David Balkum, adjunct instructor in Howard Payne University’s criminal justice department, addressed the Houston Chapter of the Christian Legal Society on Jan. 31.
Operating in the nation’s capital, the Christian Legal Society is, according to its website, “a growing nationwide fellowship of Christian lawyers and law students who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.”
Adopting Micah 6:8 as its corporate vision, it exists “to inspire, encourage, and equip Christian lawyers and law students both individually and in community to proclaim, love and serve Jesus Christ through the study and practice of law, the provision of legal assistance to the poor and needy, and the defense of the inalienable rights to life and religious freedom.”
The group supports chapters in major cities, in many law schools and on some undergraduate campuses for pre-law groups.
Balkum’s audience included attorneys in private practice, ministerial staff and appellate judges. His address focused on the ethical and spiritual dilemmas faced by attorneys called on to represent their own churches, creating a dynamic known as a “dual relationship.”
While Balkum, author of Sheep Among Wolves: Texas Churches and the Law, stressed that all believers have a duty to support their churches, there are times when an attorney’s ethical obligations may conflict with his or her spiritual obligations. This particularly can occur over issues of confidentiality and when the parties involved have different expectations of an attorney’s role.
“That conflict also can arise even over rather mundane matters in which church members harbor hard feelings for the manner in which the attorney’s legal opinion happens to fall,” he said.
Balkum recounted one instance in which he was serving on his church’s missions committee and a committee member loudly blamed the church’s lawyers for scrapping a mission project which she supported.
“These situations can create problems for the attorney’s family, as well,” he said. “A solution is for Christian attorneys to be more proactive in developing referral networks to assist each other and sister churches in those times when representation is necessary. Such networks can bring much needed independence, formality, clarity and objectivity, in the form of an outsider looking in, to sometimes emotionally charged situations.
“That simple referral can keep the member attorney from becoming a lightning rod and, in so doing, safeguard his and his family’s more important roles as members of that congregation.”
Lynn Humeniuk, director of HPU’s criminal justice program and associate professor of sociology, calls Balkum a “blessing to the university.”
“He lives out his faith in his professional law practice as well as in his interactions with our HPU students.”