General Counsel, American Bible Society
In the interest of full disclosure, Pete Rathbun is a past-president of the CLS Board of Directors, so naturally he might be a bit prejudiced. Nevertheless, Rathbun’s long involvement with CLS clearly comes from a considered and deeply personal understanding of his role as both a Christian and a citizen of the world.
Rathbun left a career in information technology to attend Georgetown University Law Center in the late 1980s. Upon arriving on campus, he immediately signed up for a CLS law student membership, “because,” he says, it’s natural for me to be a joiner and collaborate with others on a mission.” In this case, the mission was to place the legal principles he was learning in a Christian context and explore their relationship to scriptural principles — how they aligned, where there might be inconsistencies, and so on.
Rathbun served as president of the campus chapter during his second and third years at Georgetown. Along with the fellowship, Bible studies, and charitable events he participated in, he’s says his CLS affiliation helped him land his first job after law school. “We met local CLS attorneys at one event,” he recalls, “and I happened to make a connection with a firm that was looking for a law clerk.” Rathbun clerked for them during his last year in law school, then joined the firm full time, first as a litigation attorney and then in the nonprofit department, where he represented a number of churches and Christian ministries.
As he transitioned from law school to the legal profession, Rathbun says he “never considered not continuing with CLS. From early on, I had a sense that CLS was an important organization, because I believe that Christian lawyers should be able to work together to have an impact on society.”
For him, that meant pro bono Christian legal aid work at the Salvation Army’s residential substance abuse treatment center in Washington D.C. and at the Bowery Mission in New York. He now serves on the advisory board of Open Hands Legal Services in New York.
“Most of us,” he says, “recognize that the world isn’t all it was designed to be, and we want to be part of making it better. But it’s so easy to lose touch with our youthful idealism once life and families and other responsibilities set in. Whatever arena we choose to run the race in, I believe we can be part of the redemptive work that Christ is doing.
“In the law, it’s usually about winning the case, of course, but, more important, lawyers can also be witnesses to Christ and influence others. CLS has always helped me keep sight of this.”