Question:

Good evening Brother Hamilton,

I know that the use of the courts to settle disputes between the bretheren is, at best, frowned upon during normal circumstances. However, for actual crimes, is it appropriate to press charges rather than using the eldership to confront the individual? I ask because an older family member of mine hired another member of the church to do housekeeping. Checks have since gone missing from checkbooks (including some from the middle of an unused batch of checks, and others for a closed account). Some checks were cashed, by said individual, recently on the closed account. At this point, is it more appropriate to ask the elders to speak to her to ask for proper restitution, or to ask the police to investigate? The bank has indicated that if restitution is made, they will not pursue the matter.


Answer:

"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17).

The family member is required to approach the thief, tell her that he knows she has been stealing from him and that she needs to repent, which includes returning any checks that are left and paying back the money she stole. If she denies that she stole the checks and money, the family member contacts two or three members of the church to come and and talk with him with her. These don't have to be the elders, though such men would be good choices in dealing with such a situation. If she won't listen to them, then the matter, including all evidence is brought before the church as a whole. If that still doesn't solve the problem, then she is withdrawn from and the family member brings the matter to the police.

What Christ outlined in Matthew 18 doesn't have to take long, but if the matter can be resolved involving the least number of people, then that is the route to go. If it can't be resolved within the church, then the government officials need to be contacted because you don't want this woman stealing from other people.

Since I wrote to you, the matter has gotten less pleasant and more challenging to deal with. The elders decided that it is in everyone's best interest to help her out by paying the amount owed to the bank, while not paying my family member back to basically teach him to be more careful with what he leaves lying around, and working with her on her issues (budgeting, and others they did not feel at liberty to discuss).

I understand the need for mercy, and that the woman is broke (as one elder told my family member, even under court order the woman could not afford to pay him back, and her being in jail won't help him any and would hurt her). Basically, her claim is that he wrote her all of the checks she cashed. The elders don't wish to take a side and want to make it all go away. With the bank getting the money back, they are trying to get my family member to sign papers to basically take responsibility for the checks, and that the matter would be closed. Any attempts to recoup losses at that point, according to the bank, would be a civil matter and probably too hard to prove and too much money for the effort.

My apologies that this is jumbled. I strongly disagree with the position of the elders in this case. I am not as organized as I might otherwise be because I am a little emotional about this. At this point, I believe that my family member might drop the matter, rather than publically air a disagreement with the elders. I believe that the elders are protecting this woman out of a desire for mercy, plus some pity. Apparently she is in a bad financial situation where even her being fired by my family member may make her homeless very quickly. I can understand the feelings, I hate this to happen, but at the same time I do not like the idea that there will be no record of this. If she does it to someone else, there would be nothing for the courts to establish a pattern of behavior.

Please realize that I don't have access to the facts of the case. I haven't talked to anyone involved beyond you. However, let's assume you got the facts straight. My conclusion is that the elders failed their duty because they have not sought for the woman's repentance from her sins. Instead they are merely trying to cover up the damage caused by the woman's sins. An inability to manage money is not an excuse for stealing. Nor is a claim that your family member was careless a reason for him to suffer financial loss at the hands of a thief, though it is likely that he will not recover the money she stole. It sounds to me that this matter was not taken before the church either, so they failed to follow Matthew 18:15-17; unless this woman has repented and you are unaware of it.

I would hope that the woman repents of her sins, which would include an apology, a return of the checks and whatever else she currently has of your relative, as well as the intention to restore at least some of the money she stole.

"Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!" (I Corinthians 6:7-8).

The proper thing to do now is for your relative to at least be happy that the bank was repayed. However, I would not suggest that he sign papers with the bank taking responsibility for her sins. Adding lies on top of the other matters will not make the matter better. He needs to tell the bank that her theft is between her and the bank. If the bank wishes to press charges against him, then he would need to defend himself in court and proof of her thefts will become a matter of record as a result. But as Paul noted, even though he has been wronged by this woman and perhaps by the elders, it is better to let God handle the issue.