Reprinted with permission of The Dallas Morning News.

For 26 years, Harriet Miers has belonged to an evangelical North Dallas church that is steadfastly opposed to abortion and gay marriage and takes other conservative positions on controversial social issues. Should she be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, court historians say, Miers would be the only justice with an evangelical background.

But those close to her say it's a mistake to assume that her affiliation with Valley View Christian Church would dictate how she would decide cases - including cases her church cares deeply about.

"You can't extrapolate from a person's personal views to how they're going to judge a case," said Nathan Hecht, a Texas Supreme Court justice who first brought Miers to Valley View, his church for many years. "They don't determine what the law is."

The White House said President Bush did not consider Miers' personal ideology or religious beliefs in nominating her to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring.

"The president has been very clear that he chooses judicial nominees based on their temperament, judicial philosophy and commitment to interpret the law rather than legislate from the bench," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Miers grew up in Dallas attending Catholic and Protestant churches, said her sister-in-law Elizabeth Lang-Miers, a state appellate judge. Miers' mother "imbued" her children with a strong sense of Christian faith, said Lang-Miers, but she added that she wasn't sure whether Miers considered herself Catholic or Protestant growing up.

"My impression at the time and since was that she considered herself, if anything, Catholic. But she really didn't consider it very much," said Hecht.

In the late 1970s, Hecht recalled, he and Miers were in the same Dallas law firm and would have late-night discussions at work about faith. "We would talk about it, and over the course of some months, I suggested she ought to think about a more serious commitment. She said she'd let me know.

"One day she came out of the office and said that's what she was going to do. I said, 'So now what?' She said, 'I need to find a good church to go to.' I said, 'Well, you ought to come to mine.' "

Miers did indeed join Hecht - who describes their long relationship as that of two "good, close friends" - in attending Valley View Christian. In 1979, she joined the church and underwent a full-immersion baptism there.

Asked whether he thought she considered herself a born-again Christian, based on her baptism, Hecht said, "absolutely."

The church, located today on Marsh Lane north of Trinity Mills Road, is one of about 5,500 congregations nationwide that are proudly nondenominational and work together to support Christian colleges and missions. These churches describe themselves as evangelical.

"That'll tell you a lot theologically," said Barry Hankins, an associate professor of history and church-state studies at Baylor University. "It'll tell you they affirm the authority of Scripture and they affirm a conversion experience followed by baptism."

Indeed, the "What We Believe" section of Valley View's Web site speaks of the Bible as "the only infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God."

Hankins said Christian churches such as Valley View have tended to be less politically active than many evangelical churches. Hecht agreed that that had been the case at Valley View. "They are concerned, but the thought in the past has always been that the emphasis of the church should be on its primary mission" - conversion and ministering to believers.

"That said, they have had pro-life literature in the church building and pro-life speakers over the years," he said.

Ron Key, a former minister at the church, said Valley View has supported Christian ministries that try to persuade unwed mothers to consider adoption over abortion.

The church has opposed gay marriage and generally supported prayer in public schools, he added. He recalled no particular position on stem cell research.

Miers quickly became active at Valley View in a low-key way, supporting missions programs and working on Sunday nights with the "Whirly Birds" program for first- through third- graders.

"And in adult Sunday school, she was the one who would come early and make the coffee and then clean up afterward," said Vickie Wilson, the church office manager and a longtime member.

Hecht described Valley View - which was founded in 1964 and now has about 1,400 members - as "crucial" to Miers. She has attended fairly regularly in recent years, even while she has been working in the White House, most recently as counsel to the president.

But Hecht also said that both he and Miers have recently left the church, joining about 200 others who are forming another congregation after disputes about staffing, governance and worship style since the arrival last year of Barry McCarty as "preaching minister."

Miers attended a Sunday gathering of the disaffected group two weekends ago, said Key. He left the church staff this summer after more than 30 years and has been preaching to the as-yet-unnamed second congregation.

Wilson, the Valley View office manager, acknowledged that the split is painful for the church. "We're in transition," she said. She noted that Miers attended Valley View while visiting a few weeks ago. "She's still on the membership rolls here," Wilson said.

But Hecht, who has resigned as a church elder, maintained that Miers was joining him in leaving the church. Key said Miers called him and his wife, Kaycia, on the night before Monday's announcement that she would be the high court nominee. "She simply asked for us to pray for her. My wife asked, 'Could you tell us why?' She said, 'You know me better than that.' We said, 'OK, we'll pray for you.'"

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