Channeling My Inner Lawyer: An SBC Pastor’s Journey

“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!

10 comments for “Channeling My Inner Lawyer: An SBC Pastor’s Journey

  1. August 8, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    Howell:

    I want to applaud you for such a great Post!! Sadly, you have found out that by going to such places as BaptistLife.com and daring to question the Mayberry situation your conservative credentials will be questioned. Too many Moderate preachers were once conservative preachers until someones changed the definition and they were discarded like trash. You are a breath of fresh air as a conservative SB blogger for me and I am sure others.

    Keep calling them like you see them.

    • August 8, 2011 at 12:55 PM

      Tom,

      Thanks for the kind words. I know that just being kind and respectful to my readers — even those who I may not agree with — will be reason enough for some to question my conservative credentials. I’m okay with that. As to what has surprised me the most since posting this on Friday, I would have to say the complete unwillingness of most people who are against female pastors to at least acknowledge that what Surry Baptist Association did was less than grace-filled. Some have tried to bend over backwards (both here and at Voices) to defend the Association’s actions. That is surprising, but I guess it shouldn’t be since this issue is one that is so black-and-white for so many people that they can’t even see the shades of gray. Thanks again for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. God bless,

      Howell

  2. Bennett Willis
    August 8, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    As a scientist who happens to be a Christian, I have some appreciation for the comments in this post. Most of the time I don’t mind what side people come down on, but I do believe they should have to agonize over (and resolve) the conflicts between what they say and do and what Jesus taught us to do.

    My conviction is that Jesus put a lot more emphasis on the doing and a lot less on the saying.

  3. Tom Parker
    August 8, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    Bennett:

    I wonder how Jesus would have handled this situation?

  4. Tom Parker
    August 8, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    Howell:

    You said:”As to what has surprised me the most since posting this on Friday, I would have to say the complete unwillingness of most people who are against female pastors to at least acknowledge that what Surry Baptist Association did was less than grace-filled. Some have tried to bend over backwards (both here and at Voices) to defend the Association’s actions. That is surprising, but I guess it shouldn’t be since this issue is one that is so black-and-white for so many people that they can’t even see the shades of gray.”

    Sadly, these folks would not give even one ounce of grace to this woman in their postings. I think their own words should convict them but they are unwilling to see.

    Is this really a hill to die on issue? I will not say the world is watching this because to a great degree they see it business as usual in the SB world but I think some conservatives such as your self may know more about these men than you did three days ago.

    • August 8, 2011 at 6:11 PM

      Tom,

      Even if one might agree that women should not serve as Senior Pastors (which is my position), I’m not sure at this point whether I would vote to disfellowship a church in my own Association for the sole reason of the church having called a woman pastor. If a church with a female pastor was petitioning to join the Association, there maybe a stronger argument to deny membership in the first place. From reading Flat Rock’s website, it appears that they have been part of a local Association (which at some point became the SBA) since 1905. I don’t think I have read where Flat Rock was asking to be kicked out of the Association. And, I do not agree that simply calling Bailey Nelson as pastor served as the church’s affirmative petition that it be disfellowshipped. I was reading our local Association’s By-Laws this afternoon and there is a detailed process for disfellowshipping a church. The vote to disfellowship can only come at the Annual Meeting, not at a quarterly business meeting. That the letter that the Association’s Moderator and Vice Moderator sent out which could not even name Pastor Nelson by name but, instead referred to her as “the lady elected by Flat Rock to be their pastor,” speaks volumes about a continued perception of not only gracelessness, but tone deafness as well. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

      • Tom Parker
        August 8, 2011 at 6:29 PM

        Howell:

        Unlike what Dave Miller conjectured at Voices:”I am guessing this was not a card-carrying CR church that suddenly decided to hire a Bailey Nelson out of the blue. I’m guessing no one in the association had a heart attack from surprise when this happened. This may be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Just a conjecture here.”
        I do not know that this church has any CBF leanings since becoming a member of the association since 1905. But maybe it would make it easier to justify removing this “lady” if this church was not a CR card carrying church as Dave Miller once again conjectured. These people making these conjectures would go crazy if someone treated them in this conjecturing way instead of taking a deep breath and getting the facts.

        Howell, if you really want to get the blood pressure up of some of our SB pastors lets start disfellowshipping the obese pastors. Boy what a show this would be to watch these folks squirm as they tried to avoid this being done to them.

  5. Bennett Willis
    August 8, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    We will have to ask. :)

  6. August 9, 2011 at 8:08 PM

    I appreciate what you said here.

    Hope between now and the end of September you can bring the same insight and articulation to the current New Yorker piece by Ryan Lizza on Michelle Bachmann and its concerns about the influence of Francis Schaeffer and others on her.
    I am sincerely interested in what your take on that piece will be if it strikes your fancy to give it a review.

    • August 9, 2011 at 8:58 PM

      Stephen,

      Thanks for that. I have not yet written about Michele Bachmann, but I have a post in me somewhere. I’ll try to read the New Yorker piece. I will tell you that Bachmann — Baptist or not — is not my cup of tea (pun intended) when it comes to Presidential candidates. If she were the Republican nominee, I think President Obama waltzes into a second term. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

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