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Heavenly Justice

Author / Coordinator: Andy Steiner
Minnesota Law & Politics
December/January 2003

Heard the one about the priest, the rabbi and the Baptist preacher? Wait - it gets even better:  they’re all lawyers! This sounds like the start of a bad joke, and it easily could be, but in this case it’s not.

A quick study of history will tell that the origins of religion and the law are actually not that far apart. Many of the same skills and talents are common to both professions.

“It makes perfect sense to me,” says Rev. Dennis Dease, president of the University of St. Thomas and the driving force behind the Twin Cities’ newest law school. “Originally, the law was regarded as one of the three healing professions: Medicine was meant to heal the body and ministry attempted to heal the soul. The law was seen as healing society by helping people resolve their differences.”

We’ve found three Minnesotans who spotted that connection early on. By combining their love of the law with their love of God, they’ve managed to create careers that fill their souls and help spark healing in others.

JIM BALLENTINE:  CALLED TO THE LAW

Lots of people hate their jobs, but it takes a Baptist minister to see a garden-variety work crisis as a sign from God. It was back in the mid-1980s, and Jim Ballentine was serving a small congregation on Cape Cod when the Lord started telling him to find a new line of work.

 “It began to be a real struggle for me to prepare a sermon,” Ballentine recalls of those now long-ago days of exhaustion and frustration. “I was burned out physically, emotionally, spiritually. It was obviously wrong for me to continue in the ministry: I was just going through the motions. I had to get out. God had been showing me since about 1984 that he did not equip me with the qualities needed to be an effective preacher.”

Still, Ballentine had dedicated eight and a half years of his life to this congregation, and he had serious doubts about turning his back on a career he’d always though he was destined to pursue. As a young boy growing up in Minneapolis, he’d dreamed of becoming a preacher. After high school he’d attended Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna and then gone straight into the ministry. But now something wasn’t right, and he couldn’t hide his distress.

 “For two or three years I thought about going to law school,” Ballentine says. “I thought that being a lawyer would be a job that might fulfill me in a way that leading a church didn’t. Finally, my dear wife Marva said to me “Either shut up or do something about it.”