Saint Thurgood?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 27, 2006

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington is proposing that the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall be made a saint. Marshall was part of the court majority in the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, having successfully convinced Justice Harry Blackmun (the author of the decision) to expand the legalization of abortion throughout the third trimester of pregnancy. The Diocese intends to ask the 2006 General Convention to include Marshall, who died in 1993, in the book of "Lesser Feasts and Fasts."

"Thurgood Marshall is a saint already in the Bay Area," says the Bishop of California, the Rt. Rev. William Swing, "as people hearken back to his memory often." Marshall's sanctity, as it appears from the testimonials offered in support of his cause, was of a peculiarly reticent order:

Thurgood Marshall believed very strongly in the Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. Consequently, once he became a Supreme Court Justice, he attended church very infrequently. Concerned that he would develop partisan political views which affect his judgment as a Justice, ironically, he ceased voting in local and national elections.

The pastor of Marshall's Washington parish -- testifying in favor of his parishioner -- corroborates this view:

Although his family attended church almost every Sunday, "the Judge," as he preferred some to call him, did not. He did attend enough to be "respectable" about his membership, but he never equated church attendance with his being a Christian. Courts, not candles, were his milieu.

It's impossible in this connection not to call to mind the celebrated quip about the faith life of Senator Ted Kennedy: that his religion is so private he doesn't even impose it on himself.

I find it hard to believe that Archbishop Akinola will rejoice in ECUSA's latest curtsey to rainbow-coalitionism. That said, there appear to be few obstacles in the Blessed Thurgood's ecclesiastical path to Cooperstown. The Diocese has even proposed Scripture readings for the celebration of Marshall's feast -- as well as a Collect, which I swear I am not making up:

Eternal and Ever-Gracious God, you blessed your servant Thurgood with special gifts of grace and courage to understand and speak the truth as it has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ...

I interrupt this Collect to remind worshipers of one of Marshall's most famous remarks, delivered in response to a question about his possible retirement from the Supreme Court: "I have a lifetime appointment and I intend to serve it. I expect to die at 110, shot by a jealous husband." He was to be disappointed in both respects. Let us resume, dear brethren, the Eucharistic Oration:

... Grant that by his example we may also know you and seek to realize that we are all your children, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ , whom you sent to teach us to love one another; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.


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  • Posted by: - Jan. 31, 2006 1:23 AM ET USA

    But he freed the slaves, didn't he? Actually, I think Marshall would have laughed heartily at the very thought of sainthood, Episcopal-style. Marshall was possessed of great conviction and great courage, and avoided what would have been a well-justified cynicism from a lifetime of battling against racism and bigotry. As a Sup Ct justice, the best that can be said is he that he had superb law clerks and William Brennan, but he was fundamentally a man devoted to his people. Saint? Nah.

  • Posted by: Art Kelly - Jan. 31, 2006 12:31 AM ET USA

    The Washington Post reports, "When it comes to sainthood, Episcopalians follow a looser procedure than the Roman Catholic Church..." and the Rev. Bruce Eberhardt, who wrote the resolution with his wife, Janet, said, "We don't pray to them. . . . It's very different from the Roman Catholic Church." The Episcopal parish Thurgood belonged to was Augustine's. Did the Episcopal Church canonize the Catholic Bishop of Hippo? Or do they recognize all of the saints in the Catholic Church?

  • Posted by: - Jan. 30, 2006 2:23 PM ET USA

    With all respect for Thurgood Marshall, a great American in spite of the many indignities he surely suffered, I would think that Episcopalians could not rest until the long overdue honor of sainthood be acclaimed for the one who made it all possible; Defender of the Faith, Good King Henry VIII.

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Jan. 29, 2006 9:36 PM ET USA

    not to mention... he was a Mason.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 28, 2006 6:23 PM ET USA

    I dare say the Left Rev. William Swing is a bit too generous in describing the geographical embrace of "the Judge"'s sainthood. That he is accounted Blessed in the bagnos of Frisco or in the mouth of the gay mayor I wouldn't doubt. But we ain't all that way near the bay. Monty Python, where are you now that we really need you?

  • Posted by: Sir William - Jan. 28, 2006 2:55 PM ET USA

    "by his example we may also know you and seek to realize that we are all your children, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ , whom you sent to teach us to love one another" Only total spiritual blindness would lead anyone to create a prayer like about a man responsible for the decision that has permitted the death of so many 'brothers & sisters of Jesus'. I imagine that 'the Judge',seeing the endless sea of faces of abortion victims before God's throne, would be the first to end this farce.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 28, 2006 12:35 PM ET USA

    By apparent present-day Episcopalian standards, he really is a saint!

  • Posted by: - Jan. 27, 2006 10:46 PM ET USA

    Another reason way episcopalianism is moribund and will depart more and more from Christianity. To evaluate an individual who promoted abortion with advancing the teachings of Jesus Christ is blasphemous. Would Marshall have been considered for sainthood if he were a conservative judge and rejected the notion that the Constitution provides for abortion on demand? Given the state of today's Episcopal leaders he might have been tried for heresy.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 27, 2006 9:28 PM ET USA

    Well, if he makes it to Episcopal sainthood all that is left to figure out is his specific patronages over people and causes. I imagine the early bets will be on 1) people who fear that because they are in a garage that makes them a car and 2) well-lubricated, unlocked back doors. Perhaps minor patronages will obtain over those who worship at state buildings but vote at church and abortion docs who saintily see to womens rights.