The day after Donald Trump was elected president, the Rev. Susan Springer wrote to her congregation that they should strive to behave as Godly people who spread hope even though “the world is clasping its head in its hands and crying out in fear.”
That Sunday, one of the ushers at Springer’s church was Neil Gorsuch – soon to become President Trump’s nominee for the open spot on the Supreme Court.
Gorsuch has staked his own conservative positions on numerous issues, including topics of religious concern: In cases involving the art supply chain Hobby Lobby and the Catholic order Little Sisters of the Poor, both of which eventually reached the Supreme Court, Gorsuch ruled in favor of religious conservatives who said the Affordable Care Act infringed on their religious freedom to not pay for contraception.
But at church, he often hears a more liberal point of view.
He belongs to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado, the Episcopal diocese of Colorado confirmed on Wednesday. Church bulletins show that the judge has been an usher three times in recent months. His wife Louise frequently leads the intercessory prayer and reads the weekly Scripture at Sunday services, and his daughters assist in ceremonial duties during church services as acolytes.
If he joins the Supreme Court, Gorsuch as an Episcopalian would be the first Protestant member since 2010. Five current members are Catholic and three are Jewish, and the late Justice Antonin Scalia was Catholic as well.
The last time a Protestant was appointed was in 1990, when President George H. W. Bush picked David Souter – also an Episcopalian. The shift in the Court’s religious makeup over the past quarter-century has been widely noted; for most of the country’s history, it was an entirely or predominantly Protestant body, just like the presidency and the U.S. Congress.
Religious groups of varying political persuasions expressed their opinions of Gorsuch’s nomination on Tuesday and Wednesday. Liberal faith groups and nontheistic groups including the Union for Reform Judaism, the Secular Coalition for America and the Freedom from Religion Foundation voiced strong concerns. Many evangelical Christians – who spoke frequently when they voted for Trump of their hopes for a conservative justice who would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion – met the news of Gorsuch’s nomination with glee.
And some started reading the tea leaves to see what they could glean about Gorsuch’s own faith. The Episcopal Church has embraced more liberal positions on a variety of issues, including performing same-sex commitment ceremonies since the 1980s and eventually same-sex marriages. Many parishes have broken away, joining different Anglican denominations instead, over the issue of homosexuality.
But this large mainline Protestant denomination includes great political diversity among its 2 million members, and the level of political activism varies widely from one parish to the next.
Mike Orr, a spokesman for the Episcopal Church in Colorado, described Gorsuch’s church, St. John’s, as a congregation that “does a lot of social justice and advocacy.” He said, “It’s a healthy and vibrant congregation. It’s very diverse in its congregants as well as its ministry.”
The first word that St. John’s uses to describe itself on its website and Facebook page is “inclusive,” and the church is led by a female rector. On its website, the church encourages members to write letters to Congress asking for actions addressing climate change.
On gun control, Gorsuch is expected to favor the rights of gun owners; the National Rifle Association released a statement Tuesday praising his nomination.
His church, meanwhile, decided after 49 people were fatally shot in a gay nightclub in Orlando that it would ring its bells 49 times each Wednesday from July 6 to the presidential election, as a way of asking members of Congress to pass stricter gun restrictions. “Some of us are pro-gun and some of us are anti-gun. Even so, as people of faith we share in common an aversion to gun violence,” the church said in a Facebook post. “We hope the ringing . . . compels our elected lawmakers to hear and remember their solemn duty to both the dead and the living: to stop political posturing and to work together to pass legislation that fosters greater safety.”
Staff at St. John’s declined to speak about Gorsuch. One member, who has ushered at services with Gorsuch, said she didn’t even know he was a judge.
George Conger, a conservative Episcopal priest in Florida, said that he wouldn’t read too much about Gorsuch’s own politics into the church he attends. “It is the social parish in Boulder,” Conger wrote in an email. “There is not really a strong tie between the beliefs of a rector in a social parish and the beliefs of its members . . . this parish has people from across the theological spectrum.”
A 2004 article in the journal Anglican and Episcopal History examined the two Episcopal churches in Boulder. At the time, the writer described St. John’s as the older and more traditional church building, but the more theologically and politically liberal of the two. The churches diverged on the subject of homosexuality, the article said: the other church, St. Aidan’s, underlined the word “traditional” on its website while St. John’s added the words “AIDS-aware” to indicate its welcome to LGBT people.
St. John’s, the article noted, was also the parish of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, the beauty pageant contestant whose 1996 murder became a subject of national interest.
Gorsuch and his family did not move to Colorado until 10 years later, when George W. Bush appointed him to be a judge there.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey contributed to this report.