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A Christian and a lawyer

27 June 2024 By Deina Warren

Guest columnist Deina Warren reflects on seeking the welfare of the city. (Aussi disponible en français)

en français

Growing up I didn’t know any lawyers, let alone a Christian lawyer. Although I was intrigued when “lawyer” often turned up on my high school career assessments, it seemed out of reach. Business was a more practical choice. And yet God kept opening doors for me to work in law.

Deina-WarrenBut is law a Christian calling? Aren’t lawyers the ones who tested Jesus and to whom Jesus proclaimed woes? Yes, but here’s why I still think law is a worthy calling.

God is the ultimate law-giver. His laws are good and for our blessing, but we forfeit that blessing for ourselves and others when we do what is right in our own eyes. Jeremiah’s call on exiled Israel to build houses, plant gardens and seek the welfare of the city means we need to understand and engage with our communities.

These biblical ideas now help me make sense of legal work, but I took a meandering path to this understanding. At first I saw law as a way to arm myself for wars of words, victory dependent on my own efforts. But God is patient, gracious and forgiving. Through law school and the ups and downs of life He taught me – and re-taught me – to wait and to trust Him, which also reshaped my outlook on the calling of law.

I no longer see it as a battle. I see it as a means to seek the welfare of the city and to pursue justice through good laws that draw from biblical principles. My call is to be faithful, truthful, thoughtful and clear, but I cannot manipulate or control the outcome. This is freeing and motivating.

“What principle is at stake?” Focusing there helps neutralize divisive facts and personal opinions.

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In my role as the director of legal affairs at the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities, I have the great joy of applying these principles as I engage with regulatory bodies, government, courts and beyond. It’s also a great responsibility – how does one represent a broad swath of Christian organizations with a host of different convictions?

I like to answer questions with questions, so I often start by asking “What principle is at stake?” Focusing there helps neutralize divisive facts and personal opinions. It also avoids sensationalism.

Focusing on the principle helps answer other important questions. Why does it matter? What impact could it have? How can this issue be effectively communicated? What is the best possible outcome for the welfare of the city? What is just and right? How can we work toward that outcome?

Focusing on the principle also allows for collaboration, points to reason and maintains consistency. All of that helps bear witness for Christians in the public square. When the principle is identified, it means stakeholders with different opinions about the facts are willing to work together. It means not being swayed by an initial perception or the first argument presented. Such consistency and thoughtfulness speaks to the goodness of the law and helps us seek the true good of the city.

What does that look like in practice? (See, another question!).

Readers may recall how concerns arose in 2001 about charitable status for pregnancy care centres and organizations that were said to “provide dishonest counselling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of pregnancy.” Many issues are wrapped up here – freedom of expression, diversity and stability of the charitable sector – but the underlying principle is the politization of charitable status.

A different issue arose in May 2024 when the Senate committee on fisheries and oceans released a report on sealing. It recommended removing the tax-exempt status of charities that “produce or promote misinformation and/or disinformation about the seal harvest or seal products industry.”

No doubt you can now see the connection in these examples. Though the facts are worlds apart, the principle at stake in both is the politicization of charitable status.

We can quickly get caught up in debates about certain kinds of pregnancy care or the seal products industry. But when we pause, give thought, examine and seek understanding we can engage in a consistent, principled way. We can use reason to advocate for good laws no matter the factual context. And we can do so without the pressure or expectation of manipulating an outcome.

Seeing the public square not as a battleground but an opportunity simplifies my work as a Christian lawyer. Yes, legal processes and the nuances of legislative interpretation can be complex. But the essence is to focus on the principles, faithfully use the skills and opportunities we’ve been given, and – seeking to align with what is right in God’s eyes – to promote and reflect the goodness of law for all.

Deina Warren is director of legal affairs at the Canadian Centre for Christian Charities, with offices in Elmira, Ont. Find more of these columns at FaithToday.ca/TheGatheringPlace. Scales illustration: Huticon.

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