"I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren?"
--------It was reported yesterday that Jerry Sutton, former pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and current professor at Liberty University has filed a libel lawsuit against his most vocal critic.
Baptist lay people should find this at least mildly surprising, if not shocking, because of what we've been taught from scripture regarding 1 Corinthians 6.
Liberty University and SWBTS: you're on the clock. Us SBC lay people are waiting to see what disciplinary action you will take against Jerry Sutton, a Liberty University professor and celebrated graduate at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who has just filed a lawsuit against a fellow believer.
Yes, we're going to hold you to your doctrine. We've been taught by graduates and leaders of your institutions to interpret scripture literally, and when our pastors get to 1 Corinthians 6, we are told that this clearly forbids Christians taking each other to court.
Or do graduates from your institution just interpret scripture literally and profess to believe it, but when they get in a pickle they find some way to wiggle out, showing they really don't believe it?
Consider the following:
- Sutton, a SWBTS grad, took disciplinary action against his church members when he was pastor at Two Rivers Baptist church, and had them removed from the church after they filed a lawsuit to gain access to church financial records.
- Friends of Paige Patterson and SBC leaders roundly criticized Sheri Klouda, seminary professor at SWBTS, when she filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit as a last resort when she was fired from her postion for being a female. Through a very narrow interpretation of scripture we were told Dr. Klouda was violating scripture by teaching men in a classroom, and this required her to be removed from her job for which she was very well qualified.
- Mac Brunson, himself a SWBTS grad, from his pulpit in the summer of 2008 criticized Klouda for filing the lawsuit as he was preaching out of 1 Corinthians 6, claiming her lawsuit was in violation of the clear scripture on this in 1 Cor 6. He even went so far as to mischaracterize Klouda's own testimony about the scriptural validity of her case!
- Mac Brunson's church in December 2007 modified their bylaws, without any word of explanation, stating that a member of the church is not allowed to bring any legal action against the church, and that only biblical conciliation efforts shall provide the sole rememdy for any dispute arising against the Church, and that all members waive their rights to file legal action against the Church. So clearly, Mac Brunson believes lawsuits between believers, or believers and their Church, are sin.
- A certain pastor that I have not named, and like Sutton a former mega-church pastor and celebrated graduate of SWBTS, had his lawyer send me a threatening letter this summer demanding that I take a blog post down from 2008 that merely commented on news reports of this pastor's troubles at his former church. I responded that I would not take it down, as my blog post was based on multiple, credible news accounts, and I even talked personally with one of the authors who stood by his story.
- a blogger critical of Mac Brunson is called a "sociopath" in the local newspaper, and when said blogger files a defamation lawsuit, he is roundly criticized for violating 1 Corinthians 6.
So which is it? Does 1 Corinthians 6 forbid believers from using our God-ordained (according to scripture) government system for the settlement of disputes? Or does it not? Or are there certain circumstances that are justifed? Does one need to be a Greek scholar to be able to understand the nuances so they know when a lawsuit against a believer is justifed?
So we're waiting. We'd like to know.
Is Sutton in sin in filing such a lawsuit? If so, why is he doing it? If not, why was Klouda criticized by Sutton's SBC cohorts, and why did Sutton's church criticize some of its members for filing their own lawsuit?
Or is the answer much simpler: maybe the scripture should not be interpreted literally in 1 Cor 6, and maybe some pastors just teach this when its convenient or when it helps their friends, but when they get in a pinch and don't like how things are going in THEIR lives, the scripture goes out the window and they will do what they want? Or maybe scripture about lawsuits just applies to the plebe, and is used as a means to protect pastors and churches from lawsuits from their parishioners in the event they harm someone?
So SWBTS and Liberty, you're on the clock - we would love to hear what you say about this lawsuit and whether 1 Cor 6 applies to all of us, or if megachurch pastors have a special exemption.
We're waiting! Tick, tock, tick, tock...