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