Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, has won the praise of many conservatives because of his judicial record, but he's also getting some blowback from the far right because of his church affiliation.
"Be advised: Gorsuch attends a church that is rabidly pro-gay, pro-Muslim, pro-green, and anti-Trump," Bryan Fischer, the rabidly anti-LGBT American Family Association radio host and columnist, tweeted today. This came even though AFA president Tim Wildmon has lauded Gorsuch.
Gorsuch does attend a liberal church: St. John's Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colo., The Washington Post reports. The Episcopal Church as a whole has become LGBT-affirming over the past several years, blessing same-sex marriages and ordaining LGBT clergy. The denomination has also ordained women priests for decades, and it is concerned about environmental issues and opposes discrimination against people of any faith -- views that meet with approval from liberals, moderates, and even some conservatives, but are anathema to far-right outliers like Fischer.
And St. John's clergy often take what could be characterized as liberal stances, while recognizing that there is a diversity of views in the congregation. The day after Trump was elected, the Rev. Susan Springer, St. John's rector, wrote to members urging them to behave in a godly fashion and spread hope even though "the world is clasping its head in its hands and crying out in fear," the Post reports.
After the mass shooting at the Pulse LGBT nightclub in Orlando in June, church officials decided to ring its bells 49 times, for each of the 49 people killed, each Wednesday until Election Day to call on Congress to take action against gun violence, according to the Post. "Some of us are pro-gun and some of us are anti-gun. Even so, as people of faith we share in common an aversion to gun violence," read a post on the church's Facebook page. "We hope the ringing ... compels our elected lawmakers to hear and remember their solemn duty to both the dead and the living: to stop political posturing and to work together to pass legislation that fosters greater safety."
On the day of Women's Marches around the world, January 21, Springer attended one in Denver, the U.K.'s Daily Mail reports. And St. John's, like the Episcopal Church as a whole, encourages members to be concerned about climate change -- the Boulder church has solar panels on its roof -- and is LGBT-welcoming. Clergy members have also spoken out against anti-Muslim discrimination.
Gorsuch, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, based in Denver, is active at St. John's, often serving as an usher, the Post reports. His wife, Louise, sometimes leads prayers and reads Scripture, and their daughters participate in services as acolytes.
He would be the first Protestant justice on the Supreme Court since John Paul Stevens retired in 2010. Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, and Anthony Kennedy are Catholic, as was the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Gorsuch would replace. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan are Jewish.
Despite his affiliation with a liberal church, Gorsuch's rulings have been largely conservative. He has, for instance, asserted the right of employers to exclude contraceptive coverage from group insurance plans if this conflicts with the employer's religious beliefs. And he has some unpublished rulings that are hostile to the rights of transgender people. Many LGBT and progressive groups, along with Democratic senators, oppose confirming him to the high court.
Another conservative evangelical, Rev. Rob Schenck, has a more measured view than Fischer of Gorsuch's church membership. In a recent blog post for his group Faith and Action, Schenck wrote that many Episcopal beliefs would "make Antonin Scalia roll over in his grave," but added, "In my estimation, the Gorsuch church story suggests at the very least that the prospective Supreme Court appointee can get along with a wide swath of people, including social and religious progressives." That may allay liberal fears about him while planting doubts in conservatives, remarked Schenck, who still supports Gorsuch, as do most conservative religious types. And most liberals still oppose him, going on his record rather than his religious affiliation.