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