Well, it’s official: the product of a Catholic Charismatic covenant community, Amy Coney Barrett, is the nominee to be a Supreme Court Justice. My regular readers know that I’ve dealt with this subject over the years, from this piece in 2011 (where I document why I turned down the invitation to join one) to the present. One of the albums I posted came from the People of Praise, the community Barrett is a part of.
If I were sitting in one of the meetings of the Community of God’s Delight over forty years ago and someone told me that a product of another major covenant community would end up in the situation Barrett now faces, I wouldn’t have believed them. That’s not because the members of the community typically lacked formal education or were not professional people. The man who taught my Life in the Spirit Seminar, Joe Canterbury, was a Dallas attorney whose delivery of the Seminar reminded me of a closing argument for a jury. And of course we have David Peterman, the PhD holding engineer who ended up leading the Community. The extreme bifurcation of education and status–and the wealth inequality that goes with it–wasn’t as extreme in American life then, which is interesting because one of the battle cries of Barrett’s opponents is “equality.”
The reason for my disbelief is because covenant communities, like much of the Charismatic Renewal at the time, were decidedly escapist and more akin to the “Remnant” theology of my Baptist grandparents, which I discuss in my piece on Elizabeth Warren. In some ways these communities were the prototypes of Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.” Some of the leaders of the day, like Ralph Martin, still reflect that idea. One of the things this nomination will be “about” is whether people who want to seriously live the way that Barrett lives will be permitted to do so, or even to express that desire.
The current idea in American politics–especially as it comes from the left–is that those who live in this country are obligated to support their racial and sexual construct. That of course is totalitarianism, and their criticisms of authoritarianism from institutions like covenant communities ring hollow. In order for that totalitarianism to succeed, things like rights must be set aside, and along with those rights the due process that judiciaries are constituted to uphold.
We’ve already been regaled with a “trial balloon” of setting due process aside with the blowback from the “Dear Colleague” letter than came from Barack Obama’s Department of Education on sexual harassment and assault. The enthusiastic response of university administrators to this was breathtaking. Now I’m not one to support the encouragement of the “laid, high or drunk” mentality our elites hold sacred, and I’ll bet that Barrett isn’t either. But leaving due process in the rear view mirror isn’t right, and if you can get away with doing it in that important of a field of law you can do it anywhere else. Barrett herself was involved in the judicial pushback against this; that’s a legitimate subject to discuss now, but those who oppose Barrett’s idea don’t want the issue framed around due process.
But getting back to the original point: I’m not looking forward to the whole issue of Catholic Charismatic covenant communities being front and centre in a this kind of process. The whole issue is complicated from an ecclesiastical standpoint let alone a political one; a great deal of ignorance will be on display. My reservations about covenant communities have not changed in the forty years since the choice was put in front of me back in Dallas, and I’ve never regretted my decision not to join.
But that doesn’t change the fact that covenant community authoritarianism has more than met its match, and that’s the fight we’re having now.