For more than a year now, it feels like a day hasn’t gone by without a comment thread involving “rwlawoffice,” a Christian lawyer who seems to disagree with everything I write. Even on what I believe are air-tight church/state separation cases, I can always count on Robert Wilson to tell me I’m completely wrong — albeit politely, without CAPITAL LETTERS, Bible verses, or snide/sarcastic jabs. It’s gotten to the point where, if he doesn’t chime in, other commenters wonder where he is, which is especially evident on posts about Christians behaving badly, where commenters openly wonder how he’ll spin the story when he finally speaks up.
It made me wonder: Is this guy just another Christian troll on an atheist site, trying (poorly) to convert us all? Or is it more complicated than that?
So I asked him.
I asked him several questions, actually, over the course of a few emails. Our (edited) conversation is below:
Are you really a lawyer…? What kind of law do you practice?
Yes I really am a lawyer. I graduated from Baylor University School of Law in 1986. I have been practicing in Texas since that time. I have had my own law firm since 1990. My practice is mainly commercial litigation trial law that involves business disputes, real estate, employment law, civil rights law, and some family law. I practice in state and federal court. I also do pro bono work for non-profits and churches that includes issues related to religious liberty and pro life issues.
With all of that, how does your faith play out in your everyday life?
My faith is a large part of my life. I try to live my faith daily in the decisions i make and how I treat others. I pray daily and read my Bible. I try to follow Christ’s teaching of grace, love and forgiveness. I’m not perfect and I make mistakes.
I am in seminary currently obtaining my masters degree in Biblical Studies. I don’t think that I will become a pastor, but I do know that these studies will help me in the mission work that I do through our family foundation. This is mainly conducted in Africa — Liberia and Uganda. It includes church planting, supporting an orphanage and school, and providing health care through equipment, supplies, medicine, training, and medical team visits.
What’s your religious background?
I am a religious mutt. My parents were Lutheran and Baptist. I was born while they were deciding where to attend church and so I was baptized Methodist. I was raised in a Lutheran church and went to a Baptist university. As an adult, I was confirmed as a Catholic and went to a Catholic church for a number of years. I now attend a nondenominational church. This church and the seminary I am in follows free grace theology which I believe is the correct interpretation of the Bible and of Christ’s teachings.
Why bother commenting on an atheist blog in the first place?
The main reasons I visit and comment on the blog is to show a different perspective, to correct misconceptions about Christianity, and to explain my faith including the theology of free grace. I believe it is worthwhile to engage in these discussions because the issues involved are important to our culture and to the Church. I have learned a lot from your posts and the comments. Frankly I have had little exposure to outspoken atheists and it is helpful to get your point of view.
My experience on the blog shows that the majority of those that comment have had very negatives experiences with the Church a lot of times arising from a hurtful or harmful experience. This is understandable and very unfortunate. I know that happens and don’t discount it. I also know however that most of this hurt is caused by a warped view of Christianity and that if some of these misunderstandings can be corrected I will try to correct them. Please don’t take this as a “no true Scotsman” argument. I am not saying a true Christian would not behave this way. I am saying that Christian theology can be distorted and often is.
What is your philosophy when it comes to church/state separation? When, if ever, do you support it? Where do you think atheists get it wrong?
I do believe in the separation of church and state. In no way do I think that we have a theocracy nor would I want one. I think that atheists get this issue wrong because they ignore the reason why there is a separation. It is not to protect the government from the church, it is to protect the church from the government. In other words, the protection is to allow people to freely practice their faith unless the state can show there is a reason for the limitation that cannot be handled in a less intrusive manner.
This also means of course that government cannot establish a religion because it would preclude the free exercise by those that are of a different religion or affect those that have no religion. Atheists, however, take this to mean that any mention of religion or faith equals establishment of religion and the reaction is to complain. They ignore that we do have a history of religion in our country, even in public life, involving our government. So if the government acknowledges this heritage and recognizes that the vast majority of people in this country are people of faith, they view this as the establishment of religion when it is not in most cases.
Atheists also go too far in trying to prevent individuals from expressing their own faith in the public arena, including those who are public officials. When atheists complain about faith being mentioned in the public sphere, the reaction of people of faith is that atheists are attempting to silence any reference to religion outside of the four walls of the church and to limit religious liberty to the right to belief and worship. The constitutional protection of religious liberty goes beyond merely freedom to worship and freedom to believe. It allows people to express their faith in public, including in how they operate their businesses. This of course does have limitations so I am not saying it is absolute.
Do you know when you make a comment that it’ll get a ton of pushback? The comment threads you begin tend to be the longest ones on many posts…
I know that there are some issues that people are very passionate about and that when I raise a different point of view it will get a reaction. I do not comment on these simply to get a reaction. These are the same issues that I am passionate about so I want to engage in the discussion, not simply say something to make people angry.
Do you think you’ve convinced any commenters to come around to your way of thinking?
I am not naïve enough to think that I have convinced any of the commentators to become Christians (at least from those that comment regularly), and I do not think many of them will be accepting Christ (though I truly and sincerely pray for them to) or will now vote conservative based upon my arguments. But what I do hope is that I have shown them a different way to view Christians, that I have corrected some misconceptions about the faith, and that I’ve made them think more about their positions.
Have I ever written anything that made you think, “Okay, you win this round…”? Have I shaken your faith at all?
I cannot say that I have read anything that has caused me to question my faith. You and the commentators have however raised issues that forced me to conduct research and I view this as very helpful. I will say I appreciate the posts about Christians behaving badly. I love my faith and I love the universal Christian church, and I hate to see people’s behavior distracting from its message.
Which famous Christians do you see your faith lining up with?
My theology is in line with Charles Swindoll, Tony Evans, and Max Lucado.
Do you ever comment on any other atheist blogs?
I rarely comment on other blogs.
Are there any well-known atheists you respect despite your disagreement with them?
I respected the wit, intellect, and speaking ability of Christopher Hitchens even though he took some positions that I strongly disagreed with. I respect Bill Gates and Richard Branson for their philanthropic work. I am not just saying this because I am talking with you, but I also respect your work in trying to bridge the relationship gap between people of faith and atheists and for raising funds for good causes even if those that are receiving the funds disagree with you on this issue.
So there you have it. rwlawoffice isn’t just a troll. He’s a real guy… who just happens to be wrong about many, many things 🙂
But he’s not a drive-by Christian commenter spouting Bible verses and then closing the tab. He, like many of you, is interested in a broader debate on these subjects. Coming from a polar opposite worldview (in many ways), I hope you all continue to treat him with respect as you chip away at his beliefs.