SBC Resolution on Christians Suing Fellow Christians

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My fellow Christians, have you ever been sued? Have you ever sued anyone? A “yes” to either of those questions would not be surprising since there are millions of lawsuits filed every year in the United States. But there is a more important question.

Have you ever sued a fellow Christian?

Despite the fact that 1 Corinthians 6 has strong language against Christians taking other Christians to court, many do so anyway. Unfortunately, we Southern Baptists are not strangers to lawsuits.

For example, in recent years a seminary professor sued the Baptist seminary where she once worked.1 More recently, a former Baptist college VP is suing his former boss and school.2 A Baptist college president recently lost two lawsuits, one against a Southern Baptist pastor3 and one against a former student.4

These lawsuits among Christians are in spite of  1 Corinthians 6. One well-respected Southern Baptist put it well writing, “lawsuits between Christians are a disgrace for the church.”5 Maybe Southern Baptists can learn from a story Mack Stiles shares in Marks of the Messenger. He offers a real-life example of how two Christian businessmen stopped a huge lawsuit by following 1 Corinthians 6 by being challenged to trust in Christ rather than the secular courts.6

What are Southern Baptists to do about suing each other? How will we move forward on this issue? One pastor is trying to get a united voice on the subject since the Southern Baptist Convention is around the corner.

In light of the 1 Corinthians 6, Tom Buck, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church Lindale, submitted the following resolution.

RESOLUTION ON CHRISTIANS SUING FELLOW CHRISTIANS

WHEREAS, Christians should not dare take a grievance against a brother to secular courts (1 Corinthians 6:1); and

WHEREAS, Taking a matter between brothers to the secular courts is to the shame of the church (1 Corinthians 6:5); and

WHEREAS, It is better to suffer wrong than to take a believer to the secular courts (1 Corinthians 6:7); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, June 10-11, 2014, condemn the initiation of a lawsuit against fellow Christians; and be it further

RESOLVED, That initiating a lawsuit against a Christian is sinful and must be repented of.

Can I get an Amen?

Here I blog…

Mark

p.s. I spoke with Pastor Tom Buck after posting his resolution. Tom and I had not spoken prior. We only had a couple of extremely short email exchanges. All I received from him prior to this post was his resolution. I wrote the rest of the post attempting to gain interest in the resolution. Tom had no seen the post nor did he have any idea what I was going to write prior to hitting publish. (Also, my pastor approved of the resolution and of me publishing it though did not know how I would introduce the subject.) I came up with the example lawsuits using a quick brainstorm. A rough weekend and rough early week did not leave me time to search for other examples. I used the examples that came to mind and moved on.

That said, Tom wanted to clarify a few things due to some of the push back against the resolution and against his reasons for writing it. So, like a good Baptist preacher, Tom offers the following three points of clarification.

I woke up Thursday morning (5/29/14) finding both the motivation for my resolution and the soundness of it being called into question. I would like to clarify these two issues publicly, since the editorials were made without any interaction with me and they were posted in a public forum.

1) I do not deny that concern for lawsuits among believers has come on my radar with recent events in SBC life. I also do not deny that I have called upon Ergun Caner to publicly repent concerning his fabricated story about himself in many public arenas that lasted nearly a decade. But it is pure obfuscation to attempt to poison the well with that issue as to being my motivation to discuss whether Christians should be dragging other Christians into civil court.

So let me be publicly clear about my motivation. I think the infighting that is overflowing into the public court system is bringing shame upon the church and upon our Savior. I don’t think Ergun Caner is the only one fording these waters. Yes, I believe for a President of a SBC college to sue another SBC pastor brings shame upon the church, but I also take issue with a SBC college professor suing a SBC college.

Furthermore, I have no intention, nor am I aware of anyone else having the intention (because I didn’t go around discussing my submitted resolution), of using this as a club against Caner. My motive was purely concern for this unbiblical path to cease and for us to find a way to resolve these things out of the worldly court system.

2) Let me address a few things in regards to its soundness. The resolution was not written to be an exhaustive commentary on 1 Corinthians 6. If you think things need to be tightened up, then offer suggestions for making it less “shoddy.” But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. What we cannot afford to do is ignore the elephant in the room and let things continue the way they are. Obviously, the intent of the resolution is not a “get out of jail free” card for anyone who “claims” to be a Christian.

The point is if someone is known to be a Christian, and there isn’t good reason to think otherwise, then we shouldn’t be running to worldly courts to settle our disputes. Surely reasonable people could conclude that if the party in question is a pastor of a SBC church or the administration of a SBC school, we should start with the assumption that these are Christians. In addition, there is a difference between “criminal” conduct that the state would prosecute and “civil” disputes between brothers in Christ.

Finally, to say that Paul was only applying it in a local church setting rather than giving a principle that has wider application is absurd. Would any reasonable person argue that a Corinthian Christian would have only been wrong to sue someone in the Corinthian assembly, but if the offending party were a congregant in the Philippian church that they could sue their pants off?

3) I truly believe that the current climate is bringing shame upon both our churches and our convention. The cause of Christ is what is at stake here, and how we handle these grievances is a serious matter not to be ignored. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what side does Paul call us to err on? “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” I don’t call upon others to do what I haven’t personally practiced.

Over twenty years ago, I lost thousands of dollars due to the direct and irresponsible actions of a Christian man. He did not go to my church, but he was a member of another SBC church. I had no good reason to believe him not to be a brother. Although his actions against me were not criminal, I had good standing in any US court of law to bring a civil lawsuit against him. I addressed the issue with him personally, as well as with other Christian leaders. I came out on the “losing end” since I did not have restored to me what had been lost due to this man. But I chose to suffer personal wrong rather than dragging the man to court. What didn’t come out on the losing end was the reputation of the church and the Gospel in this world.

  1. Audrey Barrick, “Judge Dismisses Gender Discrimination Suit Against Baptist Seminary,” The Christian Post, March 21, 2008.
  2. Leigh Guidry, “Former VP sues Louisiana College, Joe Aguillard,” Shreveport Times, Mar. 11, 2014.
  3. Jason Smathers, “Caner Deception of US Marines Video Footage to Return,” Witnesses Unto Me, April 17, 2014.
  4. Jason Smathers, “Ergun Caner Fails Again in Suppressing the Truth,” Witnesses Unto Me, May 14, 2014.
  5. Jerry Vines, “1 Corinthians 6: When Church Problems Won’t Go Away,” By the Book, 2008.
  6. Mark Lamprecht, “Book review: Marks of the Messenger,” Here I Blog, June 3, 2010.
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The above article was posted on May 28, 2014 by Mark Lamprecht.
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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ewlockhart May 28, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Amen. Let’s add that those suing should not be allowed to pastor, preach, or lead institutions until they actually do repent.

2 c. shaw May 28, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Thanks for the article! A question came to mind when reading this:

Let’s say money is owed and the other believer refuses to pay up even after a church arbiter orders payment (or the other believer refuses a church arbiter altogether). Would it still be a violation of 1 Cor. 6 to go to secular courts to compel payment? I’m think of hypothetical cases of child support, alimony, services performed, slander/libel, vandalism of property, etc.

3 David May 28, 2014 at 3:58 pm

I don’t see any yea buts in Corinthians. Let us obediantly follow Scripture.

4 honkytonkpreacher May 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm

I say “Amen” with one caveat and that caveat may answer the question posed by c. shaw. The Scripture in Matthew 18:15-17 lays out the process believers are to follow when there is a grievance with another believer starting with a private meeting to having one or two witnesses to involving the church and finally if the offender refuses to repent letting the offender be “as a heathen and a publican”.

I am of the opinion that once the line is crossed to where the offender is “as a heathen and a publican” that means the offender is no longer recognised as a believer and the First Corinthians 6 prohibition on a lawsuit is thereby lifted.

5 Jonathan S. Jenkins May 28, 2014 at 7:15 pm

I wholeheartedly agree that 1 Corinthians 6 decries lawsuits between believers. I am hesitant to support this resolution though as it leaves the offended with no recourse in the case of dispute. If it were to resolve that the parties of a dispute be encouraged to appoint an arbiter I would support it. The problem is still however how would one go about enforcing it since every body or entity is autonomous (with entities answering only to trustees) within our convention.

6 Les Prouty May 28, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Mark, interesting to see how this goes. Here is more support for this line of thinking from Thirdmill.org and a Q&A section:

“Lawsuits

Question
Are Christians ever allowed to use the civil courts? Does 1 Corinthians 6 prohibit Christians from ever filing a civil lawsuit? If not, how can one know when it is legitimate to use civil courts as a means of settling an issue?

Answer
Paul did not forbid all civil lawsuits, but he did forbid many of them. Specifically, he forbade civil suits in which the plaintiffs and defendants were all members of the church. He did not forbid Christians from filing suit against non-Christian individuals or organizations.

Paul also argued that churches ought…
http://thirdmill.org/answers/answer.asp/file/39788

7 Doc B (J B Boren) May 29, 2014 at 9:53 am

You can get an Amen for everything except the grammar.

8 Les Prouty May 29, 2014 at 11:04 am

By the way Mark, as you probably know Peter took shots at you and your post. I read what he said and FWIW he is way off and completely misses it. That’s what happens when one has an obsession to defend others of their like mindedness no matter what.

9 Les Prouty May 30, 2014 at 8:30 am

Scott,

“My suggestion would be that you guys get off your obsession with Ergun Caner and offer up something (or say nothing) that would be less liable to make SBC convention goers look like public jackasses any further.”

No obsession here brother.

“Just my opinion.” Right, just that.

10 John Carpenter May 30, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Jay Adams, in his book on church discipline, notes that in the case someone has been expelled from the church (following the Matthew 18:16ff process), they could then be sued as they are no longer to be treated as Christians.

11 Stan McCullars May 31, 2014 at 12:43 pm

If Southern Baptists don’t head Paul’s instruction, they will not listen to another Southern Baptist, even one
who has risen from the dead. I think the SBC is dying the death of a thousand resolutions.

12 Bennett Willis June 1, 2014 at 6:23 pm

It is clear that Caner would have been much better off had he not brought suit against Smathers and Autry. The suit was doomed to fail for any number of reasons–and fail it did in a big way. He should wish that this resolution had been passed last year and he had chosen to honor it. One has to wonder if EC followed the advice of his lawyer.

I think that suits should be available (without this sort of criticism). In many cases this has proven to be the reasonable way to cause a resolution of the problem when one or the other involved would not seek to resolve the issue. In others it is the only way to cause a person to be held accountable for his/her statements or actions. And in yet other cases, it allows one party to demonstrate their unwillingness to reasonably work toward resolution of the problem.

In the case of EC’s suit, he clearly felt that he was “aggrieved” and resolved to solve the problem through a lawsuit. Whether he expected it to come before a judge will likely never be known for sure. However, once it was presented to a judge, the lack of credibility in Dr. Caner’s suit quickly became clear. Now, in addition to Muslims, Calvinists, offended Christians, and a few members of the public, he has judge(s) pointing out his tall tales.

13 Jerry Smith June 10, 2014 at 2:16 am

I’m not SBC, but Missionary Baptist. I agree, 100%. Once a few years back I had two neck surgeries by a neurosurgeon exactly one year apart, after which I kept having much trouble. My PCP kept trying to get me to go for another MRI, I kept refusing, for I wanted no more surgeries. Finally on a visit because I was having much trouble & pain, I let him make me an appointment for my 3rd MRI, but I told him I want to go to a different neurosurgeon. And I did. I will make this very short, my new neurosurgeon examined me, ask me several questions, them went to look at all 3 sets of MRI’s. When he retuned this is in part what he stated, “Your 1st surgery was done well, I could have not done it any better, your 2nd surgery, the doctor did nothing but cut into your neck, them sew you back up, he did not correct any problem, & you have several of them. He did not even go into your neck where the problems are, & all the problems you now have were there on the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd MRI’s.”

I did ask him, “Really, he did nothing, he did not correct a single thing?” His answered, “No, all he did was to build up his bank account.”

Sue, no way, when you sue doesn’t that mean you refuse to forgive? And what about the verses you’ve brought up. Its so sad that so many of our fellow Christians choose to sue when done wrong. And today its happening very often. Is this so they can make the one they sue suffer. It sure does nothing for our witnessing. It just makes us like the worldly people who are lost in their sins. Besides I just don’t feel we can deny our self, bear our cross & follow Jesus while heading to the court house to sue someone in order to get money from them while making them suffer.

And how about Matthew 6:14,15 & Mark 11:25,26. Is suing someone forgiving those who trespass against us? I think not. I would not try & force anyone to do as I did. Yet if someone asked this old uneducated country Baptist pastor about suing I would tell them why I chose not to while hoping they would forgive & forget too.

In Christ,
Jerry

14 Mark Lamprecht June 10, 2014 at 2:29 pm

For the record, this resolution was declined. See page 10 in Southern Baptist Convention, 91st Volume.

15 Clifford Walling September 6, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Amen my brother, agree totally, having been through this difficult process.

16 Nancy Burleson January 25, 2015 at 10:27 pm

My husband, a member of a SBC church, abandoned me to live with another woman in a non-sexual relationship. He refused to work during our marriage, without my agreement to this, and sued me for alimony. He won alimony from me, even though I did not want the divorce. He is a Christian counselor educated from Liberty University. He was counseled by our church as being outside of God’s will and when he moved back to his home town, was disciplined from his SBC of 20 years and eventually his membership was taken away.
I never, ever would have thought my Chrisitan husband would treat me like a second class citizen, abandon me, refuse to work, force me to economically care for our household without my agreement, then sue me for alimony, and intentionally harm me economically, mentally, and spiritually.
He still sits in a church every Sunday without any remorse for his actions.
The church looks just like the non church. Is there any sacredness to the marriage covenant left?

17 Danuel February 4, 2017 at 4:43 am

Yes I need direction because I have been told to trust the church who went or presented my concern to the Southern Baptist Convention.I a member of a southern babtist church.I keep hearing to let it go but I cannot.Can someone tell me who to contact .I was sexually assaulted by a minister ,more than once he threatened me to be quiet

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