Jim Buckley – Azusa Pacific University
In 2018, Jim Buckley, who had worked as a chemical engineer, an attorney and consultant, made a faith-based decision about his life and career.
“I felt called to understand God’s word more deeply,” says Buckley about taking a sabbatical to earn a master’s degree in theological studies at The Master’s University.
His decision required obedience and sacrifice—he and his wife, Karen, sold their home and lived off the proceeds as he studied. When the money ran out, he looked for work—something to provide income before he graduated and could “go back into a church environment,” as he put it.
He applied to two Christian nonprofits, one being Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. In February 2020, he was hired as its associate general counsel.
Still, Buckley expected that a church would be his next full-time destination. In fact, he told former General Counsel Chris Jennings that he would leave if Jennings did. But when Jennings departed in early 2022, an instructor in Buckley’s master’s program imparted a message that led Buckley to accept the general counsel offer permanently.
“He said, ‘Your ministry is where you are in that moment and you need to give your all to God,’” Buckley recalls. “It changed my attitude about my practice and I took the role of being a servant at APU. I’m advancing God’s kingdom in this place where God is at work, and where every step on my unusual journey has brought me to this moment.”
Given to God
Azusa Pacific University’s mission is made plain in its motto: “God first since 1899.” The university has an enrollment of more than 7,000 students and about 900 faculty members at its main campus in the San Gabriel Valley northeast of Los Angeles and six other campuses in Southern California. It teaches “every discipline in every class from a Christian worldview,” according to its mission statement.
Buckley says Azusa Pacific’s faithfulness to its mission is being reinforced under the tenure of new President Adam J. Morris, Ph.D., who assumed the post on July 1, 2022.
Undergraduate students must complete 18 units of studies on the Bible, religion and philosophy. University faculty and staff are required to subscribe to the university’s statement of faith, and its community standards, which prohibit sexual activity outside marriage while upholding the biblical view that marriage is between a man and a woman only.
“These faith commitments are countercultural, especially in Southern California, but that’s our calling,” Buckley says. “There’s a circle of issues in dozens of places in the life of the university where we need to reflect our faithfulness to mission. That’s rooted in APU’s First Amendment right to freely live our faith in this ‘faith and learning community.’”
Buckley manages legal affairs for the university, such as contracts, litigation and real estate matters. He helps develop internal policies while providing advice and guidance to APU’s leadership and oversees APU’s Office of Campus Safety and its risk management as the university integrity officer.
Though APU receives federal funding for its students, the U.S. Department of Education honors its right to govern itself in accordance with its religious beliefs. Buckley says this was tested during seven months of discussions with the department over whether the university’s response to cultural views on gender and sexuality were discriminatory.
APU was ultimately assured that it’s exempt from Title IX regulations in this area, but Buckley says the school’s right to live a countercultural worldview has been brought into question in other contexts, too.
“I’m called upon every week to consider how to say things that are within our calling and won’t be misconstrued within the laws we are following,” he says.
Living his calling
Buckley, who’s from western New York, aspired to become a chemical engineer in high school and earned his bachelor’s degree in the discipline from the University of Rochester. After graduating in 1980, he joined Occidental Chemical Corp. in Niagara Falls, New York, as a process development engineer.
However, Buckley says his intellectual curiosity led him to enroll at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 1983.
“I loved law school because it was so intellectually stimulating with so many bright students arguing their points,” he recalls.
He gravitated towards litigation and earned his J.D. in 1986. Buckley then went into private practice as an associate with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher where he litigated matters including class actions, government contracts, and antitrust disputes while providing counsel on environmental and safety compliance.
In February 1993, Buckley came in-house as associate general counsel at Lockheed Martin. In March 2011, he became a principal consultant at a boutique legal consulting firm, then joined RGP, an international consulting firm, in 2014. He also became more involved with his church.
“It changed me in how to live God’s word in your community,” Buckley says. “My role was to be the one who got anything done from getting toilet paper to leading volunteers serving in the worship center.”
Though he hadn’t expected to return to work while studying for his master’s degree (which he completed in March), Buckley says he knew Azusa Pacific was the place for him when the former general counsel began their first meeting with a prayer. He also moved to Azusa, saying it was essential to become part of a local church and his new community.
“Work, church, and community are not separate buckets, but rather an integrated whole,” Buckley says. “At a personal level, though the workload is heavy, I love what I do and the people I work with. I feel like I am exactly where God has planted me.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall I 2023 Edition here.
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