It is always troubling to me when Christians go to court to settle differences. After spending 15 years in the Christian day school ministry, I was amazed at how easy it was for some parents of students to threaten law suits to gain leverage to get the school administration to do what they wanted with regard to their children. When I served as a middle school principal at a Christian school, we consulted a lawyer and developed a series of documents to release the school and its employees from liability, including the language “even in the event of negligence” In each of these documents, we cited out school’s enrollment policy, which quoted I Corinthians 6:1-7 in noting that lawsuits among believers are unacceptable, and that the school’s policy prohibited parents from filing them against the school.
We were, of course, advised that ultimately, if a parent wanted to file a lawsuit, even if there was a signed, notarized document in the file indicating that they had agreed not to do so, we would be hard pressed to stop it. Still, by putting those principles in the enrollment agreement, we were emphasizing our desire to be governed by the scriptures.
So, does the lawsuit filed by Otto Arango against the BGCT, the Baptist Standard, David Montoya and others violate the scriptural principles found in I Corinthians 6? I think it does.
Paul’s words to the church at Corinth regarding lawsuits are based on two principles. One is the principle of Christian unity. Disputes in the church were to be settled, because the continued existence of the Christian community depended on it. In the early church, there was no option for disgruntled members to head down the street to the next Baptist church, or the next church. The “church” was, in most cases, a small group of individuals in a sea of pagans. Their survival, as well as their success in ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ, depended on their unity. They could not afford the distractions brought about by disputes and disagreements they could not settle.
The other principle related to setting a good example in front of the pagan world. Lawsuits brought by Christians against other Christians, in the world of the early church, would most certainly be heard by pagan judges and lawyers. The credibility of the faith, while it rests in the work of Jesus, would still be damaged in the eyes of unbelievers when they see Christ-followers behaving selfishly, seeking their own way.
I believe those principles in that scripture passage still apply today, and in much the same way with regard to this issue. I believe these words of Paul instruct us, as believers, to settle our differences in the church, not in the courts. I believe these words of scripture especially apply to disputes that involve matters within the church, such as this one.
Valleygate was an unfortunate episode that occurred when the system of accountability that was in place was replaced by the favor-granting of a good ole boy network that was tempted by quick statistical growth. It continues to be unfortunate in that it continues to drain resources and energy from the BGCT at a time when it can ill afford to lose any more.
This is a time for prayer, and for God’s will to be done. My prayers are with the BGCT leadership, and with the others named in the suit, including David Montoya. I do not see that any good will come of this, nor of a settlement.