June 8, 2009

Christian Law, Not "Church Law"

I was doing a book signing for The Believer's Guide to Legal Issues at a conference for pastors and church leaders last week, and a potential reader bounded up to my table and started energetically grilling me about church law. You know, the murky intricacies of denominational hierarchy and judicial councils and trust clauses and what not. He assumed I was all about the law governing the internal conduct of church business affairs.

Before the guy got too far along, I had to tactfully jump in and cut him off. "I'm a Christian lawyer, not necessarily an expert in church law," I explained, "I try to help my clients approach everyday legal situations from a God-honoring biblical perspective, and my book is written for them - regular folks navigating the regular legal system." He was a bit disappointed, I guess. He seemed so anyway, as his conversational zeal quickly evaporated and he wandered off without buying my book.

I tell this story to illustrate a common misperception I encounter among both lawyers and non-lawyers alike. There are an amazing number of people who pigeonhole Christian lawyering, assuming, like my briefly made acquaintance, that a Christian lawyer must be one who handles matters of church law.

While I have nothing but respect for actual church law practitioners, theirs is but one narrow band of the full spectrum of Christian law. The Bible informs and enlightens in virtually every commonly encountered area of law and, in my vision for Christian lawyering at least, the Christian lawyer helps clients reconcile the legal situations they encounter with the relevant biblical wisdom. Christian law transcends church law and every other legal specialty.