For nearly five decades, America held her collective breath and waited. Would the highest court in the land judge righteously? Would the Supreme Court of the United States defend the rights of the neediest and most vulnerable people in the land?
Year after year, the eyes of all looked to see if nine black-robed judges might utter the magic words that would protect unborn lives. Year after year another million children were lost, their parents wounded, their families hollowed out.
But why were we waiting? Is not God’s command clear and immediate? “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:9). The imperatives are personal and singular. Nothing in these words requires others to act. Much less do they require you to wait for permission to act.
Imagine a world in which citizens were legally forbidden to stop a public lynching. Consider a country where it is illegal to defend some ethnic or religious class. Would such laws be valid? Could Christians obey them? Would the situation be improved if such lynchings were performed in a clinic dedicated to the purpose? If doctors in white coats perform hideous medical procedures after the proper people had signed legal forms, does evil thus become good?
These are not idle questions. Christians have faced them before. Hindsight is not hampered by moral uncertainty. We judge evil unqualifiedly—as we judge those who turn a blind eye to atrocities. The Nuremberg defense is indefensible, either by Scripture or by natural law. The cold, steady eye of posterity inevitably sees through even the densest fog of the cultural wars.
With 20/20 vision, we haughtily assure ourselves that we would have been on the right side of history. Like Peter, we tell ourselves that we would interpose ourselves between Christ and the crowd even if all others fall away. But in Caiaphas’ courtyard—in the actual glow of the warming fire—smoke blurs our vision.
Posterity’s steady gaze is not colored by the firelight but sees the world by the heavenly light of the Upper Room. There, Peter’s vow to interpose came from a Christian heart, and was confirmed by the Scriptural lives of the saints. Jonathan, Esther, Joseph and others saw injustice for what it was, and acted to protect the innocent.
Interposition is neither insurrection nor complicity in evil. It is a full and free exercise of one’s vocation to do always, and only, the right thing. Jonathan revealed court secrets to save David (1 Samuel 19 & 20). Esther unlawfully exploited the favor of King Ahasuerus (Esther 4:14-16). Joseph secreted the infant Jesus from the sword of Herod (Matthew 2:13-14).
In every case, interposition involves both vocational wisdom and personal risk. It is a uniquely Christian doctrine because it recognizes the divine authority of every office—even the lowliest of offices—while never ceding the ultimate Lordship of Christ. Lord, grant us such wisdom and fortitude in our day!
God granted such wisdom to lawmakers in Texas in May 2021. A year before SCOTUS overturned Roe, the Texas Heartbeat Act1 effectively circumvented it. Its genius lay in its enforcement mechanism. Rather than states defying federal fiat, individual citizens—fathers, grandmothers, and friends—were given standing to sue abortion clinics for unlawful death. This kept the matter away from federal jurisdiction.
For decades the Court had overturned state laws in “pre-enforcement challenges.” Last September it could not. Thus Texas blazed a trail2 that was followed a year later by the state of Oklahoma.3
More important than the subtle legal maneuverings in Texas and Oklahoma is the steadfast resolve of all who refused to concede to manifest injustice. They did not wait for those in high office to cease their own ungodly actions. Rather, they made full use of their lower offices to protect the children under their own care from manifest injustice.
In early May, an anonymous actor leaked Justice Alito’s draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson. The leak triggered pro-abortion activists into obnoxious and illegal contortions designed to keep the draft from becoming the official opinion of the Court. The gambit failed. The five concurring justices held the line.
During the seven weeks of suspended animation—between the leak and its becoming official—observers of culture came to a bracing realization. Even if Chief Justice Roberts had prevailed in his feverish efforts to save Roe from extinction, Alito’s words could never be unsaid. The sheer power of Alito’s reasoning forever impeached any constitutional, statutory, jurisprudential, or moral legitimacy that Roe and Casey seemed to hold.
During those seven weeks, Christians were forced to ponder how they would respond if one of the five tried to unsay what had already been said. We were in a position to see, in real time, the judgment of our children and grandchildren. After such clarity, could we ever again pretend that Roe was legitimate?
Alito’s leaked draft blew away the smoke of the warming fire long enough for us to remember the doctrine of interposition. When higher authorities fail in their God-given duty, lower authorities are not required by God to follow suit. The duty of interposition summons every individual to be both wise and bold and to do always, and only, the right thing.
Now we are poised to put this doctrine into practice. For as much as the Dobbs decision was true and praiseworthy, it stopped short of justice. It declined to protect every human life as legitimate governments are duty-bound to do. Rather, it merely took the federal judiciary out of the game. One illegitimate claim to power has been deflated. But justice will still require wisdom and courage on the part of every office holder.
The unborn will still need governors to protect them from federal injustice. State legislators will still need to craft laws that defend the innocent from congressional overreach. County commissions, city councils, fathers, mothers, and grandparents must never again wait for someone else to act. But wisely and courageously use all the authority that God has vested in even the lowest office to “open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”