On a recent Friday night, several hundred suburbanites gathered in Fairfax, Virginia, to sing battle songs. "We are an army of salvation," they chorused. "Lead us into battle," they roared. The congregation vowed in song that they would fight until every nation is on its knees before Jesus Christ. The site of this religious pep rally--the Truro Church--is where Judge Clarence Thomas worships.
Thomas, once a practicing Catholic, has been attending Truro, a charismatic Episcopal church, for about a year. Curious about the religious leanings of the Supreme Court nominee, I visited Truro. Thomas was not at the Friday night "Prayer and Praise" session or the more traditional Sunday morning service I witnessed, but he has attended both.
Within the charismatic Christian movement, the Bible is taken literally; followers are born again and see Satan all over. The Friday evening ceremony was a jubilant occasion. The faithful stood much of the time with arms lifted high, palms facing skyward, singing tributes to Jesus Christ. Some seemed transfixed; some spoke in tongues. The clergy were good humored and ebullient, though one did chastise the congregation for its homogeneity; it is 99 percent white. During prayer, one worshipper cried loudly, "Lord, bless Clarence Thomas in his hour of need."
In a wing of the simple, red brick church, a bookstore sells anti-abortion material (the church is devoutly anti-choice), inspirational tracts and books that expose the workings of Satan. A corner is reserved for the products of the Truro Tape Ministry, which markets audiocassettes of lectures by church associates and well-known charismatics, including Pat Robertson. The Rev. John Howe, until 1989 the rector at Truro, was a key endorser of the 1988 presidential campaign of Robertson, who once called for a theocracy with "judges speaking in tongues on the bench."
Truro's services and tapes present a clear message: True Christians engage daily in actual, not metaphorical, hand to hand combat with Satan. In a taped lecture series on "Spiritual Warfare," Tom Tarrants reveals that the Devil and evil spirits "carry on a relentless battle behind the scenes" to affect "world events." Philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Immanuel Kant and Sigmund Freud were all under demonic influence. Lecturer Beth Whitnah averts that Satan is behind the "pollution of the whole entertainment industry."
Charismatics are instructed to heed orders. On one tape, the Rev. Brian Cox, associate rector of a sister church, the Church of the Apostles, exhorts Truro's congregants to obey unquestioningly God's commands. "When the Father tells you to do something," Cox says, "you don't argue with Him...You don't need to know why." During a 1987 sermon at his church, according to two people who were there, Cox preached that the goal of the charismatics is to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth, adding, "The Kingdom of God is not a Democracy." After that sermon, he embraced a member of his flock, Oliver North. On another tape, Os Guiness, a "Christian author," examines "the problem of constitutionalism." By "problem" he means that the U.S. Constitution has no "transcendence" because it does not rely on religious values.
Who knows why Thomas attends services at Truro. Several Episcopal churches are closer to his home. But those interested in his view of the world might well ask about his commitment to the teachings of his current church. Does he believe Satan controls some politicians, artists, civil liberties lawyers and others? That everything in his life is dominated by the war between Jesus and Satan? That obedience to this religious faith transcends all else, including his duty to the Constitution? How might such beliefs affect someone who will render decisions with consequences for millions? Respect for Thomas's privacy should not preclude a Senate Inquiry into his thoughts on spiritual matter, if those opinions might unduly affect his performance as Supreme Court Justice. Given Thomas' adherence to "natural law" as a judicial philosophy, his notions about metaphysical issues are quite relevant.
At the end of the Friday night revival, the faithful sang, "We've got our marching orders. Now is the time to carry them forward." Shouldn't Thomas be asked if he accepts any marching orders other than to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States?
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