By all accounts, Jaleesa Martin’s baby boy is a happy child, oblivious to the controversy surrounding him these days.
Jaleesa recently found herself at odds with her son’s father. She sought a court order to establish paternity. It included a request for the judge to determine the child’s last name.
Enter Tennessee Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew.
Judge Ballew ruled that the seven-month-old boy would bear his father’s last name, changing the surname from “Martin” to “McCullough.” Had she stopped there, the only controversy that would have ensued would have been contained within a small group of bickering family members. However, Judge Ballew took one look at the child’s first name and did the unthinkable – she deemed the name inappropriate.
Messiah DeShawn Martin was the child’s given name. The judge ordered an hour recess and instructed the parents to come up with a more suitable first name for the baby. If they could not come to an agreement, she would do it for them. Well, two people in family court are not likely to come to an agreement on anything. McCullough and Martin did not disappoint. And when they didn’t reach an agreement, Judge Ballew legally renamed young Messiah; his new name is Martin DeShawn McCullough.
While the constitutionality of this judge’s actions are certainly questionable, one can hardly argue with her common-sense approach to parenting. Jaleesa Martin lives in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Tennessee where churches abundantly dot the landscape. The judge noted,
“Labeling this child, ‘Messiah’ places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill. The Court also takes judicial notice of the fact that Cocke County, Tennessee, has a large Christian population, as evidenced by the many churches of the Christian faith located in Cocke County, Tennessee. Therefore, it is highly likely that he will offend many Cocke County citizens by calling himself ‘Messiah’.”
In short, Judge Ballew was attempting to act in the best interest of the child. Unfortunately, she trampled on the Constitution in doing so. Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, an organization that trumpets conservative family values, sums up the problem well. He states that, while the AFA agrees “with the judge’s sentiments, ‘that the only true Messiah is Jesus Christ,” it does not believe “that a judge should be able to rule on what parents name their child.”
While many people are lambasting Ballew for her ruling, I want to stand and applaud her theology. She stated, “The word messiah is a title, and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ.” One news outlet noted that she made this statement from her office, which had a ceramic figurine of Joseph and Mary with baby Jesus on her desk and the Ten Commandments hung on her wall. In case you were wondering, they noted this with derision.
The title “Messiah” and the name “Jesus” are special to those of us who call ourselves Christians. We recognize Jesus as the “Anointed One” (literal translation of “Messiah”) of God, the very son of God who gave himself as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He lived sinlessly, died vicariously, and rose victoriously. He is the God-man who paid the sin debt that doomed us. He is the very expression of grace and salvation. That is why His name is special. It is not rooted in some mysticism or silly religious tradition. It is rooted and grounded in our faith. Even Scripture tells us the name of Jesus is special:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
I so desperately want to root for young Jaleesa Martin in this case. My hope was that she would say, “I just love Jesus. He is my Savior and Lord. I wanted to honor him when I named my son.” If only. Martin said that she just liked the name Messiah. She thought is sounded unique and that it would go nicely with his two brothers’ names, Micah and Mason. “Everybody believes what they want so I think I should be able to name my child what I want to name him, not someone else,” Martin said.
So, while I think Judge Ballew would make a pretty awesome Sunday School teacher, I’m not so sure about her ruling in this case, which, by the way, is the first time she has ever changed a child’s first name. She did manage to perform one small miracle through this: Martin and McCullough are now united in something – their appeal. And I’m sure they will win. They probably deserve to do so. I just wish they were as concerned about their son and the blowback he will get from his name as they are about defending their rights to damage him.