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A Broken Church: Understanding the Reasons a Church Might Get Sued





I recently saw a Facebook post asking, “Should a person sue a church?” The person answered their question, citing that a person should not sue a church and should practice forgiveness instead. I believe the person asked the wrong question.


The question should be, “What in the world has happened that a person has decided to sue a church?” There is no doubt in my mind that suing a church is not an easy decision. However, when a church sets itself up as a corporate entity and prioritizes the corporate culture, it puts itself in the position to be sued. Then it’s not the “church” that’s being sued. It’s the ‘corporate” structure that’s being sued.

Unfortunately, the “corporate” structure often perpetuates harmful acts because the policies of the corporate structure become a greater priority than the practice of the principle of love in the Bible. I was pretty baffled that the person who asked, "Should a person sue a church?”  ignored the harm done to the person who was suing the church and even stated that the church should be exempt because a church is considered a “non-profit entity.”  This is not the practice of esteeming others above ourselves. (Phil. 2:3). The person identified that they are a church advocate saying the church is where people receive healing; however, the person overlooked that a person suing a church has been harmed, yet neither that person's harm nor the healing was the priority. This is not church advocacy. The person who has been harmed is the church. Protecting the person who is accused of causing harm, is also the church, and making them the greater priority instead of the Truth of what happened; confirms why a person would decide to sue a church.  It is a prideful response. Pride comes before a fall, and a church being sued is a fall.

 

The church is a body of Christ, an organism, the ecclesia, and to say that God’s people are to be immune to their transgressions based on it having non-profit status is not the way of Christ.

The body of Christ, the people of God, are responsible for not putting themselves in the position to be sued by any means necessary. Matthew 5:40 says, “ …if a person wants to sue you, you should take your shirt and hand over your coat as well.” If a person has made the tough decision to sue a church, it says the church has not handed over its coat. The body of Christ cannot be accused of behavior that is unbecoming of the Christian principles of love and then say, “Because we are a church, a non-profit entity, we don’t have to be held accountable for how we treat people, and therefore we should be forgiven for any of our wrongdoing.” Forgiveness can include accountability and consequences.


If a church is being sued, what it says is that:


  1. Someone has been wounded.

  2. Someone has expressed their complaint to those with the power to hold the person(s) accountable for the harm done and have felt ignored or unprotected.

  3. The leaders who can investigate the Truth have chosen to believe the accused instead of the accuser.

  4. The person(s) who has caused the harm has not experienced any accountability or consequence.

  5. The church has not offered restitution for the harm that has been done.

  6. The person feels they have no other recourse other than to allow another entity to hold the person(s) accountable for the harm done.


The body of Christ is responsible for practicing a loving response towards a person who brings a complaint. The Christ-like response would be to repent, put itself on the cross, take full responsibility for the harm done, and make restitution. This is love.

However, if a church prioritizes the corporate structure, it will respond in a way that is unbecoming to Christ. It will not respond with repentance, goodness, empathy, or compassion. Its focus will be to discredit the accuser and protect itself. That’s what corporate structures are designed to do. Protect itself.

You may be saying, but what if the one accusing the church is in the wrong? I would respond by asking what type of culture creates a situation where a person feels they must sue a church? If a church is being sued, it indicates that toxicity is present. Church (people) advocacy advocates removing all toxic structures within the body of Christ. And suppose the leaders within the church are not willing to eradicate the toxicity; in that case, the church is setting itself up to have its lampstand removed (Rev. 2:5), Jesus will war against them with the sword of his mouth (Rev. 2:16), be thrown into great tribulation (Rev. 2:22), God will come against them (Rev. 3:3), and they will be spewed out of God’s mouth (Rev. 3:9).

Romans 14:12 says, "…each of us will give an account of himself to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” These scriptures apply to us as individuals and to the body of Christ, the church. Scripture also teaches that those who teach are judged more strictly (James 3:1).

You may be saying, but what about the scriptures saying a person shouldn’t sue the church? If a person has decided to sue the church, then first and foremost, it would indicate that 1 Timothy 3:1-2 is not being practiced in some form,

“Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now, the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” When 1 Timothy 3:1-2 is practiced, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 will not be necessary. The leader(s) have the most tremendous responsibility regarding disputes, conflict, and harm inflicted on those in the body of Christ.

Finally,

 

In the realm of faith, where love should thrive,

Sometimes, the truth becomes hard to derive,

When harm is done within the church's walls,

And silence echoes in sacred halls.

 

When pleas for justice are met with disdain,

And the wounded hearts cry out in pain,

The need for justice cannot be denied,

To heal the wounds that lie deep inside.

 

For in the face of ignorance and denial,

Sometimes it takes a lawsuit to compile,

The evidence of wrongs that must be seen,

To bring about change and justice keen.

 

But tread this path with caution and care,

For legal battles can bring despair,

Seek first to reconcile and to forgive,

To mend the bonds and let wounds sieve.

 

But if the church persists in turning away,

Ignoring the harm, causing hearts to sway,

Then the law may stand as a beacon of light,

To ensure justice, shining ever so bright.

 

For in the pursuit of truth, may solace, be found

A chance for healing, where hearts are unbound, The pain and suffering that should not be,

Within the walls of a sanctuary.

 

So let us remember, in the face of strife,

That justice and love can coexist in life,

And though lawsuits may be the final plea,

May compassion and understanding set the people free.

author unknown

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