Friday, September 23, 2011

Electing Judges

Most people will only appear before a Judge one or two times in their life. A traffic ticket, minor issue with the landlord. Unsurprisingly, absent those few instances, the judges within the judicial system are completely unknown to the public.

How many times have you entered the voting booth and not have a clue about any person running for judicial office? Of course…why would you? It will never make a difference to you whether “Smith” or “Jones” becomes the local magistrate…until you are in front of them…

You will then discover Judges have a broad power termed “discretion.” It means, within certain parameters, they can do what they want and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. For example, in Michigan we have sentencing guidelines to standardize punishment. Theoretically, one should receive the same sentence whether the crime was committed in Wayne County, Kent County or Ontonagon County. The probation department prepares a report, assigning values depending on actions within the crime (how many victims, was a weapon involved, etc.) and the defendant’s past criminal history.

Once that number is determined, it is plugged into a “grid,” providing the minimum sentence the defendant will serve. The number could be “0 – 12” for example, meaning the minimum sentence imposed by the court will be 0 months to 12 months. (The maximum sentence is always determined by the crime. E.g. “Mayhem” will always result in a maximum sentence of 10 years. MCL 750.397.)

It is possible to have a minimum range as broad as “0 – 36”—meaning the judge has the full discretion to allow the defendant to walk out the courtroom OR put them in prison for 3 years. And no appellate court will set aside either sentence. How would you like one person to have that much control over what you will be doing for the next 3 years?

Or take a monetary case. Even a simple case involving $10,000, the judge can decide to award $0; $5,000; or $10,000 dollars. Think the Plaintiff was probably a little in the wrong? Shave the amount down to $7,500. Think the Defendant should pay something, even if the Plaintiff has no case? Give ‘em $1,000.

Time and again, we walk out of courthouses, and client says, “Where did the Judge come up with THAT number?” I shrug—it is within Judge’s discretion. They wanted a particular result and managed to mangle a way to it.

Now think about a small business in a community. Hospitals getting sued for malpractice and suing to collect bills. A Management company taking numerous tenants to court. These are businesses appearing before the courts dozens, even thousands of times. Not just once.

When the judge is running for re-election, it behooves the business to provide monetary and political support, knowing how many times they will be appearing in the Judge’s court over the next six years.

More important than the business, we lawyers understand how many times we will be appearing in that courtroom. And it is to our benefit to provide monetary and political support to the winning judge. Will we get a murderer off because we put the Judge’s banner in our yard and contributed to her campaign? No. Will we get an extra adjournment if we want it? Very likely.

Needless to say, Judgeships become political creatures. They prevail on three factors: 1) gender (females have a slightly better chance), 2) Name recognition and 3) Advertisement. To get one’s name out (for the recognition) costs money. Often the judge voted in is the one who spends the most. Plain and simple.

What if you felt wronged by a local business and take them to court, only to face a business (who contributed to the judge’s campaign), represented by a lawyer (who contributed to the judge’s campaign)? Would you be concerned? Understand, most judges do not like being reversed on appeal, so they will not deviate too far from the law…but within their discretion, they have a wide variety of options. What are the chances that discretion will bend in your favor?

One can start to see the concern in electing judges. First, we are back to high school; voting the most popular to become Class President, not necessarily the most qualified. Second, the mechanics of election (and re-election) invite political favoritism. Whether we admit it or not.

All this was going through my mind as I read this article on the Iowa Justices who ruled gay marriage was constitutionally protected in Iowa. See, in Iowa, they apparently attempted to reduce the political impact by interviewing and appointing Supreme Court Justices on merit, rather than popularity. To get input from the State Bar as to who was qualified, and question them before even allowing them on the ballot. (In Michigan, any lawyer who as been licensed for 5 years could potentially run and sit on the Michigan Supreme Court. They wouldn’t have to ever be a judge—indeed they wouldn’t have to practice law a single day! Just be licensed.)

Alas, after ruling in favor of gay marriage, the Tea Party targeted these three judges (labeling them….can you guess? Starts with “act” and ends with “ivist.”) and for the first time in their career, they had to respond in a political campaign to defend their positions. Of course, they bungled it, and lost.

The Tea Party declared it a victory—“We showed ‘em!” I see it as a loss to the judicial system. Iowa—you are better served by having qualified persons interviewed and recommended than having John Q. Public picking “Francis O’Brien” because they saw his sign more than his competitors.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Round and Round We Go

Matthew’s Gospel uniquely records a relatively well-known instance regarding resurrection of other persons at the time of Jesus’ resurrection:

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. Matt. 27:51-53 (NKJV)

Dr. Licona, in his recent word, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach deals with these two verses on pp. 548 – 553. (Alas, only p. 553 is available on google books.)

Dr. Licona notes other contemporary authors (Cassius Dio, Josephus, etc.) included miraculous events at the times of great king’s deaths. That it was a common literary device of the time to denote significance. He then concludes Matthew is using a similar literary poetic device when referring to the resurrection of the saints.

The difficulty though, is how to determine what historicity the author(s) were assigning to these claims. If the Roman historians really did think earthquakes happened, stars aligned, swords appeared in the sky, miraculous births occurred—all as signs something important was happening—would Matthew likewise be claiming these signs really did occur?

If the Roman historians were, in essence, making this events up (or at the least doing very little confirmation regarding the claims), is Matthew likewise doing so?

Personally, I see this as a difficulty in consistent methodology when comparing contemporary Roman historians to the Gospel accounts; but what do I know?

This is not the reason I write. Other Christian authors have become disenchanted with Dr. Licona’s position; concerned he has committed apostasy by abandoning inerrancy when claiming these events did not actually, historically happen.

At the beginning of August, 2011 Dr. Geisler wrote an open letter to Dr. Licona concluding, “Indeed, if the principles of your historical approach (of using extra-biblical material as determinative of the meaning of a biblical text) were used consistently on the Bible, then it would undermine orthodoxy by dehistoricizing many crucial passages of the Bible.”

[This presents a huge problem for Dr. Geisler. The Protestant Bible does not include a Hebrew or Greek Lexicon. How does Dr. Geisler propose to determine the meaning of the Greek text, without knowledge as to what the Greek meant? The Bible does not include a history of the Roman world. How does Dr. Geisler propose to date a verse like Luke 3:1 referring to Emperor Tiberius’ reign without outside knowledge as to when Tiberius reigned? No--everyone utilizes extra-biblical material as a determinative of the meaning of a biblical text. We have to, as the Bible is not (nor does it claim to be) a complete authority on every item discussed.

Indeed, Dr. Geisler utilizes extra-biblical material. Here he just doesn’t like the fact the extra-biblical material is uncomfortable with his position.)

Dr. Licona failed to respond. So on August 21, 2011 Dr. Geisler wrote his second open letter to Dr. Licona. He expresses his adamant concern Mike Licona is no longer subscribing to the standards required by ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) and its “standard view of inerrancy” as proclaimed by ICBI (International Council of Biblical Inerrancy.)

Dr. Geisler reiterates, “There is something more important than having a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship; it is putting Lordship over scholarship when necessary.” (emphasis added.)

Dr. Geisler puts his methodology in plain sight: if scholarship disagrees with his interpretation of the Bible--no matter how solid the facts, evidence, argument and proof--he will ignore scholarship to maintain his belief.

On September 8, 2011 Dr. Licona responded with a note on his Facebook page. (As not every one is on Facebook, I linked to Wintery Knight’s blog.)

Of course, Dr. Geisler almost immediately countered with his third installment within this saga, all but calling for Dr. Licona’s removal from the ETS: “The ETS and ICBI framers have drawn a line in the sand, and Licona has clearly stepped over it. Only a clear recantation will reverse the matter and, unfortunately, Licona has not done this. Let's pray that he does.“ (emphasis in original)

JP Holding weighed in on the issue and (I think) accurately summarized the problem:

Geisler's view of Matthew 27: Matthew is reporting history as history.

Licona's view of Matthew 27: Matthew is reporting a poetic device as a poetic device.

Geisler's view of Licona's view of Matthew 27: Matthew is reporting a poetic device as history.

As we have noted, one cannot "dehistoricize" a text that was never intended to be taken as historical. Geisler continues to miss this point and thus continues to misapprehend Licona's views with respect to inerrancy.

“Dr” James White sides with Dr. Geisler (curiously indicating he hasn’t read Dr. Licona’s book) but then takes a pot shot at Dr. Geisler for not responding to one of James White’s problems.

Other Christians are taking one side or the other (in the particular comments within that blog, “Nick” (Dr. Licona’s son-in-law) engages with Christians adhering to Dr. Geisler.)

I found two (2) things interesting about these exchanges:

1) If like-minded Christians cannot agree over a few clauses, whether they are historical or not, whether they are inerrant or not, whether to trust scholarship, even what method to utilize to determine these questions—what chance do we non-Christians have of debating “true” Christianity?

We so often hear how skeptics debate straw people, or only take on the fringes, but never battle the core, correct Christianity. Yet here is a simple matter where Christians engage in tremendous battle, and no progress appears as to which (if any) is the “correct” interpretation.

2) I am bemused that Dr. Geisler is as concerned (if not more) Dr. Licona is included in a group—ETS (Evangelical Theological Society)—when Dr. Geisler feels Dr. Licona should be excluded. Geisler wants it clear to the world that Dr. Licona is a heretic.

And wants fellow ETS members to join him in dishonorably discharging Dr. Licona.

Christians are unhappy with atheists; they abhor apostates.

(Edited to Add:

Now Albert Mohler has also joined the fray, on the side of….drum roll, please…..Dr. Geisler.)