December 9, 2013 Leave a comment
October 25, 2013 1 Comment
I am pleased to announce that Law and the Bible: Justice, Mercy and Legal Institutions has been published. I was asked to contribute to this volume months ago and am glad to see it in print.
It is a unique volume in that each chapter is co-authored by a legal scholar and a scholar of the Bible, theology, or ethics. Thus, it is an interdisciplinary volume that combines serious legal and theological scholarship with an eye toward contemporary relevance and application. The book moves through the Bible with each chapter in the book focusing upon a different portion of it. For instance, there are chapters on the wisdom literature, on the prophets, and on the apocalyptic writings. My co-author, Joel A. Nichols, and I wrote the chapter on Acts. The primary “practical” question that we raise in regard to the law is that of civil disobedience. In seeking to explore this question we use the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa as a case study.
It was a pleasure working on the volume, and I am honored to have been included in it. If the intersection of religion or theology with law in contemporary societies is something that you find at all interesting, I encourage you to check out the volume.
August 29, 2013 Leave a comment
I will be presenting a paper on my dissertation research at the 2014 annual conference of The Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics at Pepperdine University School of Law. There are already some great speakers lined up, and the call for papers is open until September 13. I encourage anyone interested in the relation of love to law to submit a paper. You can see the call below and download the full call for papers here.
The idea that law should be a manifestation of love stands in tension with modern and post-modern notions that law should be solely concerned with individual autonomy or efficiency or that law is by nature only a matter of power. Our reigning schools of legal thought tend to be reductionistic, focusing on a limited aspect of human good. Liberalism leaves individuals isolated and alone. Many law and economics scholars emphasize efficiency, but have provided no basis for the protection of human dignity (at least for the ‘have nots’). Critical legal scholars have deconstructed law and concluded that law is merely power, but generally have failed to provide a basis for reconstruction.
Jeffrie Murphy notes that agape love is not simply concerned with making people’s lives more pleasant. It is not “cuddly.” If agape is the aim, a polity might “design legal practices and institutions with a view to the moral and spiritual improvement of affected citizens.” Would the grounding of law in love yield broad-based human flourishing and authentic freedom? Or might it provide the basis for an authoritarian regime?
The notion of law grounded in love has a rich history. Jesus summarized the Mosaic Law as love of God and neighbor. John Calvin said that all nations’ laws “must be in conformity to that perpetual rule of love.” Over the centuries groups have sought to ground law in love, to good and ill effect.
Law might bear several sorts of relationships to love. Love might be the motivation behind the work of lawyers, judges, legislators, police, and active citizens. The adoption and enforcement of wise laws can be among the most loving things that someone can do. It may also be that law can teach and encourage love. The Jewish law required land owners to allow poor people to harvest the grain at the edges of their fields. It may be that for some, this legal requirement created the good habit—the virtue—of love.
The idea of law grounded in love generates numerous big questions which will be addressed throughout this conference. We invite people from the fields of philosophy, political science, law, history, economics, theology, and psychology to propose presentations and panels on any aspect of this topic, including:
•What is the meaning of agape, and how does it differ from other notions of love, including eros and philia?
•What balance of freedom and order would law grounded in love yield?
•How might law be a manifestation of love toward citizens and how might law encourage citizens to be more loving to one another?
•How does law affect character and how might law grounded in love encourage the development of good character?
•Historical Attempts to Implement Love and Law
•Love, Law, and Justice
•Love, Law, and Current Schools of Legal Thought
•How might love and law shape our understanding of community and the common good?
•How might love grounded in law encourage wealthy citizens to be more caring?
•What sorts of social welfare regimes would love grounded in law generate?
•Would law grounded in love generate dependent citizens?
•What is the relationship between love, law, and theology in our religious traditions?
•What are the insights of ancient and modern thinkers on love and law?
•Love, Economic Justice, and the Global Economy
•Love, Law, and the Human Person
•Love and Substantive Legal Subject Areas
•Love, Law, and Dispute Resolution
•Love, Law, and the Work of Lawyers
•How might law grounded in love encourage forgiveness and reconciliation?
July 4, 2013 Leave a comment
The most recent issue of Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace is a special issue focused on the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One of the editors is a colleague and friend, and there are several interesting essays in the issue which tackle relatively under-studied areas in transitional justice and peacebuilding. For instance, there is an essay titled “Reconciliation and the Web” and another titled “Pentecostals and Transitional Justice in Liberia.” There is also a review essay I wrote titled “The Ambivalence of Peacebuilding: Theories and Contexts” which reviews three texts related to post-conflict peacebuilding. Using R. Scott Appleby’s influential claim that religion has an ambivalent role in promoting violence and/or peace in contexts of conflict as a jumping-off point, I argue, in reviewing the books, that every approach to peacebuilding (especially the conflict resolution, human rights, and liberal peacebuilding approaches reviewed) are ambivalent when applied too heavy-handedly or in isolation. Thus, we should move toward an intentionally integrated approach to peacebuilding; I find the “strategic peacebuilding” approach to be most appropriate here.
Please do check out the issue and my essay. I’d love to hear your feedback!
May 6, 2013 Leave a comment
Issue six of Practical Matters is now online. It has a special focus on the use of ethnography in religious studies and theology. I highly recommend that those interested in such work go check it out.
April 22, 2013 Leave a comment
I am in the middle of writing a dissertation on transitional justice and teaching a three-month Sunday school class on biblical justice. In both of those endeavors Christopher Marshall’s work has proven to be vital. In his previous books on biblical justice as restorative justice (Beyond Retribution and The Little Book of Biblical Justice), Marshall has proven himself to be a world-class scholar of both the Bible and of the restorative justice movement. His work on this subject has influenced theologians, ethicists, and even political scientists to begin speaking of justice after crime and violence in primarily restorative rather than retributive terms. (For example, see the work of theologian John W. de Gruchy and political scientist Daniel Philpott.) Thus, I was very excited to read Marshall’s newest contribution to this topic.
In Compassionate Justice Marshall examines two of Jesus’s parables (The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son) through the lenses of restorative justice, and suggests that reading the parables through such lenses can influence contemporary justice practices. Here Marshall flexes his interdisciplinary muscles by engaging in critical biblical scholarship and dialoguing with the most recent scholarship in law and criminology. Marshall’s basic argument is that these parables are stories of justice as restoration rather than simply stories of mercy. Thus, Jesus teaches us the importance of compassion in justice by telling these stories.
The basic thrust of the restorative justice movement is that criminal justice should focus more on the needs of victims and the restoration of ruptured relationships than the mere punishment of offenders. Generally speaking, western legal systems understand justice as the punishment of criminals or, more metaphysically, the balancing of the cosmic scales of justice by inflicting an appropriate amount of pain and/or shame on those who have caused pain/shame. Crime, in this general framework, is understood primarily as a violation against the state or a cosmic scale of justice. Against this understanding, restorative justice advocates and practitioners argue that crime is primarily harm done to persons and relationships rather than primarily harm done to the state. Thus, justice is primarily the righting of the wrongs done to persons and relationships and not primarily about wrongs done to the state.
Reading Jesus’s two most famous parables through the lenses of restorative justice, then, highlights the ways that these parables are about the restoration of persons and relationships. Jesus teaches that what is required in instances of injury is the restoration of those persons/relationships that have been injured. For example, in the story of the good Samaritan we see the Samaritan take steps to make right all of those things that were made wrong. Where the robbed man is ignored the Samaritan gives him attention. Where he is robbed the Samaritan provides for him financially. Where he is physically injured the Samaritan provides for his physical healing. Where he is left in the elements the Samaritan provides him with shelter. It is not just that the Samaritan shows the robbed man mercy, but he meets the exact needs that arise from the injustice he endured. In this, the Samaritan engages in restorative justice.
In a similar manner, Marshall shows us how the father in the story of the prodigal son restores the son to his proper relationship as a son. The way that Jesus tells the story makes it clear that the prodigal does great harm to his relationship with his father (and his brother). In an honor/shame society the prodigal’s actions serve to sever the parent-child relationship he has with his father. Thus, when he is starving in a far-away country he can only imagine returning to his father’s house as a servant. However, his father restores him to the status of son by his treatment of him upon return. Similarly, the prodigal’s brother refuses to even call him brother but refers to his brother as “this son of yours.” However, the father pleads with the brother to accept the prodigal as a brother. The story, then, can be read as a story of the restoration of relationship – as a story of restorative justice.
Importantly, both of these parables highlight the place of compassion for the restoration of relationship and the doing of justice. Marshall, therefore, argues for a place for compassion in justice. Arguing primarily with Annalise Acorn’s book Compulsory Compassion: A Critique of Restorative Justice, Marshall employs these parables, as well as his vast knowledge of the literature in restorative justice, to argue for the appropriateness of compassion in criminal justice.
The book is interdisciplinary, well-researched, and accessible. It continues Marshall’s important contributions both to biblical studies and restorative justice. Anyone interested in biblical studies, criminal and restorative justice, reconciliation, and methods in interdisciplinary scholarship should read this book. It receives my strongest recommendation.