Generous Orthodoxy  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Evangelical Christian law professor dies, receives acclaim

How often do you see "evangelical Christian" in a NYTimes obituary? William J. Stuntz, who sadly died at 52 of colon cancer, was an influential legal scholar and independent thinker, often called conservative but not easily labeled. For instance (quoting from the obit):

Carol Steiker, a Harvard law professor, said Mr. Stuntz was not only “considerably to the right of your average Harvard law professor” but also unusual at the university because he was an evangelical Christian. She said he had begun to use the word “mercy” among the “values he thought the criminal justice system should have, but didn’t.”

Even when applying Christian principles, he had surprises. In one instance he chided Christian conservatives’ demand for “originalism” in interpreting the Constitution, wondering why they did not regard this as idolatrous. He said their overwhelming identification with one party, the Republicans, had “poisoned politics in deep ways.”

Stuntz taught at the University of Virginia law school for 14 years before going to Harvard in 2000. He knew he was going to die, and wrote about the comfort he found in the book of Job--which is described at the end of the obit. Here's the link:

Even better, though, is the prominent "appreciation" on the editorial page two days later. The writer, Lincoln Caplan, distinguished editor and president of Legal Affairs, presumably Jewish, expresses profound appreciation for Stuntz' faith. This is so rare in The New York Times as to be almost unheard-of.

Here is the ending of what Mr. Caplan wrote:

“The Christian story is a story, not a theory or an argument,” [Stuntz] said, and others are made in the image of God, just as he was.
At Boston’s Park Street Church in 2009, in testimony about the cancer that would lead to his death, he explained his faith. He described how God remembers those who are suffering, longing for them to join Him when their time comes. “It sounds too good to be true,” he said, “and yet it is true.”
When he refuted legal orthodoxies in his quest to return mercy to criminal justice, literally redefining the field, he was living his faith. On many of America’s leading legal thinkers his influence was more profound. He reaffirmed for them the alliance between faith and reason and, finally, between knowledge and goodness.

Here is the link to the whole piece: