A compass on a boat is absolutely essential to safely reach a destination. But as wonderful as the instrument is, it is amazing how easily its accuracy can be thrown off by the magnetic influence of a nearby object as seemingly innocuous as a screwdriver. I have thought a lot about the compass as I watched every minute of the recent Senate Supreme Court nomination hearing involving the testimonies of Christine Blassey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. How might a person evaluate what is unfolding in light of a compass metaphor?
Let’s assume for our reflection that the United States is a great ship and that the Constitution is our compass. That would make sense based on the statements made by our founding fathers. This one, from our second president, John Adams, comes to mind:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The framers of our Constitution turned deliberately and unapologetically to our Judeo-Christian heritage for making sure our Constitution was aligned with biblical principles. Foremost of these is that every human being has inherent value that is given to him or her by God and not the state. Yet human beings can and do come into conflict. So they built our system of justice on the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Way back during the Exodus from Egypt God gave this guidance to his people:
“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be established.” (Deuteronomy 19:15)
What was done in the court of law was intended to be a model for our whole culture to emulate. Surely we have sought, however imperfectly, from generation to generation to be true to that model — until recently. Passionate intensity for a cause, whether it be righteous or misguided, has become the metaphorical “screwdriver” placed perilously close to our constitutional compass and the dial has begun to swing wildly from its affects.
There was an Italian statesman named Niccolo Machiavelli who lived in Florence during an era of competing city-states each vying for power over the others. In 1532 he published a little book that he called "The Prince." In it, he lays out, in the most pragmatic manner, how a ruler gains and retains power without the limits of ethical and moral constraints:
“It is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong and to make use of it or not according to necessity.” (Chapter 15, The Prince)
Interestingly, Machiavelli is often referred to as the father of modern political science. The term Machiavellianism is today used to characterize politicians for whom the end justifies the means. In the case of the accusations made against Judge Kavanaugh, we have seen the real human consequences of deviating from our Constitutional principles and casting aside moral and ethical constraint.
On July 6, Dr. Christine Ford contacted U.S. Representative Anna Ashoo to discuss her accusation that Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school. On July 30, a letter from Ford was delivered to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who sits on the Judiciary Committee interviewing the Supreme Court nominee. Ms. Feinstein spoke in person with Dr. Ford sometime before Aug. 7. On Aug. 20, the senator met one-on-one with Kavanaugh.
Beginning Sept. 4 the Judiciary Committee held public hearings on the nomination. On Sept. 6, senators were given an opportunity to question Kavanaugh in a closed session. During none of these meetings did Sen. Feinstein confront Brett Kavanaugh or share with other members of the committee the allegations she had received. It was not until Sept. 13, when the Judiciary Committee had completed the confirmation hearings and six weeks after receiving the letter, that Sen. Feinstein made the accusation public and revealed that she had notified the FBI. What could have been quietly investigated in a timely manner has instead, by design, led to the public debacle we have been forced to witness which humiliates both parties while it seeks to destroy a man and his family.
What we have seen operating here, aside from either Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford, is the Machiavellian principle at work. Clearly there are a number of senators who claimed before the nomination hearings ever began that they would do whatever it took to block the confirmation of a man they believe threatens to undo principles they hold dear. That real, flesh and blood human lives and reputations would be sacrificed in the process was deemed an acceptable price to pay for victory.
No matter where we stand politically we need to recognize the danger for all of us in this great ship of state if we don’t remove the metaphorical “screwdriver” announcing that the end justifies the means. We need to correct the deviation in our Constitutional compass or we will find ourselves sacrificing inherent human value and the presumption of innocence as we head toward an unwanted destination as a nation.
As Christians, what are our responsibilities? First, pray for everyone involved. Then demand better from those who are elected to lead us — while there is still time.
The Rev. Mike Hesse, former senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, is now retired and living in Destin.