It appears that my case is winding down or is seemingly quiet for the moment. The case victory means I am free to speak my mind on the internet within the rights of the Constitution. Yea for Freedom of Speech! Other bloggers like me are continuing to share their difficult church stories and their speech is protected, too. My blog did not remove my pastor from the pulpit, but it has served the initial purpose of having a place to tell my story in hopes that others could identify spiritual abuse and we can all learn and heal from our experiences.
Has this blog served any other purpose? Regulars may be familiar with my friend and reader brad/futuristguy. Brad has experienced spiritual abuse and has been compiling information, following trends and patterns regarding spiritual abuse for years. We’ve been observing how bloggers and social media are impacting the views of church by uncovering and creating document archives for church abuse stories, discussing the financial misdeeds and power plays of pastors, watching how churches handle sex abuse in church. The internet has allowed us to get a close-up look at what churches are doing right and wrong.
Disclaimer: I am keenly aware that there are in fact troublemakers in churches who are chronic grumblers and complainers who have posted negative comments online about their church. This article is not discussing that problematic issue, but real cases of abuse coming from pastors and leaders in the church.
It’s interesting to note that my church was a Podunk church of maybe 100 congregants, yet it made the headlines as if it were a mega church. Most people in Beaverton probably didn’t even know of the small church. The church is not on a major road and sits back behind a small housing development. Reader, Kathi, is from the area and had no clue where the church was until I told her, yet, the media attention broadcast the church’s and pastor’s name far and wide around the world so that names Beaverton Grace Bible Church and Chuck O’Neal became publicly known as the church/pastor who sued a mother and former congregants for $500,000. The internet and social media have put churches, regardless of size, on an even playing field. What this means is that my single voice – – – or your single voice – – – from Podunk, USA – – can be heard just as loud as someone’s voice from a mega church with a celebrity pastor. This is very important to note.
Mega-churches are certainly realizing the impact of social media and the effect it has on their reputation. Take my case for example. My former pastor falsely said in his Google review that a pastor from mega church Grace Community Church (Pastor John MacArthur’s church) told him it was okay to sue me. (That is my paraphrase.) This comment was picked up by popular Christian bloggers and went viral. Even mainstream media picked up on this information and added it to their news stories. This false comment threatened the reputation of Grace Community Church, Grace to You, and Pastor John MacArthur to such an extent that Phil Johnson, John MacArthur’s right-hand man, had to involve himself in my Podunk church’s lawsuit mess and issued a press release on behalf of John MacArthur and Grace Community. Do you see the ripple effect?
There is a new reality for pastors and others who may be attempting to hide their spiritually abusive practices. The internet has become a real threat to pastors who once found a safe haven in the walls of their church to continue their destructive behavior. The internet has allowed individuals to voice their concerns LOUDLY. Podunk pastors may not realize this new reality yet, but larger, more popular churches like Sovereign Grace Ministries, Grace Community, Mars Hill, and so many other Christian celebrity people and places are certainly aware of it.
The BGBC/O’Neal lawsuit was pivotal to watch last summer because it discussed freedom of speech regarding church abuse. Because of the clear victory in my case, a precedent has been set, giving bloggers added confidence to know that it is within their rights to publish their stories and express their opinions about their negative experiences in churches or ministries with strong words like: spiritual abuse, cult, creepy. They can even discuss publicly online how churches handle sex abuse or sex offenders.
My case represented spiritual abuse and also discussed sexual abuse and how it is handled by leaders within a church. A huge case that has been in the headlines around the same time has been the handling of the sex abuse case at Penn State. The world has been watching how Penn State staff, administration, and trustees handled (or mishandled) the many sex abuse cases connected with Jerry Sandusky. This case has caused outrage across the nation as we have seen how those involved in that system, one after another, failed to take appropriate measures and/or report crimes to authorities.
We have seen in many news accounts that there were far more efforts in defending the image of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State than protecting and defending innocent children. This story has caused many universities and organizations to take a closer look at their abuse policies. That is good. I recently posted about mandatory reporters at church and how some states allow pastors an exemption from reporting abuse, yet other states will arrest church leaders who fail to report. These are hot topics in churches and organizations across the States. Hopefully, as church abuse cases are coming to light, church leaders will be taking a good look at their policies regarding sex abuse and spiritual abuse.
My strong words were regarding my little church, but they represented a small sampling of what is happening all over the states in small churches and mega churches. There are a number of ongoing church situations similar to mine, with bloggers and members/former members sharing their personal accounts. I think it is important to take note of these situations and observe how they are handled in the church setting, and also observe how other pastors and outsiders are responding. Here are some that come to mind quickly:
Calvary Chapel: Abuses are noted in the Calvary Chapel family of churches. A current situation is Pastor Bob Grenier of Calvary Chapel Visalia threatening to sue 4 former church members for defamation. Other personal accounts of spiritual abuse are shared involving many Calvary Chapel churches.
Mars Hill: Joyful Exiles and Mars Hill Refuge – these blogs are no longer “active” but the stories are there – permanently archived on the internet. These cover the heavy-handedness of Pastor Mark Driscoll in use of “church discipline,” his use of church memberships in controlling ways, etc.
I will be highlighting one of the above church groups in the next post because there’s a whole lot of shakin’ going on and it is important to keep tabs on this situation in light of church trends in dealing with spiritual abuse and sex abuse.