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Confirming Liberty with Law
By Sharon R. Brinks '76

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Sharon Brinks

Sharon R. Brinks is an attorney with her own law firm in Grand Rapids.

The problem with this country is "all of the lawyers." Let me make a plea. Do not say this to me at a dinner party. I will probably end up offending my host by giving you the argument of your life, and then even ask you for money to support more law and lawyers! Let me explain.

"All of the lawyers," especially all of the Christian lawyers, are very important to the United States and Canada. The problem in many countries of this world is that they do not have enough lawyers.

Take China, for instance. China will be hosting the Olympics in 2008. Many people are troubled by this decision of the Olympic Committee because of China's history of human rights abuse, from Tiananmen Square to the more recent instances of persecution of home church Christians.

Why does a government, like China, get away with the arbitrary abuse of power? The answer is because it is not subject to challenge by "all of the lawyers." China needs more law and lawyers.

Just ask the western business leaders who are beginning to expand into this market. The same company presidents who tell you that "all of the lawyers" are driving them out of business in the United States will say that the problem in China is that they do not have contract law and parent law that they can rely upon and courts and police who are not corrupt.

As I stood in Tiananmen Square in January of this year, I reflected on the progress that China has made since 1993, when I first visited the country and began to study its legal history. One of the major changes is that China today has a lot more law and many more lawyers in private practice. Much of recent Chinese legal development is a direct result of China's desire to join the World Trade Organization. To do so, China for the first time adopted many western commercial laws. Companies that trade in China today will testify that the enforcement of many of those laws is far from perfect. But for the first time since Mao and the communist party took over, China is beginning to follow a "rule of law."

In China, the generation in power has grown up under Marxist/Leninist theory. One of its premises is that law, like government, will wither away. Because of its desire to trade in the world, China is developing a set of new laws. From those commercial laws and contracts, there is now a real possibility that a law of individual rights may develop.

One of the interesting patterns which I have observed as I have led international groups of judges and attorneys is that business leaders often lead the way toward a "rule of law." It is only if laws exist and courts are not corrupt that commercial transactions can flourish. If law is subject to the power of a strongman and the courts are available to the highest bidder, the economy of a country cannot move forward. The cycle of poverty continues.

Like China, Nicaragua is new to the "rule of law" concept. The history of this country has been one of "might makes right" and the law has been corrupted in favor of those in power. Unfortunately, the Protestant church has avoided challenging the power and the economic benefits that flow from it. Instead a gospel of "poverty" has been preached as a virtue. But the tide is turning thanks to such organizations as Centro Nehemías (Nehemiah Center) and the Centro Cristiano de Derechos Humanos (Christian Center for Human Rights-CCDH). Both organizations are supported by Christian attorneys in Nicaragua who are now partnering with Christian business leaders and attorneys from the Americas.

Joel Huyser, an attorney from the Grand Rapids area who now works in Nicaragua, has a vision and a challenge: "Do Christians have a response to the corruption, injustice and grinding poverty that has been like a cancer in Nicaraguan history? Isaiah 61:8 tells us that our God is a lover of justice. Can we be anything less?"

After three visits to Nicaragua, I have come to embrace Joel's challenge and now belong to a group of American attorneys, judges and business leaders who have committed to a Partners for Christian Development Project called "Nicaraguan Law and Justice." (This is where in my dinner speech I start asking you for money.)

Justice under law is one of the principle characteristics of a democratic government. We sing about it in the hymn "America, the Beautiful":

America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!

Do these words sound familiar? I challenge you to listen for the concept of liberty with law all around you. Like a new word that you learn, you will discover it every day of your life. You will hear it in the pledge of allegiance; you will see it in freedom to assemble to worship on Sunday morning; you will recognize it when you wave to a passing police officer and know that you cannot be stopped unless you are doing something that violates the law. If you take the famous picture of the founding of the United States and blank out the lawyers, you will find a lot of empty space. If you take the United States in 2001 and blank out the lawyers, you will find a lot of missing liberty.

As you listen to the discussions about China and the 2008 Olympics over the next several years, listen for the "rule of law" issues. In China, how many citizens arbitrarily lost their homes because the government wanted the property for an Olympic venue? Where were the laws and lawyers to protect them? How many protestors were jailed to keep them away from the Western media? Where were the laws of habeas corpus and the right to bail and the lawyers brave enough to take their case? Please pray for the Christian attorneys and judges throughout the world. Please pray for liberty under law.

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee Justice Site

Partners for Christian Development

Christian Legal Society

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