Spiritual Sounding Board: The Legacy That a Defamation Lawsuit Left to the Survivor Community

A guest post by brad/futuristguy.

Today marks the four-year anniversary of what turned into a five-plus-month lawsuit by Charles O’Neal and Beaverton Grace Bible Church (BGBC) against Julie Anne Smith and four other defendants.

He alleged defamation (in part because Julie Anne posted negative online reviews of him and his church), he wanted a jury trial, and he sued for $500,000. Instead, he was Anti-SLAPPED when the defendants alleged this was a frivolous lawsuit meant to silence them; he lost his case via a decision from a judge; and, as the losers of the case, he and his church had to pay over $60,000 to cover all court costs and the defendants’ legal fees.

I got in touch with Julie Anne last week because I remembered this milestone was coming up. We’d known each other from almost the very day she was served the lawsuit papers – February 22, 2012. As she quickly reached the end of her rope and reached out for help from people in the survivor community, we connected through a mutual friend. I ended up tracking her unfolding story and eventually archived the research on it, because I had a hunch it would turn out to be useful.

Anyway, I’d been thinking about Julie Anne’s experiences and the impact she’s had as a result – especially through her Spiritual Sounding Board social media: blog, forum, Facebook page, and @defendthesheep Twitter account. Sometimes it’s good to just stop and take stock. So, in an email thread, I asked her this: “JA — maybe you can respond when you get a chance and share how many people have gotten in touch with you since the trial, and number of posts you’ve done, and total comments.” She wrote back with the following:

I’ve never kept track of how many people have gotten in touch with me. There were hundreds (close to 500 as I recall after the story went viral). I responded to each one and it took several months. I figured if they took the time to reach out to me, the least I could do is respond back. (And I type fast.)

There are currently 66,339 comments posted (I’ve deleted some along the way – darn trolls), and about 920 posts.

Someone once said they don’t consider themself an activist, but as someone who is pissed off.

I’m pretty sure that’s partly what an activist is – someone who is pissed off and then chooses to do something about it. I am one angry ginger 😉 I use sarcasm and joke around a lot to keep my sanity. And I vent to key support people when I need to. Blogging is not easy stuff.

Indeed, it isn’t easy. It’s a lot of work to put together posts that make a difference, moderate comments, respond to inquiries from those who are hurting. And if statistics are one indicator of connection, then it’d be intriguing to know what else has happened. I did some additional research and found out a few facts about this site’s statistics. Julie Anne mentioned 920 posts – and they happen to be posted in 169 categories, with a total of 1,006 tags to help in search processes. Looking at her top 100 most viewed articles:

  • The top 27 posts have over 10,000 views each. (The top 11 all have over 20,000 views each.)
  • The next 43 posts have between 5,000 to 9,999 views each.
  • The next 30 posts have between 3,791 and 4,999 views each.

There’s no doubt that Julie Anne and Spiritual Sounding Board have played important roles in abuse survivor communities – in less than four years, the SSB home page has had 942,838 views (an average of 650 per day for the last four years). Won’t be long before SSB gets to the one million hit mark.

Where some survivor blogs address one specific leader, organization, or situation, Julie Anne’s covers a wide range of theologies, institutions, and issues where there is apparent abuse of power by religious leaders. In the Spiritual Sounding Board private forum, survivors can find support from people who “get it” about what they’re facing and are willing to help them recover from the trauma. On the Facebook and Twitter pages, they’ll find links to related issues and stories elsewhere on the net.

But really, who would’ve thought that a lawsuit that seemed meant to intimidate and destroy, instead sparked resources to comfort and edify? Thanks, Julie Anne, for investing yourself in finding a redemptive edge within a destructive situation, and thereby bringing light and hope to many … You.Rock.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Spiritual Sounding Board – 942,838 hits on the home page as of the morning of February 22, 2016.

Top 11 posts, 20,000 to 53,000+ views each:

  1. Christian Domestic Discipline (Wife Spanking): A Personal Story, and a Closer Look at Patterns Connected with this Abusive Practice
  2. The Christian Patriarchy Movement’s Dark Secret of Wife Spanking
  3. Calvary Chapel Pastor Bob Coy’s Story of Moral Corruption Leads Calvary Chapel Members to Share Their Personal Stories
  4. Wife Undermines Her Husband’s Authority in Front of Children, He Disciplines Her
  5. Doug Phillips Resigns from Office of President at Vision Forum, Discontinues Speaking Engagements
  6. Compelling Evidence that Vision Forum Inc. is Closing, Liquidating and Doug Phillips “Show” of Repentance Revealed
  7. Supporting Survivors of Doug Phillips’ Apostasy
  8. Bill Gothard’s New Program/Ministry: Total Success Power Teams
  9. Doug Phillips: “Disowns” Former Vision Forum Executive Assistant to President, Peter Bradrick, Calls Him “Destroyer” When Confronted about Sins
  10. Former Long-Time Harvest Bible Chapel Elder Dave Corning Accuses Pastor James MacDonald of Abuse of Power, Lack of Accountability
  11. Six Homeschool Brothers Arrested for Alleged Sex Abuse against Younger Sister


42 thoughts on “Spiritual Sounding Board: The Legacy That a Defamation Lawsuit Left to the Survivor Community”

  1. Well done brad/futuristguy.

    And very well done Julie Anne.
    Thank you for all your hard work.

    I have enjoyed knowing you, reading your words, and learning.
    You have attracted and blessed many great commenters.

    You, and most all the commenters…

    Give me hope…

    Thank You Jesus

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I found Julie Anne’s blog I was floored that people were naming their spiritually abuse experiences, many that reflected parts of my story. I wondered how on earth do these people have the courage to call their pastors out on the internet. I waded in carefully using the name scared, the first time I posted my anxiety went through the roof. That was about three years ago. As I have stated before I am no longer scared, I am not as bold as many are here, but I have come a long long way.

    Julie Anne, you & I have spoken several times and you feel like a kindred spirited sister to me, thank-you so much. Most everyone here has touched my heart, opened my eyes & helped me to be a critical thinker. It is a blessing to know that I am not alone, my heart aches that there are so many horrific abuse stories and I long for the day when our tender, loving Lord Jesus wipes everyones tears away. Love, Gail aka gm370

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh wow, Brad, thank you for this. I’m in between classes and looking at it for the first time (Brad has admin privileges here and I told him to post it without me looking at it because I was at school.)

    Yesterday, Brad asked if he could work on a guest post to commemorate the blog’s 4-yr mark. Brad is always good at looking at milestone dates and looks at things through his eyes as a futurist. Brad is a behind-the-scenes guy who doesn’t get enough credit. When I know I’m working on a post that will likely get a lot of traffic, he is the one who edits it, makes sure the important points are very clear, and generally, he makes me look good. He’s also the first one I call when there’s a complicated situation and I need a sounding board. And most gratefully, he’s a dear friend.

    When I started the blog, it was primarily because my voice was shut down. I knew there had to be others from BGBC who had similar stories to mine and who were shut down, too. I wanted them to see that they were not the only one – even if they never responded. When you leave a bad church and are shunned, it feels like part of your life is on hold with unfinished business. There is no resolution with shunning. It’s a bully’s way of making you feel uneasy about the relationships ripped apart and left hanging with no resolution. I consider shunning to be one of the most insidious forms of abuse in the church.

    Lo and behold, the blog started getting spread around to people who had left the church. I started getting e-mails from people who had left even 10 years prior to our family attending. See what I mean? Ten years and people were still feeling the effects of spiritual abuse and shunning. The pain doesn’t just go away.

    And then when the story went viral, it seemed to resonate with so many. I was shocked that so many seemed to be in a type of Christian limbo – – not knowing quite how to move forward, what to do with their pain, but knowing that something was very wrong with Christianity and their experience. It made sense why so many were leaving church entirely. Why wasn’t anyone addressing these issues? Why didn’t they have a place where they could talk about their experience?

    That’s why after the lawsuit, I changed the domain, blog name beyond the scope of my personal experience to cover stories of abuse, other church and Christian group experiences.

    These stories are your stories and your voices. And for others, this is a place where you see the pain and you choose to be part of the community and support those who have been harmed.

    I never would have imagined this trajectory, but it has been an amazing journey with lots of reasons to cry and also a lot of reason to hope. Thank you, friends 🙂

    Liked by 8 people

  4. Hi Gail

    Yes, I remember “When”…
    When you commented as “scared.”

    And I still remember “When” a commenter renamed you “sacred.”
    That was real cool.

    And, if I remember correctly…
    Didn’t you also sign on for awhile as “Gail No Longer scared”

    Yes – You “have come a long long way.” 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Hi A. Amos Love

    Yes, you have a great memory! Wasn’t it you who renamed me as sacred?! When I signed up at wordpress ( I am not very good at computer stuff) it showed up as gm370. You were one of the first people here Amos that e-mailed me, I will never forget your kindness. I know longer feel guilty for not attending the building on Sunday or any other day of the week. It is a thing of wonder to listen to Jesus and follow him & not the traditions of men. Hope you are doing well!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. From scarred and scared to sacred. I think that this near-dyslexia was really-fixlexia! A good turn of phrase, that was, @Amos! Makes sense, as healing often turns us inside out, exposing to the light what’s been hiding in the dark …

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Abusive clergy often have a sense of entitlement similar to the components of narcissistic personality disorder. Among them is not liking being crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve never been a victim of spiritual abuse, but all of you have my sympathy. Any time people are treated like they’re worshiped, as often happens to celebrities and high level politicians, they start to believe they deserve it. The same must be true of clergy, especially in big churches.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “But really, who would’ve thought that a lawsuit that seemed meant to intimidate and destroy, instead sparked resources to comfort and edify?”

    Like Joseph said to his brothers, “Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now.”

    Liked by 3 people

  10. (And given the fact that there were times during my abuse when I wished I was dead – and blogs like Julie Anne’s were a lifeline – I don’t think the mention of ‘keeping people alive’ is so very far from the truth!)

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Julie Anne and SSB, congrats on your 4 years of blogging in the abuse survivor community. Julie Anne has also been a major source of support for many folks from the SGM scandal. Behind the scenes, she has been a powerhouse of advocacy and sensitivity to many of us. I will never forget her care for me during the first few months after we made the decision to sue the influential, international denomination of Sovereign Grace (now Sovereign Grace Churches) over the horrific, alleged sexual abuse cover-up. I reached out to JA on the phone – because of the then current lawsuit that she was attacked with – for moral support. In her, I found a strong sister of support, with a big heart and great humor. Thank you and Happy Anniversary, SSB and JA.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Thanks, Brad, for your excellent work and your continued support of Julie Anne. It’s always great to have someone like you on your side.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. @Kathi … thanks! And did you know that this is what my business card actually says:

    Brad Sargent ~ Superhero Sidekick

    I help you identify, validate, amplify, and activate your superpowers.

    And, hopefully, help you keep from distributing your kryptonite krud on others.

    In Jesus’ name, amen.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. “From scarred and scared to sacred. I think that this near-dyslexia was really-fixlexia!”


    And yes Julie Anne — you.rock.
    I remember when Jeff Crippen first heard of you and mentioned you to me. He was unsure whether you were just an attention seeker or gold digger. Pretty soon it became clear that he didn’t need to suspect you! And you’ve become a great friend of A Cry For Justice.

    I’ll never forget meeting you that one time we have met; it was so exhilarating just to see you walk through the door. I knew already how much we were on same page, and to meet you in person was like a bolt of electricity 🙂

    Keep on keeping on, dear sister. And may your blog and your network be blessed. And the same for all the survivors of spiritual abuse who come here. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Just over a year ago a very special angel, through the hands of Julie Anne, saved me and my husband from getting evicted. Their extremely generous gift changed our lives. It’s been a year and every time I pay rent I am reminded of our angel and say a prayer of gratitude. We continue to face challenges today including navigating life from a wheelchair but we are here and that is enough. Had it not been for this lawsuit from Julie Anne’s former pastor which led to the this blog and the creation of family, we would not be where we are today.

    Julie Anne and all of the angels in this family, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know I don’t comment here nearly enough but you are all still my family. And to my mom who I know reads here, yes I really do comment. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  16. My thanks also from the bottom of my heart for the Angel who helped out my daughter, Mandy. Mandy was the one who got me reading this blog. There are things I can’t mention here, but I too suffered a form of spiritual abuse. Listening to other stories has helped me out tremendously in my walk with Christ. Many times I am moved to tears as I read these stories. Often times I feel so helpless as to what I can do to help others in the terrible things they are going through. Like Mandy, I am also in a wheelchair due to a genetic syndrome we both share. But I know that I can pray for the people on this blog as does Mandy. We serve a mighty God who is all powerful as he has shown in the lives of these people on this blog. May God continue to bless you Julie Ann and Brad as you cover the stories of those in need.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I remember when Jeff Crippen first heard of you and mentioned you to me. He was unsure whether you were just an attention seeker or gold digger.

    Ok, now that is funny 🙂 I remember the day I met you two very well. You two are trusted friends to me, and to those who have been harmed by abuse. It was your articles that challenged me to look deeper into the issue of abuse in a marriage with regard to divorce. It had never made sense to me that God would be okay with a woman divorcing because her husband had sex with another, but would not be okay with divorcing a husband who could beat her up physically, emotionally, spiritually. Thanks, Barb 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Harley,

    Thank you for your kind note. It’s been wonderful to journey with Mandy when she was single, and then through marriage, and also be part of praying for her with her health issues. I had no idea that you also read here. I’m thrilled to know that you, too, have benefited by the many voices here. Thanks so much for commenting 🙂


  19. Thank you, Janet, for your comment. You are so right – when people feel the need to be worshiped, the sense of entitlement seems to take over at the expense of treating people like real human beings. Those are exactly the people who should not be in ministry.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Like Joseph said to his brothers, “Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now.”

    livingliminal, Joseph’s story is one of my all-time favorites. I liked him so much, I wanted to name one of my boys after him, but then again, Joseph Smith probably wouldn’t have worked the way I had intended. Bummer!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Julie Ann, you are such an encouragement to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    I can’t tell you how much it means to me to read the other commenters, as well. Each of your names are becoming familiar to me and I look forward to reading your thoughts. I’ve learned so much since finding this blog, most importantly, I am not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I reached out to JA on the phone – because of the then current lawsuit that she was attacked with – for moral support. In her, I found a strong sister of support, with a big heart and great humor.

    Pam, I just looked up some of those early SGM posts and was surprised that it was so long ago. There is something about connecting with survivors on the phone – – you get to hear the pain, the humanity, the realness of the situation that church leaders dismissed or even lied about. I think once you connect with those raw emotions, you can’t help but want to be involved. Thank you for trusting me, Pam. You are my hero and your advocacy work is remarkable.


  23. What an encouraging note, Shy1. I have to tell you that I have learned so much, too, because of those who have shared here. I think the feeling of being alone in pain has got to be one of the worst feelings ever. I’m glad you now know the truth – – you aren’t alone!


  24. Julie Anne, I haven’t had near the horrendous experiences that many here have had with church “leadership”, but it has been an added blessing to me to connect the red flags that I had been over looking. I have had the opportunity to look back at what was being taught, how unBiblical it was and how it lead to additional domestic abuse that could have been avoided.

    We are suppose to put on a happy face because we are Christians and have hope in Christ. It is true that my hope is in Christ alone, but I have days where if you saw a smile on my face it would be held up with electrical tape. I was trained to walk through the doors where worship is held, smile, say you’re just fine aka: lie, sit in the seat, listen to the sermon and leave smiling. Once at the car I would allow myself to cry. NO MORE. If I feel the need to cry, I cry. Appropriate face with the appropriate emotion. Jesus loves me anyways. If no one else does, that’s fine. If someone else is in pain and needs to cry, I will cry with them.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. A different Brenda left a wonderful comment on another article this morning that I wanted to share here. Brenda’s words have the potential to bring life to so many trapped wives:

    Dear BezRosezt,

    Your passion to follow Christ is commendable and one that I share. God can heal miraculously and I’ve seen him do it. That being said, I know that predators can molest a child in the presence of many–they are that sly, manipulative and good at what they do. I do know that pedophilia is one of the most difficult of “mental illnesses,” if you want to call it that, to cure or contain. I do know that pedophiles who are married gaslight, minimize, deny and manipulate their partners to see what the pedophile wants them to see. And I do believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient for all who choose to follow Him; He does not require us to lay down our lives for the salvation of another. We are not God.

    The subtle abuse that a predator uses is probably more damaging that a man (or woman) who employs verbal, emotional or physical abuse. This is what the family of a predator experiences–that subtle, steady wearing down of your own perceptions, beliefs and experiences. It is an acceptance of poor treatment as the norm and it sets a child up for a life of experiencing predatory behavior.

    You are right, following Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life but it is also not a sentence to mere existence at the whim of a predator either. Living in truth and freedom is so much better than in the prison of silence and secrets–I am free to live as a dearly loved child of God.

    My hope for you is the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Congratulations on this milestone! I remember reading about the lawsuit at WW and being so shocked at what was happening (although now I wouldn’t be). Your history in that patriarchal unhealthy homeschooling movement mirrored so much of what I had been exposed to. I was just starting to recognize the craziness and coming out of the fog. You were willing to be vulnerable and I so loved your boldness. I found myself praying and cheering for you as the months went on. I’ve learned so much from reading here and want to thank you again for using what the enemy meant for evil for good (and I see much of Romans 8:28 going on here.)


  27. Gail – Brad

    No, it wasn’t me who first wrote “sacred” instead of “scared.”

    I’m-a-thinkin it was first Monax, aka David…
    Who recognized that Gail is “sacred.” Set apart to God.
    But I’m NOT sure.

    Now, I am very sure it was really Jesus…
    Who “changed” Gails name from “scared” to “sacred.”

    Because names have meaning and are important in the Bible…
    And Gail being named “sacred” means…
    Gail is… holy, hallowed, blessed, sanctified,
    venerated, revered, blest, and consecrated. 🙂

    Be blessed… And continue to be a blessing

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Brad

    Love this… “really-fixlexia”

    “From scarred and scared to sacred.
    I think that this near-dyslexia was really-fixlexia!”


  29. Dear Julie Anne,
    Congrats on four years! Good job, Brad! I well remember the day I found a letter that was sent to me anonymously posted on SSB after my own world exploded in scandal and betrayal. I had no idea who wrote the letter or how it ended up on SSB. With your help, I was having dinner with the author within a week and we have been supporting other former partners of pedophiles ever since. You have a mission and you are executing it flawlessly. Thank you for all that you do to minister to those wounded in religious contexts.



  30. Brenda,

    Thank you, Brenda! You two have done amazing work in supporting wives/partners of pedophiles. Now, because of ONE blog post, dozens of women have been helped and know that they are not alone. What an amazing thing! I’m so glad to know you two and value your friendship!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Julie Anne: Congratulations on the 4 year anniversary of your blog! I have been reading and commenting here for about two years now (I think). Time goes by so quickly. Your posts on spiritual abuse in the church especially resonate with me, because of my own experiences of spiritual abuse in a Christian cult. I look forward to each of your new entries and the comments that follow. I am so glad to hear about all of those you have helped, by being a supportive friend with a listening ear. Here is to MANY more successful years of blogging!

    Liked by 1 person

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