water polo store Lawyer with Texas Panhandle ties brings religious texts to the public
Lewis’ “Narnia” books and a piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It takes just one Texan: Mark Lanier.
“I wanted to be a preacher,” said the graduate of Lubbock’s Mackenzie Junior High and Coronado High School, head of the Lanier Law Firm and creator of the Lanier Theological Library next to his house in northwest Houston.
But after earning a degree in biblical languages at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., in 1981, Lanier took the advice of a Lubbock preacher that “I should be a lawyer and still teach or preach on the side, and then I could always do it because I wanted to and not because I have to.”
He’s handled his law career and his spiritual work in a big way.
A judge reduced that $9 billion courtroom verdict against the Takeda and Eli Lilly drug firms substantially, but it’s likely to remain in the many millions. That 2014 case is only one of many Lanier and his firm have won since his first big one, a $473 million verdict in 1993 for a small oil company over a big oil firm. One of his firm’s attorneys who has contributed to the success is former Amarillo resident Kevin Parker, whose daughter Amy has worked on the library website.
“I still practice law so I can preach and teach without charging for it,” Lanier said. “It’s just turned out to be a remunerative enough career that I can also build libraries.”
Lanier is 54, but could pass for 34. Relaxing in his library office in an upholstered wingback chair, the multimillionaire appeared more at home in a red Lacoste polo shirt, jeans and Toms shoes with no socks than in his trial lawyer suit and tie. Draped over the back of the chair was an afghan his grandmother had knitted. He said the library resulted from his need for a place to research lessons for his weekly Sunday school class at Champion Forest Baptist Church. He had floated the idea with his wife, Becky, also an attorney and a Lubbock native.
He recalled going to his pastor and saying, “I can’t talk my wife into this. If I build this, you’d use it, wouldn’t you? And he says, ‘Sure, I think a lot of people would.'”
So in 2010, the research facility opened, a 17,000 square foot building based on architectural features at Oxford University.
To design the stone and wood library, Lanier started by calling his son, then teaching at the 900 year old British institution, on a Tuesday and asking if he could fly over for a Friday Oxford tour. “I want you to figure out the seven prettiest libraries in Oxford, and I need to see them,” he told his son. “So he shows me the libraries. I’ve got pictures of him standing on a chair holding tape measures.”
Lanier flew back Saturday so he could prepare for his Houston Sunday school class. “We started building on Monday,” he recalled.
“We’ve got 17 seminaries and grad schools that use this as a principal research library,” he said.
The library has about 85,000 books and 20,000 journals. Lewis, artwork from Lewis’ “Narnia” book series, two copies of the original 1611 King James Bible and a rare fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“It’s the oldest copy of Amos in the world today,” Lanier said. “It dates from the time of Christ. I’d like to say I’ve got ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one,’ you know, the Shema out of Deuteronomy. No, mine is, ‘Your wife will be a prostitute in the city and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.’ But hey, it’s in the Bible.”
Similar fragments have sold for up to $1.5 million.
Lanier’s property also includes the Stone Chapel, a 275 seat building with 2 foot thick walls and colorful ceiling art reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel. in Cappadocia, modern day Turkey. A miniature train circles part of the 35 acres, and just outside the library are a full size copy of TARDIS, the police box in which Doctor Who travels in the British TV science fiction series, made from specs from the show, plus a killer robot replica.
For two decades, Lanier has hosted Christmas parties with live entertainment by celebrities from Bon Jovi to Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. He appeared in the film “Puncture,” starring Chris Evans and based on one of his court victories. He gets Christian performer Phil Keaggy to do music for his Sunday school presentations. He’s on first name terms with the host of Fox Business’ “Varney Co.”
The Texas Tech law school includes the Mark and Becky Lanier Professional Development Center thanks to a $6 million donation.
But his first loves are his family and faith. He spends hours on his Sunday class, which started with a focus on biblical literacy and has covered church history and Old and New Testament surveys.
In 2014, he published “Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith,” and he’s working on more books, including one tentatively called “Atheism on Trial” and a comparison of the teachings of Paul in light of modern science and knowledge.
He’s spent a year putting together a sensible reorganization of the Bible.
“You read through the Bible in a year, you don’t even meet Jesus until mid October,” he explained.
Lanier’s idea is to focus on the books of John, Acts and Revelation and to include footnotes that guide the reader to the rest of scripture that supports those writings. He hopes to publish the reordered scripture in 2017.