Pastors and rules of professional conduct...

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Should pastors and theologians be held to at least the same ethical standards as lawyers? 

Scrupulous fidelity to truth and the meaning of words is not normally the first quality one associates with a lawyer. An undergraduate faculty advisor referred to my decision to go to law school as getting a "license to steal." The fictional law firm Dewey, Cheatham & Howe entered an appearance or two in a civil procedure professor's hypotheticals in the first year of law school. You'll also find the entry "Lawyers, Derogatory Names for" in a legal usage dictionary. Along with old standbys like "ambulance chaser," "hired gun," "pettifogger," and "shyster," other epithets like "latrine lawyer," "mouthpiece," and "Philadelphia lawyer" abound. This last one—"Philadelphia lawyer"—can bear either a positive or negative sense. It can mean either "an ultracompetent lawyer who knows the ins and outs of legal technicalities" or "a shrewdly unscrupulous lawyer."1

Because of this sadly deserved unsavory reputation, because of the awesome responsibility they have for the lives and property of their clients, and because of the complexity of the law even before it exploded like a supernova in the 20th century, lawyers must submit themselves to well-settled rules of professional conduct. One of these rules demands candor to the court.2 This rule requires...

in part:

(a)  A lawyer shall not knowingly:

   (1)  make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer;

   (2)  fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel . . . . 

Let's set this rule aside for a moment and think of the tribunal or court in theological controversies. No Christian would hesitate for a moment to identify the ultimate tribunal as God. At the same time we recognize another, lesser court here on earth. The court of public opinion, a good portion of which is staffed by sheep who are distressed and dispirited. Nearly all of us fall into the category. We're dumb and easily misled, suffering constant harassment and threats. 

So whether doctrine is presented to the blogosphere or pew, we depend upon the nourishment and sanctification that comes from Truth as taught by our Chief Shepherd and the undershepherds into whose care and charge He's committed us. So why do pastors and trainers of pastors get to shirk the professional responsibility of correcting their false statements of historical fact and failures to disclose controlling authority, such as Calvin's repeated, direct, express convictions concerning the natural and Biblical order of men leading the civil magistracy? Of course, Scripture is the only authority that binds the conscience. In that sense Calvin is not controlling. But Calvin is what a court would call persuasive authority, and many Christians tired of fighting against the heresy of feminism and the unremitting attacks of the world would like to throw in the towel on a raging controversy, relieved that their normally rigorous theological hero wasn't uptight about women heads of state. 

Thank you, Pastor Bayly and David Talcott, for your submission of relevant evidence and setting the record straight. 

  • 1. Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage 511 (2d ed. 1995).
  • 2. See, e.g., Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 3.3.

Ezra Hale is the pseudonym of a man serving in an upper-level, executive branch position of state government. Ezra is a licensed attorney and for several years practiced law in state and federal courts. He is a graduate of ___________ School of Law, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Law Review.