Pastor Sues Former Parishioners

Christians are not supposed to sue one another. If they have disputes, they should work them out privately, within the church, not in public courts. That’s the gist of I Corinthians 6:1-7.

Here’s an especially egregious violation of this command: a pastor has filed a lawsuit against former members of his church. One would expect a pastor to exhort his members not to sue, and to lead by example, not to be the plaintiff himself. Moreover, the people he is suing have accused him of sexual harassment, and he is suing them for defamation. Whether he’s guilty or innocent, this looks like a serious attempt to squelch accusations and even defame his accusers. And it could have a chilling effect on other victims who now have one more reason not to come forward.

Whether or not he’s guilty, and whether or not his accusers have defamed him, this kind of dispute belongs in the church, not in civil courts. Hopefully the Indiana court will dismiss this action and send it back to where it belongs, the church. Indeed, the former pastor’s denomination, the Presbyterian Church of America, has initiated disciplinary proceedings against him. According to some reports, the process is not going well – but that’s not a reason to bring this into the civil court system, contrary to God’s Word. That’s a reason to beef up church discipline systems so that they mete out justice even better than the legal system.

Apologize Without “Sorry”

Sometimes an apology is warranted, but saying “I’m sorry” isn’t the best way to do it. While this phrase should always be considered when pondering an apology, sometimes other phrases will actually be more helpful to the particular situation. Consider this article from a business school professor, Stop saying “I’m sorry” at work–and use these 3 phrases instead, says Wharton psychologist.

He recommends statements that practice accountability while suggesting solutions to help move things forward, rather than dwelling on past mistakes. For example, intsead of saying “I’m sorry for being late,” say, “Thanks for your patience.”

The point is to be willing to apologize when you’ve made a mistake, and to think carefully about how to word your apology so that it attempts to repaire the relationship.

Free At Last: Expungement

Free at last! Jesus frees us from the guilt and shame of our sin, but only the state can free us of a criminal conviction. The process is called expungement, and I had the privilege yesterday of seeing a friend’s conviction expunged. Like so many of us, she “did something stupid” long ago, and she has had this conviction tied to her identity ever since. Every job application, applications for membership in organizations, even an application to minister to children at church, brings the dreaded question, “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?” Now my friend can honestly answer, “No.”

I love the concept of expungement because it parallels what Jesus does for us when we confess our sins to Him. Our criminal act offends the state; our sin offends God. The state expunges; God forgives. The criminal conviction is still a part of a person’s official record, but it is not visible; it cannot be used against the person. Likewise, sin is still a part of our past, but God removes it “as far as the east is from the west” and does not count it against us. (Psalm 103).

Neither process is easy. The steps involved in applying to expunge a conviction are many, including sending applications to the state police, attorney general, and prosecutor, being fingerprinted, and appearing before the sentencing judge. Confessing our sin may also be a process as we move beyond our own defensiveness and pride and admit we have failed.

So much in life weighs us down. Expungement is one of the few gifts that lightens our load. I’m happy for my friend, and happy that I could be part of the process of helping her attain a small measure of freedom.

Online Dispute Resolution: Is It Working?

Michigan was one of the few states that was ahead of the curve when the lockdown began, because it had already implemented an online dispute resolution (“ODR”) process and trained mediators to mediate these cases in a chatroom-like mode — asynchronous, no cameras required. A good example of a court ODR system is the program in Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus, Ohio. But a recent survey of online dispute resolution programs nationally raises questions about the effectiveness of ODR. The Markup, a nonprofit that covers stories on the impact of technology on society, found that, while some courts had success, especially with traffic cases, many parties to civil lawsuits could not access the platform, resulting in low resolution rates in small claims cases. In New Mexico, an audit determined that only 2.4% of cases filed in its statewide ODR system resulted in settlements. In Florida, three courts terminated ODR programs due to technical issues; another court said no one signed up to use it. Our own Michelle Hilliker, with Michigan’s State Court Administrative Office Office of Dispute Resolution, noted the challenge of getting the defendant to participate. The process relies on the plaintiff to supply the defendant’s email, and often the plaintiff doesn’t know it or supplies an incorrect one.

I received training to mediate ODR cases a couple years ago, mediation being an option if parties aren’t able to negotiate their own settlement. I liked the process — because the dialogue is done by typing, the process is slowed down, giving each side time to think about their next move, unlike an in-person conversation where parties may feel rushed to respond. But I had trouble with the technology, and so did the parties. I definitely think there’s a place for ODR, and I suspect we’ll view it more favorably in five or ten years, but right now, it needs some work.

Apology Atrophy?

A recent column in the New York Times by Jessica Bennett (“Hes’s Sorry, She’s Sorry, Everybody is Sorry. Does it Matter?“) notes that public apologies just don’t seem to be making us feel better these days. Where ten years ago the public apology seemed like sufficient punishment to restore the offender to society, now it is more apt to leave us unsatisfied. Is it because the public apology has become so ubiquitous, trotted out for both the large and the smallest of infractions? Have we become cynical towards public apologies, so that, while we demand them, we never find them sincere? This article preceded the Will Smith apologies for his behavior at the Academy Awards ceremony earlier this month. Has he apologized enough? There will always be a place in personal relationships for apology, but the contours of the public apology may be changing.

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