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Volume 14, Issue 6: Magitralis

Courtroom Culture

Greg Dickison

If the battle ground of the spiritual war we are fighting is primarily cultural, rather than institutional, what does this mean for the judicial system? What is the culture of a court, and how is that culture to be manifested by Christians and reformed by the gospel?

It will be helpful to remind ourselves what the point of a court is in the first place. What is the chief end of the law? As Christ taught us, the first commandment is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is like it, that we love our neighbors as ourselves. In all our relationships, personal, business, governmental, or otherwise, that is the standard by which we measure our actions.
What does it mean, then, when a case ends up in front of a judge? What has happened when someone is accused of doing something wrong, either criminally or civilly? It means that at least one, and maybe both, of the parties has not lived up to the commandments. Someone has failed to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and has failed to love his neighbor as himself.
Thus, the foundation of legal culture is entirely distinct from the courts. Legal culture begins with the everyday issues of how we worship and how we treat our neighbors. Likewise, reform of the legal culture begins outside the courthouse.
Do I order my personal and business affairs in obedience to the two greatest commandments? When I talk to a lawyer for advice, are we both seeking to love God and our neighbor? If a relationship breaks down and I end up in a courtroom, am I examining my actions first and my neighbor's second, in the light of God's law?
John Calvin said, "it ought to be an axiom among all Christians, that no plea, however equitable, can be rightly conducted by any one who does not feel as kindly toward his opponent as if the matter in dispute were amicably transacted and arranged."1 Can we say that this is our attitude? Even when Joseph believed Mary to have committed adultery and sought a lawful divorce, he displayed this attitude in wanting to "put her away privily" and was called a "just man" (Mt. 1.18).
If legal reform begins with us, outside the courthouse, then we need to lose the "us/them" mentality that denies our complicity in or responsibility for the current mess. The judge may not acknowledge God's law, and we should seek to replace him with a judge who does. But do we set the example and seek first to submit to the law of God in our own affairs and in the affairs of those we deal with? Or do we try to establish separatist republics from trailer courts, and quibble about whether our names are spelled with all capital letters, thinking that therein lies the path to liberty?
This is not to say that the institutional reform is unimportant. To the extent that unbelief has become institutionalized—unbelieving judges, obnoxious statutes, goofy bureaucracies, and the like—the reform will need to be institutional as well. But even this reform has to be rooted in an organically Christian culture established independently of the institutions. While simply electing evangelical Christians to office won't change anything (especially if they are going to morph into generic conservative, Republican, family-values Judeo-Christians), one of the manifestations of a reformed Christian culture will be the election of culturally reformed Christian legislators and judges. Institutions, even institutions filled with Christians, cannot produce a Christian culture. But a Christian culture will produce Christian institutions. Politics is not our savior, but politics will be saved.
Finally, when we do go before judges or juries, are we assuming the truth of God's law and appealing to it with the evidence and arguments we present? Even Christian lawyers and legal organizations have swallowed the assumptions of our cultural enemies about the nature of law and its relationship to Christianity. For example, when we argue "religious freedom" cases, we do so on the terms the unbelievers have enshrined in modern court decisions. We have adopted the unbelieving—and historically false—argument that this nation is religiously pluralistic, that our legal system is not based in particular on Christianity, and that, in fact, appealing to Christianity is itself an unlawful act. We have forgotten what, up until fifty years ago, most courts affirmed, that "this is a Christian nation," and that Christianity is the foundation of, and an inseparable part of, our laws.2 We need to assume and proclaim the Christian nature of law in general, and of American law in particular. We must reject the evolutionary assumptions of Justice Holmes—that law is nothing other than the prediction of what a court will do in a given situation—and we must treat law as what it is in truth: loving God and our neighbor according to His Word.

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