The Law Came in with Gail Force
By Al Gray
Romans Chapter 5 perhaps sums up Christian faith more succinctly than any chapter in the Bible. It begins with tribulations, perseverance, proven character and hope. It finishes with transgressions, condemnation, justification, reconciliation and concludes in grace. In the middle one finds the Law in a curious light.
20 [o] The Law came in so that the transgression would increase….
Whoa! Many Bible scholars predictably avoid this improbable and seemingly out-of-place role of the Law, in such a negative light. Only those with passion for the Law, a keen intellect, curiosity, and fearless determination to seek truth in the Lord, like the legendary Rev. C.H. Spurgeon, address this passage. It is too daunting for most.
It wasn’t for Gail Duffie Stebbins. She found nothing daunting. Gail, a longtime friend, mentor, collaborator, and confidant, lived Romans 5 and exemplified why the notion that “the Law came in so that the transgression would increase” isn’t negative at all. It is the lifeblood of our society, key to our Constitutional rights, and, as Romans 5 shows, it demonstrates to all how we fall short.
Let’s return to the beginning of Romans 5.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and [we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Nothing better sums up the life of Gail Duffie Stebbins for this old friend. She suffered tribulations throughout life, as all of us must, but the one that strikingly stands out from this perspective is that Gail was a capable, forceful woman who thrust herself into the melee of the ‘boys club’ of the Augusta bar and Augusta Judicial circuit. As the Augusta Chronicle reported (Her father, Hubert) “Duffie raised his daughters to ignore gender boundaries and pursue any career path they wanted, saying “the sky is the limit.” She didn’t back down, taking a particularly aggressive stance against governmental predations of her beloved parent’s property rights. Her sword was Equal Protection under the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution and her shield was the Due Process Clauses of the 5th and 14th amendments. Harmful overlay zoning ordinances with the Evans Town Center and Fury’s Ferry Corridor districts attempted to make short shrift of Hubert and Eleanor, her parents. She would have none of that. The dominant men would yield. Indeed, when a Superior Court judge threw out the Evans Town Center ordinance in a suit that Gail brought, the judge exclaimed to the county’s attorneys, “She’s got you boys!” Of course, in good-old-boy fashion the judge delayed entering his decision in the case long enough for the “boys” on the county’s staff to remedy the deficiencies she prevailed upon, and then reenact the law.
After tribulations comes persistence. She was so accustomed to being abused by the boys that Gail knew the judge was going to give the government every break in the Town Center case. She persisted in a backup plan to prove nobody else had ever lived up to the rules. We went around taking digital photos, doing Georgia Open Records Act Requests, and Gail even went to the extent of measuring distances and counting parking places to prove we were right! Our persistence meant that after her court case and our presentations, the county was never again able to use that ordinance against a determined property owner. In demanding equal protection for Hubert, Eleanor and herself, she benefitted the rest of us.
The next stage is proven character. Gail insisted in following the second commandment of Christ – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – which is at the root of law and just common decency in how we treat others. She got a lot of that from her father, whom she adored. After Hubert’s death three weeks ago, she was cited and quoted in the Augusta Chronicle “His daughter, Gail Stebbins, hopes people will remember her father as a man with ‘extreme integrity’ who cared deeply about those in need and wanted to leave the world a better place”….“He never asked for recognition,” she said. “Daddy was one of those who liked to quietly work behind the scenes.” Gail was nothing like that. The Law came in with Gail force and she was scarcely shy in defense of her family and community. She had proven character and toughness.
The last time we spoke was on the eve of our Augusta Today activist group’s intervention to defeat the Laney Walker Bethlehem Overlay District before the Augusta Richmond County Commission, in which Gail’s guerilla style defense of property rights would reign supreme. She counseled for us to avoid providing so much information about the city’s mistakes that their lawyers would correct the crucial ones and in fact advised against doing anything. It went something like “let them find out too late.“ I laughingly took half of her advice and we left enough untouched, unreported, and undiscovered issues to prove fatal should the need arise, even though we went forward in our (successful) opposition. Gail was like that. She was a fantastic sounding board.
One might think this friend would have trouble with the idea that she gathered hope. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Gail knew the score about a whole host of matters – law, politics, government, public policy, finance, world economy, and human nature. While we had not seen each other in several years, she was a steady counsel, fount of ideas, and source of practical thought. I treasured her wisdom, advice and perspective. She recognized the seriousness and precariousness of our world situation, but she had tremendous HOPE for her children’s futures.
Gail’s husband, Clay, represented our family when we had similar need to combat wrong with considerable ability and aplomb. He was a life partner in Gail’s battles and we offer him and their daughters our heartfelt condolences over Gail’s passing late last week.
Gail Stebbin’s life lent meaning to the words of Romans 5, Verse 20, that says “The Law came in so that transgression might increase.” The great Reverend Spurgeon explains that for us this way. Sin always existed, but until the Law was introduced, there was no way to measure or prove the universality of sin. Law, as Gail practiced it, was a great equalizer. It showed that all men (and) women have fallen short, even the wealthy, the powerful, and the privileged. The end of the verse explains this way: “grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Exposing inequality was Gail’s way of exposing sin and overcoming it with God’s help.
Gail knew one thing supremely. She had hope “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us…. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved [f] by His life. 11 And not only this, [g]but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
Gail adored her father. In her last interview she said this – “He is my hero.”
Now through hope and conquered transgression, she is reunited with him in reconciliation with God.
She was one of my heroines and she was a fellow patriot.
Godspeed Gail, you will be missed for a while, but we will see you one morning soon.
Your old friend,