Christian Legal Institute's 10th Anniversary: Delegate's report on CLI

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Christian Legal Institute (CLI) was founded in 2009 with a principal aim to equip students across a variety of disciplines to apply the Christian worldview, and serve as Christ-centered leaders in their professional vocations. Presented by the Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) in collaboration with the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity, CLI is held annually in the spring and attracts legal and multi-disciplinary scholars and practitioners from across Canada and globally. The 2018 CLI, which took place in London, Ontario during the period April 30 to May 4, marks the 10th anniversary of the program.

The below is a report on the 2018 CLI by delegate Aleksandra V. Balyasnikova-Smith.* Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to hear from more 2018 CLI Delegates.


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As a first-time delegate, I can firmly attest that the CLI has given me an opportunity to immerse in a week-long learning about the current place of Christianity and its values in public life and resolution of social issues, the relationship between Christianity and law, relevant challenges posed by the contemporary social culture, and the associated tasks of the believers. The CLI also challenged me to re-examine my own convictions as a Christian and how they correlate with my professional calling; it transformed my perception of certain realities and opened my eyes to my purpose as a Christian jurist. Furthermore, the CLI has allowed me to engage in an enlightening dialogue with many distinguished professionals, scholars, theologians and fellow students from across Canada, as well as establish connections and form enduring friendships. 

I found the structure of the CLI program well-balanced and conducive to learning. The worship and devotional sessions, coupled with prayers throughout the day helped me to have a right focus, and made me more receptive to what was being taught. The themes evolved from the “Worldview & Foundations of Law” (Day 1), “Fundamental Freedoms: Conscience, Religion, Expression” (Day 2), “Sanctity of Life” (Day 3), “Family, Marriage, and Sexuality” (Day 4), “Cultural Engagement” (Day 5).

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There were also optional morning prayer walks, social activities in the evenings, prayers with fellow believers throughout the day, all of which were as equally engaging and interesting as the formal sessions. Additionally, bonding with roommates undoubtedly helped me feel welcomed to the Fellowship and be fully engaged in the process. The overall atmosphere was untainted and free from confusion and anxiety.

The presentations were clear, engaging and truly inspiring. All of the speakers were well prepared and enthusiastic to share their knowledge, experience and insight. They helped me and other delegates to critically analyze the significance of being a Christian in the academic and professional fields. In my view, the findings from the sessions were all interconnected, which confirms the presenters’ proper understanding of the Word of God and His law and its application to the present day. Thanks to the revelation by the Holy Spirit, diligent research, and investigation by the speakers, a number of substantial truths were explained. By way of summary, the most remarkable for me were the following discourses:

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(1)  Worldview & Foundations of Law

The Christian worldview was crafted by God, and not humankind. Consequentially, humankind has been provided with the Biblical law, as an expression of God’s love. Thus, our faith effectively informs our values and morals, which in turn should be reflected in public decisions and thus shape public opinions. Yet, religious rights in contemporary society have been treated as inferior to other rights and freedoms, which should urge Christians to defend our convictions, standing firmly on the Biblical truth. In order to do so, we need to think, live and act in accordance with Scripture, renewing our minds and using God-given gifts and talents.

 

(2)  Fundamental Freedoms: Conscience, Religion, Expression

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True freedom is one relative to God, with the government being complimentary or subsidiary to it, and not above it. Religious liberty fosters human flourishing, which can only be achieved by living in obedience to God and His commandments and precepts. In this context, history proves that Christianity has influenced laws in the past and should continue to do so. Yet, it is met with resistance by those who would try to impose their own erroneous moral philosophy, prejudice and ignorance (disguised as anti-discrimination) on the minority, as seen in the developments of the Trinity Western University case.

(3)  Sanctity of Life

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Biblical principles call us to obey God’s law, promote life and be committed to righteousness, as opposed to idols, such as technology. This means that the trends of using human beings as mere commodities are not only contrary to God’s design and vision for mankind, but also constitute a threat to the continuing ability of Christians to participate in professional fields and the distribution of social goods. Thus, as practitioners, scholars and academics we are called to pursue God-given wisdom, produce impeccable work, and be confident in promoting Christian worldview and ideas, without fear of challenges, knowing that it will bear fruit since the battle has already been won by Christ.

(4)  Family, Marriage, and Sexuality

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God-defined family structure serves as a trustee of culture. The latter is an external expression of worship and religion. It ought to be vertically oriented, glorifying God, not the creation.  In this vein, God calls us to follow the authority of Jesus, and by virtue of doing so we will be internally motivated to seek true justice, manifested in, inter alia, combatting global human trafficking, resisting further corruption of culture and morals, and generally reminding the State of its limits.

 

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(5)  Cultural Engagement

In order for Christians to effectively engage the culture, we ought to act as intercessors, proclaiming the victory of Christ through our life and work. This is especially timely when public law and interpretation thereof does not conform with the Biblical reality. Drawing on the previous discussion on the State’s limits, our Christian political task is therefore to protect the Kingdom of God which stands above the State. The said task begins as early as possible and may be carried out through engagement of respective law schools and workplaces, by consistently representing Christ in all spheres without fear through prayer, volunteerism, publishing and being willing, prepared, and ready for action.

 
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On balance, through the systematic exposition of Biblical truths and God-given purposes for humankind as a whole, as well as specific tasks for His children, 2018 CLI duly equipped me to be able to integrate my faith with my professional vocation and provided me with the tools and support sufficient to promote and defend the Christian worldview and accomplish God-given assignments.

Finally, from the many passages and Scriptures examined and applied throughout the course of the CLI, I think that Matthew 5:14 rightfully characterizes both the experience and the inspired vision:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”

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*Aleksandra V. Balyasnikova-Smith is a bilingual international lawyer, interpreter and aspiring educator, experienced in civil and common law jurisdictions, public and private sectors. Originally from Russia and qualified there as a Jurist (RGSU), she obtained her LL.B (University of London) and worked in Jamaica as a Paralegal in the civil aviation sector before moving to Canada to pursue an academic career. Having completed her LL.M (McGill) she is now embarking on the doctorate studies in international law. As a Christian, she is enthusiastic to continue to formulate and apply Biblical perspectives on law and serve Christ in her professional vocation.


From the 2018 delegates:

The Christian Legal Institute has left me speechless. I have never felt more motivated and empowered to use the Christian worldview in the practice of law... I am excited about the new connections, new knowledge, and new sense of hope that has been instilled in me. I have already recommended CLI to many of my friends and I’m looking forward to entering my second year of law school with a rejuvenated mind, heart and soul.
— Law Student, University of Ottawa
I particularly liked the fact that the topics that were addressed during the institute spoke to every area of my life. My spiritual life, the church, my career, I found this to be refreshing… I also enjoyed the fact that people from other spheres of life were present and we could all connect on the same level.
— Articling Student
I believe I learned nearly as much in the five days of CLI as I did in the previous eight months of school!
— Law Student, University of Alberta
Although I was dismayed by the path of our country and province on certain issues, I was encouraged to see the presence of CLF lawyers in the courts and scholarship. I noticed, however, that this conference wasn’t merely about professionalism and ideas. There were talks on loving God with our minds and many sessions with mature Christians in their fields by which those present could be encouraged… There was a real spirit of generosity, encouragement, and community here.
— Graduate Student
The Christian Legal Institute was a refreshing, renewing, and eye-opening experience that all Christians should have the pleasure of partaking.
— Lawyer
Although a lot of time was spent delving into the current issues facing our society, the instructors did not unduly dwell on the issues and always refocused us back to God’s word, His plan, and what our role is in that plan… Rather than leaving the Institute feeling overwhelmed and incompetent, I felt encouraged and equipped to continue to actively engage in God’s plan. Attending the Christian Legal Institute has definitely been a highlight of my legal education and the most insightful Christian training that I have received in terms of how to live out my faith in the legal profession... I am blessed to be a part of this community and I am grateful for such excellent people to walk alongside and learn from.
— Articling Student
Little as I would have believed it, one week at the Institute was enough to change substantially my outlook on how Christians should relate to the world.
— Law Student, Queen's University
I arrived at Windermere Manor on Sunday hoping to gain an understanding of Christianity and the law, and left on Friday with much exceeded expectations, a trove of Biblical knowledge and wisdom, and meaningful friendships and dialogues. CLI has bestowed upon me a challenge that I have only just begun, and I am honoured to have had this unparalleled experience.
— Undergraduate Student, University of Toronto
We are called to fellowship as believers, and to be like iron sharpening iron, and I believe this Institute facilitates this.
— Health Care Professional
The 2018 CLI encouraged and inspired me by exposing me to a community of serious, committed believers pursuing the Lord through their callings in the legal field. It became very clear to me early on in the conference that taking our faith journey seriously was as equally important to the 2018 CLI members as discussing legal issues... All of this deepened my conviction to pursue further academic studies, and the significance of doing so in the legal practice. I realized that this was an important task that I am willing to commit to despite my initial fears surrounding pursuing graduate study.
— Undergraduate Student, University of Toronto
All in all, the week was life changing in terms of how I will approach the different spheres that I will enter into. It was an intense week and am still processing everything I learned. After the week was over, I feel more grounded in my faith and can engage with non-believers about these issues in a logical way.
— Graduate Student, Wilfred Laurier University
The Christian Legal Institute is laying the groundwork for believers in the legal profession to do just what the early church leaders did, defending the faith and explaining Christian culture in an increasingly hostile culture. Uniting together my two passions (of legal and pastoral apologetics), the Institute was more than I hoped it would be.
— Articling Student
I am deeply grateful for the mentors at CLI who cared for and prayed with me throughout the week.
— Undergraduate Student, University of Toronto

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Christian Legal Fellowship proudly welcomed 34 delegates at the 2018 Christian Legal Institute, including representatives from the following law schools across Canada: 

  • Osgoode Hall Law School;
  • Queen's University Faculty of Law;
  • University of Alberta Faculty of Law;
  • University of Ottawa Faculty of Law;
  • University of Toronto Faculty of Law; and
  • University of Windsor Faculty of Law.

CLF also welcomed non-legal delegates, including those from the following Canadian universities: 

  • Western University; and
  • Wilfred Laurier University.

We cannot wait for the 2019 Christian Legal Institute!