March 11 2010

Washington Post article
July 24, 1993

Sam Ericsson: Advocate for Today’s Testament

by Carey Kinsolving

Harvard Law School graduate Sam Ericsson has offered his counsel in the last two years on religious liberty and justice to people from 146 countries, including six heads of state and 12 chief justices, without charging one dime in legal fees.

Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan serves as the inspiration for the free counsel Ericsson gives under the auspices of the volunteer and donor-supported organization he founded, “Advocates International.”

“The Good Samaritan had compassion when he saw the robbed, beaten man lying half dead in the road,” Ericsson said. “Advocates seeks to serve as a voice of compassion for justice, religious liberty and reconciliation on behalf of the ‘least of these my brethren’ without regard to race, economic standing or faith tradition.”

Ericsson, 49, comes well-prepared for his Good Samaritan mission. He has participated in 34 cases involving religious freedom and civil liberties that were heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. He served as lead counsel in the landmark California case against nonlicensed counselors and was successful in getting a law on equal access through Congress that protects religious meetings at public schools. For 10 years he served as director for the Christian Legal Society.

“Proactive” is the defining word Ericsson uses to describe Advocates’ uniqueness. He praises the work of other human rights organizations but says Advocates’ mission is to penetrate the corridors of power by helping government officials formulate constitutions that promote freedom. Advocates now has legal counsel in Albania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Nepal, Pakistan and Russia.

Proactive functions include seminars for judges and lawyers in Eastern Europe. Roger Sherrard of Poulsbo, Wash., a lawyer who serves as a chairman of the board for Advocates, is leading a seminar team in Albania next week at the request of the Albanian minister of justice. The Albanian seminar will address topics such as due process, fundamental human rights and freedom of speech. The seminar team comprises three Christian judges from different ethnic backgrounds (Hispanic, black and white) and from different regions (the Southwest, the East Coast and the South).

The overall goal of Advocates is “to keep the playing field level for democracy,” Sherrard said. “Christian lawyers have a real heart for this because they see the importance of religious freedom and an independent judiciary. Religious freedom is a barometer for freedom in general.”

Ericsson rejects the “power broker” image that some lawyers seem to relish. Instead, he has adopted a “servant-leader” model. He and his international network of lawyers cherish the role of being “counsel to” those in authority in government and the church, as opposed to being retained as “counsel for” any individual, official or group.

Role models for Ericsson’s concept are abundant in the Hebrew scriptures (Joseph, Nehemiah, Esther, Mordecai, Daniel and Obadiah). They served as “counsel to” government authorities who held radically different theological views.

The servant role is more than a platitude for Ericsson and his wife, Bobby. For 23 years, they have played host to more than 200 visitors in their home. Their stays have ranged from overnight to more than a year. Their profiles range from runaways, battered wives and foreign students to the vice president of an Eastern European country, members of the Russian parliament and royalty from Africa. The open-house philosophy creates a relaxed environment to develop deep and trusting relationships, Ericsson said.

Last week, the global open-house network came into play. Ericsson’s fax machine heated up with urgent messages from Christian leaders urging action against a proposed law by Russian lawmakers to ban foreign missionaries from proselytizing in Russia.

Ericsson received a phone call informing him that a member of the Supreme Soviet, who has stayed in his home twice, was coming to Washington. Ericsson arranged for the Russian legislator to stay an extra week at his home in Springfield.

“He thinks he’s coming to the states only for government business, but he doesn’t realize that God may have brought him here to intervene on behalf of those who want religious freedom in Russia,” Ericsson said.

Such statements are typical of Ericsson’s world view. The sovereignty of God is the lens through which he sees a tightly woven tapestry of “divine coincidences.” For Ericsson, “His-story,” or true history, is living life sensitive to the vertical dimension so that “when God’s will and our actions coincide, we have a coincidence.”

“I want you to rediscover a God who is alive, active, real and personal,” Ericsson told the congregation last Sunday at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, “He’s not just the subject matter of a textbook. He’s a person.”

Ericsson likes to think of God working in three eras: Old Testament, New Testament and Today’s Testament. “The uppercase Gospel is that God in Jesus Christ became man and died for the sins of the world,” Ericsson said. “But the lowercase gospel is that Christ lives in us, and we are the rest of the story.”

Perhaps the task chosen by Ericsson, Sherrard and their network is best summarized by a June letter from a pastor in Nepal, where Hinduism is dominant: “We have reached a point where we see in front of our very eyes the case of Christians. We have nobody of influence here who can speak on our behalf. Particularly at this time of our need, we are calling upon Advocates International to intervene.”