Monday, January 15, 2007

Which is better? To Be Wronged or File a Lawsuit

For those who are used to finding meditations on Scripture and theology and church life at this blog, I apologize for taking a moment to hop on a soap box. However, the soap box only comes because of the teachings of Scripture...from a conviction that the church (and individuals) ought to live the principles of Scripture, even when it means suffering financial loss. My prayer, as I type, is that you will see the same thing. (By the way, when I mention the Tennessee Baptist Convention in this blog, I want you to know...I am responding to the actions of the convention as a whole and mean, in no way, to single out a church, pastor, or leader. I have no ill will toward them as men...only a heart that breaks over recent decisions.)

I live in the state of Tennessee, where we have three Baptist universities...Carson-Newman, Union, and Belmont. Back in 2005, Belmont asked to sever ties with the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) because they wanted to expand their board of directors to include more non-Baptists. To make a really long and boring story short, here are the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your view)...the TBC said no, Belmont was going to do it anyway, the TBC said "pay us for the property and buildings we gave you back in 1951", Belmont made an offer that was too low in the TBC's eyes, and now the TBC is taking Belmont to court over it.

Let's review the facts...true, there is a 1951 document signed by the then-president of Belmont saying that is Belmont ever decided to do this, the property and buildings would revert back to the ownership of the TBC. True, the offer of $5 million by Belmont doesn't come close to what the property and buildings are worth. True, it doesn't look like any more than that is going to be offered. True, Belmont is going ahead and severing ties anyway. These are the facts, as I understand them.

Before we pull out the box, let me clarify something...I think Belmont's desire to become a non-denominational school may be a good one for the school, and it may not. However, the method by which they are parting ways with the TBC is unethical and wrong. There is a signed document holding the school to certain responsibilities if the relationship ends. They should be willing to pay whatever the campus is worth. Belmont is in the wrong here, so don't take my following comments to mean that I think Belmont is squeaky clean in the matter. With that said...

THE BOX: The pastors and messengers of the TBC who voted for this lawsuit have approved something that the Scripture is T-totally against. It is foolish, irresponsible to the Gospel, and sinful for us to proceed. Why? Why such a strong statement? This is a lot of money we're talking about. We could use that money to support the other two schools, local missions efforts, the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home, etc. Don't you think this is a gray area?

No, it is not a gray area. For that reason, I will insert 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 in its entirety:

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another - and this in front of unbelievers! The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

That seems to be pretty clear. Disputes between brothers in Christ should not be taken to secular, ungodly courts. The same men who might take a stand against a faulty legal system, where judges try to legislate from the bench, are the ones who will now put their dispute between brothers in the hands of the same legal system. It makes absolutely no sense to me.

Response #1: Well, all authorities are placed by God (Romans 13:1), and so they are entrusting their case to God's authority in the matter.

The problem I have with this is that the same man who wrote about God establishing all authorities for our good in Romans also wrote this letter to the Corinthian believers. Is He contradicting himself? The bigger question would have to be: is the Scripture contradicting itself? NO! Romans 13 deals with authorities that are put in place to punish evil and keep society from chaos. This doesn't mean that we submit all of our disputes to the established authorities for their judgment...that is what 1 Corinthians 6 is forbidding. Why? Because it only takes a conscience to know right from wrong and to punish accordingly...Paul pointed out the universal conscience of mankind to know right from wrong early on in Romans. In order to judge disputes between believers, godly wisdom (not the law of the land) is necessary, and only those who have the Spirit can have such wisdom. This response doesn't hold up.

Response #2: It would be bad stewardship on the part of the TBC to let all this money go.

First of all, let's go right back to the text and quote: "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?" Apparently, in Paul's eyes, being wronged and cheated out of money is better than gaining all the money back through a lawsuit, even to use the money for the Kingdom in another way. Why? Because Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). Surely, we can't argue that taking Belmont to court is the loving thing to do. When you see Judge Judy or People's Court or you get sued, is love really the first attribute that comes to mind? My neighbor/friend/fellow church member/state convention loves me so much and only wants my good, but he's just suing me to get hard feelings (sarcasm intended).

Why is it better to be cheated and wronged than to go to court and get the money back? Because it affects the advance of the Gospel! That's a pretty bold statement, but I think I am only echoing Paul's idea when he says "one brother goes to law against another - and this in front of unbelievers!" It seems that suing each other in front of unbelievers hinders the work of the Gospel...probably because men will not know that we are disciples of Christ through our lawsuits. So, I won't even try to present response #3: this has no impact on our mission as a church. That's ridiculous for the reasons I just expressed.

It seems that all of this is an illustration of what Jesus said in Matthew 6: "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money." You know, there are some pastors (including one famous TV preacher) that hold up there Bibles before preaching and make a kind of doctrinal statement. My fear is that in our pursuit of the money "that is rightfully ours", we, as a state convention, are changing that statement and holding up our wallet (in place of the Bible) while saying, "This is my wallet. I am what it says I am, I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do."

May God save us from such a blasphemous a churches...and as individuals!