CEF/DIL: Lawsuits Among Believers

When I was a young child I’d do as young people often do and get into the usual kinds of childhood mischief. My parents – bless their souls – did their best to keep me in line and instruct me in the ways I should go – and being a wilful child that meant on occasion I was on the receiving end of some kind of disciplinary action.

But what happens when an organization abuses the trust of its members under the guise of pursuing a common goal? What recourse does the offended have when the offender offers no apology or restitution and the damage is so great that no matter what the offender does a substantial debt will remain to be repaid?

In the Christian world where the offender is a church and the offended parties is its membership one would think the church – being a “Christian” organization and all – would do everything in its power to make things right. It might even ask its members to help with the care and provision of their vulnerable siblings in healing the hurt and pain caused by the church’s wrongs.

In the case of the CEF tragedy what a church should do is not what it has done. In the years before District declared a “cash flow shortage” and in the time since it filed for CCAA protection virtually every level of the church hierarchy has been silent. The ABC District submitted to the legally mandated process of selling off assets the membership had been accumulating since the 1920s, but beyond that all we’ve heard from the church has been the sound of crickets.

In fact, not only has “the church” been silent in this matter, then President Bugbee actively opposed any action to help the affected depositors. That meant that grass-roots initiatives such as the “Barnabas Project” was actively opposed by the church instead of getting the publicity it needed to move forward.

When the church convention received an overture to talk about the issue, Synod offered a resolution to decline the overture which the convention then adopted.  To put this in the context of the parable of the Good Samaritan

Which of (the priest, Levite, and Samaritan), do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The (Samaritan) who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37

Lutheran-Church Canada’s place in this parable would be to land a few blows of its own and then assert “on advice of legal counsel I’d prefer not to talk about it.”

For the people affected by the church’s offence this experience has been one insult after another. “Nobody’s ever lost a dime in CEF”, “Your money is safe…bankruptcy!”, “Errors were made in favor of the gospel”, “It’s God’s money, why are you mad?” When the Lutheran-Church Canada convention declined to even talk about what happened it lost any moral authority it had on this or any other issue. It also delivered a huge slap to the face of faithful members looking for redress for the “crime” of trusting the church with the loan of their money for a little while.

In short, the depositors are opposed by a church that

  • has breached trust with them in the most fundamental ways possible,
  • refuses to engage them,
  • refuses to talk about the issue,
  • refuses to acknowledge its sin,
  • refuses to take corrective action,
  • refuses to hold the perpetrators accountable, and
  • opposes any grass-roots effort to help the people impacted by this mess.

And just like a bad infomercial – there’s even more!

The next step in the bankruptcy process is the Representative Action. A Representative Action is where a few people “represent” the interests of all the affected members. These representative members then go to court in order to recover funds from anyone they believe had a role to play in the affected members suffering a loss.

The ABC Board of Directors and Executive Committee that oversaw CEF and DIL was populated by Christians. Since these people had legal responsibility for managing CEF’s funds it only follows that they would end up as defendants in the representative actions. This has led some people to cite 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 with the implication that it is “un-Christian” for the Christian depositors to avail themselves of the secular courts in an effort to protect their interests and hold the guilty parties accountable if that party is purportedly a fellow believer.

Do such people have a case? Does Scripture allow for the church to sin against its membership in this manner, refuse to do everything possible to make things right, and then tell the aggrieved parties “and Scripture prohibits you from taking us to court”?

Let’s take a look at this passage and see what it says.

Lawsuits Against Believers

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 

What this says is that the saints are mandated to decide grievances within the body of Christ. There is no option in this and there is no “get-out-of-jail-free” the saints can use to let the guilty party off. In then follows that, if the church has a process to decide disputes between its members, its members will have no need to go to the civil courts.

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 

Indeed – the saints will be given cases to try that’ll make any earthly case seem trivial by comparison. The community of believers have to duty and obligation to hear and decide earthly disputes within its membership in order to hold the guilty accountable while justifying and protecting the innocent.

So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?

Here’s the crux of Paul’s complaint – if the community of believers are to try angels and other powers, surely there are people within the body of Christ capable of adjudicating disputes between its members. And if there isn’t that is to the shame of the community. It then follows that if nobody within the body of Christ can be found to decide a dispute then the courts of unbelievers is a legitimate course of action.

 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. 

The defeat Paul writes of here is that the community does not police its own ranks but goes to the secular law for adjudication because the community isn’t adult enough to sort out these kinds of issues themselves.

Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 

This is a question, not an instruction. And I would submit the answer to “why not” is that in a sinful world where the offender is the church itself letting such egregious cases go only encourages more of the same. The cases Paul refers to would be of limited scope and damage – it simply wasn’t possible to gain and betray the trust of massive numbers of people the way there is today. And when the church itself is implicated in wrongdoing of a massive scale, a community that would “suffer wrong” and “rather be defrauded” by the church hierarchy would lose any claim to being faithful members of the body of Christ.

But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Where the CEF matter is concerned people inside and outside the body of Christ have already been wronged and defrauded – this is not a matter of using the courts to defraud an innocent party of their rightful property. To let this behavior go unpunished enriches the offender, encourages more of the same, and leaves the people wronged by this action stuck with their loss and hanging out in the cold.

Look at the matter in Corinthians 5 which discusses a case where a man took up residence with his father’s wife and was arrogant about it.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corithinns 5:9-13

Unlike the Commission on Adjudication’s official “get out of jail free card“, Paul leaves no wiggle room for the actions the Corinthians must take. Within the body of Christ the membership is required to judge the accused and if they are guilty then expel them from the fellowship and have nothing further to do with them until they repent.

Contrast that to the current state of Lutheran-Church Canada wherein none of the people implicated in this matter have been subject to church discipline and in fact one has been elected to a higher office and nominated to the Presidency! It’s almost like the church is thumbing its collective noses at God and daring Him to do something about it.

Consider the accusation Christ leveled at the religious officials of His time:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Matthew 23:23-24

Telling people “it’s a sin to sue a fellow believer in court” on the one hand while completely ignoring the requirement to establish and enforce an adjudication process within the church is to perpetuate the abuse, ignore Scripture’s clear instruction, and ignore the weightier matters of the law, justice, and faithfulness. Anyone that asserts it’s wrong to sue fellow believers while ignoring the rest of this passage stands condemned by the very Scripture they claim to believe.

Note: The Institute for Christian Conciliation operated by Peacemaker Ministries  is an example of a non-secular organization that can be accessed to aid in resolving disputes within the body of believers.


pic-peacemakerThe Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC), administers cases using mediation, mediation/arbitration, and arbitration.  Our process is truly alternative dispute resolution: not only an alternative to litigation, but also an alternative to a secular approach that omits the spiritual dimension. The ICC provides highly qualified and experienced mediators and arbitrators who will work with parties to resolve their dispute using a biblically faithful dispute resolution process that is appropriate for their particular case.

Our Christian mediation and Christian arbitration services have been used effectively to resolve a wide variety of civil disputes, from marriage and family conflicts to complex legal matters, such as employment disputes, breach of contract, estate disputes, partnership dissolution, wrongful termination, oil and gas disputes, international disputes, and organizational conflicts. Our services have also been used to resolve matters more personal in nature that require the assistance of a trained, experienced neutral. These services are available for cases at any stage of the litigation process, and whether or not parties are represented by attorneys.

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