When the law is not what it seems

Last year I read a case in my property textbook that has stuck with me.  It illustrates the ways that seemingly generic laws are used to empower the powerful at the expense of the weak.

Suppose Landlord has a piece of property. Tenant A is currently in possession and will be moving out, and Tenant B has signed a lease to takeover the premises. If Tenant A does not move out, who should be responsible for taking the time and trouble to evict Tenant A? The Landlord, or Tenant B who has already signed a lease and has the legal rights to the use of the property?

On its face it is a strait forward question. There are pros and cons on both sides. We simply need to pick a rule and apply it consistently so that the market will know what to expect. For some, as long as the rules are followed, that is justice. Which rule we use is not a question of justice. This is not a particularly moral question.

There is a certain logic to requiring the person who now wants to use the land, and who has the legal right to the land, the lease holder, to get rid of the person who has overstayed their lease. But who is more than likely to know that Tenant A will not be moving out, and is in fact three months behind on their rent. Would Tenant B know anything about this? In fact, it is quite possible that the Landlord might rent the property to Tenant B so he could get paid knowing full well that Tenant A was not going anywhere without a fight. Meanwhile, the Landlord is trying to collect rent from both parties, and has shifted this problem to the unwitting Tenant B who had no idea what was going on prior to him leasing the land.


Approaches to faith and politics.

According to Jackson, whose video appears below, "It is time [for the black church] to end the slavish devotion to the Democratic Party. [Because] They have insulted us, used us, and manipulated us.  [And] They have saturated the black community with ridiculous lies..."

For some time I have been caught in a tension.  On the one hand I feel compelled to raise a similar prophetic voice on the churches syncretism with the Republican Party.  I want to name the injustices I feel they implicitly or explicitly condone and sometimes even advocate for.  But at the same time I recognize that true reconciliation can only be found by people willing to dialog with respect and nuance.

Even while I have moved to the left, I continue to see the wisdom in some aspects of a more conservative approach.

This tension was illustrated for me when I watched the Jackson's video which was posted by a friend on facebook yesterday.  When I initially watched it I thought it was one-sided and manipulative.  It looked to me like Jackson was using his position as a pastor and his spiritual authority for political gains.  That is immoral.  I still think the video is possibly manipulative, but some friends pointed out that the man probably has the spiritual and relational authority to say what he said, at least for the audience he knows best, his black church.  If placed in the proper context, his words seem somewhat acceptable.

At the same time I thought, what if you flipped the script?  Does the tenor of what he said still hold true from an anti right-wing perspective?  Does what he said become appropriate if it comports with my personal politics?   Or does both a right wing critique and a left wing critique of this type fall flat?

With that in mind, I carefully listened to the video word by word and wrote a left-wing mirror image of what was said. It appears below.

I both do and do not agree with what I have written.  I am torn.  Do I embrace a radicle version of the Christian faith that leans well to the left?  I have certainly rejected much in Christian culture that leans to the right.  But for some reason I can't quite embrace the left.  I would like to think that I prefer to take a more nuanced road, a more respectful road.  But is that just a lack of commitment?  An inability to sacrifice?  Might what I have to say below be true?

What bothers and intrigues me is that I am compelled both to fight and make peace.  For those that take a partisan approach, I have some partisan answers.  For those that use Bible verses to judge others, I have some Bible verses in mind.  But I know that when I do, it is not quite right. Often, because I lack humility.

As Pastor Tim Keller discusses here, Jesus refuses political complacency, political simplicity, and political primacy.  We should too, and that is the approach I prefer, except when I don't.

I will say that if we are going to go down the road outlined in the video, there is a corollary to what was stated.  When I hear someone like Jackson make those type of statements, I am not inclined to back down from the fight.  I am inclined to double down.  The question is, should I.
Below is a near verbatim transcript of Jackson's video with a few changes.  The best way to read what follows is while listening to the video.  Judge for yourself if what either Jackson or I said ring true.


The Kingdom of God is the Gospel

I recently read an interesting article, Is the Mega Church the New Liberalism.  It focused on culture, gospel, megachurches and compromise with a focus on the issue of homosexuality.

As I'll summarize here, I don't think compromise on the issues of homosexuality or liberalism is the issue for the contemporary megachurch, rather the over-arching issue is American consumerism and individualism.  That in turn affects sexual identity, politics, and many other personal habits which may or may not be healthy.

My argument is that one reaches that conclusion by taking a close look at the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and frankly, how one defines the word gospel.

In Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “The time has come, The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

In this passage, the "good news" or gospel is directly tied to the Kingdom of God.  In turn, a critical reading of Christ's teachings on the Kingdom of God tends to create revolutionary changes that go beyond personal salvation.  On numerous occasions Jesus avoids giving a singular narrow definition of the Kingdom of God, but instead says, "The Kingdom of God is like..." and then goes on to share a parable which often included radical transformation and sacrifice.  Consequently, the Gospel or "good news" should not be defined narrowly by some selected writings of Paul (for example, what some have called the Roman Road, or Four Spiritual Laws), but in combination with the whole teaching of Christ, which is generally not in contradiction with Paul, but rather gives depth and width to those short summaries.


What gets preached AND what does not - From the pulpit AND in my life.

I wrote the following to a friend this mourning and thought I would share it with the rest of you. (with a few edits)  It is about me, not him, so no worries on confidentiality.  Read this as a letter to a friend.

...But to be fair, I am a bit cynical in some respects. It is something I reflect on fairly often with the Spirit in my quiet times. How does one see the world as it really is... ideally through His eye's, and not become cynical?

I was visiting a church the other day and they were preaching on God's immutability. Malachi 3:6a was referenced. “I the LORD do not change."

Clearly there was nothing wrong with what was being preached. And God's character was being made appropriately relevant to the hear and now. But like usual I briefly scanned the rest of the chapter, and a problem immediately jumped off the page.

The issue I saw was not necessarily one for any given church, or any given sermon, but rather concerns our shared Evangelical culture. The issue that leaped off the page at me was what we preach, thematically speaking, over the course of a year, and what does not get preached over the course of a year.

Malachi 3 is a perfect example of this.
(Go ahead and read it here, it won't take long.)

Things more than likely preached over the course of a year.
Mal 3:5a - sorcerers, adulterers are evil - check
Mal 3:6 - God does not change- Check
Mal 3:8-9 - Tithe - Check
Mal 3:17-18 - God's Compassion - Check

What got skipped?

The latter half of Mal 3:5 - "So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty."


Reflecting on Trayvon's tragedy and our ongoing need for racial reconciliation

In our national racial dialog, I think we need to distinguish between the systemics of injustice and the facts in any given case.  Yesterday, CNN published some new allegations on the Trayvon tragedy which raised some questions for me. (Note I did not say new facts.  We just don't know what all the facts are.)

In the systemics of prejudice and injustice we have so far to go.  Those that know me, know I am deeply concerned about injustice and prejudice...  individually and collectively.  The reaction to the Trayvon tragedy is completely understandable.  Everyday, children of color go missing, and too often the media doesn't give a damn, something in contrast to when a cheerleaderesq white girl disappears. This time the media did give it some attention, and that is a good thing.

But the fact is, we just don't know exactly what actually happened on the evening of February 26.  And until we do, a rush to judgement doesn't advance our national dialog on race.  Too many black men have been falsely accused for us to forget the consequences of a rush to judgement.

However, what we do know is that typically, the death of a white child is given a significant amount of resources, whereas in this case it appears the police did not give the case the investigative resources it deserved, begging the question, why?

If they did indeed fail to give Trayvon's death the attention it deserved, that is a grave injustice.  And one that ought to be protested vehemently.  Trayvon was not killed because he was wearing a hoodie.

However, acknowledging our collective failure to achieve an equal common good for all.  Acknowledging that we are not doing enough to solve this problem.  Acknowledging that police do not investigate every homicide equally and that racial stereotypes play a role.  None-the-less we have to stop and ask, is that what happened here?  I'm not sure we can know that; yet.

When we do, as the prophet Micah said, may there be justice, mercy, and humility.  And if the facts support the outrage, may there be protests.  May the perpetrators both of the actions and the inactions be brought to justice.  But more importantly, may there be solutions and dialog, honesty and truth telling, forgiveness and efforts toward our ongoing need for racial reconciliation; for reconciliation is not just an event, but an ongoing life-long process.


Vanderbilt and the Catholic Church - Organizations limiting religious freedom

Father Araujo suggests in his piece, What is Freedom, that the distinction between who is pursuing a self-serving course of action and who is pursuing the other-serving course of action is clear. I agree. The Catholic Churches decision to limit the religious freedom of the people it serves as an employer when it acts as public employer is perceived by many as being self-serving. The freedom that faith affiliated public institutions want in relationship to the federal government is the same freedom they are denying to their employees who have a different faith or no faith at all. While freedom of religion is paramount, and I will argue on behalf of religious freedom momentarily, public employers that hire a plurality of people with unique views have unique responsibilities to their employees. In this pluralistic context, religious views should not allow the employer to impinge on the freedom, often the religious freedom of the employee. While people should have the freedom to associate, that freedom should not hinder the freedom of people in the minority at public institutions or private organizations that are free and open to the public, such as a faith based public hospitals.

To be clear, I would like to draw a sharp distinction between distinctively faith-based organizations such as churches, and those that choose to be open to the public. When they become public employers, employing people of a variety of faiths or no faith at all, public organization take on special responsibilities to the community and to individuals, among them, the responsibility not to infringe on the liberty of their employees.

Vanderbilt and the Catholic Church
A similar example of this can be seen in the recent Vanderbilt University case. In that case, a private organization that is open to the public, has taken the position that no student organization can discriminate against any student that wants to be a member of, or even an officer of a student organization, based on race, religion, sex, etc… The result is that it is possible for a person of Jewish faith to hold the position of treasurer in an Islamic affiliated organization, or an atheist to head a Christian organization. As a result, the Christian Legal Society (CLS) has advocated against this position because their constitution states that one has to be a Christian to be an officer of the Christian Legal Society.

The irony is that Vanderbilt’s position corresponds to the Catholic Churches position.


Why are Evangelicals Misunderstood?

A friend of mine who blogs under the pen name Angle KKG, posted a link on facebook to the following article: Why the Christian Right Becomes More Extreme as America Grows More Tolerant wanting to know what my take on it was.  What was ironic was that independently of her, I had just been reading an article on a similar topic titled: In Evangelical World, a Liberal View Steps Up.  Though it is a bit dated, going back to 05' and the Bush Presidency, I thought it served as a good response.  I then wrote the following on her facebook link, before realizing that it was entirely too long for facebook.

Angle KKG,

As to the latter half of your comment. I would agree that the article you posted is overly generalized.

The media should treat people of different faiths similarly.  I think it often tries to, but not always.

For instance, I have seen more than one National Geographic Article, or PBS series that gives a foreign tribe's spirituality the benefit of the doubt. The reporter might be doing a story on climbing Mt. Everest for example, but there is also a small segment about the spirituality of the people who are native to that part of the world. They believe in a spiritual dimension that effects their climb, and there is no judgement passed on he legitimacy of that belief by the Western reporter.


When it comes to Jesus, we are all unbelievers

Why I love Jesus but Hate Religion, is the title of a short spoken word video that has recently gone viral.  Let me just say at the top, I like the sentiment in it, but what I find interesting is the variety of perspectives on it.  We have both the non-religious giving it a shout-out, and the Evangelical crowd trying to draw a distinction between "religion" and the one true way.  Others are accurately pointing out how "religious" Jesus was, pointing to chapter and verse where he regularly went to the synagogue.

As is often the case, we commonly see what we want to see, myself included.  What Evangelicals see in this film is a line of reasoning that says, "I'm not merely religious, I take this stuff seriously.  A relationship with Jesus is so much more than mere religion."  While in contrast, the non-church attender sees in this video a version of Jesus they like, one which allows them to understandably reject what they see as the inconsistencies of religion.

But are Jesus and religion actually odds?  The answer is a mixed bag.


The Usual Suspects and The Ordinary Religion of Law School

The following is a reflection piece I wrote for my Foundations of Justice class, the kind of class most law schools do not offer, one of the reasons i really appreciate St. Thomas.

“How negligent was the rape victim?” was the question in Wassell v. Addams, a case in our Torts class meant to illustrate the consequences of various comparative fault systems. Should a victim that is also negligent be allowed to recover from another negligent party? What if they are more than 50% at fault? And if the court of appeals disagrees with the jury’s decision, can they over rule it? These were the issues that the text sought to elucidate.

In Ms. Wassell’s case, after opening the door to her motel room at 2am, she found a nicely dressed, but “confused” man at her door asking for a glass of water, she returned with the drink to find him sitting at the small table in the room. Shortly afterward he raped her.* A young and naive women from a small town, she sued the motel owner for not warning her of the dangers of the neighborhood. But a “hardened jury” in her lawyer’s words, found her to be 97% negligent. In an interesting twist, the motel’s 3% of negligence covered her medical and counseling bills to the dollar.

What stood out to me at the time was not so much the case, problematic as it was, but the dynamics of the class discussion. The usual suspects made the usual arguments, reflecting if not the ordinary religion of law school, then at least the ordinary religion of their upbringing. Crampton’s comment that, “law students… aptitude for verbal articulation increases, but they rarely stop to listen to others” was apt.