As a former lawyer, I realize that attorneys often forget that the best solution to such situations is rarely a legal one. Indeed, going to court has no upside for the church, even if it prevails. One has only to look at my very similar case to predict what will transpire:
1) Phil will be seriously ticked off, perhaps so much so that reconciliation is impossible. As a result, the church will cement the current conflict in place.
2) Being unable to speak directly with Phil will prevent any further attempt at resolution.
3) Phil and others will take to cyberspace, resulting in tremendous damage to the church’s reputation.
4) Phil’s protests will move right down the street, and continue unabated, and others will join him, me included.
5) Tenth Presbyterian will gain a reputation as unhealthy, and unable to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
6) As has been the case at my former church, attendance will drop, as well as giving. (Average Sunday attendance at my church is down 17%, and it has lost roughly 1/3 of its pledging units at a time when it faces massive unfunded capital expenses.)
7) Assistant pastors and others will avoid working at a church mired in conflict and whose reputation may reflect badly upon them.
8) As frustration rises, the church will make stupid, unethical decisions, like lying in court about what transpired, and resorting to inflammatory rhetoric. In my case, the church’s attorney foolishly referred to the situation as one of “domestic terrorism.”
9) Denominational officials, who otherwise would serve as serve as a brake on stupid conduct at the church level, will sit on their hands, saying that they can’t get involved in a court case. As a result, the whole situation will be exacerbated and reflect poorly on the denomination.
10) Phil eventually will hire an attorney on a contingency fee basis and pursue claims for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, defamation and invasion of privacy. Discovery will reveal dozens of unsavory comments and emails by church employees and members, all of which will eventually get to cyberspace, and those involved will come out looking ugly, manipulative, and hypocritical.
11) Referring to Phil as mentally ill, the favorite smear tactic of churches called on the carpet, will simply solidify his resolve to stand up for himself, and rightly so.
12) At some point, once they realize they’ve painted themselves in a corner, folks at the church will try to settle, but they’ll take a litigation-based approach, including a confidentiality clause. No one who’s been through what Phil has endured would say yes, and he will reject the offer outright.
So, just ask the the Rev. Bob Malm of Grace Episcopal in Alexandria VA how all this will turn out if you don’t believe me. But if they choose to proceed, the good Christians of Tenth Presbyterian can’t say they weren’t warned. They will end up causing themselves lasting and possibly irreparable reputational harm.