Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Nababan v. Garland (9th Cir. - Nov. 23, 2021)

Sometimes -- perhaps often -- the company of the friends you keep affects your worldview.  Even if you're a judge.

I'm agnostic as to whether Judge VanDyke's experiences are more accurate than mine.  You be the judge.

It's a case about whether the BIA properly evaluated changed circumstances in Indonesia, which in turn required the Ninth Circuit to decide if evangelical Christians were treated worse than different minority religions in Indonesia.  The majority thought that might well be the case.

But in Judge VanDyke's view, separating "Christians" from "evangelical Christians" was a "distinction without a difference."  Based on his experiences, Judge VanDyke believes that "the vast majority, if not all, Christians" attempt to convert other people to the Christian religion; i.e., are evangelical.  And Judge VanDyke expresses this belief in his opinion three separate times; it's not inadvertent.

My own experience is that (1) people commonly use the term "evangelical Christian" to mean something very specific and different from just your run-of-the-mill Christian, and (2) most -- or at least, many -- people of the Christian faith do not, in fact, actively seek to proselytize and convert people to the faith.

Now, I grew up in Virginia, whereas Judge VanDyke was raised in Montana.  And, unlike Judge VanDyke, before law school, I did not get a bachelor's degree in theology from Bear Valley Bible Institute.  Given our different backgrounds and life experiences, it might not be radically surprising if the qualities of the (many, many) Christians I've encountered in my life -- including but not limited to my entire family and extended set of relatives -- are perhaps a little different in the extent of their proselytizing than those at, say, the Bear Valley Bible Institute, or in certain conservative circles more likely to be frequented by Judge VanDyke than by me.

One might perhaps make a lesser claim than Judge VanDyke does, and assert that proselytizing is a tenet of the Christian religion. But I'm quite confident that some Christians take that interpretation quite a bit more seriously than others.  In any event, that something's a purported tenet of your religion does not necessarily mean that one actively practices it; for example, saying that all Catholics "abstain from premarital sex and don't use birth control" is fairly wildly inaccurate, at least in my experiences.

It's not unusual to see a judge's worldview reflected in his or her opinions.  But you don't generally see that principle extend to somewhat verifiable statements of fact.