Monday, December 18, 2017

Thought Experiment: Christian "Sharia" Courts

As you all know, there are both Jewish and Moslem courts that are recognized in some nations, where  binding arbitration occurs.

I thought about this yesterday during our sermon (I do pay attention!) when the pastor discussed:
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? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 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. (1 Cor 6:1-8)
It sounds, in a way, as if Paul is advocating for a "Christian" court. A court in which (civil, not criminal) disputes among believers are resolved.  To avoid taking the whole unseemly mess to a secular, government court. 

Now I'm not convinced (by a long shot) that Paul is advocating Christian arbitration for civil suites. In fact, while he alludes to internal church arbitration in v5, in v7 he seems to offer the optimal, hard solution: if you are defrauded by a brother, then the best solution is to, well, be defrauded.

Or maybe I'm reading this all wrong. In any case it is just a setup for my thought experiment on the hypothetical Christian version of Sharia courts, or Jewish rabbinic (halacha) courts.

They would, on the surface, seem like a good idea.

Or would they?

Would you trust a Christian court overseen by a bench comprised of pastors, elders, deacons, bishops and priests 1, a court that could make decisions that the secular judicial system recognized as binding?

Well, consider disputes over financial obligations, property borders, and the like. Would you trust the Christian court? Well, I think I might.

How about on matters of marriage and divorce? What if it was a marriage that involved spousal abuse? Would you trust the court? Sadly, I'm not sure that I would.

The sad history of the evangelical church in America is that they are willing to risk the woman's safety--allowing it to be trumped on the alter of potential reconciliation, which is also potentially dangerous if not deadly. It is a history that forgets that one reason (perhaps the reason) that Jesus strengthened the laws on divorce was to protect the woman from a complete loss of income that resulted from easy divorce. It was not to imprison the woman in an abusive situation. I would worry that a Christian court would continue that history of cherry-picking the passages in scripture that must be taken as literal,  inviolate and (most maddeningly) complete 2, while accepting, when it is convenient, other instructions presented with just as much authority and conviction as "cultural."

So no, I don't think I'd trust a Christian court on matters of divorce when abuse is involved.

God, in His providence, has put us under secular governments, perhaps because we cannot be trusted to run the whole show. We've never done a good job when we tried.

1 Don't let the diversity of the bench be a factor. The thought experiment works just as well if we imagine the judicial panel is populated only with Reformed Presbyterians  and Baptists.

2 I am not advocating that the bible is not complete. I'm arguing that for the sake of space or for the sake of not insulting our intelligence, it does not lead us through every possible scenario that causes a marriage to break down.


  1. I agree with you that Jesus' teaching on divorce was to protect women. The certificate that Moses gave allowed the woman to remarry otherwise, unless she had other family who would support her, what were her options?

    The situation in 1 Cor. 5 is relevant re: divorce for abuse. If someone is an unrepentant abuser such that this person is put out of the church to protect the church, then it's a double standard to say that the abused spouse is not free to be free. In reality, the covenant is already broken. But then how many abusers are brought under church discipline? I've seen cases where the victim is the one who is disciplined.

    I'm working on an article on this topic over the holidays. Not "fun" but very important.

  2. Apostates from Islam have been executed for 1400 years in accord with the Koran and the words and actions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed and Islamic law, Sharia.

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