Note from Pastor Mike –This post is part of a 6 week series focused on faith and work; more specifically, how our faith affects the way we work and how we view our work. I thought there would be no better way to explore this topic than by asking members of Calvary about their experience. I have conducted and condensed these interviews, while doing my best not to put my words into the mouths of others.
Chris Jacob is currently working as an attorney at the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, DC. He has been with the NLRB for four and a half years since graduating from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Chris received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Springfield and is originally from Manito, Illinois.
How Has Your Faith Influenced Your Career Track?
For years I thought about becoming a pilot, but as I learned more about the industry, I realized the challenges associated with getting a pilot’s license and accruing the hours needed to move up in the ranks of the airline business. I then changed course and became interested in attending law school. The more I learned about law, the more it fascinated me. I began to see how law governs so many aspects of our interpersonal relationships as well as the relationship between individuals and the government.
In many ways, law is the foundation of our political and economic systems, and it is the oil that lubricates many of our personal and professional interactions and much of our economic activity in civil society. Consequently, I see a strong connection between my faith and the way we uphold the laws of the land. I believe it is God as creator who first orders creation. He then passes on to us the ability to design and maintain an orderly and well-managed society. I believe that in many ways, our laws are a reflection of God’s laws. Just as he created order, so also we attempt to create order among ourselves. God’s law is, at its core, a set of immutable principles, that is, absolute truth. When we are good stewards of His truth by applying His principles in the creation and application of our laws, we create the conditions necessary to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. In other words, spiritual precepts inform temporal, legal ones. Our laws help to maintain a just society in which people have the freedom to work and succeed.
How do you think working for the government is different from working in the private sector?
I never expected to take a government job, but the position was available when I graduated and it seemed like a good fit after other options had dried up due to the recession. In retrospect, the experience here in DC has been very educational, challenging, and rewarding. The law is simultaneously static and ever changing. Many issues and rules remain relatively constant over time, but new factual scenarios and legal questions of first impression invariably arise. My legal practice has helped me appreciate the great importance of government work because what I do influences and shapes labor law and policy at the national level. I also found this to be true during my recent fellowship at the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, where I advised on labor law and policy in a legislative, rather than an administrative, context. Private sector work, while extremely important, does not seem likely to offer me as many opportunities to have the same level of impact.
Advising legislators and other governmental officials necessitates thinking in the very long term about how the decisions made will affect how the law is applied in the future. For example, how will a new law affect employees’ lives in the future given a variety of other factors that might also shift or change? One must also consider how deciding a case between two parties in a certain manner and based on a certain rationale will affect how the relevant law is applied to parties in future similar cases. Obviously, national policy is very complex, and it affects a large number of people in many different places and circumstances. Creating sound public policy requires thorough consideration of both the past and the future, not merely the exigencies of the moment.
Labor law in particular is fascinating because work is such a significant part of everyday life for most people. We spend a significant percentage of our time and lives at work and gain more from that time than just a paycheck. From the workplace, we derive a sense of value and accomplishment; a sense of meaning and purpose; and a social network essential to our psychological and emotional health. Work is also a source of one’s personal identity. Moreover, the workplace is a microcosm of our basic humanity. You see people at their best, worst, and everywhere in between. Work fosters teamwork, achievement, and camaraderie, but at times also elicits passion, frustration, and even envy. Managing and overseeing the laws of the workplace was attractive to me because of the field’s human dimension.
I believe that the work I do profoundly affects other people. The decisions I help to make in the workplace concern personal justice and fairness. This is a heavy burden because my faith tells me I should do the best to look out for the human dignity and rights of all people in achieving a just result for both the parties before me and those to come in future cases. Many labor law issues are incredibly complex and sometimes it is hard to discern what is truly “right.” The bottom line is that many of these laws affect people at a deeply personal level and I strive to be fair to everyone and to seek the best for as many people as possible.