Mediating family religious disputes?

Teaching really does have its rewards.  Last week I emphasized to the students in my Mediation & Arbitration class that one question they should ask themselves throughout the semester is whether the dispute resolution process used in any particular dispute is appropriate for that dispute.  A few days later a student in that class brought this article to my attention, reporting on a Florida Juvenile Court that ordered mediation of a dispute between an Ohio teen and her parents over their alleged threat to kill her because she wanted to convert from Islam to Christianity.  (The girl had run away from her home in Ohio to seek refuge with a Christian church in Orlando, Florida.) 

So, I ask you out there in the ADR blogosphere:  Is mediation appropriate for this dispute?


2 thoughts on “Mediating family religious disputes?”

  1. I come at this from a slightly different angle.

    A significant aspect, beyond the issues so thoughtfully addressed above by Vicky, is that it appears this case involves abuse and threats of future abuse. Therefore, my concerns include: Are cases of child abuse/domestic violence appropriate for mediation?

    Although I can’t respond to this question with an “always” or a “never,” as a survivor of child abuse, I cannot imagine that as a child or teenager I would have ever felt safe enough to mediate with my abuser: the power imbalance is far too overwhelming and complex. To expose the situation to any extent would have me at tremendous risk; I can’t imagine there would have been anything to gain.

    Certainly, we are more aware these days of the complexities of domestic violence. However, the ability of an abuser to manipulate facts, emotions and power should not be underestimated.

    This said, I realize too, that this particular situation, might not be viewed as involving abuse in all cultures.

    Well now. . .I’ve been really helpful. Making things more complex is what I do best.

  2. There are really two questions here. The first is whether Courts should be ORDERING mediation (“mediation is a voluntary process” .. . etc). I know this is an old issue and mostly settled in favor of the Courts’ recognition that cases WILL settle if the parties are ORDERED to engage in the voluntary mediation process. If the dispute was SIMPLY religious, and not a threatened crime (i.e., restricting the kid to her room if she converts as opposed to killing her) there might be outrage in the community that it is no business of secular courts to be ordering people to mediate religious disputes among family members.

    The second question is whether mediation is equipped to deal with disputes that are premised upon principles that are traditionally seen not to be subject to compromise, often because they involve matters of faith that ipse dixit are not subject of rational analysis. It’s not ALL that long ago that Jewish parents sat Shiva for children who married outside the faith: treating them as dead (once again, not ACTUALLY killing them, but still . . . . )

    Having earned my LL.M at an explicitly religious (Church of Christ) University (Pepperdine) these questions of the ability of mediation to assist people resolve religious disputes received quite a lot of class time. My professors who taught conflict resolution and religion stressed the need to appeal to the disputing parties shared higher values (for disputes within the same religion) and the need for parties to have “conversations of the heart” (the telling of personal stories and the discussion of historic community “wounds”) when dealing with disputes over religion between or among religions.

    I highly recommend Brian Cox’ book Faith-Based Reconciliation for students who wish to pursue this issue:

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