A hermit can afford to live his life any way he chooses without problems, However, once he decides to interact with other human beings the possibility of conflict arises. Christian interaction relationships also give rise to conflicts. Each society has over time developed its methods of dispute resolution -from the informal to the institutional to maintain relationships as well as social order in the society.

Disputes can be resolved subjectively or objectively. In the Middle Ages, disputes or conflicts were known to be resolved or settled by subjecting the parties to different ordeals or’ crude techniques’ (trial by ordeal) like burning of hands or throwing a baby whose paternity is in doubt into a river, and so on. The story is told of a dispute between two farmers over a piece of land. The local chief to whom the parties brought the dispute, resolved the same by summarily killing both of them and taking over the disputed land. Such extremes have happened. Law has over the years continued to evolve more and more efficient means of resolving conflicts which are based on objective standards/norms in the belief that such a process is likely to be more acceptable to society in its search for impartial justice.

In I Corinthians 6:1-7, we have a clear instruction from our Lord concerning how believers/brethren should deal with conflicts. We are commanded not to take a fellow believer to court, more so because there is no guarantee that your case will be heard by a Christian judge- why disgrace yourself before unbelievers?

Experience has shown, however, that Christians disregard this Scripture and churches drag other churches to court; pastors drag one another to court; congregation sues its leadership, and so on. Why? Some reasons people go to the law courts in cases of conflict is because they believe that their rights/disputes will be objectively decided by an impartial judge and also whatever judgment they obtain from there will be enforced by state authorities. This is in contrast to the decisions of ‘Elders’ in the church which may be disregarded by the ‘quarrelling’ parties without anybody compelling them to obey.

The question then is, can these objectives for going to court be realized without litigation and government-backed enforcement institutions? Are there any options for litigation? Apart from the biblical prohibition against Christians litigating each other, the secular world for other reasons has found litigation to be inadequate in resolving certain types of disputes and this has also led to the search and consequential development of

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)mechanisms

Search for an Alternative: Litigation is the traditional method of conflict resolution where negotiations have broken down between parties to a transaction. Many people over time have become consistently dissatisfied with litigation for different reasons, such as:

By its very nature, litigation is a time-consuming, expensive and cumbersome process. Business people generally would, however, like a quick determination of their rights and liabilities in cases of conflict. Some cases in court, including appeals up to the Supreme Court may take as long as 10-20 years. What a waste of time and resources. Overloaded court schedules causing too many adjournments and thereby increasing cost to the parties; decrease satisfaction with litigation;

The formal atmosphere of litigation. More people are beginning to advocate that as much as possible differences should be resolved in a friendly, business-like environment. There is a desire for a flexible dispute resolution process; and the desire to empower disputants to participate in the resolution of their disputes in a less adversarial way.

Technical disputes are decided by judges who are presumed to know everything but in fact may not be too knowledgeable in the subject matter of the dispute.

Avoidance of publicity – Some businesses also are of a confidential and sensitive nature and parties may not feel comfortable settling in public proceedings like courts. The growth/expansion of international and domestic commerce are also factors leading to the growth of the ADR process.

Avoidance of corruption: there have been established cases of corrupt judicial offices taking bribes to favour a litigant.

An Overview of Common ADR Options

The ADR processes/mechanisms presently advocated and used range from those which allow the parties great control over the process and outcome without third-party involvement like negotiation and mediation, to those where parties have very little control such as arbitration. A person is free to choose any process best suited to his needs and beliefs as well as the subject matter of the dispute.

Negotiation – This is a starting point for all ADR processes and consists of give and take, that is, parties give up something to get something else in return. There must, however, be a desire on the part of the parties to reach an agreement – thus there must be flexibility on all sides. Every adult at one time or the other would have been involved in negotiating one agreement or the other whether financial or personal.

There are no hard and fast rules, each person adopts an approach he believes is suitable to get what he wants. The subject of negotiation will determine the technique to be applied. The skill, knowledge and experience of parties to the negotiation will also influence the outcome. To make the outcome binding parties may wish to make it a formal agreement signed by the parties.

Reconciliation – In this process, there is no party Involvement.  parliament together and resolve the disputes themselves. They harmonize their differences and settle the dispute. For example, under the Matrimonial Causes Act,1973 (See S. 6), counsel for the petitioner must certify that he had discussed the possibility of reconciliation with his client. The court may adjourn proceedings for up to six months to give parties time to explore reconciliation. Negotiating parties should reduce the final compromise terms into writing in the form of a legally binding agreement.

Conciliation- This involves bringing together disputants to settle their disputes by negotiated settlement. The conciliator, a third party, meets with the parties together and participates in their negotiations by making proposals on possible compromise settlements; and making out areas of agreement/disagreement, until possible terms of conciliation are reached. He does not decide the dispute for the parties, therefore, his proposals may be accepted or rejected as it is not binding on the parties. Under the Arbitration and Conciliation Decree 1988, conciliation is provided for in detail. The conciliator provides the environment for negotiation.

Mediation – Mediation is used interchangeably with conciliation in some countries, whilst in others they are different processes. The major distinctive feature is the role of the third party. Whilst in conciliation, the third-party conciliator explores the opportunity for settlement, in mediation; the mediator takes a leading role, that is, he can make recommendations for the parties to consider. The mediators see the parties privately, that is, separately and listen to their respective viewpoints and try to communicate each party’s point of view to the other and then bring them together to achieve a compromise solution. The mediator does not apportion blame. In conciliation and mediation parties must expressly agree to be bound by the process and should put the final agreements in a legally enforceable agreement, that is, as a contract.

Arbitration is one of the most Avidly known and recognised ADR processes. One of the reasons for its importance and perhaps its most attractive feature is the fact that parties agree to be bound by the decision of the Arbitrator. The arbitration process is also recognised by the court system and can be forced as a judgment of the court. This process was recognised in Nigeria as far back as 1914 when the arbitration

The ordinance was enacted. In arbitration, the parties voluntarily agree to have their dispute or potential dispute settled by an independent third party, whose decision is final and legally binding. Such an agreement can be made before the dispute arises or after. Parties will usually not be allowed to withdraw from an arbitration agreement. The third-party Arbitrator(s) have the status of a quasi-judge, they hear evidence and representations from the parties; evaluate the evidence and reach a binding decision called an award. In the Nigerian context, Customary Arbitration is also recognised by the court, that is, where a dispute is investigated at a meeting following customary and general usage, and a decision given, it remains binding on the parties and will be enforced by the courts.

From the overview above, one would like to advocate/recommend to Christians a greater use of the arbitration process whether for their business relationships or church disputes. As stated earlier, parties can agree at any time to arbitrate (that is even after the dispute has arisen or even if they are already in court. Adjournment can be obtained to arbitrate/reconcile); therefore, let us not hesitate to use this procedure. There are several advantages to the Christian.

The persons to be appointed as arbitrators need no special training. The emphasis is on a person with skill in the area of dispute or legal skill. Each party nominates a person of his choice or both parties agree to nominate one person. There is confidence in the mind of the litigants, therefore, that their case will be thoroughly and fairly considered. The passage in Corinthians also encourages us to choose ‘wise men’ from the Church, so that decisions will be made in the fear of God. In cases where specialized personnel are used, the quality of the adjudication is further guaranteed.

You maintain Christian fellowship. A popular adage says you do not go to court with a person and remain friends. The arbitration process is informal, parties -who participate, are allowed to speak for themselves not just through their lawyers and so can cordially settle their dispute. This has always been the goal of traditional African set-up- to create peace between the disputing parties.

Decisions reached by the arbitrator are binding. It can be enforced by the courts. This is important because even though the arbitrators are Christians/Elders, the decisions are backed up by the State and parties can be compelled to obey. Parties can be confident, therefore, that the process is not a waste of time. It is easy to enforce an arbitral award anywhere in the world.

Absence of delay/congestion. As Christians we must be quick to forgive, it is, therefore, advisable that disputes are not prolonged unnecessarily. A popular judicial slogan is justice delayed is justice denied. The courts are congested even with the best efforts of the judicial officers.

Another important advantage is the absence of government meddle-sameness. Arbitration is a private affair, you choose your arbitrators yourself, and you can dictate the venue for arbitration and even a time – frame for resolving the conflict. Arbitrators are independent and do not have to be influenced by government ideologies or preferences.

Corruption is also avoided. Since arbitrators are private citizens depending on public patronage, they would guard their reputations jealously, knowing people will avoid them if they believe they can be bought. Judicial officers get paid no matter what and it is difficult to prove legations of corruption. A judge’ rumoured’ to be corrupt is still assigned cases.

Choosing an Arbitrator

Even though we have said that anybody can be an arbitrator, it is better to seek counsel before making your choice. There are several institutions which keep a register of arbitrators – for example in Nigeria, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. Most states also have the Christian Lawyers Fellowship(CLASFON) that can be approached for recommendations. It is important to choose persons of proven integrity and if necessary skill in the subject area of the dispute.

This writer is aware of the Christian Mediation Centre set up by CLASFON at the national level to enable Christians to resolve their disputes in a Christlike manner. In the same vein, big denominations like Baptists may choose to maintain an ADR centre, where complaints between members, leaders and others can be effectively resolved without recourse to courts. The Church can also insist that members should not sue one another, rather mature Christians, should be appointed to resolve the matter and their decision is binding on the parties. Those with court cases already should withdraw and go for arbitration.

Conclusion 

Our goal as Christians should be to please the Lord in all things – we must, therefore, submit to his commands concerning conflict resolution. Fortunately, our legal system has provided a way out – let us take advantage of it