Christian Students Sue Their Christian College

A lawsuit involving Christians on both sides was filed in Federal Court this week. Several students of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, are suing their college for return of fees paid for services not received. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the college moved its courses online and reduced its campus services and activities in March, but kept the dorms open and refused to refund room and board fees for the balance of the semester.

This is an issue facing colleges and college students around the country this spring, and there are reports of other lawsuits over this issue. But, being the largest Christian college in the U.S., one would prefer that the Liberty University students and leadership had been able to work this out privately, in accordance with biblical injunctions against taking disputes to court (I Corinthians 6:1-7).

The students, who filed this class action on behalf of thousands of other Liberty students, may have selected their attorney, a class-action specialist from Chicago, for his legal expertise more than his familiarity with Scripture; if so, they have a wonderful opportunity to show him how Christians resolve their disputes, in love, in private. The college likewise will hopefully do everything in its power to settle this matter swiftly, privately and fairly (Matthew 5:25).

Church Re-unites 24 Years After Split

Church splits are common news. But congregations re-uniting after a full split? That’s a God story.

In 1993, First Baptist Church of Ellisville, near St. Louis, Missouri, divided in two: 400 members left to start a new church, and 400 stayed behind. The new church, West County Community Church, built a building five miles down the road from their former church. For the next 23 years, both churches carried on separately. In 2016, the Community church got a new pastor, who learned of the history and thought about reconciliation: “The gospel is seeing broken pieces put back together. That’s the redemptive story.”

Then leaders of both congregations realized that the other church had resources they lacked, and they began to consider a merger. The original church had a graying membership and an aging building in need of costly repairs; the new church had a beautiful structure but insufficient funds to maintain it, and insufficient numbers to fill it. Not everyone was in favor of a merger, especially those members who were still hurt by the split. But many saw this as an answer to prayer, and in 2017 the leaders of both churches started merging the two congregations that had once been one.

They acknowledge they made some mistakes as they merged the two church cultures, and they lost some members, but apparently the re-united church is now thriving, with a new name, Fellowship of Wildwood. The congregation worships in the newer building; the proceeds from sale of the original building paid off the mortgage for the newer one.

I would be interested to hear more specifically what they did to heal the wounds from the church split. Contrary to the saying, time does not heal all wounds, and conflicts present unique opportunities to experience the power of the gospel. But this is a hopeful story in a time when we long to see signs that God is at work among us.

Conflict With Your Ex Over Parenting? There’s an App for That

The “stay home” orders around the world are forcing us to minimize personal meetings and maximize technology. One example: mediators and family judges often met with divorced or separated parents to help them resolve issues regarding their children, like child support, parenting time, and education. Those in-person meetings are no longer available, at a time when demand may be increasing due to the stress of the pandemic.

Technology to the rescue: the co Parenter app. According to an ABA report,  “CoParenter is a platform that allows users to create parenting plans and decide everyday issues, such as whether a teen should be allowed to get a mohawk or tattoo. A paid yearly or monthly subscription includes on-demand access to a network of mediators to help the parents reach a resolution if they can’t agree. Its creator, Jonathan Verk, realized that many angry parents waiting in courtrooms to have a judge decide their parenting disputes were not fighting about legal issues, so they didn’t really need a judge or attorney. And they were unrepresented. So he created an app that “allows divorced or divorcing couples to interact in a businesslike manner that eliminates conflict. The app uses machine learning to identify hostile language that can derail negotiations.Mr. Verk presented his app at the ABA Techshow 2020 held in late February in Chicago – a perfect time, as it turned out, to tout a technological solution to a problem that was about to become almost impossible to address in person.

Will the app render mediators obsolete? Not likely, humans beings being what they are. But it could help frustrated couples work through at least some of their issues. It’s just another example of how technology is intersecting with dispute resolution.

Apology is Better Without “Any”

Public apologies are hard to do well. Just ask the leaders of the University of Michigan. With reports about sexual misconduct from a former sports doctor going public last week, U of M President Mark Schlissel issued an apology to “anyone” who was harmed by Dr. Anderson, according to a Detroit News report. What if he had apologized to “everyone” harmed, instead of “anyone” harmed? Use of the word “any” in an apology is risky; it may protect against admission of responsibility, but it also undermines sincerity.

So this week, President Schlissel and the Board of Regents issued another statement. It begins, “We are sorry for the pain caused by the failures of our beloved University.” No equivocating here; the University acknowledges that it failed, and pain resulted. Imagine how much weaker this statement would sound if it had said, “We are sorry for any pain…” or, “…caused by any failures…”

U of M still has a big mess on its hands, but at least it’s improving its apologies. (Full disclosure: I am an alumna.)

Quit While You’re Ahead

Mediation is facilitated negotiation, so it’s good for mediators to pay attention to what happens in negotiation. I had two recent experiences that reminded me of a key negotiation principle, “quit while you’re ahead.”

In one case, I hadn’t gotten points in my airlines reward program. I made my case over the phone for why I thought I was entitled to the points; the agent said she’d give me the points. But then, I kept explaining why I felt I deserved it. It finally dawned on me: once the other party agrees to your demand, thank them, and stop!

In another situation, I was negotiating with a hotel for the “returning guest” 10% discount, which had been promised but didn’t show up on my bill. Finally the manager agreed to give me the discount. I thanked him – but instead of stopping there, I decided to push further and see if I could get him to delete another fee on my bill as well. His response: “It sounds like you have other concerns besides the discount, so you’ll need to talk with the senior manager.” That was the wake-up call I needed: I had accomplished my goal of getting the 10% discount. By trying to negotiate further, I had gotten greedy, and it would’ve probably been a waste of time. Quit while you’re ahead.

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