'Church Law & Tax Report' Celebrates 25 Years
As hard as it is for me to believe, Church Law & Tax Report launched 25 years ago. In 1979, I was asked to teach a course on church law at a local seminary in Springfield, Missouri. I was a young attorney, with little experience in church legal matters, but I agreed to the assignment based entirely on my assumption that someone had written a "church law" text that I could use. I soon discovered that my assumption was incorrect. There were no such books in print!
Over the next few years, I made the commitment to write my own book. I spent countless hours in the legal library of a state appellate court pouring over every court ruling involving churches or clergy back to the 19th century. It became a familiar sight, me sitting at a table surrounded by piles of casebooks and pads of paper, working at a frenetic pace. I slowly began making progress. An increasingly detailed outline emerged, with countless references under each point to the cases I had read. My knowledge of church law began to expand. My only regret, looking back at this period of my life, was that I was away from my wife and two preschool children for so many hours each week. Fortunately, in time, my workplace shifted from the law library to my home, since my work increasingly consisted of writing rather than research. Yes, I continued to make trips to the library, but they became less frequent.
After three years, the book started coming together in final form. I typed the final manuscript myself, using an IBM Selectric typewriter with the little "typeball" that rotated and pivoted before each strike. This was in the days before computers. If I needed to add a paragraph to a page, the entire page had to be retyped. It was a very slow and laborious process!
It was at this time that a remarkable event occurred. I was up late one night typing the final pages in my "office" (a card table with a small Tensor light in my 5-year-old daughter's bedroom). It was past midnight. I put a sheet of paper in the typewriter to complete the last sentences of the book. And then it happened. After typing the final sentence, I scrolled down to the bottom of the page and inserted the page number. It was "723." My book was 723 pages long! I was stunned. That was the street address of our home. I took this as a divine confirmation that our move to Missouri and the writing of the book were all part of a divine plan. In the semi-darkness and quiet of my "office," with only the slight hum of the typewriter audible, I closed my eyes, fell to my knees, and uttered a prayer of thanksgiving. This was the first of many incidents that would affirm for me the sanctity of my work.
I decided to title my book Pastor, Church & Law, since this was the title of the course I continued to teach at the local seminary. I thought the book would sell a few hundred copies each year to seminarians, but to my surprise, it quickly passed the 25,000 threshold and catapulted me into the completely unexpected role of an "expert" on church law. I began receiving frequent requests from national media for my comments on stories involving church legal issues. Despite all my research and preparation, I still felt undeserving of this attention.