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Alabama justice's ties with far-right Christian movement raise concern

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker speaks on the steps of the state judicial building on April 5, 2006, in Montgomery, Ala.
Jamie Martin
/
AP
Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker speaks on the steps of the state judicial building on April 5, 2006, in Montgomery, Ala.

In the days since Alabama's Supreme Court ruled thatfrozen embryos should be considered "extrauterine children," the involvement of that court's chief justice with a once-fringe Christian Nationalist movement has come under renewed scrutiny.

Tom Parker, a Republican who joined the court in 2005, wrote a concurring opinion that quoted at length from sources such as the Book of Genesis, the Ten Commandments and Christian thinkers of centuries ago, such as Thomas Aquinas. But comments he has made in other media have raised questions about his seeming espousal of "Seven Mountains" theology, a concept that some experts consider to be Christian extremism.

"God created government. And the fact that we have let it go into the possession of others, it's heartbreaking for those of us who understand. And we know it is for Him," Parker said on a recent podcast hosted by Christian activist Johnny Enlow. "And that's why He is calling and equipping people to step back into these mountains right now."

Parker's remarks on the podcast were released the same day that the Alabama Supreme Court issued its ruling on IVF embryos. His appearance on the show was first reported by Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog organization.

Seven Mountains

The Seven Mountains Mandate urges adherents to establish what they consider to be God's kingdom on Earth by taking control of seven areas of society: family, religion, government, education, arts and entertainment, commerce and media. Once relegated to a fringe of the Christian conservative movement, it has gained followers in recent years as the ranks of nondenominational, neo-charismatic Christians have grown in the U.S. It also has earned greater media attention since House Speaker Mike Johnson assumed his elevated role, due to his connections with leaders in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movementthat espouses Seven Mountain theology.

"The Seven Mountains is a structured outline for Christian supremacy," said Matthew Taylor, senior scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore. "The idea is that Christians are supposed to take power over society and that influence flows down from the top of each mountain."

Taylor, who is also author of the forthcoming book The Violent Take It By Force: The Christian Movement That Is Threatening Our Democracy, said that he has found that Parker's connections with a network of so-called modern day "prophets" within the movement go back at least two decades.

"Even back in those days, before he ever became a Supreme Court justice, much less chief justice, he was reporting to these NAR networks about efforts in 2003 to put the Ten Commandments in courthouses in Alabama," Taylor said. "So for at least the last 20 years or so, Tom Parker has been in contact with some of these folks who I would say, at least at the time, were very fringe to American politics, and have become much more integrated into the religious right since then."

'A real Christian Nationalist threat'

Taylor said it was specifically during Donald Trump's term as president that the NAR movement and its leaders have come to occupy the center of Christian right political organizing. So-called "prophets" leading the movement were among the first to endorse Trump's candidacy; when he assumed office, he brought some of them into his circle of faith advisers. After Trump lost the election in 2020, Taylor said this network orchestrated campaigns to restore Trump to office, including participation in the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Parker's close involvement with the NAR network was evident in the weeks after January 6th, when he joined its massive prayer phone callfor Alabama in March of 2022. On that call, he spoke about his desire to influence judges in that state to accept his interpretation of Christianity.

"When the judges are restored, revival can flow, so that righteousness and faithfulness are the products," he said. "But at least, as chief justice, I can help prepare the soil of the hearts, exposing the judges around the state to the things of God."

Parker did not respond to NPR's request for interview.

"It is a real Christian Nationalist threat to our judicial system to have Supreme Court justices who understand theologically and think of themselves theologically as above precedent and the rule of law," said Taylor. "If they think that their allegiance is to a higher power and their allegiance is to the Bible primarily before the Constitution, if they are invoking modern prophecies as the rationale for the work that they do, that should really raise questions about the separation of religion and state and the ways that Christianity and Christian nationalism is getting infused into the very structures of how our legal system is working."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.