Among Christian leaders, 82% say the Bible does not forbid Christians to sue each other, according to a new poll from the National Association of Evangelicals.
The NAE poll, which was conducted among its board of directors, referred to 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, where Paul gives commands on conflict resolution to the church in Corinth.
“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?” the letter reads.
Paul’s letter said that instead of taking fellow Christians to court in a lawsuit, Christians should decide the matter together with other Christians. One day, Christians will judge the world, so they should be competent enough to resolve quarrels inside the church.
The letter also said that for Christians, having lawsuits is a defeat, and asked believers why they are unwilling to be cheated. The letter did not mention lawsuits between Christians and unbelievers.
Most evangelical Christian leaders said the Bible passage does not forbid all civil suits between Christians.
“Obviously it is a bad witness of Christian brothers and sisters to take one another to public court to resolve conflict, especially when it is the case of members of the same congregation as in the Corinth scenario. In the 21st century even Christians need legal contracts of agreement and may have to settle disputes in the public court. Nonetheless, it is best when members can sort out matters of conflict by coming together for open discussion, prayer and the goal of resolution,” said Greg Williams, president of Grace Communion International, to the NAE.
The Episcopal Church has been involved in ongoing lawsuits over church properties as many congregations voted to split from the denomination over theological issues. Former megachurch Pastor James MacDonald sued Christians who accused him of misbehavior in leadership roles, and Jerry Falwell Jr. sued Liberty University for defamation and breach of contract but later dropped the lawsuit.
Former professional negotiator and current Executive Director of KIN International Lary Graber told the NAE that he does not believe Paul forbids all civil lawsuits among Christians.
“However, any civil lawsuit between Christians should be a last resort, after pursuing all reasonable efforts to resolve matters without litigation, including use of professional negotiators and binding arbitration,” he said. “We live in a very complex world where resolution is sometimes very difficult. Having the possibility of a civil lawsuit can provide an incentive to amicably resolve a dispute between Christians.”
When Christians file lawsuits, they should do so fairly, with a different attitude than the world takes, said NAE President Walter Kim.
“We should do all we can to avoid taking Christian brothers and sisters to court. But our responsibility doesn’t start and stop there,” he said. “If we are engaged in a lawsuit, we need to remember that we represent Christ at all times — including in court and during negotiations. We should have the highest principles of fairness and seek what is best for all. It is also our civic duty to make sure laws are held to the highest standard in order that we and others may avoid frivolous lawsuits.”