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I got a call today from a man on behalf of his wife, who suffered a femur fracture possibly related to her use of a drug. After initial introductions, he said to me, “We’re Christians, we do not believe in lawsuits generally.”

My first thought was, “I don’t want to twist anyone’s arm, and I’m not qualified to advise people on their own religious beliefs.” (Seriously, I’m not.) I was candid and told him that if they are not comfortable moving forward, we weren’t going to pressure them.

And then we talked. About values. About the social benefits (and costs) of lawsuits. About whether a lawsuit is a vindictive attack or a way to help otherwise powerless folks stand up against more powerful interests. About whether civil justice was just that, civil, compared with duels or vendettas.

And I realized that, whatever one’s beliefs or background, candidly discussing the values behind legal action is healthy, for lawyers and potential clients. Especially before filing a lawsuit.

I looked at 1 Corinthians 6:1-7, which is sometimes cited as urging Christians not to use the courts. The passage reads, though, about “believers” not taking church business to secular courts—airing the dirty laundry I guess, or maybe suggesting that secular courts are not set up to adjudicate what are moral, not legal, questions. I think that’s probably right, and interestingly American courts have often refused to be involved in settling internal religious disputes. Also a good way to keep religion and the State separate.

Mary Fairchild, a writer on Christianity.about.com, writes that:

Matthew 18:15-17 provides the biblical pattern for settling conflicts within the church:

  1. Go directly and privately to the brother or sister to discuss the problem.

  2. If he or she will not listen, take one or two witnesses.

  3. If he or she still refuses to listen, take the matter to the church leadership.

  4. If he or she still refuses to listen to the church, expel the offender from the fellowship of the church.

* * *
So, to be very clear, the Bible does not say a Christian can never go to court. In fact, Paul appealed more than once to the legal system, exercising his right to defend himself under Roman law (Acts 16:37–40; 18:12–17; 22:15–29; 25:10–22). In Romans 13 Paul taught that God had established legal authorities for the purpose of upholding justice, punishing wrongdoers, and protecting the innocent.

(cite.)

In the end, I have no answers, but I’d be interested in hearing what you think about whether the civil justice system can be a benefit to society, and whether your beliefs—Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Secular Humanist, or otherwise—lead you to support or reject using the court system.

(P.S., The drug that the original caller inquired about was Fosamax, which some studies suggest may increase the risk of certain bone breaks. Learn more about Fosamax femur fracture lawsuits.)

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