Acton Institute Powerblog

Culture of Litigation Infects the Church

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The current issue of Christianity Today magazine examines the lack of discipline in evangelical churches, and is presenting the themed articles in a series on its website. The litigious nature of American culture has become one of the great contributing factors to the decline of church discipline.

A brief article by Ken Sande, an attorney who serves as president of Peacemaker Ministries, testifies to this reality. In “Keeping the Lawyers at Bay,” Sande writes that one way to combat the tendency for members to sue the church or its leadership is for the pastor to “obtain ‘informed consent’ from your congregation for your disciplinary practices…. This requires that all members be fully informed of your disciplinary policies and agree to submit to those policies.”

A key part of this “informed consent” is for the pastor to “ask all members to sign a written covenant that makes reference to your disciplinary commitments. Although a written agreement is not required, it makes proving informed consent easier, and gives you something to fax to a threatening attorney to show him that this is a case he probably can’t win.” I wonder how many of us would balk if our pastor approached us with something like this?

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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