"Do I believe in arbitration? I do. But not in arbitration between the lion and the lamb, in which the lamb is in the morning found inside the lion." -Samuel Gompers link
Church covenants are there to protect inept church leadership from lawsuits.
The Deebs give our readers a standing ovation. We have been expressing our concerns about church covenants, which we prefer to call church contracts, for a number of years. This summer, The Village Church/Karen Hinkley debacle demonstrated inept church discipline by supposed celebrity leaders. One of the primary *reasons* that Matt Chandler and TVC gave for their inappropriate discipline of Karen was "she signed the covenant." In other words, they believe she was stuck with them.
We are getting through to people, slowly but surely. Readers have alerted us to a few churches which have recently voted down covenants. We have heard from a couple of folks, members of celebrity churches, who have decided to rescind their membership due to their concerns of the incompetent application of church discipline on "the little guy."
As you may know, the last two weeks have been unusually busy for me as I attempt to deal with serious illnesses within my family. My daily reading of religious news stories has declined from an average of 1 hour /day to about 15 minutes. Thankfully a number of you have sent links to an important story in the New York Times which looks at the foibles of *religious arbitration.* Folks, the NYT offers an excellent example of Christian arbitration gone bad. Read it. It should alert you to the underlying, self-preserving motives of some church leaders who love such tools to suppress the little guy.
What is an arbitration clause in a covenant or contract?
Here is an article that defines arbitration in an easily understood fashion.
An arbitration agreement is a written contract in which two or more parties agree to settle a dispute outside of court. The arbitration agreement is ordinarily a clause in a larger contract. The dispute may be about the performance of a specific contract, a claim of unfair or illegal treatment in the workplace, a faulty product, among other various issues. People are free to agree to use arbitration concerning anything that they could otherwise resolve through legal proceedings.
An arbitration agreement can be as simple as a provision in a contract stating that by signing that contract you are agreeing to arbitration in the case of any future disputes. For example, a business owner can ensure that potential dispute costs remain low by requiring anyone doing business with them to sign an agreement to arbitrate instead of litigate–to settle the matter out of court. In the case of more complicated business matters, a mandatory arbitration clause may be necessary. An arbitration provision in a contract might look like this:
An investigation by the New York Times into religious arbitration clauses found:
that companies have used the clauses to create an alternate system of justice. Americans are being forced out of court and into arbitration for everything from botched home renovations to medical malpractice.
By adding a religious component, companies are taking the privatization of justice a step further. Proponents of religious arbitration said the process allowed people of faith to work out problems using shared values, achieving not just a settlement but often reconciliation.
Yet some lawyers and plaintiffs said that for some groups, religious arbitration may have less to do with honoring a set of beliefs than with controlling legal outcomes. Some religious organizations stand by the process until they lose, at which point they turn to the secular courts to overturn faith-based judgments, according to interviews and court records.
Understand that this is arbitration; not binding arbitration. In binding arbitration, both parties must agree to abide by the outcome in advance.
Reread the highlighted sections again. Churches play the game of gospel™ reconciliation until they lose and then they run whining to the secular court system for redress because they don't like it. In other words, friends, they only play the game to get the little guy to back down. If they don't succeed watch out! They will use your tithe™ money to jerk you around.
Don't believe me? Read on…
The story of Pamela Prescott and Northlake Christian School
The title of the NYT's article is In Religious Arbitration, Scripture is the Rule of Law by Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenburg. Although the article covers disturbing arbitration problems with Teen Challenge and Scientology, I want to focus specifically on the incident surrounding the firing of a teacher, Pamela Prescott, by Northlake Christian School. This is important because it reveals the underlying motivation for church and parachurch organizations adopting such clauses in their contracts (covenants.)
Prescott had been a teacher and a principal at the school for 12 years. A new school administrator came on board and began to make her feel uncomfortable. In one instance, he insisted on washing her feet at a staff meeting. She was fired and given very little explanation as to why. She attempted to find out the reasons for her termination and to resolve it internally, but the school was uncooperative.
Prescott, like your adorable blog queens, had always been against suing other Christians. She changed along the way just as we did. She discovered no other Christian school would hire her and she had no where to turn. Since it was clear that her reputation was being damaged, resulting in her being unable to get a job in her preferred environment, she filed a federal lawsuit.
Three things happened after this filing.
- People avoided her in the community. (aka-shunning)
- Her church told her to stop teaching Sunday School.
- She found out what it means to have an arbitration clause in a contract.,
The school moved to compel Christian mediation and then arbitration (ed. note: Most likely part of her contract.)
The school called on Peacemakers Ministries to arbitrate. Please note the assumptions in the following statement from the article.
Centuries later, Paul’s writings inspired a group of lawyers in Los Angeles to develop the practice of Christian conciliation. The group’s work ultimately gave rise to Peacemaker Ministries, a nonprofit that devised a legal process that draws on the Bible.
…The peacemaker method is used by private schools, Christian lawyers and others. Clauses requiring Americans to use Christian arbitration instead of civil court now appear in thousands of agreements like the one Mr. Ellison signed with Teen Challenge. (ed. note: and churches)
“Our secular court system is darn good,” said Bryce Thomas, a Christian conciliator in Hickory, N.C. “But it doesn’t get into deep moral issues like sin and reconciliation.”
The assumption that everyone should pay attention to is that this process is "drawn on the Bible." It also assumes that the procedure will deal with sin and reconciliation. In the end, everyone is supposed to kiss and makes up. There is an underlying premise that the church will play fair since, after all, they are God's men, right? Still, it overlooks the very real possibility that church leaders are just as sinful and can deal sinfully with those they hurt.
In this instance, the lawyer from Peacemakers decided that the school needed to man up to some of their mistakes.
The school argued that a survey of parents revealed unhappiness with Ms. Prescott’s leadership. But only a small number of families had filled out the survey, and Ms. Prescott never saw the results.
Mr. Thomas dismissed Ms. Prescott’s claims of harassment and gender discrimination. But he found that the school board had violated its own contract when it failed to provide Ms. Prescott with any feedback before firing her. The contract required the school to follow Matthew 18:15, which implores Christians to confront each other before raising their problems with anyone else.
“If your brother sins against you,” the verse states, “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”
Mr. Thomas awarded Ms. Prescott about $157,000 for lost income and damage to her reputation.
“This woman had no idea her job was in jeopardy,” Mr. Thomas said in an interview. “They treated her badly.”
So, was it all settled? Did the school kiss and make up with Prescott?
Not on your life. The school took the decision all the way to the Supreme Court!
Read this carefully. The school said the Peacemaker was not allowed to rule in this case even though they were the ones who requested this!
In his ruling, he urged the two sides to reconcile in a way “that glorifies God.” But Northlake was not ready to move on.
The school had required Ms. Prescott to agree to Christian arbitration as a condition of her hiring. But when Northlake lost, it appealed the arbitration award in federal court, arguing that Mr. Thomas’s ruling was inconsistent with Louisiana law.
Church and Christian organization contracts/covenants are one big fat con job and you, lowly person, are the one who is being conned. Think about it.
1. Do you have the money, time and strength to fight this sort of outcome?
The case dragged on for four more years. An appeals court in New Orleans ruled that it had no ground to overturn the Christian arbitrator. Northlake appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it.
The current headmaster of Northlake said he could not comment on the case because it involved a previous administration. He added that the school still used Christian arbitration.
In the end, Ms. Prescott said she felt vindicated, despite having spent all but $8,000 of her settlement on legal costs.
2. Did you ever consider that some Christians, leaders and members, are con artists? Do you really understand their motivations?
“My faith is still strong,” she said. “But I am more careful in dealing with Christians than I used to be. They are just people with no more ability to be good than anyone else.”
3. Do you understand that many church/parachurch organizations want these contracts for only one thing: to protect the church from lawsuits.
Do not be fooled into thinking that you are signing a "we will all love and pray for one another" covenant. This deal is one sided. And, when it doesn't work out for the organization, they will appeal the decision in court. Note how much this cost Prescott during her four year of battle. $149,000 and, I can imagine, countless sleepless night. Many entities have big pockets of money and can spend an average person into the ground.
Basically, you have two options.
1. Do not sign the contract.
However, some churches will not allow you to participate in various activities if you don't join. I have personally discovered that it is quite easy to circumvent the system by attending the church, starting your own Bible study, and serving within parachurch groups.
2. You sign the contract in order to get a much needed job.
You have three methods of action if things don't work out. By the way, think about your options if it doesn't work out prior to signing on.
1. Quit before you are fired.
2. Be fired, don't fight back and chalk it up to experience.
3. Fight back and hope you have the money and stamina to see it through.
Here is a piece of advice for religious organizations.
It is a really dumb move by churches and church organizations to prevent people from getting a job after firing them by snitching to a renegade's new job prospect.
I am addressing church leaders in this statement. The court system looks askance on leaders calling other leaders and urging them not to hire a person for a job. Big lawsuits can emerge from this sort of activity. We are waiting for permission to post a story in which this sort of thing is occurring.
Be careful of pursuing any church member who has voluntarily resigned from a voluntary organization. The United States law recognizes a person's right to leave a voluntary association.
Read the story of church discipline at The Village Church. Karen had resigned and the church kept sending out missives to 6,000 closely knit church members (snort) about what a rotten person she was by not following their ridiculous advice. I am pretty sure that TVC knows they avoided a really big lawsuit solely because Karen is a gracious individual.
To potential church members or employees of religious organizations: be wise.
Please read this entire post and think long and hard before you sign over your rights to church leaders who are just as sinful as everyone else. It is nice to believe that your pastor or employer is a godly person. The problem is that sometimes they are not and you are the one who could get run over by the proverbial bus.
Let us know if you need help in getting out of a bad situation. We have some advice on the matter. Also, if you ever wish to share your story, let us know. We are here for you.