Conflicting Values When You’re a Lawyer
This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.
Sometimes our clients (or even other colleagues) have motives or objectives which do not align with our own. How do we act in those situations?
John has been working for two years at a medium sized firm. He has never been summoned in to the Managing Partner’s office before but that is where he has found himself. He sits beside his supervising partner and feels nervous while looking around the large room. On the wall are various awards and recognitions. The Managing Partner finally turns from his screen and John feels the full force of his cool stare, “So tell me John, what is the issue here with this particular client?”.
John shifts nervously in his seat. “Well I just feel uncomfortable acting for this business. I know it is just a lease and that they are a new client and it is good to have the work flowing in. But I feel like my values are going to be compromised if I am asked to act for them because I just, well … I just think that a brothel is probably in that grey area for me…”. He sees the managing partner nodding but feels like he hasn’t made his case well because all he gets in response is that nod and he realises that the room has gone very quiet.
Questions for Discussion
- What do you identify with in this story, and why?
- What other examples of conflicting values have you faced?
- Does the way you make decisions about your actions as a lawyer differ if it is for those who are amassing wealth, or who are aggressive in their business affairs (or worse)?
- How does Christian faith impact on decision making in these types of situations?
It’s impossible to work only with people who share your beliefs. Paul recognized this in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 when he wrote, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons, not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world.” Paul feared the influence of hypocritical Christians on the early church, but he wasn’t worried about any threat from unbelievers. This mirrors Jesus’ instruction to “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). Retreating from the secular world, even with all its faults, was as impractical 2000 years ago as it is today.
But Paul does caution against being so closely tied to an unbeliever that you can’t make your own decisions. “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). This verse is often translated as “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers,” reminiscent of Deuteronomy 22:10 which prohibits yoking an ox and donkey together for field work. When animals are yoked together they must move in lockstep: if one turns left the other does also. This is dangerous for animals of differing sizes, and it is also dangerous for people of differing beliefs. If someone else’s choices compel you to act in the same way, then you are yoked together. If that person has values that are unequal to yours, then you are unequally yoked.
Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?
For more on working with unbelievers and what it means to be "unequally yoked," read the Theology of Work Project commentary on 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.