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Julia Stronks teaches students to see and move beyond political divisions


Observing groups working on political issues such as immigration, violence, poverty, prison reform or abortion, Julia Stronks sees people of different Christian traditions working together with people of other Christian and other faith traditions to move beneath and beyond the rhetoric and politics played up to divide them.

“Churches are more involved in community support programs now, offering services to people who are poor, struggling and sick locally and internationally,” she said.

Julia Stronks
Julia Stronks teaches politics, law, gender, and government.

Julia said she teaches politics, law, gender and government at Whitworth University in the framework of understanding what it means to do justice in a broken but redeemed world.

“Although we are confident that Christ redeemed the world, the world is not yet reconciled, so we have work to do for justice.  We don’t just sit and wait for Christ’s return,” she commented in a recent interview.

In the 1970s, Julia said, the emphasis of the ecumenical movement was on poverty and environment, while the religious right focused on abortion and homosexuality.

During the following two decades, she thinks there was less theological discussion related to public policies.

“In recent years, we have regained attention to building common ground in the faith community, thinking more carefully about the policies and social structures needed to achieve our values,” she said.

In September, Julia began a four-year term as the Lindaman Chair at Whitworth. That means she teaches four, rather than seven courses, so she can work on three projects—immigration, sex trafficking and a book on public interest law practice.

Julia Stronks will speak at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John, 127 E. 12th.

The daughter of educators, she grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. She earned a bachelor’s in political science in 1982 at Dordt College, a Christian Reformed college in Northwest Iowa.

During studies in law school at the University of Iowa, she was convinced that her earlier passion for poverty law was misdirected, so after graduating in 1985, she joined a corporate law firm in Michigan to make money.

She was not happy.

A judge encouraged her to recapture her interest in poverty law, so Julia began teaching at the University of Michigan Law School at Ann Arbor, focusing on helping women and children who were poor and victims of violence.

Working with 90 law students, she taught law by advising them as they practiced and took cases to court.

Julia found she loved teaching.

About that time she married, started a family and entered graduate studies in political science at the University of Maryland. 

Her dissertation on faith, politics and the First Amendment was completed under a Fulbright in the Netherlands, which she chose because of her Dutch heritage.

She examined freedom of religion in the pluralist Dutch society where all schools, whether secular or faith-based, are supported by the government.  She found that courts handle cases balancing freedom of religion and human rights the same as U.S. courts do.

“Pluralism does not shield people from discrimination,” she said.

Her work drew interest from Whitworth University, which recruited her in 1993.  She came to Spokane in 1994, completing her doctoral degree in political science in 1995.

Julia described her three projects as Lindaman Chair.

First, she is working with students to study options as people of faith call for just immigration policies.  They will evaluate five proposals or past policies on immigration from Reformed and Catholic theological understandings of the role of government:  1) the DREAM Act, 2) the U.S.-Mexican border fence, 3) the Arizona laws, 4) the Alabama laws and 5) health care for people who are living in the United States illegally.

The second project will evaluate what works to reduce sex trafficking in the United States and around the world. 

Third, she will write a book, So You want to be a Christian Lawyer, reflecting on why 75 percent of lawyers are with private firms, rather than in public interest practices.

“I’ll ask if people employed at private firms can work for justice in employment, contract, tort and business law,” said Julia, who is inviting lawyers in Spokane, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles to submit stories.

Growing up in a Christian Reformed Church home, she said her parents emphasized the connection of faith and justice.

However, even though her parents involved her and her siblings as tutors in poor communities, in her high school years, she thought faith was about “holy behavior.”

Since coming to Whitworth she has learned about different Christian traditions—attending a Lutheran church while her son was at a Lutheran school and now attending Presbyterian churches.

As she teaches classes on gender, Julia said, she is concerned that domestic and sexual violence continue to have impact on employment and family life. Inequities continue in relationships, homes, politics, law and employment, she said. 

“We still do not know what stops sexual predators and sexual violence at a global or local level,” she said.  “We need to talk about it more to help demystify it.”

Students are also discussing the impact of race, gender and economic issues, she said.

For example, a black woman is marginalized because most of the research on race is male oriented and most of the research on gender is white oriented, so a black woman falls through the cracks, she said.

To help students connect with people with such multiple identities, Julia helps them work with agencies, such as women’s shelters, retirement homes and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Outreach Center, while they do their research projects,” said Julia.  “Just as I found in teaching law, experience is a powerful teacher.”

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