Monday, November 19, 2012

"Redeeming Law"

More than a year ago, I stumbled across the book, "Redeeming Law"by Michael Schutt. I hurriedly ordered it on Amazon, hoping that it would help me better understand my reactions to law school. Why was I dreading going back to school for my second year of law school? Why do I feel as though being at the law school sucks all the life out of me?

Unfortunately, I didn't make it past the first couple pages of the book. I don't remember why - part of it is probably that when I finish my homework, I don't feel like reading anything else; part of it might have been that the book was different than I expected - the fist several chapters stress theological concepts, and I couldn't quite grasp how that related to me. I thought my problems need more practical solutions, and I had trouble connecting with the book.

But last weekend, after exams were finished, this book came to mind again, and I decided to dig it out and once again see if I could get some help for the world I find myself living in. Again, I found myself having trouble connecting with the first chapter, but I kept reading. And boy am I glad I did...

The author starts by laying out three stumbling blocks that Christians face when seeking to serve Christ in the law. They are: (1) law schools have abandoned their moral center, and subtly teach students that spiritual apathy is okay; (2) the church no longer has a well-developed doctrine about vocation, and is thus unable to help lawyers in their goal to serve Christ through the law; and (3) lawyers do not think theologically about the substance of the law and their daily work.

The first stumbling block is the method of teaching in American law schools. It used to be that the study of law was reserved for people of great virtue. The law (and thus lawyers) was something to be respected. Unfortunately, the law (and lawyers) has fallen out of respect. Instead of being something that promotes virtue and morals, the law has become a means of social engineering. "Law, in this view, is primarily a tool to be used to reach particular social ends."

Let me explain a little bit by using an analogy (it took me a while of pondering this before I understood the author's point). As you could probably guess, I was very disappointed by the results of this last election. One of my initial reactions was that now I really needed to move to Colorado - the state needs my red vote! :) But the problem isn't in shifting the number of Republicans that live in a given state. Rather, we are watching the moral breakdown of society. If voters don't have a Biblical worldview, we can't expect that they will support a candidate who opposes gay marriage and abortion. What we need aren't more red votes - we need more people who espouse Biblical views and are willing to vote accordingly.

This is exactly the author's point about the way we view the law. We should not view the law as a means of obtaining a particular social goal. If we do, the law shifts based on who has political power. Rather, earthly law should be viewed as a reflection of the divine law. We must recognize that there is an independent moral order, and law is only just when it complies with that moral order.

So what are the practical consequences of viewing law "pragmatically"? It means that law students are taught that activism is more important than virtue. Suddenly, playing games in the courtroom is justified, because it will result in the right "social end." One of the examples that the author used to illustrate this really stuck with me. He talked about how one of the greatest "injustices"these days is to let a criminal off on a technicality. However, "technicalities are the moral fiber of justice." They were put in place to protect against doing wrong. Technicalities are a means of ensuring that we find the truth. And then, this:

"But even when human justice is unable to do perfect justice to an accused and the guilty go free or the victim goes uncompensated, God's justice prevails. If we really believe that the King of the universe is sovereign, then we know that there are no gaps in ultimate justice. God judges the deeds of all humans."

Wow - I guess I should stop myself the next time I feel myself getting angry over a perceived injustice, huh?

The second stumbling block is the church's view on vocation. A correct view of vocation tells us that faithfulness in the stations in which the Lord has placed us is faithfulness to Him, whether that station is as a stay-at-home mom, a pastor, a lawyer, or something else. However, so often we view "spiritual" work as more important that "ordinary" work. This often leads Christians to view their work as tools to more "spiritual" ends. There are three ways this view manifests itself:

(1) The platform theory: a job is only worthwhile spiritually if it provides exposure or opportunities to evangelize.

(2) The finance theory: the worthiness of a job directly relates to how well the worker can financially support the local church and world missions.

(3) The graffiti theory: a job is worthwhile if it allows one to "leave a mark" on the world.

The graffiti theory relates directly to what we discussed above - viewing the law as a means to social change. However, the author points out that we can love God through ordinary means - like helping parents set up an inheritance for their children. Or representing an injured person who needs to be compensated for his injuries so he can provide for his family.

Wait - you mean even personal injury cases can bring glory to God?

The final stumbling block is lawyers themselves. We are taught not to think about how our daily work glorifies God, so we don't. But living for the Lord requires intention - we don't just fall into it.

I know that this book (and the blog post) are mainly focused toward lawyers. But, these concepts have implications beyond the legal world. All of us need to intentionally think about how what we do pleases the Lord, even if it's not "church work."

This book has been immensely encouraging. It's helped me put words onto what exactly I hate about the legal culture. Lawyers are subconsciously told that religious thought has no place in the office. We can be Christians, but only at home. We follow the blackletter law without questioning it. Unless, of course, it's in our client's best interest to change the law.

It's this shallow view of what we do that bothers me. It's just taken some help to put my objections into words. :)

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