Christian Peacemaking on National TV

The CBS TV series “The Good Wife” depicted a Christian dispute resolution process in its October 5th episode. Entitled “’Dear God,” it portrayed a dispute between a farmer and the local supplier of genetically-modified seed, not unlike the dispute in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Bowman v Monsanto (2013) . The seed supplier—represented by the law firm featured in this series– sued his neighbor in court, then both agreed to Christian arbitration. The show depicted portions of the arbitration hearing,  including use of Scripture, to the initial befuddlement of the non-Christian attorneys. The two parties eventually stepped away from the table and reconciled and settled the deal on their own, while their lawyers argued with each other in the background.

Click here for a link to the episode — it’s an entertaining 45 minutes.

Overall, it portrayed the Christian dispute resolution process sympathetically. The producers got many things “right,” and I commend them, both for taking this on, and also for consulting with Ken Sande, former long-time head of Peacemaker Ministries, to learn more about Christian conciliation. Starting the hearing with prayer, the non-Christian lawyers learning to argue from Scripture, the more relaxed atmosphere where rules of evidence do not preclude testimony – these are all typical of Christian arbitration.

The arbitrator was more casual than the Christian arbitrators I know (including myself) – he didn’t mind circumventing the customary process, and he did little to make the lawyers comfortable with this foreign forum. But he was affable, and he admitted at the second hearing that he had made a mistake in the previous session, a nice sign of humility.

Perhaps the most endearing portion of the show was when the plaintiff’s attorney—Alicia, an atheist who is “the good wife” and star of the show — has a conversation with her Christian teenage daughter about how to interpret Scripture. The media often resorts to stereotype when depicting Christians but this scene rang true.

While the show referred to the arbitration as “the Matthew process” (Christians usually refer to it as “the Matthew 18 process” in reference to the chapter in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus outlines how Christians should resolve their disputes), it actually depicted the process in reverse. In Matthew 18, Jesus advocates negotiation first (“just between the two of you,” Matthew 18:15), then bringing along “one or two others” (Matthew 18:16). Christian conciliation further divides the role of the outside neutral(s) into two steps: mediation, then arbitration. In the TV show, the parties abandoned litigation for arbitration, and as the two principals began talking to one another at the table, the neutral was mediating, and finally the principals moved away from the table to negotiate their resolution. Most cases follow the opposite course: a failed negotiation leads to mediation, and if that doesn’t resolve the matter, parties go to arbitration.

As Ken Sande suggests in his blog, perhaps this show will help litigants realize that there is an alternative to litigating their disputes. My Christian conciliator colleagues like to joke that more people might use Christian ADR if there were a TV show that promoted it. This “Good Wife” episode is a start!

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