“You teach yourselves the law. I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush, and if you survive, you’ll leave thinking like a lawyer.” Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., (The Paper Chase)
As a young law school student in Tallahassee from 1988-91, I could relate to Hart and his friends who were
terrorized intimidated by Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. in John Jay Osborn, Jr.’s 1970 novel, The Paper Chase. Thankfully at F.S.U., I did not have any professors quite as harsh as Kingsfield (immortalized in the movie and television series by the legendary John Houseman). There are a few professors’ names which still send chills up and down my spine, but that is a different story altogether.
Toward the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, I began to seriously consider becoming an attorney. As the son of a funeral director, I had grown up watching my mom and dad serve people during times of grief. For my parents, particularly my dad, he viewed what he did as a ministry. But, I never felt a calling to be a funeral director.
As a Political Science major at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., I was determined to do all that I could to prepare for law school. By God’s grace (because my grades were not nearly as good as I had hoped), I was admitted to Florida State’s College of Law. And, it was in Seminole country that my journey from small-town funeral director’s son to lawyer to pastor really began.
When I began my law school studies in the Fall of 1988, my skull was full of mush. But, for the next three years, my mind was trained to think like a lawyer. Funny thing is, once a man has been trained to think like a lawyer, there will always be a part of him that thinks like a lawyer. Even 17 years after leaving the practice of law to answer God’s call to the Gospel ministry, my inner lawyer still comes out from time to time. And, for those of you who believe that thinking like a lawyer and thinking like a Christian are always incompatible propositions, all I can say is, “Shame on you!”
The kerfuffle surrounding Surry Baptist Association’s seemingly quick vote to disfellowship Flat Rocks Baptist Church has brought out my inner lawyer once again. I can’t speak for any other lawyer turned pastor, but as for me, my life as a law student and practicing attorney continues to inform my thinking about religious, cultural, political, and legal issues today. I don’t expect other pastors who have not had my life experiences to view every issue through the same lenses that I do nor do I expect to always be understood when I may defend those who hold political or theological positions with which I may personally disagree.
Unlike some, I have had (and continue to have) a myriad of diverse friendships with people across the political and theological spectrums. Some of my dearest friends in life are my fraternity brothers from my days as a Phi Sigma Kappa at G.W.U. It would be fair to say that not a few of them are proud liberal Democrats in the grand New York/New Jersey tradition (you know who you are). I have other life-long friends, some of whom I have known since Mrs. Christian’s kindergarten, who do not see eye-to-eye with me on political or religious issues.
If any of my fraternity brothers or life-long friends were in trouble or was being treated unfairly, I would not hesitate to come to their defense. Just because someone defends the rights of others does not necessarily mean that you agree with what someone else believes. I think that too often, Christians, particularly pastors, are simply too afraid to defend the rights of those with whom they disagree. Why should that be the case? Look around the SBC blogosphere and watch how otherwise conservative pastors are maligned with the “moderate” label (no offense to moderates, which, just by my saying that, will offend some who see themselves as “true conservatives”) and you may begin to understand the dilemma.
In the last year, I have made what I would call “blogging friends.” These are people who I have gotten to know through my blog, other blogs, or communities like BaptistLife.com. Some are theologically and politically more conservative than I am while some are more moderate. I have blogging friends who could be labeled as Calvinists of one degree or another, Baptist Identity folks, and those who eschew labels other than Christian and/or Baptist. Most of my blogging friends I have never met face-to-face. From what I know of my blogging friends, there would be some that I would be more inclined to eat a pizza with or shoot the breeze with, but that is not necessarily determined by whether I agree with their theology.
Call me contrary, call me an iconoclast, call me a lawyer, or call me whatever you want (just don’t call me late for dinner). In the end, I’ll keep calling them like I see them, from the viewpoint of a lawyer turned pastor, from one who was in law, but is now in grace. And, if defending a political or theological opponent’s rights to be treated with grace, dignity, and basic Christian courtesy is now seen as theologically suspect, then my inner lawyer will have to plead guilty as charged. I think I can live with that!