Dr. Edward Peters 

To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily

constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II







1983 Code



1917 Code


 Liber Extra



 Eastern Code


1152 x 864


10 jan 2013

Review of William Stanmeyer, Clear and Present Danger: Church & State (Servant, 1983) 219 pp.

Edward Peters, Review of W. Stanmeyer, Clear and Present Danger: Church and State in a  post-Christian America (1983), in Reflections (Fall 1983) 15.




Order here

It was a disappointed Edmund Burke, matriculating through the English Inns of Court over 200 years ago, who complained that his legal education failed to bring him into serious contact with the jurisprudential questions of history and philosophy. But if Burke thought the influence of jurisprudence on his legal fellows was incomplete then, he would have to say that such influence today is practically nonexistent. This frightful severance of law from its historical and philosophical roots bodes badly not just for law students and lawyers, but for the greater community which they should be serving.


While there are still a fair number of American law school professors who have some sympathy for Christian principles, surely there are only a handful of such professors striving to make these principles the guiding lights for our legal problems. That is, there are only a few legal educators who realize that law, when cut off from history, philosophy, and even theology, is no longer law, but a perversion of law. Fortunately, this small group numbers Williams Stanmeyer as of its own.


Stanmeyer successfully demonstrates just how clear and present are the dangers facing Christians in a post-Christian America: “There is considerable evidence,” he writes, “that the uneasy truce and occasional skirmish between the forces of the world and those Christians willing to battle for their faith will break out into the modern equivalent of full-scale persecution: cultural suppression leading to legal proscription… Unless we repent of our spiritual laziness and civic torpor, we can expect even overt persecution.” These, observations distinctly Dawsonian.


Considerable attention is devoted here, naturally, to those two topics which a Christian lawyer and family man would find most distressing today: the positivistic, clique-controlled federal courts, and the relativistic, secular humanist public schools. Stanmeyer, who writes with the rare tone of gentleman, offers some telling criticisms of these two groups which seek to impose their clueless ethic upon a nation and its children.


Stanmeyer has aptly termed his book a “meditation” – an art which we must assume too few Christian professionals practice. As such, Stanmeyer is not limited simply to the realm of law and schools, but discusses also sexual morality, family life, and general public policy. Like other meditations, some points in Stanmeyer’s study are occasionally repetitious, but they are usually points which bear well such thoughtful repetition.


Toward his antagonists, particularly the secular humanists, Stanmeyer is kind; one might almost say too kind. “The great danger to Christians in the Western countries,” says Stanmeyer, in his own italics, “is not that the ascendant secular humanists are bad men and women, but that they are by and large good men and women.” I think this, regrettably, too strong a statement.


As Christians, we must refrain from judging others, in part because we are prone to judge incorrectly, But, I suggest, “judging” means more than just condemning others; it includes also praising others, especially their intentions. The mere fact that some secular humanists are working on projects to feed the hungry tells us little about whether they are “good men and women,” especially in light of other secular humanist projects to abort some people, contracept still others out of existence, and ruin the rest with pornography and the welfare state. We would do better to avoid saying anything about whether some people are “good” or “bad,” and concentrate on whether their social plans and political programs are good or bad.


Stanmeyer provides a fine apologia for the Christian wanting to enter public affairs. He leaves little doubt that politics is not a “dirty” business, but can instead be a vocation pleasing to God. Stanmeyer makes the case so strongly, however, that one gets the impression that the Christian is obligated to enter these political battles. “The duty to vote,” asserts Stanmeyer, “which surely is a Christian duty, is part of the broader duty to take part in public affairs.” But, what is this duty to vote, and how is it “surely” a Christian duty? Granted that the right to vote, to express one’s political opinions, or to seek and hold public office are all valuable opportunities for the Christian to influence men and nations, Stanmeyer does not, I think, adequately establish these as duties for a Christian. Perhaps he will develop these points in later studies.


Stanmeyer has the ability to render legal and political nuance in nontechnical language. This makes his study especially valuable to parents and teachers who are limited to the national news media for their information on law and politics. As a father, he has experienced the trials and tribulations of raising children in an increasingly pagan society; as a lawyer, he has observed the law as it subtly or suddenly brings those changes about; as a Christian, he offers sound advice about what to do on both fronts.