- Analyzing the “Alternative/Impostor” Survivors Site of the O’Neals and Beaverton Grace Bible Church
- Final Thoughts: Thinking Legally, Thinking Logically
- Comment Series by futuristguy on Todd Rhoades’ Post: “Pastor Starts Website to Attack Church’s Attackers”
- Analysis by Brad Sargent of an Undated Letter from the O’Neal’s Attorney Regarding DHS Investigation in 2008
- Musings on Online Media, “The Streisand Effect,” and News that Activates the Public
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The articles in this section cover a range of topics, but have in common their focus on providing analysis and opinion about significant issues related to the in-court case of Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith or the out-of-court case as presented in the arena of public interest and public opinion. Additional “invited articles” may appear here at a later time.
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Analyzing the “Alternative/Impostor” Survivors Site
~ of the O’Neals and Beaverton Grace Bible Church ~
When I began the final work in writing this case study on Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith, I wrestled a long time with the basic framework for organizing the material. It took days to settle in with the plaintiffs’ allegations as the organizing principle: How does this event and person, or that statement and document, relate with what the plaintiffs thought was important enough to put into the Complaint and Amended Complaint?
This piece summarizing some aspects of the O’Neals’ “alternative” BGBC Suvivors website is the final one I am writing. (It’s also been termed the “impostor site” for its knock-off name take from the blog of Julie Anne Smith.) I find myself ending the case study where I began – framing it according to the plaintiffs’ allegations in their lawsuit. And so, the observations I gleaned here tie in with analysis done by the defense on the court case. But first, some background on this website.
The O’Neal/BGBC defamation lawsuit was filed February 22, 2012.
Julie Anne Smith began her BGBC Survivors BlogSpot/Blogger site on February 24, 2012.
The domain for BGBC Survivors dot org was purchased for Beaverton Grace Bible Church, and registered by April 19, 2012, with Chuck O’Neal listed as the contact person.
The first court date was May 14, 2012. The second and final court date was July 13, 2012.
The O’Neal/BGBC defamation lawsuit was dismissed July 23, 2012.
At least one of the videos (for “02 A Christmas Card from the DHS”) was shot on or about that same week, as it referred to an incident that happened in the courtroom (July 13) as being “while in court a week ago.”
The alternative O’Neal/BGBC “Survivors” blog was activated with its first posts on December 2, 2012.
Announcements, such as on Twitter, that this new blog had been launched showed up as early as December 10, and some comments were posted the next day.
I skimmed various posts in December and early January, and then made a complete, comprehensive reading on January 15-16, 2013. At that time, there were 2 pages (About, Contact) and 29 posts with 19 videos totaling about 2 hours 15 minutes, and numerous documents (images, PDFs). I went through everything that was available on the entire website, in the chronological order of the postings so I could experience the flow of the overall argument in the way the website authors intended it to be presented.
It took me at least 12 hours to do this. I took regular breaks so I could review them without getting overtired, but also did my review in a condensed time frame of two days with no other major tasks happening, so I could make additional “big picture” observations that aren’t so apparent in a longer time frame.
Key Observations and Conclusions
Here are observations – mostly about big-picture patterns. Some of these compare what’s on the O’Neal/BGBC website versus what appears in their court documents. In some cases, my observations are designed to note issues for further investigation.
Domain Name and Website Name. The domain name is bgbcsurvivors dot org. The name of the website is “True BGBC Survivors.” The banner headline says, “Surviving Four Years of Hate, Reviling Accusations, and Criminal Slander.” While the headline describes the perspective of people involved on the site, the domain and website names are problematic. Both are a direct take-off from the BlogSpot/Blogger site originated by Ms. Smith. Regardless of the reasons for doing this, it raises questions about how ethical it is to do this. Some commenters elsewhere have wondered if there could even be legal issues with infringement.
Fact versus Opinion. It is important to note that the website includes disclaimers. These appear on nearly every individual post, and on the home page. Most read something like this:
*This statement and the following video reflect the opinions of the author based upon the facts as understood by the author.
This is important because it means the authors recognize their website as OPINION – what they view as facts, and how they view them.
“Fired Employee” / “Friend.” The particular person who was fired from staff at BGBC is never named on this website, nor in any allegations in the Complaints. He is referred to with terms like “the fired employee” or “a very close friend of the Varelas and the Smiths.” And yet, his firing is mentioned on the website numerous times as the point when affections of numerous people in the church changed toward its leadership. Clearly he holds a key role, at least in the history of what happened in November 2008 through January 2009. Perhaps there is some reason for not naming him overtly, but that seems to be something for further investigation.
[UPDATE FEBRUARY 2013: In a February 2013 post on the O’Neals’ “true” BGBC Survivors blog, this former employee is named. It is unknown if there is any significance to the timing, but the fact of finally using his name does raise questions.]
Meaghan Varela and Julie Anne Smith. I did not do a formal “content analysis” by counting the number of words or number of posts focused on a particular person or topic. However, my brain was keeping track informally, and I had the very strong impression that the most important person, in the minds of multiple people who posted articles and/or comments, was clearly Meaghan Varela. The amount of print space and video time dedicated to laying out the case against her was far more than spent on Ms. Smith. Ms. Varela is their main accuser/nemesis.
This is quite curious, as nine months earlier when the Complaint was filed (February 22, 2012), there were zero allegations against Meaghan Varela – she was not even listed as a defendant. In contrast, 11 out of 17 allegations were listed in that document for Julie Anne Smith. Ms. Varela was not even served with papers as a defendant until after the Amended Complaint was filed (April 26, 2012), and then only 4 of 27 allegations applied to her. Based on the attention given to Ms. Smith in the various Complaints, one could easily assume she was the person of main concern.
[UPDATE FEBRUARY 2013: Three February 2013 posts on the O’Neals’ “true” BGBC Survivors blog all strongly focus on Julie Anne Smith. Perhaps the overall emphasis on that blog is shifting.]
Speculative Declarations About Ms. Varela. This court case had a rather convoluted timeline. Ms. Varela was added as a defendant very late in the process with the Amended Complaint. This was just over three weeks before the first court date. She was not served papers until a while later. So, this caused the defense to function under a tight time schedule to analyze the four allegations of defamation against this newly-added defendant.
It is curious is that the core accusation about Ms. Varela filing a false report of physical and sexual abuse against Charles O’Neal is not mentioned in the defamation allegations against her. And yet, most of the declarations filed for the plaintiffs contained the speculative conclusion with absolutely no first-hand evidence that Ms. Varela filed a DHS report on Charles O’Neal. Ms. Varela’s attorney responded thus:
“Defendant Varela had not been served at the time of the filings of the declarations, or the hearings, but for some unexplained reasons, many of the declarants made unsupported accusations against her.” (Defendant Varela’s Motions to Strike; May 17, 2012; page 1)
Many of the blog posts and comments on the O’Neal/BGBC website also repeat the O’Neals’ speculative opinion that it was Ms. Varela who reported Mr. O’Neal to the DHS. The O’Neals drew this conclusion from circumstantial information and hearsay that is not admissible in court, and now other O’Neal family members and BGBC members were repeating this as “fact,” making it third-hand hearsay.
There are many inconsistencies between what the plaintiffs DID do, and what they COULD HAVE done instead. For instance, it is curious to note that NONE of the lawsuit allegations addressed verbal slander. All were based in internet “messages” or, later, blog posts, once Ms. Smith had established her BGBC Survivors blog as of February 24, 2012.
However, the O’Neal/BGBC alternative website clearly states in at least one video that one or more specific persons verbally slandered Chuck O’Neal and another family from the church. Why was this not the basis for an allegation in the lawsuit? Why did the lawsuit only include statements posted on the internet? Why were the recipients of this verbal slander not deposed (or were they?), and the slanderer’s comments not made part of the lawsuit? (Go through the videos and you will find what I am referring to.)
There are significant details left out of readings of emails and court documents. There are partial photocopies or sections of documents posted. In both kinds of cases, it is no longer merely a presentation of information, but an interpretation of the information. The interpretation of a piece changes when you see the entire context it is found in. These changes may be minor, or profound. The more information that is added or that is withheld, probably the more significant the possibility for misinterpretation becomes.
This problem happens constantly on this website. For instance, if you speak aloud what was originally written (email, letter, card, court declaration), the “evidence” now includes your own tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language overlaid on the words of whoever wrote the original piece. Also, the readers here often make side comments that can’t be distinguished from original text by listeners, because they don’t have access to the whole of the original.
With the print documents, at least one was retyped from the original, so we do not know if any words have been changed or left out, or any significant details have been omitted. Other documents were shown in photocopied form, but only snippets from them show. The context here is lost, and there may be other detail on the same page – but not shown – that could radically alter the meaning of what was selected for display.
So, even what is presented as objective “evidence,” has been altered into interpretive. To think it otherwise is misleading, isn’t it?
Connecting the Dots with the Court Documents
The website statements in articles, comments, videos, and documents end up very similar in content to the entire set of declarations provided for the plaintiffs in May 2012. Ultimately, I found the website and all of the plaintiffs documents and declarations to share a common problem in thinking logically interwoven with thinking legally. I close with analysis by Ms. Varela’s attorney, Linda Williams, as shown in her specific objections to assumed evidence provided by the plaintiffs. This appears in the court document labeled “Defendant Varela’s Motions to Strike.” To paraphrase her findings, here are the key legal issues she identified in the set of declarations for the plaintiffs:
- Inadmissible hearsay statements from out-of-court witness.
- Speculation, unsubstantiated opinion, not based on first-hand knowledge.
- Generalization; insufficient specifics.
- Information does not relate to any allegation in the plaintiffs’ Complaint or Amended Complaint.
- Irrelevant to the legal standards on provability, falsity, or absolute malice of the alleged defamatory statements.
Here are examples, direct quotes from that same document, the Defendant Varela’s Motions to Strike (filed May 17, 2012). In most cases, I’ve included the entire paragraph from the text. In several instances, I have deleted the names of other parties.
HEARSAY. Paragraph ¶¶ 9, 12, 13, all contain inadmissible hearsay from someone identified as [NAME] alleged to be a “DHS agent.” The statements of the out-of-court witness, [NAME], are offered for the proof of what they purportedly state. Paragraph 13 also alludes to the verbal “approval” of “the detective” which is also inadmissible hearsay. (page 2, referring to declaration by Tonya Marie O’Neal, the wife of Charles O’Neal)
SPECULATION. “[R]eports and records” of child abuse under ORS 419B.010-419.050 “are confidential and may not be disclosed ***.” ORS 419B.035. At time there was an ongoing investigation into the child molestation charges brought against [NAME OF MINOR] which resulted in his convictions in 2009. See Ex. K, to the Decalaraion [sic] of Linda Williams, April 27, 2012. None of us, including any declarant in this case can know what other witnesses were interviewed by DHS, what those witnesses may have said, or what information from anyone led to the further review of the O’Neal family. (page 3)
GENERALIZATION. Paragraph 16 refers to being attacked with “new criminal accusations” but does not refer to any particular accusation of “criminal” conduct against either Plaintiff or that such accusation was made by Varela. There is no foundation for why these alleged accusations are related to any words complained about in the Amended Complaint. (page 5, referring to declaration by BGBC elder Dale Weaver)
NOT AN ALLEGATION. Paragraph 6, lines 25-26, states without any proof or first-hand knowledge that there were “publications alleging accusations of child abuse in Pastor O’Neal home” and “distribution of pornography.” There is no evidence anywhere of anyone publicizing the investigation of the O’Neal household or of any complaint about some distribution of child pornography near the Church by anyone other than what the O’Neals themselves have undertaken. No allegation in the Amended Complaint makes such claims. Even if there had been such an investigation into any such incidents, there is no foundation to show any knowledge this Declarant has that Varela was involved in reporting. (pages 6-7, referring to declaration by BGBC music leader and children’s teacher Derek Hanson)
IRRELEVANT. Paragraph 9 is irrelevant. No allegation in the pleadings refers to any incidents relating to this Declarant or his classroom. There is no evidence anywhere that anyone or this Defendant [i.e., Meaghan Varela] ever stated anything about Hanson or sex offenders in his classes. This is still another instance of inflammatory, lurid and irrelevant material proffered by Plaintiffs. It is irrelevant and should be stricken. (page 7, referring to declaration by BGBC music leader and children’s teacher Derek Hanson)
In the final analysis, I believe the plaintiffs’ case in court failed for lack of thinking within a logical framework that fits with legal requirements. I believe the plaintiffs’ case in the court of public opinion on this website will ultimately prove futile for the same overall reasons. In case this has piqued your interest, I share more thoughts on this in the next article on Thinking Legally, Thinking Logically.
Conclusion: Elements of Human and the Humane
The last words I have for here are not about arguments or logic or legal standards or evidence. They’re not about being right, or having rights. They’re simply about the fragility and complexity of what it means to be human.
I cannot rejoice at the anger or angst, the troubles or trauma that anyone in this entire situation has had to endure. I hate it that families in BGBC had to worry about their children being moved out of the home. I hate it that so many people have endured loss of friendships, questioned reputations, outright enmities. I hate it that there’s been heart-numbing depression and soul-shaking devastation. I don’t care who’s had to experience it, it’s not something I’d wish on anyone.
This is no “obligatory empathy clause” so I look like a nice guy in the midst of saying difficult stuff. No … I get it. Personally. Especially about traumatic pain.
I have endured situations of relational betrayal and abusive behavior that made me wake up with nightmares, drenched in cold sweat, on the verge of screaming. Night after night for at least six months. I have endured flashbacks to angry people who sought to crush the life right out of me. Sometimes these have occurred 10 years or more after the events, and were triggered by some mere flick of a dismissive gesture by some random person in an unexpected place. But I still gasp. And shudder involuntarily. And run for the door. And hide in my room. Until I calm down and can breath slower again.
I do not wish this kind of horror on anyone. Sadly, in this situation I think there’s been enough such terror to go around for everyone to be touched by its warmth-stealing tentacles. No one wants this. No one deserves this. But, at some point, our conflicts must dissolve – for if through them we lose our humanity, we’ve lost our way in following Jesus.
My deepest hope here is that the Church would learn to move from intervention when things have escalated too far, to prevention so it never needs thus to be intercepted. It’s why I’ve immersed myself for the past five years, studying the mechanisms and cultures of spiritual abuse, and the skills for survival in the midst of trauma. No, I don’t wish this kind of rancor and its results on anyone. I pray for all involved to find restoration of spiritual equilibrium, even if there is no resolution in the ways desired, and that each and every one finds respite from these storms.
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~ Final Thoughts: Thinking Legally, Thinking Logically ~
I found it hard to understand Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith because there seemed to be so many inconsistencies between the plaintiffs’ actual in-court case versus how they seemed to portray the essence of their contention in outside-of-court materials and statements. This presented a huge puzzle and problem. So, figuring things out meant I put in at least 300 hours of trying to keep up with the case as it unfolded, analyze details, and synthesize what I thought I knew.
I’m not the only one who had trouble with this. As I worked on the BGBC Lawsuit Media/Blog Reports 2012 timeline, I read numerous comments from community and church people. I came to realize that many sincere (but often angry) commenters could have reached very different opinions if only they had some key technical legal definitions to evaluate things by. But a lot of us (myself at times, too) jumped to conclusions about different issues, based on everyday language and common sense – instead of the technical definitions and legal ground rules required. Few of us knew the LEGAL criteria for “defamation” or “absolute malice” or “actionable item” or “provable fact” or “frivolous lawsuit.” And I didn’t at first. I needed to learn.
There’s a story behind this that I think will help in future lawsuits (and I fully expect more of these kinds of public conflicts as opposition to spiritually abusive leaders becomes more open.) So I hope you’ll stick with me for this, because I think the conclusions about thinking logically and thinking legally are important.
I am not a lawyer. I never wanted to be a lawyer. But because I strongly believed in people standing up to make a difference, I went into public administration as my initial major in college. I eventually dropped out of that major, after achieving near minors in political science, economics, and sociology. I’d discovered the reality that I’d developed a fatal allergy to red tape and bureaucracy and hence would need to find a different profession for myself.
So, I went into linguistics and teaching English as a second language, not truly knowing what all that meant. But it was a start, and as it turns out, I do use systems analysis tools from linguistics and cross-cultural communication every single day. And they surely did come in handy for studying and understanding this case … such as in detecting patterns, and differentiating facts from opinions, and observations from conclusions!
But, back when I was still in public administration, the curriculum required that I take a class on law. Constitutional law, to be exact. And I am sorry to report, I scored an “F.” Actually, that was only on the first mid-term exam. That hadn’t happened since fifth grade when I failed to read the instructions on an English test. And now, here I was, flunking “Con Law” – a required upper-division course for my major!
What to do? I had carefully prepared all the case law and principles and such for this test. Or, at least I thought I had. In fact, we’d been given the test questions a week in advance – plenty of time to work through the details, memorize my answers, and get myself psyched up and ready. When we walked into the class on test day, the professor wrote half of the questions on the board and we knew that the other half would show up on the final exam.
An “F.” And I thought I’d done so well! But now I could not figure out where I’d gone wrong. I realized eventually that the key problem was that I’d never had to think like a lawyer before. It uses a very different type of logical-historical-nuancing process of reasoning and selection of evidence than I’d done in any other subject.
I went to see the professor, to ask for some practical input. He skimmed through my test booklet, scratched a few more notes here and there, gave me a few more points, and changed the grade to a “D-.” I thanked him, but told him that I didn’t come to see him for that. It was because I’d never done a test like this before, and did he have any suggestions for HOW to do it right next time. So we talked …
Next mid-term, I knocked myself out trying to get it right. Hours and hours spent in parsing the question, finding the evidence, lining it up “logically,” comparing and contrasting different ways of interpreting the principles and precedents. It was quite a different experience in preparation from the first mid-term!
I was still nervous, though. We got into the classroom, the prof put the questions he’d selected on the board, and I downloaded the contents of my brain, just like I’d prepared to do. Next class session, he handed back the exam booklets … only he didn’t have mine. I freaked out and thought I must have bombed the test – again! – or, maybe it was something even worse.
Instead, after distributing the stack of bluebooks, he immediately announced he would go over the answers. He pulled out a bluebook, said it was the best answer to question #1, and then he read it. It was mine! I’d jumped from an “F” to an “A,” because I invested my time to learn how to think like a lawyer. (I think Elle Woods would be proud of me!)
I’ve absorbed those thinking tools over the years, so that I couldn’t tell you now exactly what they were. But I can distill out three personal lessons that I believe are relevant to the BGBC defamation lawsuit.
- It takes a lot of work to reason things through like the legal process requires.
- It is tough to set aside emotions in order to think clearly. (As heroine Elle Woods Harvard professor in “Legally Blonde” quotes from Aristotle, “The law is reason, free from passion.”)
- There are the disastrous consequences of “thinking” we know how to do this kind of thinking, when it turns out we actually don’t.
The reality is, in the courtroom, everyday language and assumptions do not work. They aren’t the ground rules by which a criminal case or a civil suit functions. For instance, it was a common notion among pro-plaintiff blog commenters that unjust and nasty-sounding opinions equaled “defamatory” statements, and that the judge listened to “legal maneuvering” instead of to “the truth.” (And the plaintiffs seemed to have gone with their gut, instead of with the legal guidelines. They lost.) Pro-defendant commenters were often outraged that this case would even be filed, noting that opinions aren’t facts, sloganeering doesn’t get at truth, and lawsuits shouldn’t be used to shut people up. (That’s the whole point of anti-SLAPP, but without a knowledgeable lawyer guiding them through it, how would they even know about it?)
That’s what was circulating around the edges of the online conversations about the lawsuit and in its aftermath. I concluded that most of us simply don’t have the framework to think logically and legally in the way that the ground rules of a civil suit REQUIRE. It doesn’t matter how much we think we know, despite how many TV “legal procedurals,” law firm dramas, or reality courtroom shows we’ve seen.
As I studied this lawsuit while it was unfolding, and participated in the online conversations about it, I could see that some crucial issues circled around people’s lack of understanding about legal and logical thinking. The legal material can be learned. But logical thinking processes take more work.
Both came up in comments I posted directly for the benefit of Mr. O’Neal. These were in response to his assertions on “Chuck O’Neal’s Church Launches ‘True BGBC Survivors’ Website,” posted December 13, 2012, on The Wartburg Watch. This was immediately after he activated his rather aggravating “impostor blog” that uses a domain name similar to the blog of Julie Anne Smith and seems designed to re-try the failed court case, but this time in the court of public opinion. This post had a lively exchange with over 325 comments in three weeks, including almost a dozen from Mr. O’Neal himself, and a few from other BGBC members. I don’t have any evidence that he took my messages to heart. But there is always hope. What follows is one of the comments I wrote. This one remains unanswered by him …
re: Chuck O’Neal on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 12:19 PM:
Pastor O’Neal, Thank you for the information you posted on this thread. I have followed the lawsuit from early on, and have done what I could to learn from it. Your comments add some perspective.
Eventually, I will decide whether to spend time on your website or not. If I choose to do so, it would be as a “critical reader.” This is a complex situation with many internal and external dynamics, and I would be investigating with many factors and questions in mind. And I will also say that your input in this thread reinforces questions to explore similar to those I already have been asking myself.
For instance, initially, it appears reasonable that you are just trying to stop the alleged onslaught of the past four years that you see stemming from a man being fired. But that statement included a lot of conclusions and assumptions, which are not the same as facts.
Meanwhile, it also seems you’re just blaming Julie Anne Smith and Meaghan Varela for you not getting your hoped-for day in court — at least, not in the way you wanted to have it. And I don’t find that reasonable. Because, wasn’t the possibility of an anti-SLAPP motion considered before filing the complaint, since this was a defamation lawsuit? Wasn’t there actually a probability that the civil suit would be stopped with such a measure, and you wouldn’t get the kind of day-in-court that you desired? How did you and your lawyer prepare for that possibility or eventuality?
I was struck by something that seemed askew in your statement: “The fact is they have actively sought the destruction of a church and families through defamation of the worst possible kind.” Wouldn’t it actually be accurate to say, “In my opinion, they have actively sought the destruction of a church and families through defamation of the worst possible kind”? It seems to me you expressed an opinion, not a fact.
So, those are the kinds of issues I’d be looking at before, during, and after any perusal of your blog. I’d be analyzing to what degree I discern your evidence as being credible, complete, and coherent. I’d be analyzing to what degree I discern your perspectives as being reasoned, valid, and constructive. I’d be wondering over each assertion of “fact” you make, and whether it is actually just opinion. I’d ask how all of this might be affecting any evidence you posted on your blog, and wondering what evidences you might have deliberately left unposted.
Actually, wouldn’t that kind of critical thinking be exactly what I’d be required to apply, if I were a member of a jury in your lawsuit?
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Comment Series by futuristguy on Todd Rhoades’ Post: ~ “Pastor Starts Website to Attack Church’s Attackers” ~
Posted by Todd Rhoades (December 18, 2012)
Response on Accusations and Public Conflicts
brad/futuristguy – Part 1 of 3 (December 31, 2012)
Mr. Rhoades, since you asked for thoughts on the matter of accusations and public conflicts among Christians/churches, I decided to join in. I had some general observations about potential solutions, and some thoughts on the situation with the Beaverton Grace Bible Church lawsuit specifically that I’ll post later.
As a research writer with a particular interest in systems of healthy versus toxic leadership. I’ve been writing on related subjects for five years, and, sadly, suspect that these kinds of public disputes may happen more frequently.
Anyway, I have been following – almost since its inception – the lawsuit Charles O’Neal and Beaverton Grace Bible Church jointly filed in February 2012. I’ve done what I can to track its progression through the Oregon court system, including the anti-SLAPP motion, the dropping of two defendants from the case, and the lawsuit dismissal by Judge Jim L. Fun in July 2012. And now we have this rather startling start-up this December of what you have labeled as an “attack” website to counteract the “church’s attackers.”
I’ve been tracking the development of this case because I believe it is setting precedents and demonstrating principles about Christians using courts and blogging as public forums for airing church-based disputes. Frankly, I hope that lawsuits by leaders and congregants don’t become any more commonplace than they have been in the past few years, but there are several more dramatic lawsuits already underway.
For instance, in 2013 we will likely see the playing out of a lawsuit by Bob Grenier, Pastor for Calvary Chapel Visalia, CA, against his step-son Alex Grenier for “cyberbullying” and defamation. There will likely also be the scheduling of the class action lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries as an organization and against multiple lead ministers, primarily for mishandling of child sexual assault cases, negligence for failure/delay in reporting the known instances, etc. And then, there is the situation underway in Oklahoma where five church staff at Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, OK, have been accused of not reporting sexual abuse – a misdemeanor in that state; their hearings have been rescheduled for January 2013.
Public spectacles of civil lawsuits and criminal cases involving Christians are mostly horrible for the name of Christ – though some may expose darkness in the Church and lead to a sense of justice and new/renewed integrity. As far as conflicts involving leadership and/or congregants, I think much of the theological response lies in prevention and training, not in “crisis management.” For instance:
- Congregations and denominations should not put into leadership people who are UNqualified due to lack of spiritual maturity or are DISqualified due to unrepentant personal sin and/or abuses of their authority over others.
- Leaders should be trained on sin issues that also constitute crimes, and on their civil requirements to report known/suspected domestic violence, child abuse/neglect, sexual assault, etc. (Five church staff at Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, OK, have been accused of not reporting sexual abuse; their hearings have been rescheduled for January 2013.)
- Leaders should be trained in conflict resolution skills – including listening and critical thinking skills – and when/how to seek mediation with outside parties who can view the conflict with fresh eyes. Denominations and associations should have qualified and certified mediators available who will put all parties on equal terms and not automatically protect the leaders’ and/or denomination’s image.
- Discipleship and church discipline should always be conducted to be restorative, not punitive.
- Leaders and congregants should be equipped to create and function in an environment that has appropriate respect for those in authority while not negating or dictating individual disciples’ responsibilities.
Do we know any seminaries or leadership training programs that currently address ALL of these issues in a very substantive and practical way, with some kind of case-study and practicum situations and not just book reading (if even that)? And yet, these five examples are among core concerns I see being raised within the online community of “spiritual abuse survivors” who blog about and analyze their experiences of malignant ministers and toxic church systems.
More later about what I think we can do if preventive measures and training fail to resolve conflicts.
brad/futuristguy – Part 2 of 3 (December 31, 2012)
Here are some thoughts about what we can do if preventive measures and training fail to resolve conflicts. Most are still better as long-term measures, but no better time to start on a more constructive future than if/when we face a deconstructive present!
By the time volatile church conflict situations have gotten beyond the possibilities for prevention, we’re left with a complex mess. There are problems with paradigm and theology, organizational strategies and structures, and methods of relating, collaborating, and mediating. Emotions are often deeply bruised. Unheard thoughts either go silent or get shrill. Those traumatized on all sides may fail to think clearly or act wisely. Extreme black-or-white thinking and perfectionistic theology will not extricate us from the mess. (In fact, it probably contributed to the mess in the first place … definitely something there to consider.)
So, what do we do if preventive measures don’t intercept problematic people, or don’t resolve issues? (And that goes in either direction, whether the apparent “troublemakers” seem to be the leaders or the congregants.) How do we respond in ways that live out those five core concerns I mentioned in my last comment – leadership qualifications, requirements to report crimes, conflict resolution skills, restorative church discipline, appropriate authority without negating or dictating individual disciples’ responsibilities?
In other words, how do we simultaneously …
- Demonstrate mature, Christlike character?
- Show respect for the laws of our land?
- Apply skilled and thoughtful communication?
- Listen to voices of observers who are less entangled in the everyday details of the situation?
- Provide outside resource people to mediate disputes?
- Offer constructive discipleship?
- Participate in respectful engagement?
First, we need to be asking questions exactly like those.
Second, we need to study actual (or realistically simulated) cases that embody the issues and principles. We need to observe how they unfold, critique how people act and interact, and discern some ways to respond constructively in the midst of such deep-seated conflicts.
Third, if we don’t do either of those in a relatively safe environment, we put ourselves in a risk situation and need to deal with whatever consequences come, as they surely will.
From about 2010-2013 at least, we happen to be in a period when we’re providentially getting a lot of case studies from both church and culture to examine how to respond. Who could ever have imagined a year or two ago that we’d be seeing the kinds of criminal cases and civil lawsuits and media scandals that have cropped up, mostly dealing with personal and organizational abuse of power? Alleged pedophilia involving Penn State, Boy Scouts USA, The BBC, and specific Catholic Dioceses and Southern Baptist churches. The News Corporation Phone Hacking Scandal, with about 100 arrests already. Sexual assault and alleged failure to report at Victory Christian Center and at churches related to Sovereign Grace Ministries. Defamation lawsuits stemming from leaders at Calvary Chapel Visalia and Beaverton Grace Bible Church (BGBC).
What have we learned from these cases over the past few years?
Who has role-modeled Christlikeness in the midst of conflict, or, if they are not disciples of Jesus, who has role-modeled moral integrity and values?
How have failures to deal forthrightly with the conflict led to even deeper problems?
Where will it take us if we model our behaviors after the men and women involved in these various organizations?
Okay, one final comment on BGBC forthcoming as soon as I can get to editing it. It’ll address what kind of case study I believe the defamation lawsuit filed by Charles O’Neal and BGBC gives us.
brad/futuristguy – Part 3 of 3 (January 1, 2013)
This is the last material I planned to post as a comment here, picking up with question of what kind of case study I believe the defamation lawsuit filed by Charles O’Neal and Beaverton Grace Bible Church (BGBC) gives us as an online learning community. This offers some of my more big-picture analysis after following this case since March 2012.
First, a bit more background. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, almost from the beginning I have been following the defamation lawsuit filed by Mr. O’Neal and BGBC against the main defendants, Julie Anne Smith and Meaghan Varela, and the three other defendants. You may have noticed that I work a lot from questions. In fact, once I gave a guest lecture on emerging cultures and contextualization for a seminary course on church planting, and my professor friend introduced me as “a man who is working on answers to questions that no one else is asking yet.” Questions come quickly; answers, far more slowly.
And actually, it’s been important to go slower in analyzing this lawsuit, since it was all unfolding in real-time. It is harder to interpret events and discern their significance if you’re actually watching them emerge. But, as a trained futurist, I see this necessary “gestalting” process as part of being “an archaeologist of the present.” We try to figure out what fits where, and why these here-and-now events are important, and to do all that before the dust even settles!
After 10 months of absorbing and considering and reflecting as much as I could from both sides, I’m going beyond observations and impressions now to firm up some initial conclusions. I’m also identifying issues for additional research. That’s because I keep running into bothersome inconsistencies and unanswered challenges. But because I see this lawsuit as significant to the Church, I may take time later to address remaining issues. And if so, wherever I post that, I’ll plan to provide as complete of documentation as I can to what my questions are and why they remain unresolved. (My first draft of a section just describing the lawsuit process from February through July is already longer than this entire comment.)
SUMMARY. So – finally and frankly, Mr. Rhoades – on your question of our thoughts about this particular situation, I believe this lawsuit presents us with a real-time case study more about what NOT to do than what TO do. In my opinion, actions by the O’Neals (Charles and his wife, Tonya) and BGBC members related to the lawsuit and so-called “true BGBC Survivors” website serve little constructive purpose in the cause of Christ. Instead, they represent an ill-conceived strategy, carried out through shrill tactics, that harden people to their cause more than inspire compassion for them, and that present a skewed perspective of truth, justice, and “biblical” Christianity.
LAWSUIT. For many Christians, the biblical mandates to resolve conflicts (not crimes) through relationship rather than secular courts understandably and automatically put this lawsuit on suspect ground. Also, the biblical mandates to submit to civil authorities and systems would apply to crimes. As the interactions on this blog between Ed Chapman and Mr. O’Neal show, if Ms. Smith and Ms. Varela committed crimes (as Mr. O’Neal continues to allege), those should have been handled through reporting their criminal actions to the police, not filing a civil lawsuit.
From comments found on Christian blogs and online news media reports, my sense is that a large proportion of commenters simply do not see the filing of this kind of civil lawsuit as legitimate. Some hold to that view based on doctrinal beliefs, others because they see it as an intimidation tactic, others because they see Ms. Smith’s blogging of opinions as an issue of freedom of speech.
PUBLIC ACTIVITIES. These days, public disputes tend to create almost irreversible records on the internet. We cannot guarantee any items there have been “scrubbed away,” even if we delete our blogs or request that Google Reviews be removed. Thus, many actions within BGBC’s larger scope of activities to defend/protect the O’Neal family and the church are now etched online. And those are probably permanent.
Many of these actions have been interpreted by both Christian insiders and secular outsiders as gross, aggressive, and even shockingly over the top. This conclusion seems fair to me from reading *hundreds* of comments on both Christian blogs and secular news sites that have reported on the lawsuit and its aftermath over the last 10 months. Overall, the lawsuit and its aftermath have not provided a particularly positive witness to Christ, despite explanations from BGBC members about this being about truth, justice, and protection for family and church.
HUMBLE RELATING. Since this dispute got to the lawsuit stage, that’s already an indicator that relational processes failed. While I understand that both Mr. O’Neal and Ms. Smith talk about “mediation,” it seems that they mean very different things by that term. Mr. O’Neal cites how he and his elders talked with the Smiths for hours, calling this “mediation,” but states that it failed. Ms. Smith talks about finding a neutral outside party who could serve to facilitate a “mediation” process, but states that Mr. O’Neal refused several times to have outsiders involved when she suggested or requested this form of “mediation.”
And yet, ironically, Mr. and Mrs. O’Neal seem perfectly willing to draw in public audiences from both online and in real life. They invite us all to check out their blog and take up their cause, to watch their videos and witness their pain. They have “business cards” ready to hand out so all can read about the alleged sins-crimes-lies of their nemeses. They van-vertise their case with a magnetic display on their vehicle featuring all-caps slogans: “LEAVE MY CHILDREN ALONE!” and “I AM A TRUE SURVIVOR.”
But they still do not want to cede any power to anyone to question, challenge, or contradict them. Beyond the obvious point of our praying for those in this conflict and for resolution, posting comments on blogs and news reports seem our only way to respond with direct input. But then, comments on their website are moderated, and reports have surfaced that any unsympathetic comments have not been posted. So what is the point in all these seemingly interactive venues? In other words, there seems to be no humble interaction WITH the public here on the part of the O’Neals and BGBC loyalists, no stance of willingness to listen and perhaps change. Instead, it looks like they merely talk AT the public, as if that somehow validates their cause. It is media, but no real mediation.
LETTING GO. Along this same line of humble relating, questions on the issues of forgiveness and relinquishment keep surfacing. Granted, there are points in relational conflicts for tenacity, but at some point, shouldn’t there be peace for the parties involved … even if it seems there can be no peace-making? This does not mean giving up, but giving it over to God to continue working on all parties. This is another area where many Christian blog commenters other than self-declared BGBC supporters have long questioned why the O’Neals keep holding on tightly to the offense of 2008. Yet, they state that the [alleged] lies of Ms. Varela and Ms. Smith continue, and so they must continue to protect and defend their families and their church.
I can understand the trauma inflicted by a DHS/ Child Protective Services investigation – that really IS the stuff of nightmares! I can also understand the O’Neals’ resulting desire to guard and protect their family. However, when are they going to let this go and move on? Now? Soon? After all the children are over 18 and out of the household? Ever? Never?
The longer this goes on, the more aggressive the actions seem to become, the more the tension escalates … Where will this end? Is this really about truth and justice anymore – or has being the victims actually become an idolatrous identity for Mr. and Mrs. O’Neal, their family, and their church? (And that is a legitimate question for all Christians to consider, whether our identity is as a follower of Jesus Christ and a servant, or in this thing that happened to us, or in that thing we don’t want to give up?)
I have a difficult time sustaining compassion when they won’t let go AND they keep engaging in highly provocative actions that seem to agitate both their followers and their “foes.” How is such immovability a role model for conducting conflict resolution privately, or for disputes that have moved into the public eye? Actually, does prolonging the public nature of the dispute serve any purposes for the cause of Christ – or does it simply use the public as tools to feed some perverse personal need for “spiritual exhibitionism”?
Meanwhile, we’re still left with the same general question you originally raised in your post, Mr. Rhoades: What should we do if a “troublesome congregant” says and/or does things that create this level of public conflict? This is an important issue for those in ministry leadership positions. However, in my opinion, the specific context of the BGBC situation seems to hold too many factors that make it a focus on potentially “troublesome leaders.” These 10 months of ongoing revelations give sufficient grounds to explore issues of authoritarian “overlording” and “spiritual abuse of power.” In my mind, these form the source for much of the cause of the conflict, as well as creating significant barriers to its resolution.
So … I don’t know … but given another chance, you may not have picked this particular situation as the best example to address the question you initially asked.
Regardless, I do hope we will all learn what we can from this providential opportunity for figuring out how to move forward from mere crisis intervention to deep and ongoing prevention. And in the long run, I believe that training and prevention practices will help make the Church’s public witness more coherent and credible in our communities.
I especially hope that those with influence over church leadership training programs are taking note of the tide in our host cultures turning against bullying, and of the need for real-world responses to divisive church conflicts – whether in private or in public.
* * * * * * *
Analysis by Brad Sargent of an Undated Letter from the
~ O’Neal’s Attorney Regarding DHS Investigation in 2008 ~
Some Initial Comments
Several issues have continually come up as confusing, where there appear to be different accounts at different times from Mr. and/or Mrs. O’Neal, or where their verbal or written statements appear to be directly contradicted by evidence from various primary/official sources and secondary sources that attempt to interpret the primary sources. These include who made the Department of Human Services reports, and their motives; who was under investigation and for what allegations; and who stated and/or confirmed the supposed-to-be confidential name of whoever filed a report with DHS.
Also, the O’Neals have thus far refused to release the full versions of some crucial evidence, such as certain emails and DHS report information, despite challenges that the small sections they have published do not substantiate their claims. Some documents that they have published contain hand-written notes which may include facts, assumptions, and/or conclusions.
So, we must work with what information we do have available, critique the sources for whether they are fact or opinion, and note the unanswered questions these raise – especially by comparing and contrasting the details presented from conflicting sources within the O’Neal/Beaverton Grace Bible Church side of the story.
Basic Information About the Letter
This is a three-page letter, written and signed by Frederick S. Carman – a lawyer with the Hillsboro, Oregon, firm of Karpstein & Verhulst, P.C. (I could find no website for this firm, and the presumed one deduced from the email on the letterhead leads to “problem loading page” error.) Page 1 of the letter contains one paragraph and two lists of allegations about Mr. O’Neal. Page 2 contains seven paragraphs, and Page 3 contains one paragraph and the author’s signature.
The version posted on the O’Neal’s website, BGBCSurvivors dotorg, has five sections highlighted in yellow, and two lists are boxed in red lines. That is the copy I have used for this analysis. The fact that the O’Neals have posted this as supporting “evidence” on multiple blog articles indicates their opinion that it represents a significant source of information.
Analysis of Issues on Page 1
There is a significant issue in what is missing; this letter is not dated.
From the content, I can only conclude that it was written sometime after a DHS investigation in early 2009, based on a report filed December 26, 2008. I could find no other clearly identifying information to indicate how near to the actual events this letter was produced. I find this troublesome for several reasons:
- It shows a lack of detail-orientation. If we are to take this document seriously as being factual and accurate in all its details, we are off to a bad start if we must attempt to figure out ourselves when it was produced.
- That is a problem precisely because the farther away from the original events, typically the less trustworthy the overall level of detail and interpretation.
There are some very significant pieces of information missing from this document. We as readers are left to draw our own conclusions as to whether that is merely an oversight, “leakage” due to this letter being written a long time after the events, or intentional exclusions.
In short, this letter may appear to have authoritative statements, but it contains enough overt flaws and unanswered questions to be problematic – especially in the face of other evidences available from primary and secondary sources.
There is an immediate problem in the first paragraph.
That paragraph states: “In early January of 2008, I served as Chuck and Tonya O’Neal’s legal counsel. They contacted me because their family was being investigated due to allegations of child abuse reported to the Department of Human Services (DHS) on Dec. 26th, 2008.”
There are several possible readings here. Was Mr. Carman the O’Neals’ attorney starting in January 2008 for other matters, and then they contacted him after the filing of a DHS report December 26, 2008? Or was their initial contact actually in January 2009, and he became their lawyer for the DHS investigation period?
Writing is always subject to interpretation, and we ought to be generous, knowing how hard it is to write clearly and concisely. However, the lack of clarity here represents a problem – especially if the latter reading is correct and it should have been January 2009 instead of 2008. One can’t be contacted in January of 2008 about an investigation that was instigated on December 26, 2008. Maybe it is just a human error, a mere typo.
However, if an attorney writes and signs a letter that “to whom it may concern” should take his word as providing factual “evidence,” yet gets the first detail wrong, what other supposed facts might likewise be in error or not expressed accurate, whether in script and typos, or in substance and truth? We are not off to a good start …
The lists of allegations against Mr. O’Neal as a father and as a pastor.
As to the allegations against Mr. O’Neal, we have no access to any full, PRIMARY (original source) documents, we have no way to evaluate the following:
(1) Whether these lists represent some set of allegations originated in some official DHS document or is merely a hear-say summation of information conveyed in written or verbal form by Mr. and Mrs. O’Neal.
(2) Whether these lists of allegations are complete, and all official allegations reported to the DHS are included.
(3) Whether each individual item is accurately stated, according to the original source(s)/document(s).
Allegations against Charlie O’Neal (their 18-year-old son).
Also significant is what is MISSING from this statement by Mr. Carman, the O’Neals’ lawyer. There are no allegations listed against The O’Neals’ oldest child, their 18-year-old son Charlie. Some blog posts, videos, and comments by the O’Neals imply or claim that Charlie was also accused of perpetrating sexual abuse. However, there is no evidence in this letter that he himself was the subject of the investigation. Instead, according to Page 2, Paragraph 4, Charlie – a legal adult – contributed a voluntary interview.
Analysis of Issues on Pages 2 and 3
Who made the charges against Mr. O’Neal, why, and was legal confidentiality broken by DHS, police officers, or other individuals?
These questions have been raised repeatedly in blog articles, comments, and videos – with conflicting or problematic details. So, what Mr. Carman has to say provides a potentially important source.
Page 2, Paragraph 1, states: “The social worker made it clear that the charges made against Mr. O’Neal were made by the same individual that made allegations against another family in the church. The allegations against both families were made on Dec. 26th, 2008” (emphasis added).
First, note that there is no indication here that the social worker herself identified Meaghan Varela as the person who reported Mr. O’Neal and another family in the church.
Then, note that according to Page 2, Paragraph 7, the O’Neal’s lawyer states that it was Mr. O’Neal himself who accused Tim and Meaghan Varela (two individuals, not one) of making the reports, when he spoke to the DHS social worker. “During the course of the investigation, Mr. O’Neal explained to the social worker that the church leadership fired a man in Nov. of 2008, and that the reports to DHS were made with malice by Tim and Meaghan Varela, who are close friends of the former employee” (emphasis added).
That same page and paragraph reports that Mrs. O’Neal reiterated the accusation to the social worker. “Mrs. O’Neal asked if it wasn’t a crime to purposely make a false report, and what legal action could be taken against the Varela’s.”
I can find no indication in this letter that the DHS social worker told the O’Neals and their lawyer who it was who filed the report with DHS. But, in a clear statement, Mr. O’Neal assumes it was Tim and Meaghan Varela, and he gives his theory of why they supposedly did this.
What happened regarding all allegations?
Page 2, Paragraph 6, states: “The case was officially closed soon after the investigation took place. The allegations of physical abuse and the allegation regarding pornography were dismissed as unfounded.”
Page 3 concludes the letter with: “My client was investigated by the DHS for specific allegations of abuse that were made against him and his family. He and his family were completely exonerated and the allegations of abuse were dismissed as ‘unfounded.’ I wholeheartedly agree with that conclusion.”
The two lists of allegations against Mr. O’Neal (as a father and as a pastor) contain a total of 10 items. In Mr. Carman’s stating of the disposition for certain allegations, we are left uninformed about the others. For instance, he only mentions allegations about physical abuse and pornography. Nothing is clearly told us about what happened with the following allegations from the list of Mr. O’Neal as a father:
- That he allows his teenage adult son to molest his younger siblings. (#2)
- That he allows known sex offenders unsupervised access to his children at the church. (#4)
Mr. Carman also says nothing about any of the six allegations against Mr. O’Neal as a pastor.
Inconsistencies Raised During Online Discussions
Between April 17-19, 2012, three website domain names were reported as purchased and registered in Mr. O’Neal’s name. One of these was BGBCSurvivors.org. This website was activated on December 2, 2012, beginning a series of written posts, videos, PDFs, images of partial documents, and moderated reader comments.
Online discussions began elsewhere soon after that, due to this website name’s obvious similarity to the BlogSpot website of Julie Anne Smith – one of the plaintiffs in the defamation lawsuit filed February 22, 2012, by Mr. O’Neal and Beaverton Grace Bible Church. As commenters began processing the so-called evidence on Mr. O’Neal’s blog, they commented on apparent inconsistencies.
What follows are cut-and-paste copies of comments from two relevant blog posts. I have included them because they raise important questions and perspectives about the DHS reports and investigations. The first set of comments appeared on The Wartburg Watch, and the second set on Julie Anne Smith’s BGBC Survivors.
NOTE: The discrepancies pointed out here also tie in with numerous other website articles, videos, and comments. The following are not stand-alone sources but are set in a far broader context of issues that include trustworthiness of evidences, conflicting accounts of events, highly provocative actions, inflammatory statements, and the like. Many references to these other sources and issues may be woven into the fabric of the select comments presented here. Other sources can be accessed through the Events and Media Timelines in the BGBC Defamation Lawsuit Archive.
“Chuck O’Neal’s Church Launches ‘True BGBC Survivors’ Website” Posted on The Wartburg Watch (December 13, 2012)
Jackie C. on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 08:34 AM said:
I’ve read every entry in Julie Anne’s blog and most comments. Maybe I missed something but I have had the impression since May that the only reason Chuck was investigated by DHS was the accusation that he allowed an accused child abuser to have access to children at the church. That would be pretty normal. Also as a former foster parent and director of a ministry specializing in children, it’s something I’ve heard of happening many times – the one who fails to report is then investigated for failing to report. When I read Chuck’s comments that he was reported and investigated (via comments by his church members on Julie Anne’s site), I interpreted his irritation as over the top for what is a normal interview for someone responsible for children accused of allowing a sex abuser to be alone with those children.
From a video on Chuck’s website I have now heard Chuck say that he and his oldest son were accused directly of sexual abuse. I also just learned from his daughter’s comments that she was physically examined for signs of abuse. Since she would have been an older teenager at the time (if she is in a nursing program now), it would take some pretty serious comments from her to the investigator for them to force an exam on her. I’m sorry but hearing someone say that he and his oldest son were investigated as abusers, as opposed to being simply investigated for failing to report, makes them sound guilty. It’s just the way we are – we think where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
The daughter’s exam says one of two things: either she made some comment that sent off alarm bells or the social worker was incredibly inept. Since Chuck says the social worker also shared information that is by law confidential – that Meaghan Varela was the source of the accusation – I would guess inept. If she knew that Meaghan Varela was the source and she knew that Meaghan’s friend had been fired recently from the church and there were no comments or anything in the interviews to raise suspicion, why would she inflict further trauma on the children by forcing an exam? That’s incompetence or something was said that triggered the exams. It could go either way. Chuck makes her sound sympathetic by saying she told who made the reports, but again, that doesn’t match with forced physical exams. However, the whole point is that Chuck’s videos do way more harm than good to his reputation.
Chuck, maybe it’s the law in your state to physically exam every child from a home investigated for child abuse, but it’s not that way in every state. This case has a national following. All you have done is raised questions about yourself and, unfortunately, your oldest son. People don’t generally talk about it when they are investigated simply because they know that 1) reports, even of failing to report a known sex abuser, have to be investigated so it’s the normal cost of doing business with children, and 2) it makes you sound guilty to the average person even if you are not.
Also if I had a spouse who was incredibly depressed by this whole scenario, I would care for him and help our family move past the trauma, not thrust him into it once more. So either your wife is not really depressed by all this or you care more about yourself than you do about her. You’ve also thrown your oldest son to the wolves.
It’s also curious, Chuck, that as Julie Anne has moved on in her blog since the court case, you have suddenly brought the issue up again. That makes me assume you are having problems raising the money to pay the lawyer and want to convince your church members and former church members that you were wronged, so donations will increase. So perhaps your website is not about Julie Anne at all or about trying to divert web traffic. It’s simply about money. You need to convince your past members to come back and your current members to up the offerings. Best way to do that is to appear the martyr. But good luck with that.
* * * * * * *
dee on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 03:38 PM said:
Thank you for your excellent comment at 8:34 AM . I used to do child abuse and neglect followups as a public health nurse. The laws were passed to give the reporter immunity from prosecution and confidentiality in order to encourage more reporting. The name of the reporter of the possible abuse should never have been conveyed to the family. Something is wrong here. But, good for the reporter. Of course, some reports may be in error. But, the number of child abuse victims that go undiscovered is a national tragedy so good for anyone who gives a hoot about kids.
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Sad on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 10:40 AM said:
Psalm 103:10-14 “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
Julie Anne and Pastor Chuck, I have a challenge for both of you. I believe it is impossible for any of us who are not intimately involved in this situation to know the the whole truth. What we can know is that mistakes were and are continuing to be made on both sides of this situation. I’m going to go out on a theological limb and call it sin. Sin is coming from both sides. That being said, I challenge both of you to forgive each other in obedience to the Lord, who taught us to pray thusly: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.
There is so much hurt and damage on both sides that you are not going to feel like forgiving, but you must do it in obedience to our Lord, whom you both claim to serve. You both have been given a visible platform and I urge you to use it to show how the Lord can turn this horrendously acrimonious situation around if you both humble yourselves and forgive each other.
Julie Anne, rename your blog and continue your work in spiritual abuse without mentioning your former church or pastor again.
Pastor Chuck, take down your new website and trust our Lord to protect your family and defend your name.
* * * * * * *
Jackie C. on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 04:25 PM said:
Sad, not only is the pastor wrong, but his current approach proves how wrong he is. The points he claims to prove are not proven. He says the social worker told him who made the report but in his posted copy of the Attorney Interview Letter, the attorney says the O’Neals told the social worker. Chuck says his oldest son was implicated yet according to the attorney, the oldest son was “voluntarily” interviewed about his father because he was 18. Nothing is said about his son being investigated. We only know that because his father is shown reading something about it.
The complaints about Chuck that Chuck documented in his historical timeline are no more than the complaints a lot of ministers get. People complain, it’s discussed or not, the people leave or not. No big deal. Yet to Chuck, that’s grounds for dismissal from a job and charges of undermining a minister. I’ve asked lots of people to attend my church, even when they were going somewhere else. Had no idea it was considered such a sin. We have had people leave our church, attend somewhere else, and then stop by to invite us to their new church. Big deal. Things happen between people and while I thought most ministers understood that, I now know only some do. Apparently some use it as grounds for spiritual abuse. If I ever had doubts about Julie Anne’s story (I didn’t because there was just too much and too many people) seeing the evidence Chuck presented solidified Julie Anne’s side.
“Chuck O’Neal’s Minister’s License is Revoked and Warning to Readers!” Posted on BGBCSurvivors.blogspot.com (Dec. 30, 2012)
You wrote: “These are allegations that I believe Chuck has concocted himself.”
Let me say that I have tried very, very diligently since first becoming aware of the lawsuit to see both sides of the story. It’s not easy!
There are 2 things that stand out to me as very confusing.
One of them is what you are discussing here. Are you saying that Pastor O’Neal somehow falsified the DHS report?
The other issue that is very hard to come to terms with is that you write that the young man in your former church accused of molestation was convicted and served time…and his mother seems to say just the opposite. Both of these cannot be true. Should this not be a matter of public interest/safety and therefore the information available? I don’t pretend to know the laws regarding this, I’m asking you for your thoughts on this.
I’m exhausted for both you and your former pastor….I hate that this has gone on for so long and even now seems to be escalating. You and your former pastor are in my prayers daily.
* * * * * * *
1) Chuck has not shown us the full report. He shows only snippets of what he wants us to see. I do not believe Meaghan has ever told DHS that Chuck or his son are sex abusers. You didn’t mention it, but I will – the attorney note has discrepancy on the date. The listing looks to be Chuck’s words. If they were the words of DHS, I’m sure any reputable attorney would have identified them as such, including appropriate reference notes.
2) The issue regarding the sex offender – – I know it is in the court documents. I believe it is in the mother’s court declaration.
* * * * * * *
Just to further clarify, Julie Anne……are you saying that Pastor O’Neal made up both the DHS allegations and the report that the DHS supposedly issued after talking to his children?
* * * * * * *
No, I am not. It is my opinion (gotta love opinions, right?) that he is reading what he wants to read on that report.
Here’s a perfect example of how Chuck twists things. On the Todd Rhoades site (http://toddrhoades.com/pastor-starts-website-to-attack-churchs-attackers/), he says something to the effect that I liken John MacArthur to a Muslim cleric. He has posted this comment at least two places trying to sway people’s opinion of me. If people simply searched the word “cleric” on my website, they would come directly to that post. The only John MacArthur reference he could be referring to does not come from me, but in a quote from one of my readers. And in the context of that message by the reader, she is saying that celebrity pastors like John MacArthur, CJ Mahaney, etc, must be careful with the words they use when speaking in public.
So, in conclusion, if Chuck O’Neal can twist something so badly as I refer above, you better believe he has the capability of reading all kinds of things into reports that are simply not there. And if I were his congregants, I’d be demanding, yes demanding to read that report. After all, it is most likely their tithe $$ that will be paying for the attorney fees. BGBC’s name is on that lawsuit in addition to Chuck O’Neal. I still wonder if the entire Church gave their green light for this lawsuit to take place. Maybe half the church that left decided that they didn’t give their green light and voted with their feet.
* * * * * * *
What I do not understand is this: IF nobody accused Pastor O’Neal of abusing his children, why then would there have even been a DHS investigation of him?
I read the links you gave and I can see that if someone just looked at the headline of the post and did not carefully read the whole thing (where you obviously are NOT accusing any of these pastors of advocating wife beating) it would be possible to come to an erroneous conclusion.
* * * * * * *
Sad – This has been discussed many times on various blogs, news articles. When someone reports to DHS, it is the responsibility of DHS to take that information and use it as they see fit. Once the report is filed, it is their job to do a thorough investigation to ensure the safety of children. It is not up to us to understand the whys, but to trust the system that is in place by professionals who understand abuse and whole systems of abuse.
One possible explanation as to why O’Neal family was investigated (purely Julie Anne’s speculation):
If I were a DHS investigator who found out that:
Chuck told someone (Meaghan) who knew of sex abuse situations with children to NOT report, that he would take care of it, it would make me question: why would he do that? Why would he tell her NOT to report? That would send me red flags if I were a DHS investigator.
. . . and then come to find out the sex abuser is still living with abused children, some 8 months after the church member told the pastor about it (in court documentation, we know that Chuck had knowledge of sex abuse some 8 months before DHS finally did investigate) . . . More Red Flags
. . . and if there were other known sexual indiscretions going on in the church that the pastor, who is in a position of authority and responsible to protect others . . . and if he failed to handle those situations properly by reporting – – More Red Flags
. . . . .it is a very logical conclusion for a DHS worker to say, “why did this pastor not report to proper authorities and want to handle this on his own without having professionals involved?” The logical conclusion could be . . . . . Could this pastor, who refuses to report these incidences on his own, who told his own congregation member to not report, have something to hide? Is there something more we should be investigating?
It’s a no brainer why they investigated O’Neal and his family. He basically asked for it himself by failing to report all of the above incidences appropriately. Mrs. O’Neal’s anger should be at her own husband. He failed his job as a pastor to follow normal and reasonable procedures in proper reporting. His children would never have been investigated and endured medical exams if he would have done his job as a pastor and reported to authorities.
The anger is misdirected to us because he fails to accept his own responsibility in failing to report. It’s always someone else’s fault. This pastor can do no wrong. Just ask his elder, Dale Weaver – we asked him this question and he found no fault – NOTHING wrong with this pastor in the years he served as elder with Chuck. It’s a pretty dangerous place to be when you are at a church with a pastor who is apparently like God, with no sin. When a pastor is elevated to this god-like status, you are in a church with rampant spiritual abuse, there is no other choice but false teaching. Everything is skewed if a pastor can do no wrong, shows no humility, shows no responsibilities for wrongdoing.
As I have said before, if he lived in OK and failed to report, he could have been arrested for failure to report. Lucky for him, he gets to hide behind a clergy loophole in the Oregon’s mandatory reporting laws. And now, instead, he thinks he has the right to accuse us of “criminal” behavior for calling him and his son sex abusers, WHICH WE HAVE NOT DONE!
DISCLAIMER: I repeat – I do not believe Chuck O’Neal or Charlie O’Neal to be sex offenders.
Chuck incriminates himself on a daily basis by his words and his actions. And now he is doing it publicly on the internet for all to see. I hope people are taking notes of this behavior.
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Jackie C. January 2, 2013 4:47 AM
Sad, read the attorney letter on Churck’s website. In it, the attorney claims to have been there and reports that Charlie “volunteered” to be interviewed, that he was not required to be since he was 18. That clearly indicates he was not the subject of the investigation. In that same letter the attorney states that the O’Neals told the investigator that it was Meghan who made the report, not the other way around as Chuck claims. Chuck’s own evidence contradicts his claims.
The question I have to ask is why would Chuck advertise the fact that his son was invetigated when It was never written about it in the blog or anywhere else? All he did was draw attention to his son.
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Jackie – You make great observations. Thank you! There really are so many holes in the “story” when someone actually takes the time to look closely.
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Musings on Online Media, “The Streisand Effect,”
~ and News that Activates the Public ~
Was This Case “In the Public Interest? Or Just “Newsworthy”?
As a cultural analyst and futurist, one of the most intriguing questions I found in the Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith lawsuit has to do with what constitutes merely “newsworthy” issues versus substantive issues that are “in the public interest.” The plaintiffs brought up this set of concepts in the final pages of their last document to the court, to show their reasoning for opposing the defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion. And the specific issue of “public interest” really is at the core of this case. Here is what the plaintiffs argued:
Defendants have attempted to employ Oregon’s Anti-SLAPP statute as a vehicle for avoiding the consequences fo [sic] their defamatory publications. … […]
The only question before the court is whether the allegations in paragraph 10 of the complaint can be viewed as comments on “an issue of public interest.” Defendants have essentially conceded that subsection (2)(c) of ORS 31.150 is the only provision of the [Oregon anti-SLAPP] statute that arguably applies here. So, do the defendants’ publications relate to an issue of public interest? Does a small church in Beaverton, Oregon, command or attract the interest of a substantial portion of the public on a nation-wide or world-wide basis?
[…] There is no evidence from which the court can conclude that anyone outside of the congregants at Beaverton Grace Bible Church, the former congregants and future potential congregants have any interest in what is occurring here. This does not make it a matter of “public interest.” It has to be noted that “newsworthy” and “public interest” are not synonymous. Many occurrences are newsworthy which do not involve matters or issues of public interest. (Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Motion to Strike, pages 6-7)
The Oregon anti-SLAPP statute referred to here, ORS 31.150(2)(c) says:
(2) A special motion to strike may be made under this section against any claim in a civil action that arises out of: […]
(c) Any oral statement made, or written statement or other document presented, in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.
Certainly, the internet has become a major public forum. But were the actions of leaders, members, and former members of Beaverton Grace Bible Church really all that “newsworthy”? In the “public interest”? Both? Neither? From your research into the BGBC defamation lawsuit, what do you think?
Is There Really a Difference Anymore?
I wonder, though, if the distinction between newsworthy and public interest is becoming irrelevant, because the two so often go hand in hand these days. For instance, if people seem obsessed with news of tragedies such as hurricanes, floods, and shootings, isn’t that fact itself relevant to the public interest? Why do people obsess about this? Are tragic events more common, or are we just noticing and noting them more? Do we need to show less such news because of how it potentially affects people in negative ways? When
To put it into a more technical postmodern twist, both the subjects of the news itself and the subjects of the news-watching phenomenon become objects of public interest. And if/when the objects do something constructive about the news, they become the subjects of public activation. With blurring like that, does the distinction between newsworthy and public interest really matter any more?
News, Views, Skews, and “The Streisand Effect”
Back to the case at hand: Leaders at Grace Community Church seemed to want to keep their name out of the press, and dissociate themselves from the BGBC lawsuit. That’s news.
Mr. O’Neal seemed to want to publicize their alleged involvement, perhaps as a justification for having filed the lawsuit. That’s news, too.
Both of those points are “newsworthy,” but the entire situation ended up being far more talked about than it might have been, if no one had attempted to minimize the connection. And the situation ended up being talked about in ways different than perhaps were hoped for, if no one had attempted to maximize the publicity. These kinds of “skews on the news” feed right into what has been called “The Streisand Effect.” This happens when something that someone wants to keep quiet or private becomes noticed and broadcast – usually on the internet – leading to the opposite impact, i.e., exceptional publicity.
According to the wikipedia article on “The Streisand Effect“:
The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. The term is a modern expression of the older phenomenon that banning or censoring something often makes that item or information more desirable, and leads to it being actively sought out to a greater extent than it would have otherwise been.
It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence inadvertently generated further publicity. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters, to suppress numbers, files and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored across the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.
Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined the term after Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit endeavored to remove an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs. Adelman maintained that he had photographed beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the government-sanctioned and government-commissioned California Coastal Records Project. Before Streisand filed her lawsuit, “Image 3850” had been downloaded from Adelman’s website only six times; two of those downloads were by Streisand’s attorneys. As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially; more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month.
I would suggest that the whole situation of the GCC /BGBC (dis)connection related to larger questions of spiritual abuse – and those are squarely in the general public interest because spiritual abuse is far more widespread than previously realized. So, any specific incident that seems to involve “malignant ministries” becomes newsworthy. And the dynamic of the various parties trying to stay out of the news (GCC) or deny public interest (BGBC) is part of what led abuse survivor bloggers and commenters from the general online community to begin talking about how “the Streisand Effect” applies to this case.
Online Media Responses
The following two posts appear to be the first bloggers to mention the “The Streisand Effect” and relate it to the BGBC lawsuit. Both quote the secular reporting in the KATU article of May 12. This article and video set off a chain reaction that spanned the globe in less than 40 hours. (If the lawsuit was “under the radar” before this, it was no longer. And, incidentally, KATU staff contacted BGBC, spoke with Mrs. O’Neal and their attorney, but neither wanted to give their reaction to the news story.) Both bloggers quote from Mr. O’Neal’s February 25 Google Review, which includes the alleged recommendation to sue given by someone on pastoral staff at Grace Community Church.
May 13, 2012 – Bene Diction Blogs On posts, “Beaverton Grace Bible Church pastor sues former parishioner for Google reviews.”
May 13, 2012 – Chuckles Travels posts, “Beaverton Grace Bible Church Files Suit Against Former Members.” Chuckles provides an entertaining YouTube video called, “What is ‘The Streisand Effect’?” that captures the essence of this phenomenon (“It’s when you try and get rid of something, but it just gets bigger and bigger – BECAUSE you tried to get rid of it!”) and gives some familiar and not-so-familiar examples from Hollywood, Scientology, fashion, and “Officer Bubbles.”
After these two posts, the concept catches on and it becomes mentioned more frequently. Another early post on the emerging news story comes from The Wartburg Watch. It also mentions The Streisand Effect. There are over 125 comments on this post.
May 14, 2012 – The Wartburg Watch posts, “Pastor Makes International News by Suing Blogging Critic-Is John MacArthur’s Church Involved?” I tracked the progress of this emerging story online from May 12-14, as it was happening. At the bottom of this section is a screenshot of the first half of a comment I wrote on The Wartburg Watch’s post about the lawsuit. It gives an account of what I saw happening.
In fact, if you are studying this lawsuit to understand how it gained notoriety, and consider the constructive and destructive influences it had, then it would be wise to read the comments on these posts. You should also include comments from the May 2012 posts included in the Archive page 04 BGBC Defamation Lawsuit – Media/Blog Response Timeline. Watch for what you think they contribute to the application of Streisandiness to the situation. Be aware, there are valid points among the comments … even if there is a lot of snark in some of them. This is a topic that stirred people up – and continues to.
Final Thoughts and Lessons to Learn
Let’s think for a moment about the many “sidebar issues” that arose in a parallel track to the in-court events of this lawsuit. I would suggest that it is naïve to conclude the allegations in Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith were merely “newsworthy” but not particularly “in the public interest” because of its seemingly small scale. After all, it “only” dealt with a conflict involving a few former members, from a tiny church, located in an obscure town in Oregon. There is no national or global platform here.
And yet, this lawsuit did not occur in a social vacuum. The plaintiffs’ attempt to minimize the “public interest” aspects of the case misses the point of the entire national and global cultural contexts.
- There is significant spiritual abuse survivors community online, as evidenced by the blogroll on The Wartburg Watch.
- Independent surveys and U.S. census data show a marked increase in the “None” category of unaffiliated religious preference. [See reports from 2012, released by the The Pew Forum on Religion, and by Gallup.] Meanwhile, church research points at some relationships between victims of spiritual abuse who leave the Church and provide some of the increase in the “None” demographic. [The phenomenon seems especially global in the Church in the West. See by Dr. Barbara Orlowski in Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness and by Alan Jamieson in A Churchless Faith: Faith Journeys Beyond the Churches.]
- Matters regarding all forms of abuse by individuals and entities – both in the general community and in the Church – are finding their way into news reports and/or policy debates. Think Penn State, Catholic Dioceses, Boy Scouts of America, Sovereign Grace Ministries, The BBC, Sesame Street, News Corporation, BGBC.
Those following the news on these phenomena, groups, and entities in just the last year or two may be able to discern some patterns of relevance to the public interest. I believe each of these points gives some indication that how people lead, and where they lead people to, and what happens to people once they get there, are all matters of public concern. So, to me at least, it is clear: Criminal cases and civil suits that are set against a backdrop of abuse and/or authoritarian leadership represent news that activates the public toward changes. That is why this Archive includes page 06 Impact of the Case and Significance for the Future, which is devoted to peoples’ (hopefully informed) opinions about these questions at least:
- What impact do you see as the BGBC case having on future lawsuits involving pastors and/or churches?
- What impact do you see as the BGBC case having on the spiritual abuse survivor community/movement?
- What impact do you see as the BGBC case having on the general Christian community, and especially on its leadership?
Many survivor bloggers who have followed this case see it as having definite spiritual and social significance. I hope as you study the resources and links in the BGBC Defamation Lawsuit Archives, you will find some causes for activation to help spark constructive transformation in our communities and our churches.
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How to comment: You can post comments directly on page 06 Impact of the Case and Significance for the Future, and on page 07 Public Commentary on the Archive. Please read the commenting guidelines and post your insights on the relevant page(s) of 06 and/or 07. The comment function on all other Archive pages will remained closed.