I’ve recently been reminded of the importance of perspective. The issue — by another name — became a national discussion recently when a comment by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor came to light. In 2001, she reportedly suggested that there could be situations in which “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
A big bunch of mainly white men who consider themselves to be wise immediately charged her with being “racist.” There’s no doubt in my mind that those same accusers believe that a wise white man with conservative convictions will reach a better decision than a Latina woman who doesn’t follow Rush Limbaugh. The same folks criticizing Sotomayor happily led the bandwagon for justice Samuel Alito and chief justice John Roberts precisely because those men were believed to bring a particular perspective to the court.
I think that’s what Sotomayor’s comment were about: a simple acknowledgement that perspective can be important — there are situations in which her background could bring added richness to the thorny issues of interpreting the law.
Let’s face it — cases that get to the Supreme Court are by nature hard to decide. If the laws of the nation and the words of the Constitution were completely cut and dried, most Supreme Court decisions would be 9-0, or we could just scrap the court and settle cases with a Supreme Computer.
Sotomayor, like every other justice on the court, will seek to understand and interpret the law to the best of her ability. Like every other justice, that ability will be informed by the perspective that comes from one’s many life experiences. It’s time to give the judge a break.
A second reminder about the power of perspective came in a recent exchang of emails with a long-time friend whom I have known since she was about six years old. She grew up to become a Methodist minister, leads her charge with wisdom and grace, and makes old friends like me extremely pleased to have been part of her life.
After six years as a licensed pastor, she’s finally being ordained. Methodists (like other mainline denominations) have a much different perspective on ordination than most Baptists, who are so proud of budding preachers that they’ll ordain most anyone who is (a) convincingly called and (b) male. There’s danger in that: I was ordained when I’d just turned 21 and had no theological training, but thought I knew everything.
But back to my friend, who will finally be ordained as a Methodist elder: she has three charming daughters. The youngest of them is four, and has never known anyone but her mother as a pastor. Recently she asked: “Mommy, can men be preachers, too?”
Perspective is a powerful thing.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.