Altared Expectations

Altared Expectations
The ABA Journal has an article in this month’s edition about lawsuits against churches, entitled “Altared Expectations.” It notes that there was a time when lawsuits against churches were incomprehensible. I think this came from both sides: parties didn’t think of bringing legal actions against churches, and courts did not entertain them even if they did. But since the 1980’s, the litigation explosion has touched churches as well.

One lawsuit mentioned in the article was brought by a Tennessee man who alleges that church leaders assaulted him in the course of trying to exorcise a demon. Another concerns a pastor who refused to allow a certain headstone in the church cemetery in North Vernon, Indiana. The plaintiff in that case, the wife of the deceased, had a headstone fashioned in the shape of a couch, sporting the logos of the Indianapolis Colts and NASCAR, as well as images of a dog and a deer, and the pastor evidently doesn’t think it belongs in a Catholic cemetery.

St. Paul, in one of his letters to the Corinthians, warned believers not to bring their civil disputes into the courts. He basically tells them that they should be ashamed of themselves for not seeking wise arbiters within their church community, and insists that it’d be better for them to be wronged or defrauded than to sue in the local court. He implies that it’s a bad witness. This article in the ABA Journal proves his point.

These cases really ought to be resolved within “the church,” whether within a local congregation, or at least among believing Christians. Unfortunately, most churches aren’t equipped to do this. Peacemaker Ministries has stepped into the breach, with a wide array of resources designed to help the Church take back its responsibility for its conflicts. It even has contract clauses that parties can insert in their contracts to specify that, if a dispute arises, it will be resolved through Christian mediation or arbitration, rather than in court. A Pennsylvania appellate court just upheld a Christian conciliation clause in an employment contract, proving that courts are willing to enforce these clauses that send the case back to “the church.”

Shame on us Christians for our “altared expectations.”


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