“Conciliate and Collaborate, Don’t Litigate!”
Conciliation, as I practice it, involves three components:
- Biblically based conflict coaching, caucusing, and education.
- Biblically based collaboration and mediation.
- Biblically based arbitration.
Having represented hundreds of Christians going through a variety of legal and non-legal conflicts over the past 30+ years, both as a Christian lawyer and as a Christian conciliator, I am convinced that the best 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 disputes, believers should strive to conciliate and collaborate. 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 any one 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).
Conciliation and collaboration are two practical means available to believers to put Scripture into practice. Those going through conflicts or facing legal disputes, particularly the trauma often associated with marital and family conflict, can pursue a path of peace in a manner that is pleasing to God through conciliation and collaboration.
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.
The same is true of any conflict or legal dispute.
But it’s a difficult path, as we both know. And as I’ve reflected on the practice of law by Christians, particularly marital and family law in Central Arkansas and Central Florida, it surprises me that conciliation as the Christian’s “go to” choice for dispute resolution has yet to gain a toehold in the Christian community. It is virtually non-existent, and even when known it is rarely practiced.
Collaborative law is a relatively new development in the law, and my view should be pursued as much as possible by believers when it appears that a marriage will end in dissolution or divorce.
The Practice of Dispute Resolution in Marital and Family Disputes
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.
In my opinion, 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, (2) then collaborate, and (3) in the last instance litigate with pleadings that reflect the facts applied biblically.
This last point may be a bit too technical, but in my view the Christian lawyer representing the Christian client should file pleadings that always present faith and hope in God for the possibility of reconciliation in every case. This can be done from a specific manner of pleading two counts, one that claims relief short of divorce and the other in the alternative claiming divorce only if there is no hope of reconciliation. God loves to get glory for himself by resurrecting dead things.
Of course, this takes more work for the Christian lawyer and Christian client. And it takes more work for church leaders. But if it’s pleasing obedience to God reflected in Scripture, is it ever too much work? And if it’s pursued through faith expressing itself in love for neighbor, Christian brothers and sisters, and God, by biblical definition we know it is pleasing to God. Practically, my experience has been that there is healing and grace found in the process as well.
One of the primary reasons for this lacunae of knowledge and practice exists among Christians, their lawyers, churches, and mental health professionals in Central Arkansas and Central Florida simply is lack of education and training. Christian pastors, church leaders, and professionals are busy people, like all of us. They have relationships with long-standing 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, very often they send them right into the maw of litigation, which at times can result in a metaphorical blood-letting.
Conciliation involves biblical conflict coaching and mediation (including collaboration) that is grounded in the Scriptures and implemented using the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation promulgated by the Institute for Christian Conciliation, a division of Peacemaker Ministries. We practice it with believers and the spiritual oversight of their churches and help of their mental health, financial, and legal advisors.
Over the past 17+ years, I have helped numerous couples across the country 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 agreements, making 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.
Collaboration, as we practice it with believers and the spiritual oversight of their churches and help of their counselors, incorporates biblical conciliation but involves an additional process that protects couples and their families from the Pyrrhic and often devastating effects of domestic litigation.
The addition process of collaboration in marital disputes has two components if minor children are involved.
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, using the Peacemaker process (see www.peacemaker.net). 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.
Sometimes, if marital reconciliation does not take place, at least we can help facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation at the sibling-in-Christ level of the relationships between husbands, wives, and children (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2).
This is a very important point, as Matthew 6:14-15 and 18:21-35 teach. It should not be overlooked. As I always say to couples I work with who profess faith in Christ, 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) God is creating in Christ Jesus will last. Matthew 6:14-15 and 18:21-35 teach very plainly that forgiveness 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.
Arbitration, is the process whereby Christians submit their dispute to either binding or non-binding arbitration, just as they would to a judge or jury. The difference is that the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation are applied and the process, although ultimately focused on the just application of applicable law to the facts, is redemptive and healing.
I work hard to help believers reconcile, even in the worst of cases. If reconciliation is impossible, then I utilize conciliation and collaboration to bring the dispute to a peaceful, less costly end (in both financial, emotional, and spiritual terms).
If one side to the conflict refuses to conciliate or collaborate, then very often I can help the parties select an attorney and in a few select cases each year I may help provide excellent litigation services and representation with my legal team.
And always remember:
“Conciliate and Collaborate, Don’t Litigate!”
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. (Ephesians 3:20-21)