WASHINGTON (RNS) — Long before accusations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was involved in a sexual assault as a Catholic prep school student, American faith leaders were divided over whether he should join the highest court. Before California professor Christine Blasey Ford told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh assaulted her, many debated whether he would shore up or dismantle religious liberty.
Now officials in a range of religion-related roles are no less divided, but their concerns have shifted, encompassing their thoughts about the #MeToo movement and the credibility of Kavanaugh, who has "categorically and unequivocally" denied the allegations.
Here’s a sampling of what religious leaders are saying:
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Dallas
“Sexual assault is a heinous crime, and I feel empathy for all of those who have been victimized by it. I do not know with certainty who is telling the truth, but what I know with absolute certainty is that Democrats don’t care about the truth. … The Democrats’ only goal is to derail the Kavanaugh confirmation. America sees right through the gross hypocrisy of the left and the feigned concern of Democrats for the abuse of women. Their real concern with Judge Kavanaugh is that he might restrict in any way the murder of 700,000 females in the womb through abortion every year.”
Jenna Barnett, Women and Girls Campaign coordinator for Sojourners
“After all, the only way out of the #MeToo Era is by entering a new age where we don’t have to say those two words any more. #MeToo sits at the intersection of this cultural moment, stopping traffic and staring into the eyes of any perpetrator in power — be they presidents, Supreme Court nominees, or faith leaders — to say, ‘I’ll leave when you leave.’”
American Family Association President Tim Wildmon
“We’ve seen this game played before. Clarence Thomas. Herman Cain. Roy Moore. In some shape or form, each of those men had charges of sexual misconduct lodged against them during seasons of political rancor when it was impossible to prove — or disprove — the charges. In some cases, the fallout negatively affected their careers. All three are rock-solid conservatives who love our country and respect the Constitution.”
Faith in Public Life declaration signed by more than 360 leaders
“We need a justice who rules with justice, protecting the people that our faiths call us to
side with: our neighbors who are sick, who are poor, who are beaten down, who are
disenfranchised. Kavanaugh's record does not suggest that he will rule with this kind of
Charisma Media founder Stephen E. Strang, author of “God and Donald Trump”
“Based upon known facts and his lifetime of service, I believe Brett Kavanaugh’s claim of innocence. His integrity has stood the test of time in his career. No claims were ever made against him during other confirmation processes. Why now? Fake news accusing him of sexual assault will be dismissed by Evangelicals because they are assured that truth will prevail and prove he is innocent, as at least 65 women have attested. Those who wish to destroy Christianity and its devout followers by timing their allegations at the height of this important hearing will not succeed.”
Russell Moore, president, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in an interview with CNN
“We need to hear from both parties involved and so I’m looking forward to the open hearing.
Obviously, if this did happen, that would be disqualifying, and obviously, if this did not happen it would be a horrible thing to wrongfully accuse someone of doing. And so that’s what I’m hearing mostly from evangelicals — is what’s going on? We need to hear from both of the parties involved.”
Franklin Graham, evangelist and president of Samaritan’s Purse relief agency, in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network
“It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh who has a stellar record — that somebody can bring something up that he did when he was a teenager close to 40 years ago. That’s not relevant. We've got to look at a person's life and what they've done as an adult and are they qualified for this position. So this is just an attempt to smear him."
Monsignor John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities in Washington and Kavanaugh’s former pastor, quoted by National Catholic Reporter
"I know Brett Kavanaugh to be a man of honesty and integrity. My opinion of him is based upon a 40-year relationship in which he's never given me any reason to doubt his veracity and character. Hopefully the facts concerning the recent allegations will bear out my trust in him."
Ralph Reed, founder, Faith and Freedom Coalition, quoted by The New York Times
“One of the political costs of failing to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is likely the loss of the United States Senate. If Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based and conservative voters in November.”
Liberty University professor of English Karen Swallow Prior, quoted by Slate
“I don’t expect we will ever know the truth about what did or did not happen. But as an evangelical Christian, I am convinced Dante himself could not have devised a more fitting circle of hell for my faith community than the one in which we find ourselves: being destroyed from the inside out by the sexual sin we spent decades pointing out everywhere but in our own house. For us, this is the real trial.”