Virginia (Ginni) Thomas is the wife of longtime Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. According to the Washington Post, twenty-nine text messages obtained by the Post and CBS News show that she “repeatedly pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”
In response, some Democrats are calling on Justice Thomas to recuse himself on cases related to the January 6 Capitol riots. Some are even calling for Justice Thomas to step down from the court or be impeached.
As we will see today, this controversy is relevant far beyond Justice Thomas, his wife, and their critics.
A defense of Justice Thomas
Former prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy states that the statute governing judicial disqualification, Section 455 (of Title 28, US Code), involves “financial or legal stakes in the matter, or some connection to the matter as an attorney.” According to McCarthy, “Ginni Thomas’s conservative political activism—up to and including the text messages to Mark Meadows about the 2020 election—does not activate those triggers.”
He adds, “If it did, many judges appointed by Democrats would have been disqualified from cases over which they’ve presided despite the political and legal activism of their spouses.” His statement links to a Newsweek article detailing numerous examples of such activism.
To reinforce his argument, McCarthy states that “Supreme Court justices are not even subject to disqualification over their own activities that bear directly on cases.” He notes the example of Justice Elena Kagan, nominated by President Obama, who served as Mr. Obama’s solicitor general when the administration was formulating its legal strategy to defend the Affordable Care Act. When the Act came before the Supreme Court, she did not recuse herself from the case and in fact provided the critical vote to uphold it.
McCarthy therefore concludes: “The smearing of Justice Thomas is transparently partisan politics, nothing more.”
Using a senator’s words against him
Whether you agree with McCarthy or not is not my point. Rather, I want to focus on the method he used to make his case.
If you accuse me of wrongdoing and I can show that you have done what you now accuse me of doing, I can win our rhetorical battle. Unsurprisingly, politicians do the same.
For example, earlier this year, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sought to change the Senate’s filibuster rules. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton then used Sen. Schumer’s previous statements in support of the filibuster against him.
My point is not to castigate our public officials. I am grateful to those who are willing to serve in a day when they face more criticism—fair and unfair—than at any time in my lifetime. My purpose today is actually the opposite: rather than criticizing political leaders, I want to point a finger at myself. And perhaps at you.
“She gave me fruit of the tree”
One very simple way to avoid responsibility for our sins is to point to the sins of others. This story begins early: when the Lord called Adam to account for his sin in the Garden of Eden, Adam responded, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). Eve in turn blamed the serpent (v. 13).
Satan is delighted by the degenerating moral condition of our culture. And he is also delighted when Christians point to the sins of others to justify their own.
Putin’s murderous invasion of Ukraine is obviously one of the most horrifically sinful acts by a political leader in recent times. But his sin does not justify my hatred of my brother. Even though the world would say the two have no comparison, Jesus disagrees (Matthew 5:21–22). It is the same with adultery and lust (vv. 27–30), proving the point that the sins of others do not excuse my sins or yours.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance”
I had a fascinating conversation recently with a millennial Christian leader. He believes that the single greatest reason many of his generation are dropping out of church is the ongoing moral crisis within the church.
I’m convinced that he’s right.
We can complain that critics are holding us to a different standard than they require for themselves, and we’re right. But they’re right to do so. We claim that the Holy Spirit of God lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16) and that his “fruit” in our lives includes “goodness,” “faithfulness,” and “self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).
If Muslims or Buddhists, Republicans or Democrats made the same claim, would we not hold them to it?
God’s word declares, “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). To this end, let’s remember Proverbs 4:23: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
The text explains how: “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (vv. 24–27).
How cockroaches survive
Scientists tell us that cockroaches survived the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs by hiding in tiny soil crevices that protected them from heat and by being omnivorous scavengers who will eat what others will not.
Sin does the same: it hides from the heat and light of God’s truth and will “eat” anything we “feed” it.
If we would make a transformative impact on our culture, Christ must first make such an impact on us. Daily submission to him is vital to the sanctification that empowers our lives and witness. Oswald Chambers observed: “Abandon to God is of more value than personal holiness. . . . When we are abandoned to God, he works through us all the time.”
How abandoned to God would he say you are today?