Sunday, April 08, 2007

Jesus Camp for law students

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Did you know what 150 graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent University are serving in the Bush Administration? (Including the DoJ's Monica Goodling, who has taken the fifth.) Did you know that former AG Ashcroft teaches there? Did you know that the school's motto is "Christian Leadership To Change the World" (i.e., "Building Theocracy in America," the constitution and the church-state separation be damned).

No, I didn't either, until I read Dahlia Lithwick's fascinating piece at Slate on Regent's (and Regent Law's) massive influence on American governance and jurisprudence, an influence well beyond its size or academic stature.

Make sure to read the whole thing, but here's a key passage:

Is there anything wrong with legal scholarship from a Christian perspective? Not that I see. Is there anything wrong with a Bush administration that disproportionately uses graduates from such Christian law schools to fill its staffing needs? Not that I see. It's a shorthand, not better or worse than cherry-picking the Federalist Society or the bar association...

No, the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God's work with the president's. Probably not a lesson she learned in law school. The dream of Regent and its counterparts, like Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square, and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was, in the end, only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. And Goodling was left holding the earthly bag.

I take her point, but actually I do see a problem with Christian legal scholarship, and particularly with the extent of its influence in Bush's America. The Federalist Society may not be any better, but how is it possible for religious (in this case conservative evangelical Christian) legal scholarship not to distort the law according to its own religious purposes? If you're out to do God's work, after all, you likely won't have much time to do the work of a secular liberal democracy with safeguards against religious rule like the United States. (Read some Thomas Jefferson.) Unless, of course, you think that doing God's work is also doing America's work, that America is -- or should be -- God's political expression on earth. Or, looking at it another way, unless you think that America isn't a secular liberal democracy at all but rather a theocracy that has been taken over by secular liberal democrats.

Regardless, there is something profoundly anti-American about this Christian leadership out to change the world. It's bad for America, which isn't the theocracy these zealots imagine it to be, and likely also bad for Christianity, which ought to concern itself not with politics but with faith.

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