Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Legal Scholarship and Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Have They Buried Both an Honest Man and a Law Professor in the Same Grave?

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Legal Scholarship and Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Have They Buried Both an Honest Man and a Law Professor in the Same Grave?

Article excerpt


A. The Conference Convener Always Knocks Twice

I initially declined when Professor James Gordon of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University called to invite me to present at a conference entitled "LDS Perspectives on Law." I had nothing against such a gathering. I am myself an LDS law professor and have been for most of the past twenty years. My perspective on most things is unmistakably LDS. The conference even sounded interesting. But, frankly, I thought I had little to contribute.

Professor Gordon described the agenda of the conference in general terms, but with enough specificity to make clear that he was hoping participants would prepare papers that examined various aspects of the American legal system (or, in my case, perhaps Japan's legal system) against the backdrop of the religious beliefs held by LDS lawyers. Did LDS religious doctrine and theology illuminate the law? Could LDS lawyers derive any particular insight by holding up legal rules, institutions, and developments to the light of the restored gospel and revealed truth?

I admired immensely his ambition, I told him, but I myself had not generally used gospel principles as a starting point for my legal academic work, at least not in any reflective or particularly self-conscious way. That is not to say that I have not studied the gospel or used gospel principles in my family and church lives. For example, I learned early on that my only hope of staying a few steps ahead of my three bright children was constant recourse to scripture and prayer. I have also served in a variety of church assignments, including a number of years as a stake president,1 and frequent, indeed often frantic, scripture study was an essential part of most of those responsibilities.

But, still, I had rarely, if ever consciously, attempted to apply those gospel principles to my academic work. I have written and taught across three or four different fields, including contracts, international trade law, international environmental law and, most frequently, comparative law. Gospel principles might have been applicable to much of what I have done, I told Professor Gordon, but I have never started my analysis from that perspective or examined through an LDS prism any of the issues on which I have written. I might enjoy sitting in the audience, I informed him, but I suspected I had nothing to say as a participant.

Not to be deterred, Professor Gordon called again a few days later, asking whether I would reconsider and be a keynote speaker at lunch. If I didn't have much to say, he offered, I would be a perfect keynote speaker at lunch, brevity being the greatest virtue of anyone who speaks over a meal. Would I reconsider? As it turned out, I had already reconsidered. I still did not think I was prepared to undertake a serious substantive analysis of some aspect of Japanese law or trade law against the backdrop of the gospel. However, I had been thinking about why I had never done what Professor Gordon wanted me to do. Why wasn't the gospel, which was such a fundamental part of every other aspect of my life, particularly central to my scholarship and teaching? Or, put slightly differently, was there anything at all about me as an academic that was distinctive from my colleagues at Columbia and now George Washington University because I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? While I was not sure-and am still not sure-I could answer those questions, I was interested in thinking more about them. So, I accepted.

I am not sure my ruminations answer anything, but the process of thinking about this issue has clarified some things in my mind and has been modestly helpful to me as I consider how I fulfill my professional obligations. I hope it might also be useful to others.

B. You'd Think this Paper Would Have Been Easier to Write than It Was

In many ways, one would have thought that I would rather naturally gravitate to gospel principles in my scholarly work. …

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