Talk with Justice Jay McCallum of the Louisiana Supreme Court (and NOBTS M.Div. student) for more than a moment and the humor that defines him will come shining through.
Start by asking him where he’s from.
Farmerville, in North Louisiana’s Union Parish, he’ll respond, though he’ll quickly distinguish it as “one farmer,” not plural. He adds in jest that rural Union Parish is so close to the Arkansas state line that a person might “slide right over if not careful.”
McCallum, and his wife Deanna Dunham McCallum (also a lawyer), are active at First Baptist Church, Farmerville, where he serves as a deacon.
The first of his family to receive a college education, McCallum’s distinguished career includes 11 years in the Louisiana House of Representatives, service as a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, district court judge for the Third District, an assistant district attorney, and time in private practice. In November 2020, he joined the other six justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court as a representative of District Four, the largest district of the state both geographically and in number of parishes. He has received numerous awards and honors.
But for all his service, titles, and many honors, McCallum is personable and friendly, and more interested in listening to others than he is in talking about himself.
“I’ve just come more and more to a realization that there’s not much to me,” McCallum said. He added, “Except what God has used other people to make of me.”
FINDING FAITH OUTSIDE CHURCH WALLS
As a youth, McCallum drove a hay rake for a deacon from church whose second job was farming. One day, the man cautioned young McCallum to steer clear of the broken-down barbed wire fence in the corner of the field.
“Well, you can imagine what happened,” McCallum related. “I got too close and got into the barbed-wire fence.”
For some time, the teenaged McCallum had watched men at church on Sunday and wondered how their faith impacted life on the weekdays. The man’s calm response, without anger, was a lesson to McCallum.
“He helped teach me what Christianity looked like during the week,” McCallum said. “We need that. We need to see it exemplified.”
Reading authors such as C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, R. C. Sproul, and others, helped McCallum also to understand that a believer’s commitment of self and resources to Christ goes beyond a simple “tithe” or Sunday-only commitment.
“What it means is, all I am and all I have is to be devoted to God,” McCallum said.
CALLED TO LAW
Love of debate and extemporaneous speaking as a young man drew McCallum to the “give and take” of legal proceedings.
The law is intended for the good of all people, McCallum said, and pointed to the yellow line on the highway as example. He said, “… we have found that in a civilized society that’s the best and most efficient way to get everybody where they want to go quickly, efficiently, and safely.”
Though the law can be “misused,” it remains an institution set in place by God to protect each citizen, McCallum explained.
“God has ordained it,” McCallum said. “So that being the case, He also calls people into that area to help wrestle with those issues [of justice].
McCallum is quick to note that he “falls short,” but looks to God’s grace to ground his life.
“Look, I’m not good. I can’t figure out why God put me in this position, quite frankly. I really can’t,” McCallum said. “We’re called to total commitment. We’re called to take up our cross daily. That means we’re called to give everything we have, materially and spiritually, to the service of Christ. While we all fall short, that’s what God expects of us.”
“My work is part of my service,” McCallum continued. “It’s part of my worship and it’s part of my praise.”
Criticism is part of life in the public square and facing critics without responding in kind is “tough,” McCallum admitted. Keeping a biblical perspective is key, he said.
“The most frightening attribute of God to me is not his omnipotence, nor his omnipresence. It is his omniscience because God knows the evil of my heart and He knows that even while He was dying on a cross, I did not love him first,” McCallum said. “Now when he can love me when I’m so unloveable, how do I have any right not to love somebody else? How do I have any moral basis for not showing love and compassion for any human being?”