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William B. Eadie
William B. Eadie
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Should Christians File Lawsuits?

4 comments

I got a call today from a man on behalf of his wife, who suffered a femur fracture possibly related to her use of a drug. After initial introductions, he said to me, “We’re Christians, we do not believe in lawsuits generally.”

My first thought was, “I don’t want to twist anyone’s arm, and I’m not qualified to advise people on their own religious beliefs.” (Seriously, I’m not.) I was candid and told him that if they are not comfortable moving forward, we weren’t going to pressure them.

And then we talked. About values. About the social benefits (and costs) of lawsuits. About whether a lawsuit is a vindictive attack or a way to help otherwise powerless folks stand up against more powerful interests. About whether civil justice was just that, civil, compared with duels or vendettas.

And I realized that, whatever one’s beliefs or background, candidly discussing the values behind legal action is healthy, for lawyers and potential clients. Especially before filing a lawsuit.

I looked at 1 Corinthians 6:1-7, which is sometimes cited as urging Christians not to use the courts. The passage reads, though, about “believers” not taking church business to secular courts—airing the dirty laundry I guess, or maybe suggesting that secular courts are not set up to adjudicate what are moral, not legal, questions. I think that’s probably right, and interestingly American courts have often refused to be involved in settling internal religious disputes. Also a good way to keep religion and the State separate.

Mary Fairchild, a writer on Christianity.about.com, writes that:

Matthew 18:15-17 provides the biblical pattern for settling conflicts within the church:

  1. Go directly and privately to the brother or sister to discuss the problem.

  2. If he or she will not listen, take one or two witnesses.

  3. If he or she still refuses to listen, take the matter to the church leadership.

  4. If he or she still refuses to listen to the church, expel the offender from the fellowship of the church.

* * *
So, to be very clear, the Bible does not say a Christian can never go to court. In fact, Paul appealed more than once to the legal system, exercising his right to defend himself under Roman law (Acts 16:37–40; 18:12–17; 22:15–29; 25:10–22). In Romans 13 Paul taught that God had established legal authorities for the purpose of upholding justice, punishing wrongdoers, and protecting the innocent.

(cite.)

In the end, I have no answers, but I’d be interested in hearing what you think about whether the civil justice system can be a benefit to society, and whether your beliefs—Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Secular Humanist, or otherwise—lead you to support or reject using the court system.

(P.S., The drug that the original caller inquired about was Fosamax, which some studies suggest may increase the risk of certain bone breaks. Learn more about Fosamax femur fracture lawsuits.)

4 Comments

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  1. Christine says:
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    I enjoyed this thoughtful article about faith and values in the justice system. It’s a topic I think most people would avoid, but it seems the candid discussion you had with your client was of value to both of you and I’m glad you’ve shared.

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    Thanks for your feedback, Christine. I know I find the topic uncomfortable, if only because this is a very personal thing for people, and none of my business in general. I think being willing to engage in terms of the client’s needs was the most important part–it just happened to be religion in his case.

  3. Mike says:
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    I think by all means Christians should use the justice/legal system. Being a Christian isn’t synonymous with being a push over, or milk toast, or doormat. In fact, being meek and not standing up for your rights or trying to protect the rights of others could probably/possibly be considered un-Christian. I used to work for a very large corporation where the people who worked on the team I did were routinely expected to work 80/90 hour weeks, and work around the clock, etc. It was literally tearing up families, and people’s mental health. There was a lawsuit filed, and the two leading plaintiffs were Christians, who filed the suit to stop the insanity and injustice that was happening, and to protect future employees and their families from going through the hardships that they’d been subject to. One of the lead attorneys was a very devout Christian. Motive, how you carry yourself, and how you conduct your affairs should reflect your beliefs. If what you are doing falls within your beliefs, you shouldn’t not do something because of misconceptions, the opinions of others, or pressure. If your motives are good, and you know you are doing the right thing by all means do so.

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    Mike, thanks for your comment and sharing your experience. I think these are great issues for people to think through no matter what their faith.

    There is also a conversation going on at the forum Mary participates on. http://forums.about.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?nav=messages&webtag=ab-christianity&tid=24775