If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it be a lie, laugh at it. –Epictetus
Before I began this blog, I was blessed (and I do mean that) to learn how to understand the law and defamation/libel with the help of Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who has been incredibly successful in abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church. First, let’s understand the definitions. Here is a decent website and post. Social Media and Online Defamation.
There are two main types of defamation: libel, or written defamation, and slander, or verbal defamation. When a potentially defamatory statement is made online or through social media — such as via Facebook or Linkedin — that involves the written (or “posted”) word, and so it is considered libel.
What bloggers (and media) can say legally in the Unites States.
(Warning-I’m not a lawyer and you should consult an attorney with any questions regarding defamation.)
I was startled to understand the freedom that we have in our country. Here is a simple outline of what a person MUST prove when claiming defamation. All three things must be proven in order for a successful lawsuit for defamation. As you will see, it is exceedingly difficult to prove defamation.
- The writer must lie.
- The writer must knowingly lie.
- The writer must knowingly lie in order to bring malicious harm to another.
So, when it comes to TWW, I listen to stories and make a judgement on the honesty of the statements. I don’t have to prove that it is true but I must believe that it is true. I can assure all readers that I would never deliberately lie and I take great care to be as truthful as possible because I write to shine light on the problem of abuse in the church.
The law is quite different in many other countries. In those areas, the writer must have proof of what they say. Are you thinking that this is a good idea? Think about the trials of OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony. How many of you have said that you believe that they were guilty even though the court results meant they were not proven guilty? How would you feel living in a society that might prevent your ability to speak what you think is true?
Frivolous lawsuits by people with access to lots of money.
How many of you are aware that Julie Anne Smith was sued by her former pastor, Chuck O’Neal, because she left a negative review of her former church on Yahoo. I remember the day she called me, crying and wondering how she could afford to fight such a lawsuit. I told her she would prevail and she did. In fact, in Oregon where the church is located, there is a law called anti-SLAPP. Wikipedia does a decent job explaining this to us nonlegal types.
A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.
In the typical SLAPP, the plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs, or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. In some cases, repeated frivolous litigation against a defendant may raise the cost of directors and officers liability insurance for that party, interfering with an organization’s ability to operate. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat.
If the defendant prevails in an anti-SLAPP, the person who brought the lawsuit must pay the defendant’s attorney and court fees. This is to prevent people with access to lots of money using their resources file frivolous lawsuits.
The Friendly Atheist wrote about JA’s victory.( I loved being with her last week at The Courage Conference.)
“This case was dismissed under Oregon’s anti-SLAPP law” said Linda Williams, an attorney for the defendants. “This is a powerful tool to throw out claims which cannot ever succeed because they seek to squelch speech protected by the First Amendment and Oregon Constitution.”
“SLAPP” stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” That’s a lawsuit that aims to silence somebody who you disagree with by burdening them with legal woes.
“(O’Neal) has the right to govern his congregation in the manner in which he chooses, and defendant Julie Anne Smith is authorized by law to express her disagreement with his performance of those activities,” Fun wrote in the ruling dismissing the case.
“This is what America is all about,” Smith told KATU after an earlier hearing. “We need to be able to speak freely even if it’s not polite or falls on ears that really (don’t) want to hear this kind of thing.”
The Streisand Effect was in full force here.
The church’s Google Plus page — with 892 reviews — now has an overall score of 0 out of 30 (not a typo).
James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel (now a member of the SBC) SLAP a lawsuit against the authors (and their wives) and a journalist for defamation.
Over the last number of years, TWW has followed the fascinating revelations of life behind the curtain at Harvest Bible Chapel/Fellowship at The Elephant Debt (TED) website. Currently, the authors are not allowed to speak with us due to the pending lawsuit. Here is the TED statement. I’m assuming that they will not mind us recopying it here.
On 17 October 2018, James Sherwood MacDonald, individually, and Harvest Bible Chapel, corporately, filed a complaint in law as well as a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the authors of this website, the wives of the authors, and an independent journalist by the name of Julie Roys.
The complaint and TRO stem from the contents of this blog, and for simplicity sake, the essential legal allegation is defamation. According to the article published by the Cook County Record, Ms. Roys “declined to meet with church leadership for a story on Harvest she is currently reporting for World Magazine.”
While the authors of this website would never have chosen to resolve our differences in a litigious manner, we are confident that the legal process will ultimately uphold the values of the first amendment right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, all of which are essential to safeguarding the values of the Protestant Reformation and our common life.
This was followed by this post called Thank You.
To the many people who have reached out to us over the past few days, we wanted to take a moment to say thank you for the many kind moments including prayers, shared scriptures, and even just a willing ear to listen. As you can well imagine, the news that James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel was suing not only an independent journalist and ourselves, but our wives as well, was stunning to say the least.
More than a few of you have already asked how you might assist us through donations to a legal defense fund. As we suspect you know, a case of this kind can be quite expensive; and we are sure to be incurring at least tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses and other costs. Several attorneys that we have spoken with have already suggested to us that if the case goes to trial over the course of 24 months, the final cost could run well into the high six figures.
So, if you are interested in contributing to such a legal defense fund, you can make a check out to: “Ryan Mahoney or Scott Bryant.” Be sure to include both of our names on the check so that both of us have access to the funds as we prepare our legal defense. Please know that we are setting up a joint account for this purpose. Checks can be mailed to:
2206 N. Main Street #207
Wheaton, IL 60187
Should the plaintiffs in the case chose to withdraw or should the final cost of the case be less than the amount raised by generous donors, any excess funds will be returned as equitably as we are able to distribute it.
Again, we thank the many kind readers who have supported us in so many ways over these past few years. We truly could not have done this without the support that so many of you offered along the way.
The multi-campus Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago along with founder James MacDonald, has slapped several former workers and independent journalist Julie Roys with a defamation lawsuit alleging the publication of false information about the church, its finances and governance that resulted in the loss of 2,000 members.
MacDonald is upset over the loss of 2,000 members (13,000 attend his church) due to TED’s *untruths.*
It is my understanding that Illinois has an anti-SLAPP provision. But, then again, I’m no lawyer. The article went on to say that James MacDonald was *devastated* that he was forced to proceed with the lawsuit but, gosh darn it, the church lost 2000 members out of 13,000 members. I wonder if they were concerned about paying off the
elephant sort of big debt…but maybe not. According to The Christian Post:
“It isn’t that some of the criticism wasn’t fair. I believe in the marketplace of ideas and of regular, vibrant discussion inside a local church. It’s just that their words were often untrue, their information was incomplete, and over time their tone of reasonableness disintegrated, exposing their obvious goal of ending our ministry. Over a three–year period, their materially harmful untruths drove more than 2000 members out of our church — a church we founded with a handful of people more than 30 years ago and have given our lives to,” MacDonald explained in the statement in which he said he was “devastated.”
The authors of TED, Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, are accused of being cynical and divisive…
I’m still not sure what their wives did since they are included in the lawsuit. I also understand that there are
The complaint alleges that Ryan Mahoney was a Harvest Christian Academy teacher until 2010 when the church didn’t renew his contract for allegedly negating MacDonald’s sermons in his classroom, and offering a cynical view of the church and its culture.
…Mahoney allegedly met Scott Bryant at the church, who also became “equally divisive after being declined a teaching opportunity that he repeatedly pursued.” Both men allegedly stopped attending the church at the same time, and “began publishing negative and defamatory information about Harvest”
Julie Roys is accused of defaming *the church* on her show at Moody Radio and her personal website.
Interesting….Moody has deeper pockets than Mahoney and Bryant…Read this next part closely. I wonder what she learned.
The church is alleged to have canceled Roys’ appearance as a keynote speaker for a February 2017 women’s event after she allegedly tried to get Moody Bible Institute board members to remove MacDonald’s “Walk in the Word” radio program from its network, the Cook County Record noted. Roys is alleged to have declined to meet with church leadership for a story on Harvest she is currently reporting for World Magazine.
Roys denied writing anything for The Elephant’s Debt
Challenge to World Magazine. Publish the story…I wonder what’s upsetting *the church.*
MacDonald released his own statement, attempting to convince us that this lawsuit is a good thing to do.
MacDonald wrote Enough is Enough: Why We Can and Must Take Bloggers to Court. Let’s take a look at what he has to say.
- He’s upset that *anyone who breathes* can have a microphone. After discussing how wonderful his blog was, he claims that many bloggers blog after midnight and hurt ministries and ministers.
- He claims that the
elephantlarge debt of $66 million may have been caused by some *elders for life* which he claims was dysfunctional. (I’m trying to understand-really…Wasn’t he in charge?)
- He says he invited leaders from other churches to help his church’s leaders to become more loving. So, is he saying that they weren’t loving before? Whose fault was that?
- He admits that *they* could have communicated better in the church governance issue. So were the bloggers right by contending that there was a problematic atmosphere at Harvest? It sure sounds that way to me but I’m rather sleepy.
- MacDonald claims that obsessive bloggers wanted him to leave Harvest due to this *communications storm.* Could it be that they actually had a valid opinion? I am beginning to get one myself but I’m in no mood for this nonsense so I will keep my mouth shut, mostly…
Why I believe that it is possible that some claims in this statement by MacDonald will lead to the exoneration of the bloggers and Roys.
Now, remember this is how I read it and I do have a right to state my opinion in the United States. Maybe Harvest Bible Chapel could base their ministry in Scotland?
He admits to problems but claims he followed the biblical teaching for personal offenses. Does this mean that everyone should now be satisfied?
We loved these former members dearly, so our first efforts were to follow the biblical teaching on personal offense. We held many congregational meetings, owning the confusion from our conferences and confess- ing our failures to be broader and more transparent with our governance. We instituted policies to keep similar mistakes from happening in the future and continued aggressively reducing our mortgage (still on track to be mortgage free by 2023). We sought reconciliation with former leaders or staff the bloggers identified as offended.
Note how he claims that the bloggers would write about specific things that were happening. Also, what is a carnal commenter and is this against the law in the United States?
Again and again, as something trivial, controversial or diffi- cult would happen in the church, the bloggers would show up online as carnal commentators distorting the record
MacDonald claims that he had to call the police because TED and Roys were saying illegal things.
Remember what I said at the beginning of the post? MacDonald must PROVE that the bloggers were deliberately and knowingly lying in their posts. If they believed what they were writing, then it is NOT illegal, no matter how *carnal* it was. (I do need a legal definition for carnal, by the way. Can anyone out there help me? Lawyers?)
MacDonald claims he is proceeding with this action to *protect the flock.* Huh? Has he not taught his *flock* how to discern the truth? Didn’t he say that they had all sorts of awesome teaching sessions with deep thinkers like Steven Furtick helping folks to see the truth? So are his people ignorant, carnal or whatever? If they are, does he bear any blame?
Is he saying that the 2,000 people who have left are in danger of…well something from which they need protecting? Why didn’t he train them?
I’m sorry but this is all rather confusing to me. It must be those late nights.
MacDonald now claims that more ministries may follow suit in suing bloggers.
We have carefully reviewed the Scriptures related to the purpose of human government and the church. We have contacted many influential pastors and biblical scholars, and received near unanimous confirmation of our thinking.
He should tell us who he contacted about this *new idea.* Steven Furtick? Seriously? (Does he like his new house?) How about Matt Chandler who had his own moment in the sun and had to apologize because of carnal bloggers who were blogging after midnight? Mark Driscoll?
My carnal opinions on the matter.
I have had the opportunity to carefully read The Elephant Debt through the years and found it thoughtful. I have a hard time believing that these bloggers were deliberately lying in order to bring harm to MacDonald. But, he thinks differently and obviously gets more sleep than bloggers who are up all night.
- His opening comments about losing 2,000 members could be perceived by carnal bloggers, such as myself, as him being upset at losing contributors to the church. Those contributors were helping to reduce the
- Are all 2,000 former members unable to understand the nuances of the arguments between MacDonald and his critics? Do they need to be protected by MacDonald?
- $66 million in debt sounds like a lot to me.
- MacDonald admits to some problems in the church. Those might be used against him as he proceeds to stopping illegally carnal bloggers. Remember, he has to prove they were lying about their concerns.
- MacDonald resigned from leadership of the Harvest Bible Fellowship. My guess is that all of that will be dragged into court which could be embarrassing for MacDonald.
- There was a bit of a brouhaha when elders were suddenly removed by MacDonald and MacDonald was forced to apologize for his actions. That will rear its ugly head, for sure.
- Due to the acknowledgment by MacDonald that there were issues that he sought to resolve, I believe that MacDonald is risking his reputation with this lawsuit.
- MacDonald and his church have lots of money (and *some* debt.) I would imagine that anti-Slapp might be considered by lawyers of the defendants.
- MacDonald better have exacting proof that the bloggers knowingly lied when they wrote their posts. They have a right to their opinions and the First Amendment is hallowed in these parts.
- He would be advised to stop with the *carnal commenter* baloney. This will not play well.
- I believe that the bloggers will win. It is bloggers who are exposing the awful problems of child sex abuse in churches. Bloggers are changing the face of reporting and MacDonald risks sounding like an old curmudgeon who is having trouble adjusting to a new world. He needs to figure out why only he can have access to the microphone…Is it because he gets more sleep?
How about continuing to turn the other cheek?
Jesus turned the other cheek all the way to the Cross. Yet MacDonald claims that he can’t do it after only a few years because he has to protect the flock. Didn’t Jesus have to protect the flock? Or did Jesus know what MacDonald should know? God is present and is caring for His church in spite of religious leaders who really screw things up. Maybe he should reconsider his lawsuit.
On Sunday, MacDonald apologized for the harsh language and urged his congregation to “accept these brothers as valued members of the body of Christ.”
“We made statements about their character and actions that were hurtful and proved to be untrue,” he said. “We repent of this and asked for their forgiveness.”
In summary, our discipline condemned them. We lost sight of the biblical priority of seeking a redemptive solution to our differences. In our recent meeting with them, it became apparent that we still have differences between us, but they met with us in good faith and seeking mutual understanding. They accepted our apologies and agreed to be at peace with us and with Harvest.
MacDonald also apologized to onlookers. “We also ask the forgiveness of the wider Christian community that has watched this painful episode unfold,” he said Sunday. “As the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel, we’re committed to regaining your trust in all that we do and say.” He concluded, “With this action we consider this difficult chapter closed.”