With President Bush's nomination of Judge Samuel Alito for confirmation to the Supreme Court, we have the potential of another Roman Catholic justice on the high court. This little known fact means there would be five Catholic justices on the high court if Alito is confirmed. This would be a staggering historical fact but will likely go almost unnoticed in the press. I find it worth considering for a number of important reasons.
1. Before the present generation this could never have happened. Protestant America would not have allowed this to occur prior to the past forty years. Rest assured, this unspoken prejudice still exists but it will have no bearing on the outcome of this debate.
2. Political "Know Nothingism" is thankfully dead. The reality that for generations this country would not have approved a Roman Catholic to such a position is a sad fact. One of our last great religious tests, and the prejudice that fostered it, is almost gone.
3. This nomination will bring, as I noted above, the number of Roman Catholic justices to five. These include the most conservative justices, people such as Anton Scalia, Clarence Thomas and John Roberts. This also means that the balance of influence on the court will be Christian, and Catholic. I thank God for this fact.
4. I think the fact that the most conservative, or strict Constitutionalist, judges are Roman Catholic is no accident. Catholic law schools are often first class and Catholic social conscience is clearly alive and well within the legal profession. Much of Protestant legal influence, at least since World War II, is secular. And evangelicals opted out of important sectors of society for generations and thus did not produce the kind of minds and legal careers we see in people like Alito and Roberts.
5. Catholic moral theory is well developed and clearly taught in many places. Evangelicals are playing catch-up but thankfully making real gains. We should encourage this and be prepared to learn from our Catholic brothers and sisters.
6. Vatican II opened the door for Catholic and Protestant discussion. This is having a growing impact in America, especially due to the papacy of John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI. In America this dialogue has a particular interest for evangelicals.
7. This new religious context should encourage serious evangelicals to become partners in meaningful ecumenism. We should become more ecumenical in at least two ways. First, we must become mutually concerned for the missio dei of God throughout the entire world. Second, we must come to believe that the unity of the Body of Christ is something that is both biblical and desirable. This does not mean that we ignore our remaining serious differences. It does mean that we labor for better understanding and mutual ministry in the light of Ephesians 4 and John 17.
8. We should encourage younger evangelicals to prepare for leadership in the culture by getting the best formal education possible, by developing a deeply formed social conscience, and by learning how to get meaningfuly involved in law, education, politics and the arts.
I, for one, welcome all of these developments. A new day is clearly dawning. The hunger for spiritual reality is deep among younger Americans. True revival might lie over the horizon, God alone knows. Perhaps the public influence of thoughtful Catholics in the society will become a major part of an increasing move toward the influence of Christ over all of society. This move, joined with a new demonstration of true spiritual power in the church, could yet alter the landscape of our post-Christendom social order.