Every account like this makes a difference for those of us who’ve survived spiritually abusive situations.
And hopefully, in the long run, courageous people like yourself and others who choose to do something will help turn the tide.
Stroll back with me to one year ago. A year ago, my life was about to turn upside down. Having been silenced through abuse during my childhood, I was not about to be silenced again by a man who was no longer my pastor and had managed to get Google to remove my Google reviews. And so a blog was started: BGBC Survivors.
It’s interesting to go back and read those initial posts and comments from readers. This morning I noticed that all of the initial commenters used “Anonymous” as their pseudonym when posting. Why was that? Because these people knew the power of that pastor – that Pastor Chuck O’Neal would create all sorts of trouble for them if they dared to comment using their real name.
Take a look at the very first comment on the blog:
All this is doing is like aggravating a mad dog.
You’ll end up getting bit.
You need to leave this alone and get on with your life.
He is not worth your time and effort.
It was very clear from the very beginning that I was stumbling in dangerous territory by blogging about my former church situation.
I did in fact aggravate a mad dog. Within days of the blog’s release, I received notice the legal complaint suing me and 3 others for defamation. A couple of weeks later, Meaghan was the first person to use an identifiable name when she posted a comment on the blog. Guess what happened? Weeks later, she was sued. Adding Meaghan to the defamation lawsuit was meant to silence her and sent a loud statement to anyone else who might want to speak out on my blog. It was clear – Pastor Chuck O’Neal wanted it to be known that you do not get to question or challenge or talk about him without facing a consequence. Chuck O’Neal’s strong response seemed like a powerful statement; however, those of us who have left these kinds of high-controlling environments now understand that this was really a man showing a display of ultimate weakness. True strength is shown in honesty, integrity, full disclosure, humility, and vulnerability, not by bullying and silencing. We know the difference now. We will not be silenced.
Within weeks of my first Google review, Chuck wrote a “review” in which he reviewed me. His comment as well as mine left a virtual footprint in the archives of the internet. The internet is a place in which there is a virtual footprint left even when someone attempts to “clean their image.” Following our case, we were able to see a consistent track record of trying to do damage control. We saw changed Google reviews, a continually changing church website, a changed press release without any notification. He and followers left virtual footprints on comments on blogs, Google reviews, forums, and on Twitter.
After receiving the official court documents, I reached out to three people who had experience with spiritual abuse, two of which responded. Barb Orlowski ~ Church Exiters was one who responded and she put me in contact with a group. In that group was a guy named Brad Sargent.
On May 1, I received my first direct correspondence with Brad when he asked me to send him the court documents. He also sent encouragement and offered prayer support. I sent him the court documents as they became available.
In one of his e-mails, he offered this beatitude to me. Knowing what has transpired throughout last year, this is really meaningful to me, especially now:
Blessed are the tenacious, for they shall stand on the summit and see
from where God has brought them. ~Brad Sargent
This is the first comment I found from Brad on my blog on May 14, shortly after the initial media exposure:
Julie Anne, you’ve been an inspiration and are being a role model. I especially appreciate your discernment and diligence in wrangling the many demands brought on by interviews, comments, emails, etc. You’re handling a tough situation with grace, compassion, and kindness. Thanks for sharing your story and documentation. Every account like this makes a difference for those of us who’ve survived spiritually abusive situations. And, hopefully, in the long run courageous people like yourself and others who choose to do something will help turn the tide. We’ve got to get from intervention when people are already being hurt by malignant ministries, to prevention so they don’t happen as much anymore. Thanks again for the important part you’re playing … and thanks for inviting us into the situation to pray. Seven days and counting down … Brad/futuristguy (JA italicized/bolded)
Little did I know that Brad was behind the scenes on my case. When Brad said, “Every account like this makes a difference for those of us who’ve survived spiritually abusive situations,” he was not kidding. He had been compiling information about our case, blog hits, and key developments. The first occasion in which I got a real picture of what Brad was doing was in a comment on the The Wartburg Watch blog. Keep in mind, this was the time our story went viral. I was skipping meals, getting very little sleep, and my blog exploded with hits, comments, and my e-mail box was overflowing, so I barely skimmed over Brad’s comment because of lack of time. But I do remember being amazed at the information he provided and wondered why did this person care so much about my case and why was he going to such measures to compile this information. Here is part of his comment from the Wartburg Blog.
I have followed Julie Anne Smith’s situation and blog since very early in March, and I’ve been especially watching this “blowin’ up” internationally the past few days as the KATU interview and article went viral.
I removed a couple of paragraphs from Brad’s comment right here and will refer to them later. Keep reading:
Meanwhile, here are some supplemental research materials and observations I’ve pulled together about these issues and the social media impact of the story.
The KATU story was posted in the U.S., early morning Saturday, May 12. By this morning (Monday), it truly had gone around the world once already. International media and news services picked it up first in at least Australia and Korea by Sunday. It had made its way to Europe and UK by early this morning (Monday) Pacific Daylight Time U.S. It’s been picked up by major media news websites, as you mentioned (ABC, Fox), and also niche news aggregators (like Religion News Blog).
I’ve especially been watching the action in posts, comments, and Google Reviews. Blogger sites and spiritual abuse survivor sites and watchdog sites have tweeted and/or posted about it. Commenters on various sites have mentioned that at least four or five different Facebook spiritual abuse/cult survivor groups have posted links to the KATU story and/or Julie Anne’s blog. And I’ve seen at least a dozen links among my Facebook friends who aren’t part of spiritual abuse survivor groups.
The response has been intense, perhaps especially among those who aren’t Christians. As of very early this morning, the KATU site had about 200 commenters, and Julie Anne’s three most recent posts (dealing with the “news leak” and Hannah’s story and support) have a total over 200 (and at 3 PM PDT, it’s at 230 – plus she has deleted a number of exceptionally antagonistic comments).
Julie Anne’s been doing a stellar job in responding with peace, grace, kindness, humor, and courage – whether to “trolls” who want to stir things up and condemn her or Christianity, or to those whose comments show misunderstanding, agitation, or difficult personal experiences of surviving abuse. In case something like this happens to others of us who are bloggers, I think Julie Anne’s giving us an amazing model of grace under pressure and responding in a Christlike way to all.
It’s been particular intriguing to track what’s happened with the Google Review rating for Beaverton Grace Bible Church.
I’ve watched their rating vary over the past 10 weeks since early March, as some members and visitors posted glowing 5-star reviews, and some ex-members and visitors posted negative reviews (mostly 1 star). But, as best I can remember, the overall rating was 4 out of 5 stars before the KATU interview/article was posted Saturday. It fell to 2 stars by Sunday, as people from U.S. and beyond have posted negative comments. As of about 3 PM today (PDT), the rating is just 1.5 out of 5.
Of the 129 reviews currently posted, 26 were posted 2 weeks ago or more (the oldest one currently posted being from Pastor O’Neal and marked “2 years ago”). These older reviews give a mix of high and low ratings. Basically, everything since two weeks ago has been a one-star rating. Saturday, there were 28 such reviews; Sunday, 32 reviews; Monday so far, 43 reviews.
It appears that Pastor O’Neal’s February 25, 2012, review of his own church has disappeared from the Google Reviews for Beaverton Grace Bible Church. That’s the review Julie Anne’s blog copied and posted that begins with “DEFAMATION IS A CRIME,” and that other blogs have referred to. See:
Though that original review is gone (and perhaps it and edited variations thereof can be retrieved via the internet Wayback Machine), as of this afternoon there was still a Google Review from “Langdon.” It was posted 2 months ago, which would put it sometime shortly after Julie Anne began her BGBC Survivors blog. Langdon’s post happened to quote the line from Pastor O’Neal’s review about his being in touch with Grace Community Church. In case the Langdon review likewise happens to disappear from the Google Reviews lineup, I thought I’d copy it here to finish my comment. Thanks again, Dee and Deb, for your work in bringing together this post!
Who does this kind of tracking? Now Brad’s name was etched on my brain. I didn’t know where it would lead, but this guy was obviously following every detail of my story. He was like a documenting machine. I still didn’t get it. But unbeknownst to me at the time (because I barely had time to even think back then), his answer was tucked in that original comment in a couple of paragraphs right before the stats. This is it – what motivates Brad:
I would not be surprised if similar situations arise in the future. The number of “survivor blogs” and spiritual abuse exposure activity online has increased dramatically in the past six months – especially as entrenched Christian celebrities continue to carry on with their usual antics. For those of us who are “citizen journalists” seeking to shine truth with grace into dark places of the Church, Julie Anne’s situation is potentially setting precedents and procedures that we need to think about deeply.
Personally, I think this case should serve as a severe warning to Christian figures who act as if they are not accountable to anyone, and to their partnership providers (publishers, conferences, ministry networks, non-profits). I’m not for muckraking, but I am for light-shining, and if we choose to be in the public eye, we’re tacitly agreeing to public scrutiny.
Brad has been affected by spiritual abuse a number of times in a number of places. He gets it. He has been tracking it. He’s a futurist, uses analyzing skills, and sees patterns. Brad has given the Spiritual Abuse Survivor community a gift and today I am so pleased to announce it.
If you look up in the links at the top of the blog beneath the sounding board picture, you will see “BGBC Defamation Lawsuit Archive.” Put your cursor over it and you will see a drop-down menu:
Within those links you will find hours and hours of Brad’s work as he documented our E.N.T.I.R.E. case even up to this week. Why is this a gift to the Survivor community? Because in the archives he shows how to document, how to use critical thinking skills, how to see the full picture of what is going on in spiritual abuse cases. Brad has set the standard for all spiritual abuse cases. This will be an amazing resource for anyone who is sued or is documenting abuse within their church.
In the archives, you will find a very cool virtual timeline showing all of the events, developments, court documents, links to media interviews, blogs, news articles. If you are a visual, that is a great place to start.
Take note: there are key places where you can put comments, but it will be monitored. Be sure to read the special instructions. Aside from this special blog post on BGBC, I have moved on from BGBC and do not want to give time or effort to the goings on of Chuck O’Neal, his Impostor Blog, or his and his follower’s tweets here on this blog. Please take a look at Brad’s tremendous work. I think you will see how valuable it is to the Survivor community. Please feel free to pass the link along to others in abusive church situations.
Brad: My heart is full of thanks to you for this valuable work you have done. You have used your special talents and gifts, focused in an area where you have been pained spiritually and emotionally, and have created something very positive and helpful for the rest of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor community. Thank you!