Every Friday my syndicated column appears in several newspapers. Here’s this week’s, which focuses on an ordeal one of my local churches is going through. Enjoy!
Let’s imagine that you’re mad at your father. He hates your boyfriend, so naturally you marry him to reap revenge. Now you realize, too late, that your boyfriend is an idiot. Is the marriage your father’s fault for making you mad?
Or what if a guidance counselor tells you your boring personality makes you perfectly suited for accountancy? Then you become an accountant and are miserable because you have dreams of joining Cirque du Soleil. Is it her fault that you wasted years pursuing a profession you now hate?
In other words, if someone influences you towards a bad decision, whose fault is that decision?
That’s the question being asked in my hometown right now. After a man filed a lawsuit against a counseling ministry at a local church, another woman came forward claiming that a counselor had pushed her into a bad marriage. So she may sue, too.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this woman is right: she sought out counseling and the counselor told her to get married, and the couple is now divorced. Should the woman blame the counselor for the ill-advised nuptials?
I think that’s carrying things way too far. Marriage is a big decision. We shouldn’t let anyone else talk us into it. And at some point, doesn’t being a grown-up mean taking responsibility for your actions? If you can’t—if you’re determined to go through life blaming everybody else for every bad decision you make—then you’re never going to grow as a person. Do we really want a society full of people like that?
But even worse, do we want a society where community service organizations can be sued even if they were acting in good faith?
Luckily we already came to our senses in the case of individuals. Here was the scenario that once existed for would-be Good Samaritans: You’re driving along and see a car on fire with someone inside. In a fit of heroic madness, you rush towards the vehicle and haul that victim out before the car is consumed by flames.
Six months later you receive a letter that you’re being sued, because the person had a broken neck, and when you rescued him you made it worse.
You’d be pretty ticked, wouldn’t you? And you’d be much less likely to help the next time someone needed it. That’s why provinces adopted Good Samaritan Acts, which provide that people rescuing others can’t be sued if they’re doing something reasonable.
But don’t organizations face the same conundrum? If they can be sued for trying to do good, they may just decide to stop doing good altogether.
This church that’s being sued for its counseling ministry serves our community. I don’t know the church that well; I don’t know the individuals involved; and I don’t know the circumstances.
What I do know is that when my husband and I lost our son, we went to a church counselor, and she was a lifeline. If churches can be sued for providing counseling services, fewer are going to do it. It’s not just this church that will be affected; it’s all churches and non-profit agencies. They won’t stick their necks out if people are waiting there to cut their heads off.
Boy Scouts, Big Brothers, churches, and so many other organizations have turned themselves inside out to try to prevent any sort of abuse, and that’s all for the good. But they will never eliminate all risks. Should we expect them to? By trying to prevent risks, many have curbed the programs they offer, leaving the community they serve the real loser.
Sometimes organizations will make mistakes, but this should not negate the greater good that they do. In cases of gross negligence, like abuse that was tolerated, obviously someone needs to be punished. But in other cases, maybe we should get back to personality responsibility and stop encouraging lawsuits. Why not just thank organizations for giving to the community, even if, on occasion, they fall short? After all, if they stop doing good, who is going to be left to help us?
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