A new approach to family law:
“Conciliate, Don’t Litigate!”
Dear Christian, Christian Pastor, Christian Church Leader, Christian Mental Health Professional, Christian Counselor, Christian Lawyer, and Christian Family Law Judge:
As of the date of this writing, I’m 59 years old. I’ve been licensed to practice law since 1986 and have litigated, mediated, and conciliated hundreds of marital and family disputes over these years. I’ve seen it all.
I first became aware of Christian conciliation as an alternative means of conflict resolution for Christians in 1999 when I read Ken Sande’s conflict resolution classic, The Peacemaker. I began practicing and teaching Christian conciliation in 2000. Since then, I have had the privilege of helping Christian couples, churches, business leaders and owners, families, and stepfamilies resolve conflict through the Christ-centered, redeeming and healing process of Christian conciliation.
My Appeal to You
I’m writing to ask you to join me in creating a movement among those who profess faith in Jesus Christ to approach marital and family dissolution and conflicts in an entirely new, biblical manner in the 21st century.
I believe that this movement has the potential to show the world what God in Christ is truly like, to represent God faithfully and truthfully to a fallen and broken world, to imitate (literally “mime”) God in his kind, tenderhearted forgiving love for his children in Jesus Christ.
- It is a practical way for believers to practice the imitation (Greek, mimesis) of God as “dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1) through kind, tenderhearted, forgiving love (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2).
- It is a practical way for Christians to let the lights of their lives shine, to be salt and light and specks of gospel leaven, as they honor and glorify God by good works of forgiveness and reconciliation (Matthew 5:16-26).
- It is a practical way to experience the joy and blessedness of peacemaking and to experience at deeper levels our eternal identities as children of the only true and living God (“blessed are the peacemakers” Matthew 5:9).
- It is a practical way to walk by grace through faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave his life for us in the good works that God has prepared beforehand “so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB; Galatians 2:20).
- It is a practical way for Christian lawyers and judges to administer justice in marital and family law matters in a manner that is consistent with the biblical mandates of resolving conflict on the basis of God’s generous, gracious, merciful, forgiving love (1 Corinthians 6:1-11).
- It is a practical way to show the world the unity and love of God in Christ Jesus for and with us through our unity and love as believers, even though you may be going through the pain, suffering, and trauma of a marital and family dissolution (John 17:1-26).
I hope that this letter will encourage you and exhort you to begin spreading this message in your community:
“Conciliate, Don’t Litigate!”
Having represented hundreds of Christians going through marital conflict over the past 30+ years, both as a Christian lawyer and as a Christian conciliator, I am convinced that the deepest God-honoring, redemptive, and healing choice Christians can make is to pursue resolution through the alternative dispute resolution methods available to them.
Instead of litigating marital and family disputes, believers should strive to conciliate them. Litigation should always be a last resort.
Scripture attests to this routinely for believers.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Rom 12:18).
Does anyone of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?.... 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? (1 Cor 6:1, 5-6)
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way,…(Mt 5:23-25a).
Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another (Mk 9:50).
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst (Mt 18:15-20).
Christian conciliation is an established, practical means available to believers to put Scripture into practice. Unfortunately, relatively few Christians have ever heard of it much less understand what it is and how it works.
Those going through the trauma of marital and family conflict can pursue a path of peace in a manner that is pleasing to God through Christian conciliation.
I have found over the past three decades that pastors and counselors genuinely desire to help believers resolve conflict in ways that honor and please God, provide the best pathway to healing for themselves and their children, and help them grow to be like Christ through the pain and suffering that inevitably comes with a marital meltdown and its consequent family dissolution.
But it’s a difficult path.
I have also been surprised to find that few if any, domestic relations lawyers who profess faith in Christ and who represent Christians going through marital dissolution litigate in a manner consistent with Scripture.
From a biblical standpoint, there is a right way for a Christian lawyer representing a Christian in a family law matter to litigate the case, and there is a wrong way.
The right way to litigate a family law case involving a believer is to advocate zealously and competently for the believer in a manner consistent with the biblical mandates applicable to lawsuits. Practically, this means the lawyer should use all means available to (1) conciliate the matter and (2) in the last instance litigate with pleadings that reflect the law applied to the facts biblically.
Christians going through a marital meltdown must always keep this central biblical truth in mind: God loves to get the glory for himself by resurrecting dead things. Dead relationships. Dead emotions. Dead marriages.
But even if the marriage is dissolved, God expects his children to live out their professed faith in Jesus and the gospel by two very practical means:
- Forgiveness from the heart; and
- Reconciliation as brother and sister in Christ.
It is beyond the scope of this article to demonstrate this in exegetical detail, but the following biblical texts reveal to us God’s desire for his children going through marital pain to believe and trust His beloved son, Jesus Christ – in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of and release from our sins – by practicing the forgiving love and loving forgiveness that results in reconciliation with each other as siblings in Christ: Matthew 5:21-26, 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mark 11:22-26; Luke 15 and 17:1-4; Ephesians 4:29-5:2; James 3:13-4:7; 1 John 3:1-3; Romans 8:14-39).
To put it more concisely, even though the marriage relationship may not be reconciled, brothers and sisters in Christ who are divorcing must be reconciled in their sibling relationship as children of God. All human marriages end, whether by divorce or death. But our relationships as children of God are eternal. And God expects us to get them right this side of heaven coming to earth if we hope to be invited to the eternal marriage of Christ to the Church and welcomed into God’s eternal family that will be established after the resurrection and judgment of the living and the dead.
Christian conciliation is the pathway to reconciling our sibling relationships on this side of heaven coming to earth. over the past 20+ years, I’ve seen miracles of marital and sibling-in-Christ reconciliation through Christian conciliation.
What is Christian conciliation?
Christian conciliation is a process for reconciling people and resolving disputes out of court in a biblical manner. The process is conciliatory rather than adversarial in nature–that is, it encourages honest communication and reasonable cooperation rather than unnecessary contention and advocacy.
Christian conciliation may involve three steps.
Initially, one or both parties may receive individual counseling/coaching on how to resolve a dispute personally and privately using biblical principles. If private efforts are unsuccessful, the parties may submit their dispute for mediation, a process in which one or more mediators meet with them to promote constructive dialogue and encourage a voluntary settlement of their differences. Finally, if mediation is unsuccessful, the parties may proceed to arbitration, which means that one or more arbitrators will hear their case and render a legally binding decision.
The term “conciliator” is used to describe someone who is serving as either a conflict coach, mediator, or arbitrator.
Christian Conciliation in Practice
My practice of Christian conciliation with believers is conducted, whenever possible, with the spiritual oversight of the churches and counselors with whom the parties are connected.
Since 2000, I have helped numerous couples resolve their marital and family disputes without litigation by using Christian conciliation. Many churches, pastors, and counselors refer these conflicts to me. Some have resulted in reconciliations. Some have ended with complete marital agreements, saving the case uncontested. This has saved couples from spending thousands of dollars unnecessarily, from wasting untold hours of time in litigation, and from needlessly expending incredible amounts of emotional and spiritual energy required by litigation. And those couples with minor children have spared their little ones much pain and suffering. They have also avoided putting more stumbling blocks to faith in Jesus before their children as a result of their marital conflict (Matthew 18:1-14).
Biblically based conflict resolution and peacemaking protects couples and their families from the Pyrrhic and often devastating effects of domestic litigation.
Parties who agree to engage in Christian conciliation may or may not have attorneys involved. Attorneys are always welcome to attend and participate, provided they agree abide by the Rules of Procedure and Standard of Conduct for Christian Conciliators. I utilize the versions of the Rules and Standard located here: https://rw360.org/rules-procedure-christian-conciliation/ and https://rw360.org/standard-conduct-christian-conciliation/. For more information about Christian conciliation, go to: https://rw360.org/introduction-christian-concilialition/.
Christian Conciliation and Collaboration
When you combine Christian conciliation with a collaborative law approach to marital disputes, each party must have a lawyer. The parties agree to hire two third-party neutral professionals.
First, the parties agree on a neutral psychological professional to help them resolve any issues concerning the children.
Second, the parties agree on a neutral financial professional to help them resolve any issues concerning how to divide the marital estate, what income is under the law for purposes of settling child support and alimony issues, and any other financial matters about which the parties cannot agree.
Under a collaborative law agreement, the parties and their attorneys agree in advance that if they cannot settle all issues with the help of their lawyers and the neutral professionals, then the lawyers cannot represent them in any subsequent litigation. The prospect of having to start over with, and pay legal fees for, lawyers for litigation hopefully will deter unnecessary litigation and increase the prospects of successful settlement.
If no minor children are involved, then the parties operating under a collaborative law agreement select a neutral financial professional and work toward settlement under the same construct.
The difference for Christians involved in collaboration is that they agree to conciliate throughout the process. This means they agree to pursue peace with each other so far as it depends on them. Pastors and their counselors agree to encourage and hold them accountable to pursuing peace, including forgiveness, with each other. This involves a biblical process of repentance and faith implemented through confession, accountability to the leadership of the church, restitution if appropriate, and so forth. This promotes healing and peace in the family, church, and community. And it is the best means for Christians and their churches and counselors to “hallow” God’s name – that is to honor and glorify God – in the process of resolving the conflict. This can limit and can even eliminate actions or words by which believers going through marital and family conflict unwittingly take God’s name in vain, defame God, and give reasons for unbelievers, society, culture, and the world to blaspheme God’s holy name.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Getting to the Heart of Christian Conciliation
At all times, even if marital reconciliation does not take place, I always work hard to help facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation at the level of the eternal “child-of-God” identity of those who profess faith in Christ, an identity that is already but not yet complete as siblings in Christ.
Christian husbands and wives, along with their children, who are going through the pain of marital and family dissolution, often forget this eternal dimension of their relationships.
Ephesians 5:1 teaches us that those who are in Christ are dearly loved children of God. They often do not realize that their marriages and families on this earth will end, but their relationships in Christ will never end. That’s why the Scripture exhorts us to practice kind, tenderhearted, forgiving love with each other “just as” God in Christ also forgives and loves us in Christ (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2).
This is a very important point, as Matthew 6:14-15 and 18:21-35 further teach. It should not be overlooked. Our human marriages and families will end. Only the divine marriage between Christ and the Church (which believers comprise) and the divine family (which believers comprise) that God is currently
creating and forming in Christ Jesus will last forever. The Bible describes this marriage and family in other ways as well (God’s household, the universal church/body, kingdom of priests, etc.).
Matthew 6:14-15 and 18:21-35 teach very plainly that forgiving the way God forgives is a key marker of whether or not you’re in God’s marriage and family.
Forgive, you’re in. Don’t forgive, you’re out.
It’s very serious business. Your eternal life is dependent on it.
But I’m often shocked how cavalierly God’s children treat this, as if it’s somehow an optional think. “Oh yeh, I forgive him/her. But I don’t ever want to be close her/him again [i.e., I intend to hold onto my bitterness].”
Approaching marital and family law through Christian conciliation is pregnant with opportunities to help believers live free in the forgiving love and loving forgiveness with each other that God in Christ has for them every nanosecond of every day.
This is why I am passionate about this alternative approach to resolving marital and family conflict.
Since moving to Little Rock in May 1999, I have had the privilege of teaching, preaching, and training many pastors, counselors, elders, and ministry leaders in biblical conflict resolution.
My practice of Christian conciliation is with a view to reconciliation first and continuing to help Christians become generous stewards and build lasting legacies. I provide this approach to “comprehensive life stewardship” through the BRS companies that I started with my business partner, Rich Jensen (BRS Consulting, Inc.; BRS Financial, LLC; and BRS Multi Family Office Advisors, LLC). For more information, visit www.brsconsulting.com and www.brsmultifamilyoffice.com.
I work hard to help believers reconcile, even in the worst of cases.
If reconciliation is impossible, then I utilize conciliation to bring the dispute to a peaceful, less costly end. If one side to the conflict refuses to conciliate, then I can help you make the best decisions on how to select a family lawyer, what to ask, what to expect, how the litigation process works, etc.
Why Isn’t Christian Conciliation More Widely Known and Practiced?
One of the primary reasons the lacunae of knowledge and practice of Christian conciliation exists among Christians, their lawyers, churches, and counselors is lack of education and training. Church leaders and Christian counselors are busy people, like all of us. They may have long-standing relationships with family lawyers to whom they refer their members and clients. They don’t know how to go about helping the people they serve other than to send them to the lawyers they know. And when they do, more often than not they send them right into the maw of litigation, which at times can result in a metaphorical blood-letting.
If you or your church or counseling organization is interested in understanding or being trained in Christian conciliation, please let me know.
I believe that we can transform how Christians, their pastors, and their counselors resolve marital and family conflict throughout the United States in a way that magnifies God’s glory, exalts Jesus Christ and the gospel of his death, burial and resurrection, and brings healing and redemption to his people and church.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.