Key, 57, was ejected over what he termed "leadership differences." The new Supreme Court nominee is one of about 200 people who followed him to a new congregation of former Valley View members, who are meeting temporarily at a DoubleTree Hotel in north Dallas. The new group has no name yet.

Miss Miers also attends several Episcopal congregations, including her family's parish, the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.

When in Washington, she usually attends the 9 a.m. service across the street from the White House at St. John's Episcopal Church, which Mr. Bush frequently attends. Justice Hecht said he also occasionally accompanies her to services at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria.

An Arlington resident, Miss Miers has contributed to the Falls Episcopal Church in nearby Falls Church. She went there at least once in 2001, administrator Bill Deiss said. The Falls Church, a passionately evangelical congregation, is very similar to Valley View.

"Miss Miers has contributed to the Falls Episcopal Church in nearby Falls Church?" How did the Washington Times bring itself to publish this? Is it supposed to be analogous to revealing that she gave money to Democrats?


The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas has most recently been in the national news over its recent vote to withhold $512,000 from the national church to protest the election of a gay episcopal bishop and then joining the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes - a network some say is designed to fight for biblical teachings within the national church framework, but which many see as a base for a future Episcopal schism. A Dallas diocese spokesman told The Dallas Morning Morning News. "A majority of our delegates disagree with the policies of the national church."

Dallas area Episcopalians certainly do seem to have their own way. One former Dalls parish - St. Mary the Virgin, originally known as St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church - became part of the Diocese of Ft. Worth when the Dallas Diocese was divided. Then it left the Episcopal Church to join the Roman Catholic Church as a Personal Parish for the Anglican Use, under terms of the Pastoral Provision of 1980. St. Mary's was the first Episcopal Parish to transfer into the Roman Catholic Church, and retained its property in so doing. Most Washington area Episcopalians probably wouldn't think about doing that kind of thing.

So at least all this focus on Ms. Miers religious orientation has demonstrated that she is one of those typical current or former Episcopalian/Presbyterian/Catholic/Evangelical types from the Dallas-Fort Worth or Washington areas who are always leaving or joining or attending churches all the time for one reason or another.

Good thing we cleared that all up. Now we have a clear window into the woman's thinking and will no longer have to peer into her soul as through a glass darkly.


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