Should Christians Sue?
“Don’t be in a hurry to go to court. For what will you do in the end if your neighbor deals you a shameful defeat?” – Proverbs 25:8
By now, and if you are reading this article, you are probably aware of the biggest news to hit the Christian Hip Hop airwaves in a long time: the lawsuit filed by Flame against Katy Perry in which he alleges that she infringed the copyright for his song, “Joyful Noise”. While not much else has been reported regarding the pending lawsuit, there has been a swarm of commentary surrounding it. The comments have ranged from incredulity that Flame would sue an artist as big as Katy Perry to disdain that a Christian is filing a lawsuit, but regardless of what side of the spectrum an individual may lie, one question invariably finds itself into all discussions: “Should Christians sue?” In a day and age when the body of Christ is increasingly and noticeably advancing in to “secular society” there, ironically, is always a backlash when a prominent Christian interacts with those deemed to be “in the world”; regardless of if the Christian is in a pro, neutral, or adversarial role. The question of whether Christians should sue, however, is a loaded one and it truly divides itself into two separate questions:
1) Should Christians sue Christians, and
2) Should Christians sue non-Christians.
That, however, would bring up the complicating question of “How do you know when the other party is a Christian or a non-Christian?” and just thinking about all of the different denominations and which denomination considers which denomination “legitimate Christians” gives me a headache. So in order to keep it as simple as possible, I will do my best to fuse both questions and address each throughout this article.
When discussing the topic of lawsuits, the most used verse in support of the argument that Christians should not sue is 1 Corinthians 6:7 which states, “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?” Many interpret this to mean that we should never sue and that it doesn’t matter if someone breaks into your house, steals everything you have (including your debit and credit cards and the money in your bank accounts), the Bible says turn the other cheek. But if we look at the context of that passage in 1 Corinthians 6:1-7, we see that Paul was never stating that God prohibits lawsuits. After all; throughout history, God has called men and women to hold judicial positions – from Moses to King Solomon. God, Himself, is the great Judge. In that passage though, Paul was speaking to the ineptitude of believers to judge disputes among themselves. As believers, who are not only called out of the worlds’ way of doing things, but are also recipients of Gods’ divine grace and wisdom, it only makes sense that we should be able to judge amongst ourselves. We are supposed to be the examples for the world. That is why in the preceding verses Paul said, “Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned 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 takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!”
So if we start with the precept that disputes are a natural part of life and will happen in the course of our lives (we’re all individuals who have convictions; even Peter and Paul disputed) then we can put away the question of “should Christians sue?” because the word litigate simply means “to dispute” and there is nothing in scripture which says otherwise. Now, I believe that we should be led by the Holy Spirit in all that we do so that even if we have a great opportunity to sue someone and recover significant damages; the Holy Spirit may tell us not to sue or He may tell us to sue. In any case, no one can really comment on the merits of another Christian’s lawsuit because, as scripture says, no one knows the mind of a man except the spirit within him; it’s between that person and the Holy Spirit within Him.
But what happens when you have been wronged by another known believer and it’s not as simple as turning the other cheek? What happens when it becomes necessary for you to file a lawsuit against that believer and how can we reconcile that with Paul’s teaching that we should be able to judge amongst ourselves and should not have to go before the courts of the world? First of all, I don’t believe that it should ever get to the point where a believer is the willing and conscious cause of a situation which necessitates a lawsuit. As believers, we should be “on top” of our business affairs. Proverbs 27:23 says, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give attention to your herds”. As Christians, our lives should be example of excellence; we should not be negligent in anything we do and we definitely shouldn’t be criminal. For that reason, I don’t have anything to say regarding criminal activities or civil wrongs because we should never put ourselves in situations where there is merit to a civil or criminal claim which is brought against us and if someone commits a civil or criminal wrong against you, I believe that whether or not to sue is a personal choice and a decision between you and God. I can, however, address business transactions gone wrong and disputes which may arise out of contractual relationships.
To keep it brief, there is an option for parties who wish to submit disputes to a governing Christian body instead of a court of law. The federal government of the United States, as well as individual states, have enacted laws which allow for contracting parties to submit any dispute arising out of that contract to an arbitrator instead of a court of law (of course, it’s more complex than that; see the Federal Arbitration Act, your local state’s arbitration laws, and a licensed attorney for more information). Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution and is alternative to taking your case before a judge. An arbitrator is an officially appointed individual who is certified to resolve legal disputes arising out of contractual relationships. There are several types of arbitration, including faith-based arbitration. Many people will state in their contracts that they want all disputes, arising out of that agreement, to be decided by a certain religious form of arbitration such as those that are based in Jewish or Evangelical faith. The courts do not prohibit, but instead, enforce religious or faith-based arbitration provisions. There are only a few things that courts won’t allow a religious arbitrator to decide. Such things include issues that are solely under the jurisdiction of civil courts, the family, or the church (i.e. child custody, teaching and disciplining children, dismissing a pastor, etc.). Now, if you have already entered into a contract without a faith-based arbitration clause, and you do not want to take your case before a court of law, then your only option would simply be to not sue. It is important to note, however, that as unfortunate as it is – the fact that someone claims to be a Christian and/or attends church services on Sunday doesn’t really mean much these days. Christians are often no different from non-Christians and so it may be both wise and worthwhile to bring a lawsuit against them if there are no other options and if the dispute is severe enough. As always, however, we should be led by the Holy Spirit.
We asked a few long time Christian’s and long-time businessmen involved in Christian Hip Hop the question of whether Christians should sue. Joshua Wann, Director of Lampmode Recordings and Scouts Honor Media replied, “I think all situations hold a tension between the desire to see justice upheld, which is honorable to God, yet also wanting to be merciful and compassionate on the other person. The way I see it, there are two main questions that should be kept in view. One would be, “What will this lawsuit communicate about the church, the gospel and God?” and the second would be, “What is my motivation for suing?”. Within those two questions, we need to seek the wisdom of God to move forward in faith that the Lord will be honored and made to look attractive. In some instances, not pursuing a lawsuit would be the best thing if it means to protect the reputation of the Lord. In other instances, it is good to execute justice as that is a reflection of God’s created order.”
Timothy Trudeau, CEO of Syntax Creative had this to say, “When it comes to lawsuits between two professing Christians, the Bible has some very specific direction outlined in 1st Corinthians chapter 6. In a nutshell, Paul writes that it would be better to let it go and suffer wrongdoing, rather than seek justice from a system or people who don’t know the only One who is just. By now many are presumably ready to pounce on the glaring and obvious fact that this is only addressing two believers. It’s true, like when a spouse commits adultery, you could get off on a technicality if the party you want to sue is not a believer. And of course you cannot utilize the Matthew 18 process or rely on Church discipline when the defendant is not a member of either your local church or the church universal. But like the sinful spouse, the technicality isn’t always the greatest response. Christ could technically let his bride go due to our habitual unfaithfulness. I think the over-arching principles can even be applied to a situation between a believer and a non-believer. Bottom line, it’s always best to error on the side of grace. In other words turning your cheek and letting your light so shine. This is not pacifism or being a pushover. I am talking about holistically approaching a situation where you have been wronged and weighing the consequences through an eternal lens.”
Irrespective of your position on this matter, it is apparent that deciding whether or not to sue is not a simple choice to make, even when it is against a non-Christian. Litigation can be costly, time-consuming, stressful, and inefficient. In some occasions, the cost of litigation is more than the amount of money one would gain from a judgment in their favor. One should always seek to resolve any disputes with the other party first and foremost. Litigation is a legal tool we have to protect our assets and interests; however, it should always be looked at as a last resort and only after much prayer and wise counsel.
Disclaimer: This article does not create an attorney/client relationship and/or privilege. Nothing in this article should be construed or interpreted as legal advice. This article is simply an editorial commentary for Rapzilla.com which reflects the opinions of the author and is not intended to sway and/or convince others of any proposed legal cause of action. Please use common sense and wise personal judgment and seek out proper legal counsel for any personal disputes and/or concerns which might require legal action.
Elijah Adefope is a law student at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also a law clerk at ‘Walker and Associates’, an Entertainment Law Firm in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow Elijah on Twitter.