The title of the professionalism seminar seemed to concern conscientious representation of a client: “The Faithful Lawyer”. I reviewed the flyer primarily because I needed that elusive professionalism hour. My initial impression was wrong. This symposium had nothing to do with loyalty to one’s client, except perhaps in an indirect sense. Instead, it was to address the incorporation of one’s faith—“faith” in a religious or spiritual sense—into one’s legal practice. I was amazed, but also thankful, that someone had the courage to take this initiative. The issue was important to me, but it had been, regretfully, primarily a private one.
I did not know what to expect, really, as I walked into the auditorium with a colleague of mine. In this day of discourse sanitized by so-called tolerance on the one hand and fear of conflict or rejection on the other, just how substantive could this discussion be? My expectations were not high.
Two points repeatedly punctuated my thoughts as I listened to the panel of attorneys of various faiths. First, few, including the speakers, had seriously considered how their faith influenced their practice. Second, it was all very polite and respectful, as well as it should have been, but that politeness avoided what, to me, became a central question: how do and should those of us lawyers who also call ourselves people of faith meaningfully interact with each other at that level if our spiritual beliefs are mutually exclusive? Does it matter? If I, as a Christian, am working with, say, a faithful Islamic attorney on the other side, how do our respective faiths come into play, if at all? If the faith is only a “cultural” matter, or a means of identification, and has no real bearing on how its purported adherent lives life, then it will likely not have a meaningful influence in one’s professional interaction, except to the extent of cultural practices, prejudices and presuppositions. This aspect of “faith” came home to me early in my practice. I worked for one of the larger firms in Atlanta and I was working 24/7: I was at the office from early into the morning to late into the evening every day, and when I was not at the office I was still thinking about work. My wife was very patient with me. When my first child was born, I became increasingly concerned about the amount of time I was spending away from home, so I went to talk with one of my supervising partners: the ultimate naiveté, I now know. I told him that I was increasingly frustrated because my work was making it difficult to live my life with the attention to my family that, as a Christian, I felt was important. His response? A look of consternation and what could have been either a question or a statement: “But this is a Christian firm. We don’t have many Jews.” A cultural view of faith, with little effect on anything. I want my faith to be more than a cultural identifier.
It is one thing to want one’s faith to be more than cultural. It is something else altogether for it to become a sieve for the smallest deviance. We can easily take the requirements for orthodoxy too far (I assume that this risk is the same in any faith):
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”
I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.
My perspective begins here:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3: 15-16).
There are three basics:
1. We must know the reason for our faith (assuming that our faith is the basis for our hope) and be able to explain it.
2. We must clothe all discussions and explanations with gentleness and respect.
3. We must live with integrity. Our visible lives must harmonize with our inner lives, what we say we believe. As some say it, “We must walk the talk.”
I’ll flesh these out in future posts, but in reverse order. Again, it’s my blog.