Over the past two weeks, the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources sparked numerous headlines across the country with their on-off-on again-off again lawsuit against a former executive. The whole case aptly demonstrates the wisdom of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 6, but the leaders at the Bible publishing company apparently refuse to open to that section of their own Bibles.
A quick survey of the timeline shows LifeWay’s moral failure:
- On Sept. 28, LifeWay filed a lawsuit against former president and CEO Thom Rainer for allegedly violating a noncompete clause by signing an agreement to publish books with Tyndale House Publishers.
- On Sept. 29, Rainer said he had previously received a release from LifeWay for the Tyndale deal and that he didn’t know there was a problem until LifeWay filed its suit.
- On Sept. 30, LifeWay announced it would seek to resolve the dispute out of court rather than proceeding with the lawsuit, which sparked headlines they were dropping the lawsuit.
- On Oct. 2, LifeWay clarified its previous statement, saying they were merely pausing their lawsuit but not actually dropping it. Meanwhile, news emerged that some LifeWay board members not part of the executive committee didn’t know about the litigation until after the news broke.
- On Oct. 6, LifeWay and Rainer released a joint statement announcing the end of the litigation after Rainer agreed to all of LifeWay’s demands.
Each move sparked headlines in secular news publications. And an unbelieving world looked on at the unbelievable behavior by Christian leaders. Perhaps most stunningly, LifeWay leaders, by their own admission, sued first and then sought resolution later. How can they square this with biblical teachings?
I don’t know.
LifeWay did not respond to Word&Way’s request for comment. And LifeWay President and CEO Ben Mandrell has not commented publicly and has even refused comment requests from the SBC’s Baptist Press.
But if the Bible publisher had any questions about how they should’ve acted, they could’ve pulled one of their Bibles out of their warehouse and flipped over to 1 Corinthians 6. There they would find Paul’s words in the Holman Christian Standard Bible version that LifeWay created, owns, and publishes.
“If any of you has a legal dispute against another, do you dare go to court before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” Paul wrote. “I say this to your shame! Can it be that there is not one wise person among you who is able to arbitrate between his brothers? Instead, believer goes to court against believer, and that before unbelievers!”
“Therefore, to have legal disputes against one another is already a moral failure for you,” Paul added. “Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you act unjustly and cheat — and you do this to believers!”
Paul then seems to compare those suing their brothers and sisters to idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, swindlers, and more.
To his credit, Rainer appears to have read the passage. He tweeted the day before the dispute was resolved: “For the sake of the Gospel, I plan to accept all of those terms on Monday. This legal battle between Christians before the watching world has to end. I will end it.”
And some LifeWay board members have also read the passage. Former board chair and current member Jimmy Scroggins, lead pastor at Family Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, has said the full board should’ve been notified before taking a “high profile, explosive, legal action.” He also argued the lawsuit came “in direct violation of the principles in 1 Corinthians 6.”
But LifeWay’s leaders refuse to explain their decisions. They announced the end of the litigation with actions taken by Rainer, but LifeWay ceded no ground. No admission of error. No apology. No resignations.
The whole case is sad, with no winners. It proves Paul to be prophetic. As have many similar cases.
For instance, the Missouri Baptist Convention spent nearly 18 years and millions upon millions of dollars suing Baptist ministries (including Word&Way), sparking hundreds of secular news articles about the legal conflict. If that is how we treat one another, then why would anyone want to join us?
And this Missouri Baptist litigation came from the very people claiming they believed the Bible while those other Baptists being sued didn’t. So, how did they reconcile 1 Corinthians 6? At first they tried carving legal loopholes in Paul’s language to claim it would only violate the Bible if they sued individuals but since they were suing organizations it was okay. Pretty sure Paul would’ve called that “rubbish.” But then the MBC actually sued individuals, so they just stopped talking about 1 Corinthians 6. Just as LifeWay — now run by people who drove out the earlier leaders for supposedly not believing the Bible — also refuses to talk about the teaching of Paul. So much for the “inerrancy” they espouse.
Printing Bibles won’t save you any more than owning one or more to sit unopened on your bookshelf. Maybe all the debates about believing the Bible miss the point. You believe in God? Great, so do the demons.
But will you submit, even when it is inconvenient and costly?
Will you love God and love your neighbor?
If not, please spare us your clanging defenses of the words you won’t live by.