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  • Reverend James Squire


I have not seen or heard much of the questioning of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in her process to become the first African American woman to join the Supreme Court. However, I heard enough on NPR this morning to make my blood boil. The nature of the Republican Senators’ inquiry contained gotcha questions. They were cherry picking her decisions to attempt to demonstrate that she shouldn’t be a member of the Supreme Court.

It was evident that they had done enough research to discover something that would rule her out. In essence, they would take isolated examples and expand them to general conclusions to show her “weaknesses.”

Ted Cruz was perhaps the most offensive to no one’s surprise. He held up a book, How to Be An -Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, and other books that were taught at Georgetown Day School about issues related to racial justice. I don’t think that Cruz has read it. I have. It doesn’t make the point that Cruz was attempting to make that Georgetown was a school that taught Critical Race Theory. Judge Jackson is on the Board of Trustees of the School and her children attend that school. In response to Cruz, she simply made the point that the Board does not interfere in issues of curriculum. It is not a public school where that may or may not happen but independent schools are referred to as such because they are independent of outside pressure. I know because I taught at one for 38 years.

There were more examples of overreach on Cruz’s part. I use the above example for Judge Jackson used the gotcha questions to teach the people who were questioning what they should have known better about the Constitution. They attempted to embarrass her when the reverse was the case. Maybe a comment made from Patrick Leahy, long serving Senator of Vermont, might make a difference in future questioning (one can hope) when he made the observation that the questions that were coming from across the aisle had nothing to do with the Constitution, but were good sound bites for their fund-raising campaigns.

She took gotcha questions and turned them into learning moments for the people who were raising them. She is a person of faith which was clearly evident as she was channeling Jesus who used the same formula. A gotcha moment followed by a teaching moment.

There are several examples of Jesus encountering gotcha moments. One that illustrates this formula is in Matthew 22:15-22: “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians saying, “Teacher, we know you are true and teach the way to God truthfully and you don’t care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus aware of their malice said,’ Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?’ Show me the coin for the tax. ‘And they brough him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render tom Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.”

There is you have a gotcha moment followed by a teaching moment. You don’t do what I did for 38 years a Chaplain of the School and not encounter gotcha moments. Here is what I noticed about people such as Cruz and those that I encountered who play gotcha. They come from a position of entitlement. Cruz recently belittled a person working the counter of an airline in Alaska to the point that the police became involved. The complaint was that he was treated the same way as someone else. He had no special privilege which was true of the Pharisees as well as they thought they had special privilege as they stood before Jesus.

Usually, you can tell that the person who attacks you has been thinking this over and over in their mind. Cruz even came with a stack of books that he thought were representatives of the teachings at Georgetown Day School. He even had charts professionally done to show everyone his points. He loves show and tell. There is little spontaneity. They also have their agenda and you, in this case Judge Jackson, threaten it in some way. They usually are also bullies.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t raise his voice when he is attacked by those who question him. He answers with a measured tone, but he makes his point.

This reminds me of an exchange one Saturday at the Yale Beinecke Rare Book Library where the windows were translucent marble. It was like a cathedral. I was with a “good ole boy” from a state in the deep south. As we were meandering through, he was verbally attacked by a loud threatening security guard for getting too close to a painting. He was not. After the rant, my friend looked at him and with a thick southern accent simply said, “You all sure do come on strong up here.” The guard left in anger perhaps aware that his response was not justified. He must have been having a bad start to his day.

I had a standard response for the infrequent screamers and gotcha folk who were over the top. When the rant would be done, sometimes the inevitable threat would be spoken, “I am going to call a friend of mine on the Board about you.” When I heard those words, I would channel that friend on that Saturday morning in New Haven and Jesus and simply reply, “From a pastoral perspective I must inform you that you won’t be first in line. There may be others ahead of you. You will have to wait your turn.”

Sometimes we forget about the final line of the story of Jesus’ encounter about paying taxes. “They marveled, and left him and went away.”

One thing that Judge Jackson and Jesus knew as well as a kid from a working-class environment is that the old adage is true. If you are going to act like a nail, other people will think that they are a hammer, pharisees included and Republican gotcha people as well.

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