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  /  Are We Suing Ourselves

By: Elisa Rahming, Florida Conference CFO

We are blessed to be part of a worldwide church
denominational system that seeks to reach others for
God and to glorify Him in everything we do. Included in
this organizational structure is the local conference which
includes a sisterhood of churches and schools. But what
does that really mean? The conference is an association or
a conglomerate of churches and schools, and the strength
of the conference is primarily dependent on the strength of
each of these entities. Each individual church member is
important as the strength of the conference depends on the
strength of its church members.

Interestingly though, we have been experiencing a recent
phenomenon in the church that is very unfortunate: church
members suing the church. In reality, when church members
sue the church, whether it is the local church or the local
conference, we are actually suing ourselves. And not just
suing ourselves, but we are also suing our brothers and
sisters, friends, and loved ones, who we worship with as well
as our shepherd, our pastor.

You may ask, ‘how can this be?’ Well, let me share the
following for your consideration.

The conference is not a business corporation like other
corporations in America that exist to create profit for its
owners and shareholders/investors. We are not a for-profit
organization that sells a product or service and makes
a profit from that product sale or service. There are no
owners such as in a typical business corporation model.
The conference is a non-profit organization dependent on
and directly tied to individual church members throughout
its territory who are like the “owners” of the organization. At a
constituency session, members select representatives from
each region to serve on an executive committee to govern
the conference.

Most people outside of our conference, and even many
within, do not understand how our organization works
because it is very unique for a church system. There are
attorneys who may make it seem like suing the conference
is the best thing to do to make up for any accidental or
intentional harm that was incurred. Many will even tell us that
only the insurance company would be sued and not really
the conference. Because of how our denominational church
system is structured, suing the conference is actually suing
ourselves, our family members in the church, and our fellow
church members and friends.

Sometimes, even pastors are directly named in a lawsuit
along with the church, the conference, or other SDA entities.
Imagine a church member suing their own pastor for harm
they experienced that was not directly connected to the
actions of the pastor. This was not the way of the early
church. Should it be our way today? In fact, in 1 Corinthians
6, we see Paul’s admonition against the practice of Christians
taking other Christians before unjust judges who may not be
fair. Paul’s counsel on this matter is for Christians today as it
was back then.

The conference doesn’t have just any insurance company.
We are insured by the church’s very own insurance
company: Adventist Risk Management(ARM). ARM is
not in business to make a profit for its owners, but it was
started by the worldwide church exclusively to serve the risk
management needs of the church as a whole and to protect
our ministries. While ARM does provide insurance coverage
for all of our churches, schools, and entities, as well as the
church denomination as a whole, making a decision to sue
the church because there is insurance coverage is just as
detrimental and impactful to the local church member.

Consider this example: Sister Sanctified trips and falls on the
stairs of the church entrance. She hurts herself and is well
cared for by members of the church, her medical insurance
coverage, and coverage by the church/conference. However,
because she was harmed, her uncle, who is not a member
of the church, encourages her to sue her church. She thus
asks her attorney to sue the church, which her attorney will
typically accomplish by naming the Florida Conference,
along with the Southern Union, the North American Division,
and the General Conference as well. In the process, the

Sister’s pastor may also be named in the suit, even if her
harm was not a result of his conduct. The attorneys try to
include everyone, in hopes of maximizing their recovery and
partly because they keep a large percentage of any payment.

Ultimately, should a settlement or court case favor our Sister,
her local church will be responsible for potentially significant
insurance deductibles. In the end, all losses due to lawsuits
that are paid by any church entity, from the local church to
the General Conference, are ultimately paid for by churches,
schools, and other entities through increased premium
costs of general and excess liability insurance as well as
deductibles payable before any insurance coverage kicks in.
This means that church members in our pews and students
in our classrooms are ultimately paying for these losses.
Essentially, we are suing ourselves. Let me share with you
that our premiums for general and excess liability insurance
are on the rise.

A pastor recently shared with me an interesting concept: “As
we as members have given our resources to God for His
work and these are the very same resources being used to
pay out lawsuit settlements and attorneys, could it be said
that we are not only suing ourselves and our friends but that
we are also suing God?” Food for thought.

Florida Conference was formed “to
proclaim the everlasting gospel of our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the
context of the three angels’ messages of
Revelation 14, and, under the influence
of the Holy Spirit, to lovingly persuade
people to become His disciples and
responsible members of the church.” *

As we find ourselves in an environment where church
members continue to sue church members and thus we
are continually suing ourselves, this purpose becomes
increasingly harder and harder to accomplish. But by God’s
grace, all of us will continue walking together in faith, hope,
and love to finish His work.

*Florida Conference Constitution and Bylaws