I’m not too keen on the idea of cutting down other faith leaders, however shining the Light on some issues is needful for the Body as a whole. All throughout the bible we read of prophets and leaders shedding light on issues regarding other leaders both in the secular realm (Pharaoh and Simon the false pastor) and among the brethren (Paul rebuking Peter and correcting the church at Corinth). Rachel Held Evans raises awareness about abuse within Mark Driscoll’s ministry and Matthew Paul Turner shines light on bizarre teachings and practices of mega church pastors. Now let me draw your attention to a fellow blogger, Julie Anne. She began a blog to raise awareness of cult-like activity going on in a church she once belonged to. She discovered the pastor had listed his church on a review site so Julie Anne left her very raw and honest review (you’ll need to go back to the earlier reviews to find hers). Needless to say, it started a whirlwind fire storm between her and the church. The pastor took her to court to sue her for $500K in a defamation lawsuit.
photo credit Angie
It’s very important to understand that although a church develops it’s own way of handling disputes within their community, you are not without the Constitution. Julie Anne knew that she could speak freely about her experiences with protection from the United States Constitution. She simply blogged about her opinions of the pastor and the way he governs his church community. Julie Anne brings up some valuable information regarding Christians suing each other and how others were tossed into the lawsuit by the pastor. It’s needful for the Body to understand what their American rights are, what defamation, libel, and slander really are in addition to what you can say without getting sued.
I find it ironic that pastors don’t want former members speaking about their experiences in their churches, but those same pastors will publicly condemn secular leaders and other pastors from their pulpits. Do you see the hypocrisy? We have the freedom to share our stories. Somewhere along the line, victims have been bullied into silence and those bullies have increased in power due to their fear mongering and threats of eternal torture and God’s wrath upon their lives. No one will go to hell for being honest with their opinions.
Here’s where faith comes into play. We exercise our faith by walking out our freedom. Once you know you’re freedom and the wisdom needed to navigate in this freedom, you become empowered and the bullies lose. You see, the ‘freedom’ spoken of in churches usually only allows you freedom to disagree with the Catholic Church or any secular agency the pastor targets. However, the Constitution gives you freedom to disagree with anyone! Within the church system there are rules of engagement that require you to only speak positively about the leadership and any disagreement is viewed as rebellion and they issue their own form of discipline. If you’re willing to live with their discipline, then by all means speak up while you’re still there. Just be willing to own those consequences.
If you decide to leave there may still be consequences, since many churches practice various forms of excommunication. However, once you walk out those doors you no longer have to be as close to those who want to make your life miserable for speaking up or leaving. You have the freedom to walk away. Now what about writing out your experiences on a blog like Julie Anne did or on Facebook like so many others do? I’m not a lawyer so you’ll want to double check for yourself, but as long as you aren’t accusing them by name of criminal activity then your opinion is free to be shared. A pastor or other church member might try to sue you like Pastor Chuck did to Julie Anne, but they will lose so long as you are within your Constitutional rights. So be sure and talk to a lawyer before speaking up. In addition to this, the one suing you may have to pay all your court fees.
I’m not saying that you should start a blog to publicly call a pastor out on the carpet and I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but I do think we all need to be wise about it. Although Julie Anne plowed her way through this with much courage, her life was not without stress. Thankfully, she won and her court case paves a way for all of us to gain more courage to be free. Just be willing to live with all the pros and cons of your decision.
One last thing, but certainly not last in importance. God will not condemn you for speaking up about an abusive church government. The condition of sin was extinguished through the death and resurrection of Christ the Lord. God sees you as absolutely perfect, it’s just mankind who doesn’t. So while you are free to do whatever you want, choose wisely. Whatever your choice is, you will need to live with that choice.