The Gospel Coalition Gives Potentially Problematic Legal Advice on Church Covenants and Civil Lawsuits

Intimidation, harassment and violence have no place in a democracy. Mo Ibrahim link

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This is the first of two posts today.

The limits of the church covenant in US law.

I am deeply concerned that the following legal advice is continuing to be given in spite of evidence to the contrary. In When Church Discipline Goes Really Public, the following statement is made.

Churches still have great freedom under the First Amendment to govern themselves as they see fit, and that includes establishing standards for membership and carrying out church discipline,” she said. The snags churches have run into in court have been when an individual never consented to being under the church’s authority, or when church leaders announced the reason for discipline to the congregation in the main worship gathering.

Holcomb recommends a formal membership policy, like Watermark has, including assenting to the church’s statement of faith—even better if that includes a clear stance on sexuality and marriage. Members should also know how the church carries out its discipline.

“Members need to know what they’re signing up for,” she said. Watermark’s member commitments state that “by applying for and accepting membership in this church, all members submit themselves to the care and correction of the board of elders, and may not resign from membership in an attempt to avoid such care and correction.”

In the United States, joining a church is considered a voluntary membership, akin to joining any other voluntary group like The League of Women Voters or volunteering at your local homeless shelter. In such an organization, you are allowed to resign at any time. Also, the church is allowed to expel you as a member at anytime. In other words, both parties can voluntarily break their association.

The confusing thing about this post is that it is addressing the expulsion of a current member, (not a former member), from the fellowship due to his participation in homosexual activity. Current US law gives churches the religious freedom to kick out a member. Jeff Anderson told me, a few years back, that the one thing he cannot do is make a church keep a person as a member. 

However, just as the law gives a right to the church to expel a member, it also gives the member the right to leave the church at anytime, even while under *discipline.* If a church pursues a member who has resigned via emails, texts, visits, etc., or announces to the congregation their sins or encourages current church members to pursue the former member, they are risking a serious civil lawsuit for harassment.

I am willing to bet that Matt Chandler at The Village Church quickly learned this lesson when he and the gang went after Karen Hinckley. The apology came just in time and Karen was more than gracious to accept it.There is no question in my mind that she would have won a large settlement since the church did everything they could to hound her and tell the intimate gathering of 6,000 members about her *sin.* (What a crock!)

Churches, get smart and get good legal advice. You cannot pursue a member after they lave resigned their membership unless you are willing to risk using your money to support the former member and his legal team instead of missions or lots of new fog machines.

Members: Make sure you resign your membership in writing and send it via registered or certified mail. State that you wish to be no longer contacted and any public discussions about you will be grounds for legal action. Keep the receipt. If you are contacted and harassed, contact an attorney.Take screen shots and keep copies of everything. It is your legal right to live in peace once you leave a church.

Here is a case to begin to understand US law. I bet some pastors wished we lived in Calvin's Geneva…

A lawsuit that gives clarity to US law

We wrote this in a post on Maria Notcheva's ongoing abuse by Heritage Bible Chapel.

5. A representative court case worth reviewing by churches who think they own their members.

 In 1984, the NYT wrote Church vows to appeal $390,000 verdict in woman's privacy suit

Mrs. Guinn, who is divorced and a mother of four, successfully sued the elders and the church for invading her privacy by confronting her about her relationship with the town's divorced former Mayor. 

Other elders said they were still stunned by the verdict, returned Thursday, and by the realization that their beliefs, which they say are based on Scripture, may be so far outside mainstream thinking. 

…On Oct. 4, 1981, the elders took the pulpit to denounce Mrs. Guinn for the ''sin of fornication.'' This was a few days after she resigned her church membership. Unanimous Verdict 

Twelve Tulsa jurors, only four of whom called themselves regular churchgoers, unanimously decided that Mrs. Guinn's privacy had been invaded. They awarded her $205,000 actual and $185,000 punitive damages. 

Jurors also said they never doubted that the elders had erred, Two jurors said the panel wished it could have awarded her damages for harassment. ''He was single, she was single, and this is America,'' said one juror, Bodonia Freeman.

On the website Church Discipline, this case was reviewed in 2008.

By voluntarily uniting with the church, she impliedly consented to submitting to its form of religious government, but did not thereby consent to relinquishing a right which the civil law guarantees her as its constitutionally protected value. The intentional and voluntary relinquishment of a known right required for a finding of an effective waiver was never established. On the record before us Parishioner – a sui juris person – removed herself from the Church of Christ congregation rolls the moment she communicated to the Elders that she was withdrawing from membership.

WHEN PARISHIONER WITHDREW HER MEMBERSHIP FROM THE CHURCH OF CHRIST AND THEREBY WITHDREW HER CONSENT TO PARTICIPATE IN A SPIRITUAL RELATIONSHIP IN WHICH SHE HAD IMPLICITLY AGREED TO SUBMIT TO ECCLESIASTICAL SUPERVISION, THOSE DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS THEREAFTER TAKEN BY THE ELDERS AGAINST PARISHIONER, WHICH ACTIVELY INVOLVED HER IN THE CHURCH'S WILL AND COMMAND, WERE OUTSIDE THE PURVIEW OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT [775 P.2d 778] PROTECTION AND WERE THE PROPER SUBJECT OF STATE REGULATION.

While the First Amendment requires that citizens be tolerant of religious views different from and offensive to their own, it surely does not require that those like Parishioner, who choose not to submit to the authority of any religious association, be tolerant of that group's attempts to govern them. Only those "who unite themselves" in a religious association impliedly consent to its authority over them and are "bound to submit to it." Parishioner voluntarily joined the Church of Christ and by so doing consented to submit to its tenets. When she later removed herself from membership, Parishioner withdrew her consent, depriving the Church of the power actively to monitor her spiritual life through overt disciplinary acts. No real freedom to choose religion would exist in this land if under the shield of the First Amendment religious institutions could impose their will on the unwilling and claim immunity from secular judicature for their tortious acts.

Let's repeat this again for pastors who just don't get it. 

…The third point though is one many conservative churches most certainly went against the notion of church covenant. The court held that binding commitments to a church had no effect in law.

…All religious activity in the United States is consensual, a person who publicly claims not to be a member of a church is legally not a member of that church and church discipline cannot continue without consent. A church attempting to discipline a person that has withdrawn can be found to be engaging in a form of harassment.

Comments

The Gospel Coalition Gives Potentially Problematic Legal Advice on Church Covenants and Civil Lawsuits — 76 Comments

  1. Several years ago, my young niece’s marriage fell apart in less than a year. Her family as well as my niece and her husband attend a church “ruled by” mostly graduates of Southeastern Baptist Seminary. I believe the head pastor teaches at the seminary. Basically her husband walked out on her. Church members and her family pursued him to another city. He wanted nothing to do with them. Now personally I felt he was a spineless piece of trash, but he was clear about leaving. They pursued him over a year (he was living with another woman) until he threatened to sue them. I never understood why a person who wanted out would be pursued for over a year.
    Next, they decided he wasn’t a Christian. Again I felt like his actions were heinous, but who can determine another person’s standing with God? Fortunately my niece eventually met a “good guy” and remarried. Of course I wonder if some hard core members would count that as adultery. Who knows. Now her father is studying Grudem’s theology book, complete with ESS. I try not to judge, but it is crazy making!!

  2. The case in point with Watermark in that article was a publicity stunt for all parties involved. The ex member clearly knew that Watermark holds to the traditional evangelical view on homosexuality. Dallas Morning News got to pretend to its left leaning readership that it knows how to stick it to those evangelical megas, when we all know how they “misplaced” their story on Karen Hinckley. Watermark made it into manufactured persecution – look them up on Facebook at Watermark Community Church and see all the five star reviews that popped up within a few days in mid-October. You’d better believe that DMN published that story with Watermark’s express written consent.

  3. I’m disgusted but not really shocked that the authoritarian crowd has finally put the extent of their overreach in writing for all to see. These guys want control, plain and simple. It’s one of the reasons I’ll never be going back to these kinds of churches, and certainly never joining one as a member.

    On a related note, it’s very revealing that nearly every case of this kind of overreaching discipline and control-freakishness is for some real or perceived sexual or marriage “sin,” and overwhelmingly aimed at women. You just don’t see it for things like greed, dishonesty, gluttony, or even flat out lying by the good old boys, especially the ones in charge. To paraphrase Larry Norman, some people really are more equal than others.

  4. Thomas Jefferson, 1779: "[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

    These idiots truly believe that they can establish their own private theocracies within the USA, and their rules trump the US constitution and individual rights??? Ha!

  5. In reading that gospel coalition article:

    “How do we treat nonbelievers?” Wagner said. “We love them by sharing the gospel with them and pleading with the to repent—but we don’t invite them into fellowship in good standing with us.

    What is that bit about not inviting people “into fellowship in good standing”? This whole comment bugged me. They should have stopped at ‘we love them’.

    Also, I about rolled my eyes into my head when the guy said his wife practices ‘church discipline’ on him a bunch of times a day.

  6. Ann wrote:

    Now personally I felt he was a spineless piece of trash, but he was clear about leaving.

    Yes, it does sound like it. That’s awful for your niece!

  7. John wrote:

    On a related note, it’s very revealing that nearly every case of this kind of overreaching discipline and control-freakishness is for some real or perceived sexual or marriage “sin,” and overwhelmingly aimed at women.

    But, of course! Men are closer to God, and therefore, more Holy than women. God keeps women at a distance – BIBLE says so!

  8. Ann wrote:

    I never understood why a person who wanted out would be pursued for over a year.

    Sorry, meant to comment on this part too. I’m not sure what they think they’re doing going after people who are already gone. It’s very confusing. Do they think they’re righteous? Do they enjoy the power trip? Do they actually think anything will change?

  9. Many forebears of our American citizenry came to this country to ESCAPE this kind of bondage:
    ” “by applying for and accepting membership in this church, all members submit themselves to the care and correction of the board of elders, and may not resign from membership in an attempt to avoid such care and correction.””

    that ‘may not resign from membership’ is a slap in the face to who we are as Americans …. of COURSE no court would uphold the bondage of an unwilling person by a harassing church UNLESS we are no longer ‘American’. It’s not so much a matter of ‘law’ as of something far more foundation in who we are as American citizens.

    Even if an abusive church leadership has been able to manipulate the local laws, I am certain that no ‘law’ will be able to perpetually stand when it exists in violation of a foundational de facto American freedom.

  10. Stan wrote:

    :

    The case in point with Watermark in that article was a publicity stunt for all parties involved. The ex member clearly knew that Watermark holds to the traditional evangelical view on homosexuality. Dallas Morning News got to pretend to its left leaning readership that it knows how to stick it to those evangelical megas, when we all know how they “misplaced” their story on Karen Hinckley. Watermark made it into manufactured persecution – look them up on Facebook at Watermark Community Church and see all the five star reviews that popped up within a few days in mid-October. You’d better believe that DMN published that story with Watermark’s express written consent.

    I used to live in Texas and the idea that the Dallas Morning News’ readership is left-leaning is laughable to me. If they’re that left, they’re reading the Texas Tribune or the Dallas Observer.

    The reality is that churches all over the map are trying to get people to sign covenants. I started going and contributing to a progressive evangelical church and they’ve got a covenant. I love the church and think it’s desperately needed in a world where people are being told they’re sinners just for who they are. But I won’t sign even their very weak covenant, which just asks for regular attendance, financial contributions and volunteering, and has nothing in it about the elders trying to nose their way into people’s lives. (There’s a board for the church, but no elders.) But it’s just the whole thing of signing something, when Jesus said “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)

  11. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist wrote:

    TGC doesn’t care. It is a good ol’ boys club that is hell bent on power and control. There is nothing of Jesus about them.

    I wish I could make a case for you being mistaken about that. The material I read there is repetitive, boring, poorly reasoned, and transparently aimed at moving product and promoting producers of product.

  12. @ Muslin, fka Dee Holmes:

    Well you see, I don’t trust the lamestream media! 😉

    Fair point, I think you’re right. It was more like this: I definitely saw the story was presented as a valiant shot across the bow that would bring Watermark to its day of reckoning, and some readers bought into that. But no, that’s not the way it works in Dallas.

    Congratulations on finding a church. The membership expectations sound similar to mine.

  13. It would be interesting to tally the actual and punitive damages Gospel Coalition and 9Marks churches paid in the past 3 years.

  14. On a side note I have just looked at watermark churches website. Check out connect community how to date in community
    No mention of family or friends smacks of heavy shepherding from the 1970’s

  15. Christiane wrote:

    of COURSE no court would uphold the bondage of an unwilling person by a harassing church UNLESS we are no longer ‘American’.

    Strictly speaking it should be ‘in America’ not American. A US resident whether a citizen or not is entitled to resign from a church, synagogue, or mosque without needing the consent of the church, synagogue, or mosque. A US citizen living in another country with other rules might not (though they likely have the option of returning to the US).

    In addition the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 states

    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    Admittedly quite a few countries are less than good in following this and there is always the issue of conflicting rights.

  16. John wrote:

    it’s very revealing that nearly every case of this kind of overreaching discipline and control-freakishness is for some real or perceived sexual or marriage “sin,” and overwhelmingly aimed at women.

    This is disturbing.

  17. So, question: I last attended my former church three and a half months ago by just getting up and leaving (no formal letter of resignation.) On the other hand, they had no formal membership contract or covenant to sign. I’m continuing to get phone calls from the pastor. Should I draft and send out a letter of resignation despite (a) the length of time I’ve been gone and (b) the lack of any formal church covenant or contract?

  18. Irish Lass wrote:

    No mention of family or friends smacks of heavy shepherding from the 1970’s

    Watermark Church lead pastor came out in support of The Village Church’s initial abuse of Karen Hinckley/ They didn’t back down even after TVC apologized. They were also sued a few years back when they pursued a man who left the church and called both his jobs and the jobs of his girlfriend to report his affair.They got schooled in appropriate behavior.

    They think they are very important in controlling the lives of their dumb sheep. I would avoid the church like the plague.

  19. @ Janey:
    I think that people are only beginning to wake up to the illegality of some of these actions. Unless some sues their pants off and wins, they will continue this stupid behavior. I predict a lawsuit within the next 1-2 years.

  20. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist wrote:

    TGC doesn’t care.

    I fear you may be correct. One of these days, one of the big boys will be sued and will lose if they keep following this dumb advice. Then, we they can’t afford their 6,000 s ft house, they may pause. In the ned, money talks even for the go$pel™ boys.

  21. Christiane wrote:

    Even if an abusive church leadership has been able to manipulate the local laws, I am certain that no ‘law’ will be able to perpetually stand when it exists in violation of a foundational de facto American freedom.

    his is a law that applies throughout the US. It is the basic right of freedom of association and non-association. They will have to become aware that they are not Calvin ruling over Geneva even if they pretend that they are.

  22. Nancy2 wrote:

    These idiots truly believe that they can establish their own private theocracies within the USA, and their rules trump the US constitution and individual rights??? Ha!

    Yes they do, they are that deluded. I bless Providence for the old dead white men (especially Jefferson) who founded our great Nation and took steps to ensure that these kinds of men will never accrue the kind of power they so desperately covet.
    Here’s another Jefferson quote that sums up my sentiment quite nicely:

    “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

  23. John wrote:

    On a related note, it’s very revealing that nearly every case of this kind of overreaching discipline and control-freakishness is for some real or perceived sexual or marriage “sin,” and overwhelmingly aimed at women.

    I don’t quite agree.

    No matter what the supposed original ‘sin’ is, the ultimate, and only punishable ‘sin’ – is not submitting to the leadership’s authority.

    Child abuse, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, violence, sexual infidelity, church members taking gross advantage of other members – all appear to be easily forgivable by religious leadership – as long as all the parties involved submit to the authority of the leadership, even if in appearance only.

    That is the only sin I perceive that they cannot, will not tolerate.

    That women may be the most likely target is primarily a result of being the lowest on the totem pole, and the most likely to be the victim of various types of abuse.

    As Dale’s testimony proves, men will get the jack boot of authority just as quickly as women – if they refuse to acquiesce to the leadership’s authority after daring to address issues with the leadership.

  24. Erp wrote:

    Admittedly quite a few countries are less than good in following this and there is always the issue of conflicting rights.

    seems to me, the freedom of choice in such a matter would fall into the category of ‘inalienable’ rights

  25. @ Dee:
    I was thinking about Doug Wilson and his cronies in the government and the courts in Moscow, Idaho. I understand Wilson has influence where he should not. Am I mistaken?

  26. @ Irish Lass:

    It’s a lot more than just like the Shepherding Movement!

    http://www.watermark.org/blog/why-group

    You have a handful of men as elders who have to give an account for thousands. Sounds crazy! God has made provision for this issue in his word, through providing a structured shepherding model (see Exodus 18). Community groups have become the MECHANISM or VEHICLE through which the Elders shepherd the flock at Watermark. Everyone is in a clear, defined (closed group), accountable relationship with others, with a clear line to the shepherds. For Watermark, this looks like a group, designated leader, community director, and elders. The Elders DON’T have the option to not shepherd, but they DO have the freedom to shepherd through other members indwelt by the Counselor (Holy Spirit) who gifts every believer (1 Corinthians 12:7).

  27. Christiane wrote:

    seems to me, the freedom of choice in such a matter would fall into the category of ‘inalienable’ rights

    The choice bit yes. I was thinking more about the freedom to practice if it affects people not in the religion (e.g., loud bell ringing at 5am) or those not in a position to leave (should a religious group be allowed to raise their children without a basic education or basic medical care).

  28. @ Lea:

    “I’m not sure what they think they’re doing going after people who are already gone. It’s very confusing. Do they think they’re righteous? Do they enjoy the power trip? Do they actually think anything will change?”
    +++++++++++++++++

    all ‘dat & more!

    they get to check the “biblical” box called discipline.

    i swear….. all this ‘must be biblical’ nonsense.

    I can think of so many things that are done for no other reason than to check the corresponding “biblical” box. Things which are counter-productive, inefficient, stupid, cruel, boring, pointless,…. but the bible mentions it, so therefore christians and churches are beholden to it.

    non-thinking nincompoops…

    my silly religion has lost its marbles. what’s a girl to do…. write a song about it…

  29. Gram3 wrote:

    transparently aimed at moving product and promoting producers of product.

    There was a direct correlation between getting my business degree and pulling back from the evangelical crowds I was then associating with. Learning the basics of marketing and seeing through the propaganda had something to do with that.

  30. AnonInNC wrote:

    So, question: I last attended my former church three and a half months ago by just getting up and leaving (no formal letter of resignation.) On the other hand, they had no formal membership contract or covenant to sign. I’m continuing to get phone calls from the pastor. Should I draft and send out a letter of resignation despite (a) the length of time I’ve been gone and (b) the lack of any formal church covenant or contract?

    Just send a letter saying that you are no longer going there. Keep it short and sweet.
    Send it U.S. Mail/certified return receipt if possible.

  31. Stan wrote:

    @ Irish Lass:

    It’s a lot more than just like the Shepherding Movement!

    http://www.watermark.org/blog/why-group

    You have a handful of men as elders who have to give an account for thousands. Sounds crazy! God has made provision for this issue in his word, through providing a structured shepherding model (see Exodus 18).

    Good night! Like those little house churches in Corinth were 10k strong.

    Also I’m rethinking why my friend wouldn’t skip home group last time I visited. Of course, I wasn’t prohibited as a non member from coming either.

  32. @ AnonInNC:

    I continued to get mail about various things from my former church for a long time after I had left, they had received notice from my new church, and I had notified them also. It was just that they had no integrated system for removing person who left from all the different mailing lists.

    But I would be concerned about phone calls from the pastor in your case. And you really need to put something in writing like Velour says. For their sake as well as yours.

    Some churches have a percentage of giving which has to be sent on to the diocese (or equivalent) and that is based on membership. Not attendance but rather membership. Some (my former church) are not allowed to remove people from membership unless they have something to prove that the person is indeed gone and not coming back. My previous church had people still on role who had long since moved out of state, but they had nothing in writing from those people so they could not, or said they could not, take them off the membership roles. It was a financial problem for them. I do not know how that got solved, or even if it did.

  33. Stan wrote:

    @ Irish Lass:
    It’s a lot more than just like the Shepherding Movement!
    http://www.watermark.org/blog/why-group
    You have a handful of men as elders who have to give an account for thousands. Sounds crazy! God has made provision for this issue in his word, through providing a structured shepherding model (see Exodus 18). Community groups have become the MECHANISM or VEHICLE through which the Elders shepherd the flock at Watermark. Everyone is in a clear, defined (closed group), accountable relationship with others, with a clear line to the shepherds. For Watermark, this looks like a group, designated leader, community director, and elders. The Elders DON’T have the option to not shepherd, but they DO have the freedom to shepherd through other members indwelt by the Counselor (Holy Spirit) who gifts every believer (1 Corinthians 12:7).

    Where do they get this idea? This may have happened in Exodus, but that was an entirely different culture and, more importantly, an entirely different covenant. This is reverting to a type of tribalism, which is good for controlling people (and in some senses protecting people), but not much else. It’s also useful for religions that are based on rules, but not those that are based on relationship. And there lies the rub – their form of Christianity does seem to be based on rules – as the “leadership” defines and interprets them. As opposed to the teachings of Jesus, which focus on love and relationship – primarily His love for us and desire to be in relationship with us. (Yes, we need to obey certain rules as Christians, but our obedience should flow out of our love for and relationship with Christ. Obeying rules in and of itself leads to a “noisy gong or clanging cymbal” form of religion.)

  34. From the opening link:

    “He encourages pastors to teach members how to engage in conflict well: ‘It’s a man’s glory to overlook an offense [Prov. 19:11] . . . but anything that dishonors God, damages relationships, hurts other people, or compromises the ministry is too big an offense to overlook.'”

    I’m not sure if the final line is an attempt to add to Scripture or emphasize a point. You won’t find either in that passage. And since we’ve had our attention drawn to this, it’s increasingly obvious that the authoritarian leadership setting up camp in New Calvinism “dishonors God, damages relationships, hurts other people, (and) compromises the ministry.” So watchblogs, like TWW, are sounding the alarm because patriarchal control of believers “is too big an offense to overlook.”

  35. @ BL:

    This, I believe, is spot on. When you dare question the authority of the Pastor as to their perceived right to dictate what is and is not acceptable in my home you are in sin and must repent of it. The original issue is no longer important as the offending party has “repented” even though nothing has changed. Happened to me and my family.

  36. BL wrote:

    As Dale’s testimony proves, men will get the jack boot of authority just as quickly as women – if they refuse to acquiesce to the leadership’s authority after daring to address issues with the leadership.

    This is correct, in my experience and the experience of people I know personally. You have put it very plainly.

  37. Dee wrote:

    Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist wrote:
    TGC doesn’t care.
    I fear you may be correct. One of these days, one of the big boys will be sued and will lose if they keep following this dumb advice. Then, we they can’t afford their 6,000 s ft house, they may pause. In the ned, money talks even for the go$pel™ boys.

    The mega I attended from the late 90s to the mid-00s made public pronouncements, on a couple of occasions, that certain individuals were being disfellowshiped following a “Matthew 18” process. To be fair, I have no idea if anyone from the church tried to pursue them, or warn other local churches. As far as I know, that did not happen. But at the time I clearly recall lots of conversations in hushed tones about the possibility of lawsuits surrounding church discipline.

    The feeling was that any possible lawsuit would be persecution, which we should expect. I suspect that this is similar to how the 9Marx/TGC folks feel about it. The only thing that will change their behavior, since suffering for righteousness will often boost the egos of those types, is a lawsuit with a really big payout. Because a little suffering is useful for corralling the sheep; expensive suffering hits that hits the big dogs is suddenly bad for the church.

  38. From many stories here, there’s no doubt that churches have acted improperly in using their power not to accept a resignation. And yet there seems to me cases where it would be appropriate to exercise such a power. Suppose someone is found acting improperly with a young person on Sunday and an urgent board meeting to discuss this is convened for Tuesday. On Monday he hands his letter of resignation in to the church office and so, following the line of argument above, it is not longer within the board’s competence to discuss the matter and said person is free to maintain that he was a member in good standing when he resigned. And were the church to say anything else, it would be open to legal action. Is this what we want?

  39. Tony wrote:

    Suppose someone is found acting improperly with a young person on Sunday and an urgent board meeting to discuss this is convened for Tuesday.

    You don’t need a board meeting on Tuesday to determine what should be done if you already know that someone had behaved improperly with a young person on Sunday! No one needs to discuss anything. You call the police immediately and make a report so that Child Protective Services can investigate before the board screws up an investigation. If a child has been harmed you don’t need a freekin board meeting!

    I went round and round with elders on this issue. Why do elders believe they need to interfere where the police and CPS should be involved?

  40. Tony wrote:

    Suppose someone is found acting improperly with a young person on Sunday and an urgent board meeting to discuss this is convened for Tuesday. On Monday he hands his letter of resignation in to the church office and so, following the line of argument above, it is not longer within the board’s competence to discuss the matter and said person is free to maintain that he was a member in good standing when he resigned. And were the church to say anything else, it would be open to legal action. Is this what we want?

    In my state (California) clergy members and church record keepers are legally mandated child abuse reporters. It is a criminal act for them NOT to report.

    This is a law enforcement issue that you’re describing, involving criminal conduct. It is NOT a church board member meeting issue.

    Given that child sexual abuse is the No. 1 reason that churches are sued every single year and have been for year after year, including conservative evangelical churches, your hypothetical story is extremely rare: because MOST churches care more about sexual predators and will go to great lengths to protect them and will threaten child victims and their families, along with any witnesses and supporters.

  41. @ Bridget:

    PS – this has a lot to do with umbilical leadership we have been talking about . . .

    Leaders who believe they need to vet everything in members’ lives.

  42. Tony wrote:

    Suppose someone is found acting improperly with a young person on Sunday and an urgent board meeting to discuss this is convened for Tuesday. On Monday he hands his letter of resignation in to the church office and so, following the line of argument above, it is not longer within the board’s competence to discuss the matter and said person is free to maintain that he was a member in good standing when he resigned. And were the church to say anything else, it would be open to legal action. Is this what we want?

    Yes, you want legal action, because that is the right thing to do. The person is a criminal, and should be prosecuted according to criminal law. You call the police on Sunday, right after you find out that person has assaulted a minor. The fact that person committed a crime is not the church’s fault.

    I don’t care about someone’s “standing” in the church. If that person has been convicted of a child sex offender crime, then further churches would know that person cannot be around minors.

  43. Tony wrote:

    And yet there seems to me cases where it would be appropriate to exercise such a power. Suppose someone is found acting improperly with a young person on Sunday and an urgent board meeting to discuss this is convened for Tuesday.

    Tony, in my experience, the urgent board meeting would be used to figure out how to quietly remove this guy and send him down the road to offend against other people’s kids while keeping the church’s name out of the newspapers. Also, they would do their best to keep the information from becoming known in the church, so that only those directly involved would even know it happened. Other victims who did not have the courage to speak up would remain unknown and without help. This is the main reason I encourage my kids not to involve my grandkids in church.

    Obviously, a guy who offends against children needs to be removed from the church but that is of secondary importance. Law enforcement needs to be contacted immediately by whoever has discovered the situation. They are equipped to handle sex predators. Churches are not. No one from the church should be interviewing or trying to influence predator or victim lest they interfere with the investigation. Once the guy has a police record, other churches who do background checks will be protected, and most importantly, innocent children will be protected.

  44. Tony wrote:

    Suppose someone is found acting improperly with a young person on Sunday and an urgent board meeting to discuss this is convened for Tuesday.

    Would your thinking on this be changed if your statement was modified a bit? What if is was:

    Suppose someone is found acting improperly with killing a young person on Sunday and an urgent board meeting to discuss this is convened for Tuesday.

    Change the crime to something like murder or pointing a gun and I think you would agree with calling the police immediately. But for some reason churches seem to believe that sexual abuse is not a crime.

  45. Brother Maynard wrote:

    When you dare question the authority of the Pastor as to their perceived right to dictate what is and is not acceptable in my home you are in sin and must repent of it. The original issue is no longer important as the offending party has “repented” even though nothing has changed. Happened to me and my family.

    It was my experience, as well. There is/was no greater sin against God in their view and practice, than disobedience/rebellion against their leadership.

    The common accompanying accusation is that, while it *might* be possible that you, as a pewishioner, are accurate in your assessment of possible issues in the church/teachings, your pride, arrogance, rebelliousness (FITB) in delivering the information to the leadership disqualifies whatever truth might be contained therein.

    And thus, your pride, arrogance and rebellion, lack of humility, etc., become the focus.

    Outer, unquestioned, false acquiescence to their authority is all that is actually required.

    Ending actual sin, is not.

    This is why an actual sinner – the abusive spouse, the sexual predator, the child abuser – can continue in the leadership’s good graces, by outwardly presenting a false submission to the leadership’s authority.

    And why the actual sinned-against – the violated spouse, the sexual prey, the abused child – can NOT continue in the leadership’s good graces, when they are no longer willing/able to bear up under the status quo.

    When their cries for justice can no longer be silenced by the whip of submission to their authority –

    THEY then become the target of leadership’s ‘discipline.’

  46. Gram3 wrote:

    This is correct, in my experience and the experience of people I know personally. You have put it very plainly.

    I saw church leadership attempting to break and humiliate men, more so than women.

    Churches with perverted molds of the feminine into which to force women, also have corresponding perverted molds of manhood into which to force men.

  47. @ Velour:
    In some states, like Texas, every adult is a mandated reporter, with no exceptions for clergy as far as I know. That is the way it should be. Actually, a mandate shouldn’t be required for people who claim to follow Jesus.

  48. Gram3 wrote:

    @ Velour:
    In some states, like Texas, every adult is a mandated reporter, with no exceptions for clergy as far as I know. That is the way it should be. Actually, a mandate shouldn’t be required for people who claim to follow Jesus.

    Exactly, Gram3.

  49. BL wrote:

    I saw church leadership attempting to break and humiliate men, more so than women.

    I’ve seen both, but they did it in different ways. Ultimately, the end was to get everyone to bow before the authority of the Leaders.

  50. *sigh*

    I tried to offer the following reply to Larry28 on The Gospel Corp’s article (linked to in the OP). It got canned, in a few hours, I think.

    (quoting Larry) “Refusing a resignation because a member is under discipline is a mechanism of control which can be, and unfortunately has been, abused by some churches.”

    “Not only that, but legally it’s a form of harassment. Any church that engages in this kind of behavior is at risk of being sued. More importantly, harassment is the complete antithesis of love in action.”

    What gives? Was it because I used the h-word?

  51. Serving Kids In Japan wrote:

    What gives? Was it because I used the h-word?

    I think it’s because those comments can be read by anybody, including pew peons. They can’t let it out that what they are doing is quite literally criminal!

  52. Christiane wrote:

    Many forebears of our American citizenry came to this country to ESCAPE this kind of bondage:

    Not to be nitpicking, but they came to this country because they could not implement the kind of “our way or the highway” regime in England that they desired. (They eventually did, under the Commonwealth, and it was the polar opposite of “religious freedom”.) And once they did set up shop in America, they policed their congregations ruthlessly.

    There’s one reason why the TR/TGC crowd LOVES the Puritans…

  53. siteseer wrote:

    Tony, in my experience, the urgent board meeting would be used to figure out how to quietly remove this guy and send him down the road to offend against other people’s kids while keeping the church’s name out of the newspapers.

    Indeed.

    Also, istm if people were actually using church discipline only for extreme cases like this we would not be talking about it. Jonathan Leeman can bring up the unrepentant adulterer attending church with the woman he left his wife for right in front of him all he wants, but that’s not the guy that seems to be asked to leave.

  54. BL wrote:

    Gram3 wrote:
    This is correct, in my experience and the experience of people I know personally. You have put it very plainly.

    I saw church leadership attempting to break and humiliate men, more so than women.

    I don’t think we can know for sure how this falls out until we get good data. It’s possible the dealings with men are more public. IDK.

  55. Eeyore wrote:

    Not to be nitpicking, but they came to this country because they could not implement the kind of “our way or the highway” regime in England that they desired. (They eventually did, under the Commonwealth, and it was the polar opposite of “religious freedom”.) And once they did set up shop in America, they policed their congregations ruthlessly.
    There’s one reason why the TR/TGC crowd LOVES the Puritans…

    Yes! Not all believers did this, but certainly the Puritans.

  56. BL wrote:

    I saw church leadership attempting to break and humiliate men, more so than women.
    Churches with perverted molds of the feminine into which to force women, also have corresponding perverted molds of manhood into which to force men.

    But they often were trying to break the man in order to get the man’s woman under their/his control . . .

  57. Ken F wrote:

    But for some reason churches seem to believe that sexual abuse is not a crime.

    With some of these churches, it’s a Privilege of Pastoral/Elder Rank.

  58. Bridget wrote:

    I went round and round with elders on this issue. Why do elders believe they need to interfere where the police and CPS should be involved?

    The usual justification is “Laws of Man or WORD OF GAWD!”

  59. Lea wrote:

    Ann wrote:
    I never understood why a person who wanted out would be pursued for over a year.
    Sorry, meant to comment on this part too. I’m not sure what they think they’re doing going after people who are already gone. It’s very confusing. Do they think they’re righteous? Do they enjoy the power trip? Do they actually think anything will change?

    I think they are pursuing “the story” more than the personal transformation. At least, that is my personal experience with the leaders of my former church. They wanted the “Cinderella story” – to be able to prop us up on stage as glittering testimonials in a “look what we have done” moment to be perpetuated on an as-needed basis. A sort of “God always wins” manipulative tactic. And when that doesn’t happen – all hell breaks loose, literally. Just my 2 cents.

  60. I remember reading about that Oklahoma court case at the time, and thinking that particular church went way over the top.

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  63. Dee wrote:

    his is a law that applies throughout the US. It is the basic right of freedom of association and non-association. They will have to become aware that they are not Calvin ruling over Geneva even if they pretend that they are.

    But this is the Republic of Gilead!
    (At least in the Commanders’ own minds…)

  64. “In the United States, joining a church is considered a voluntary membership, akin to joining any other voluntary group like The League of Women Voters or volunteering at your local homeless shelter. In such an organization, you are allowed to resign at any time. Also, the church is allowed to expel you as a member at anytime. In other words, both parties can voluntarily break their association.”

    AND, the only “church discipline” in scripture to begin with is exactly that: expelling a member! “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:13 NIV)

  65. @ Lea:

    Actually, this post is incredibly relevant, unless the people who give money, the key word there is give, don’t care if their money goes to lawsuits.