“Slander cannot destroy an honest man – when the flood recedes the rock is there” Chinese Proverb
I apologize for the disjointed nature of this post. There are several competing stories within this thread and I will do my best to integrate them.
Press Release From Pastor Chuck O’Neal
At 11AM EST, The Wartburg Watch received a press release from Pastor Chuck O’Neal. I asked permission to reprint it in part since it is quite lengthy. However, he asked that it be printed in full. So, we have created a separate page at TWW and will provide the link to it at the end of the following excerpt.
To preface the release he wrote, “Things are not always what they first seem to be. Here is a small portion of the rest of the story.”
"There is another side to the story. Beaverton Grace Bible Church wants to present its side of the story before anyone rushes to judgment. In Nov. of 2008 a man was removed from the staff of Beaverton Grace Bible Church (BGBC). Since that time, Pastor Charles O’Neal and the Beaverton Grace Bible Church have been the targets of a three and a half year campaign of defamation by a group of former church members and attenders who are close personal friends of the former staff member. The church elders and the pastor did little to defend themselves over these three and a half years, believing that the individuals would tire of the effort and eventually cease the defamation.
However, that did not prove to be successful. In fact it was counter-productive. The defamation campaign escalated recently when one of the former congregants established a blog on the internet with the intent of reaching a broader audience. This divisive group has used review websites, blogs, the police, the Department of Human Services, and now the local media in their three and a half year campaign to destroy Pastor O’Neal and Beaverton Grace Bible Church with false accusations that range from ridiculous to criminal.
The facts will show that this is not a free speech case. Just after the release of the before mentioned staff member, in Dec. of 2008, a member of this group called the police and the DHS to deliver a false report accusing Pastor O’Neal of physically abusing his own children and allowing pornography to be distributed to adolescents in the church. He, his family, and the church were subsequently investigated by the authorities and the case was dismissed as unfounded. His only response to these vicious charges was to state his own denial. As the campaign has escalated the postings on the internet have falsely accused Pastor O’Neal of being a “wolf,” a “liar,” a” narcissist” and one who “knew about a sex offender in the church who had access to the nursery and the children on a weekly basis and did not have any safeguards in place.” In yet further escalation, Julie Anne Smith stated that the church allows “sex offenders having free reign in childrens’ area with no discloser to parents… .” This is most likely the second worst thing that can be said about a pastor and a church and most certainly constitutes defamation.
Continue the full press release at this link.
Phil Johnson, John MacArthur and Grace Community Church
Phil and I had a series of respectful emails regarding GCC’s involvement in this now international story. I want to stress something. Phil was courteous and open with me. I even tweeked him by referring to myself as a “discernment diva.”(I couldn’t resist ☺) He didn’t bite and continued to address the situation at hand. Frankly, I was surprised by the open nature of our communication. I know that he and I will not see eye to eye on a number of theological issues but, in this instance, at least, I believe that he tried to explain a difficult situation with kindness and without pulling any punches.
I asked permission to post the emails and he gave me permission to print the following. He said that if I wished to print more, to let him know and he felt that he would approve any request on my part. However, I think the excerpt is enough.
"Chuck O’Neal did phone me this morning and we talked for more than an hour. . . .
Here’s my summary of Pastor O’Neal’s side of the story: He says he was accused of many things over several years’ time—including child molestation and other gross crimes. At one point the police actually came to his door and questioned him about the abuse charges. They launched an investigation that included state-ordered medical examinations of his children. He was cleared of all those accusations by this investigation, but his wife was terrorized by it, so he began to seek advice from other pastors on how to respond. That prompted his call to Grace Community Church, in which he was put in touch with the only responsible staff member who was available at that moment to take a random call. That staff member is not an elder but is a generally knowledgeable and trustworthy counselor. (I’m not going to name him, but he is a tenderhearted shepherd . . .).
Pastor O’Neal says he doesn’t remember the exact language the counselor used, but he says one of the suggestions the counselor made was that he should see a lawyer to explore his legal options. He took that as tacit approval that a lawsuit might not be out of the question. That started the process.
Around March of this year [one of our elders] learned of the situation somehow and encouraged both Pastor O’Neal and his accusers to resolve the matter without going to court. My understanding is that [the elder] spoke to all parties and concluded that both sides needed to yield somewhat. He encouraged Pastor O’Neal to withdraw the lawsuit and his accusers to withdraw some of the material they had posted online. [The elder] says neither side budged but simply dug in with even more firmly adversarial positions.
Pastor O’Neal acknowledges that it was clear to him after talking with [the elder] that our elders were basically opposed to the lawsuit (especially the request for monetary damages), but by then his own study of 1 Corinthians 6 had convinced him that there are “loopholes” permitting Christians to file lawsuits in certain extreme situations. He was convinced his situation is one of those exceptional cases. He seems to have correctly understood that [the elder from Grace] did not share his perspective on that, but he says he thought [our elders weren’t] taking a hard-line stance—as if [we] regarded his opinion as a matter of preference rather than a biblical position.
Anyway, Pastor O’Neal did not have Grace Church’s encouragement to sue and he understood that.
Could Grace Church have given better, clearer counsel in this case? In my opinion, yes. The initial counsel given was almost certainly too ambiguous and not emphatic enough. (The fact that even Pastor O’Neal doesn’t recall precisely what the counselor said is sufficient proof of that).
I reaffirmed our official position with Pastor O’Neal this morning: We believe the course of action he has chosen is wrong and that he should drop the lawsuit, even if every claim his accusers make is false and everything he says they have done to him is true.”
Last night, before a meeting, I sent Phil the following email.
“There have been a number of comments, both on our blog and others, that state that Grace has not expressed concern for the blogger involved. There is a perception that the major concern is for the pastor and that his concerns and statements take precedence over the woman involved. Frankly, that has been my perception as well. Do not forget, this was one of those situations in which a church wide shunning was involved.
I believe it would go a long way for the church to express God's love and concern for BOTH parties to this lawsuit. If not, as the media continues to escalate this, it could come across that Grace is part of a good old boy network and that the pastor is king and that a church member is expendable.”
Surprisingly, Phil beat me to the punch. As I was sending that email, he was involved in a lengthy telephone conversation with Julie Anne. She found that he was sympathetic and concerned about her side of the story. For that, I am grateful. Julie Anne is under a lot of pressure and I am appreciative that he was able to allay some of her concerns.
The Streisand Effect in Action
Julie Anne left a negative comment on Google about the church. The pastor is suing her for $500,000. Today I checked and there are 548 comments, terribly negative. Wouldn’t it have been better for the pastor to “turn the other cheek?” This sort of publicity will not bode well for the church in the future. Here are a few comments from the site. Note: the lawsuit does not promote a positive view of the Church.
“What jerks – suing someone for an honest review. What a bunch of typical religious con artists. “
“As a fellow Christian and long-time attorney (pro bono) for several state and national church organizations, I am appalled at your church's blatant attempt to snuff out free speech rights for a fellow Christian and ex-congregant. The institutionalization of Jesus' teachings into religion with its intransigent dogma and dictatorial suppression of dissent, challenge, and even mere questions is one of the biggest perversions ever perpetrated on the human race. It makes me sad to say this, but I (at least sometimes) agree with my atheist friends who maintain that a world without any kind of organized religion might just be a better place. However, IF you are gonna call yourself by His name, then please act like you have the unconditional love, compassion, forgiveness, grace, and mercy that was, for His time, the most revolutionary and radical message ever preached. It still is today, but unfortunately Christians rarely practice what they preach.”
“Inappropriate behavior, "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Matthew 5:39, do follow what you preach, And this is why I dislike religion.”
“A church who sues someone for $500K for posting a review on Google is a church who knows not about turning the other cheek.”
I think the following comment may have been provoked by our good friend Sergius who recently did a hilarious post, Tithe or Die, based on Steve Gaines' weird sermon on tithing. Link
“I went to Beaverton Grace Bible Church and my first born son died. Pretty good service all-in-all, but now I can't go to a chuck-e-cheese without looking really weird (I only go there for the atmosphere, and excellent service, duh). Definitely not worth it”
In light of this, does the pastor believe it is in the best interest of the church to continue? Is it really worth it?
The Overuse of the Word “Slander” and “Defamation.”
As many of you know, we at TWW have had our share of critics. We have been called a whole bunch of names (Assyrian is one of my favorites). Instead of striking back or deleting the comments, we embrace them and have started a list of “What the World is Saying About the Wartburg Watch.” Link. (I added Discernment Divas).
We believe that good humor is a more sensible way to respond to such attacks. We also take the example of Jesus who, when accused, did not respond with fire and brimstone but with questions, silence and love. We do, from time to time, employ cutting wit and hope that can be found somewhere…
Christians, throughout the millennia have been known for the alternative responses of love and grace. Today, they appear to adopt the values of our culture-marketing, money , anger and retribution. Do any of today’s leaders in churches and ministries have enough strength to truly “turn the other cheek?”
The words “slander” and “defamation” are being so overused by today’s churches and leaders that they are virtually devoid of meaning. True slander and defamation occur when people say things that they know to be not true.
- If someone were to report that Billy Graham was transgendered, that would be blatantly untrue and truly slander and defamation. However, knowing Graham, he would probably laugh it off.
- If someone were to say that Mark Driscoll’s pornovisions are creepy and raises questions about his sexual theology, they would not be guilty of slander.
- If one to report that they believe that CJ Mahaney abused his position as SGM’s President, they would not be guilty of slander. It is simply an opinion.
- If someone were to report that a church exhibits cultlike tendencies for overuse of church discipline for “questioning authority”, they are not guilty of slander.
- Furthermore, for all the leaders who are living lifestyles that put them in the top 10% of income earners, I have news for you. It is not gossip for people to wonder about their pastor’s $550,000 house while he is giving sermon after sermon on raising money for a new building.
Some Christian leaders are so thin-skinned that they cannot take critique; gasping and moaning about their critics as if they are being abused on the level of the early Christians. Folks, this is simply not true. The last time I checked, the Coliseum is now in ruins.
Mac Brunson, of FBC Jacksonville, took to the newspapers to call a former member of his church a “sociopath.” He was then voted one of the creepiest people in Jacksonville by the local newspaper. Can you imagine how impressed the good people of Jacksonville would have been if he had said “You know, I get the criticism and I still love Tom Rich and can’t wait to tell him so.”
For all their chit chat about “masculinity,” many of these men act like thin-skinned wusses who can’t take it. Take it from a woman, woman up and turn the other cheek or, better yet, laugh about it and go on. Show the world that you are strong in your ability to tough it out by turning the other cheek, just like Jesus. Love on those who disagree with you. Hug them, invite them to lunch, and tell them how much Jesus loves them. Can you imagine what might happen?