“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” ― Adolf Hitler link
One year ago, we wrote Woman Excommunicated from Lutheran Church Takes Legal Action. According to LaVonne, this all happened because of coffee grounds.
She said the case likely started in a church kitchen during a 2010 funeral when someone started swearing because coffee grounds got into the coffee. She was blamed for the obscenities but insists it wasn’t her.
The following is an excerpt from our post.
Henry and LaVonne Pfeil, an elderly couple in Minnesota who were members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church were given the left boot of fellowship several years ago. This excerpt from a recent Star Tribune article caught our attention:
Since she was excommunicated from her Lutheran church four years ago, LaVonne Pfeil says that her life has been ruined.
“I lost my church, I lost my husband, lost my reputation, lost a lot of money,” said Pfeil, who’s 79 years old. “I can go to a grocery store. If people see me, they turn around with their cart. I used to know everybody. Now I have no friends.”
Here is some background information that will help explain the above commentary:
The conflict between the Pfeils and the pastors escalated. The church accused the Pfeils of slandering and trying to discredit the pastors, court records show. Then, in August 2011, the Pfeils were excommunicated.
The discipline that ultimately was undertaken was done so reluctantly and after many different attempts to discuss the matter with the Pfeils, and after many, many attempts at reconciliation,” the pastors said in their statement to the Star Tribune.
The following month, 89 members of the church gathered to rule on the action. At the meeting, Braun read the charges: the Pfeils slandered him and other church leaders, and gossiped about them. They engaged in sinful behavior and prompted others to do so. They refused to repent, leaving the church no alternative to kicking them out.
Pfeil and her family denied all of those accusations, and asked for details on what was said and who said it. They were told such information was confidential. [Emphasis added]
They had a chance to appeal the excommunication in March 2012 before a panel of the synod. “During this hearing, Pastor Behnke alleged that the Pfeils had recently accused him of stealing money from St. Matthew,” according to court records. The synod panel upheld the discipline.
Her husband was devastated, and never recovered from the blow, Pfeil said. She said Henry made it clear he wanted to seek justice in a secular court. Their suit, filed in Nobles County, alleged the pastors and the church had defamed them, not the other way around. So far, they have lost at the district court and court of appeals, both of which cited a 1993 case in ruling that the courts had no authority to rule on questions of sin, Christian doctrine and other ecclesiastical matters.
As the quotation at the top of the post indicates, Lavonne Pfeil has appealed her case all the way up the the Minnesota Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear her argument. We will follow this story and let you know the final ruling.
Update: LaVonne lost her case but the decision was close. According to Minnesota Litigator:
In a 3-2 decision in the case of Pfeil v. St. Mathew, the Minnesota Supreme Court, by affirming the dismissal of parishioners’ claims, appears to have declared open season in Minnesota for reckless, harmful, defamatory statements made in “formal church discipline proceedings.” As dissenter Justice Lillehaug warned (joined in dissent by Chief Judge Gildea), “[n]o matter how false and malicious the statement, and no matter how much the victim is damaged, there is no remedy whatsoever in Minnesota’s courts [for false and malicious statements made in formal church discipline proceedings].”
The majority of the Minnesota Supreme Court conceded that the dissenters’ concerns “have merit.” But the Court majority’s concern about our civil justice system getting entangled in what are religious issues trumped those concerns.
The Court believed that LaVonne's case had merit but was reluctant to get involved in a religious matter. In other words, the church leaders acted like jerks but they were religious jerks and that got them off the hook. How gospelly of them!
The post goes on to raise an excellent question. Does this decision mean that churches make can make unsubstantiated claims about church members and get away with it because they are a religious institution?
So, when a church member stands up in a “formal church discipline proceeding” and says, “John Doe raped a child…,” and John Doe (1) did no such thing; and (2) suffers terribly, financially and otherwise, from the intentional and vicious defamation, would his ensuing defamation lawsuit be “entangled” with religious doctrine? Would Doe be able to sue the defamer on those facts? Or would the Pfeil decision bar such a claim?
It appears that this decision allows a church to slander, etc. without proof so long as it is done within a church setting.
St. Matthew excommunicated the Pfeils, having concluded they were guilty of “slander, gossip, and speaking against [Pastor Braun, Pastor Braun’s wife, St. Matthew, and Pastor Behnke],” to choose just a few
Here is a list of the so called *sins* of the Pfeils which were included in a letter to the church members.
- Other people had observed the Pfeils display anger and disrespect toward Braun.
- The Pfeils had publicly engaged in “sinful behavior” inside and outside St.Matthew.
- The Pfeils had engaged in behavior unbecoming of a Christian.
- The Pfeils had engaged in a “public display of sin.”
- The Pfeils had refused to meet for the purpose of confession and forgiveness.
- The Pfeils had “refused to show respect” toward servants of God and St. Matthew church leadership.
- The Pfeils had led other people into sin.
- The Pfeils had engaged in slander and gossip and had refused to stop engaging in slander and gossip.
- The Pfeils had refused to follow the commands and teachings of God’s word.
The pastors all get out of Dodge before the trial.
You can refer back to our original post which noted that:
What we find particularly interesting is that two pastors in conflict with the Pfeils, namely, Tom Braunand Joe Behnke, are no longer at the church.
Folks, be very, very careful when joining a church.
If this decision is upheld (and I believe it will be challenged in other states) churches can lie about you, spread rumors about you, etc. and you have no recourse. Be very careful about joining a church. Oh, and never, ever sign a membership covenant. No wonder more and more people are *done* with the church.