A great victory occurred in Beaverton Oregon last Thursday when a judge dismissed a $500,000.00 lawsuit filed by a minister of a legalistic cult like church against a former member who posted a negative comment about the church online.
The story started when a young woman who was very active in the church experienced a crisis in faith when challenged to look deeper into what she was being brought up in.
Skip forward a couple of years, I had never formally joined BGBC as a member. I was taking classes at the local community college where I met a guy. He challenged me to re-think everything I knew and believed in. He didn’t want me to leave Christianity (he actually still considers me a Christian even though I no longer profess a belief). But through discussions with him, I started to look at my life and realized that I was living in a bubble. That bubble was basically white, middle-class, Christian, homeschooling families. It was a small segment of a much bigger world. I wanted to explore life and see what it meant to me without feeling pressure from anything or anyone else.
So here I was almost 21, working 4 part-time nanny jobs so I could put myself through a full-time school load to finish my degree (and I didn’t have a car due to my finances and wanting to complete school as fast as I could, so I biked or bused my commutes). When I added up the time I was at BGBC, which alone was about 20 hours a week including Friday night evangelizing on the street or at malls. Christianity was such an ingrained part of my family’s life that there was no way that I’d be allowed to live at home and not go to church. Plus I’d still have my family responsibilities and chores. I was honestly suffering burn-out with all the activities I had to do. I loved my family, adored my siblings, and respected my parents, but I knew and they knew that I couldn’t do what I wanted and live with them at the same time.
This woman's father brought her in front of the church pastor and this is what transpired:
My father, in utter disbelief that I could denounce my faith (he was a Calvinist so this was unthinkable and practically an impossibility in his mind) and Chuck arranged a “meeting” with me that truthfully was really coerced. I did not want to be there. They sat me down in his office and read verse after verse and got me to feel sorry and repentant by pointing out that I respected my elders and so should do what they said.
Pastor Chuck’s best idea for getting me to “come back to the faith” was to take away my cell phones (I had two, the contract was in my name, that I entirely paid for), forbid me from going on the internet, told me to stop taking classes in a “worldly” school, as well as leave my various jobs, and that I was to stay home all day and basically only leave it to go to church.
After thinking about that for a day or two, I decided that that was utterly ridiculous and sounded like brain-washing to me. I thought, “If Christianity is that great, shouldn’t it be obvious? Why can’t I go out on my own? If it’s so great, I’ll for sure come back to the faith anyways - following their logic”. I knew I could ask questions, but I had a feeling the answers would be skewed, and hammered down into me like I was treated at that meeting. I wanted to be treated like an adult, to be given the pros and cons, to have the other adults admit that I had valid concerns, and not act like I was stupid and under the influence of a male friend who they thought might be trying to steal me away from the faith, the church, and my family.
Disgusted by it all she moved out of the house and across town so as to not be able to bump into church members. The young woman's mother disgusted by the ministers actions and the actions of church members wrote a comment on the church web site.
Speed up to last December. My mother had said that she had written a review on BGBC’s website and it wasn’t there anymore. We had already noticed the church members’ tactics of burying the negative google reviews under their positive ones by slightly tweaking their reviews so they’d stay consistently on top. When she said that, I thought that I’d write a review, partly as a way to defend my mother, as well as a way to tell my own story. That church had hurt me. It had caused a rift between me and my parents. So I wrote my review, and it was buried, but it stayed there.Then all hell breaks loose. The minister, against the counsel of other ministers in other churches that knew him, decided he was going to make an example of the mother and daughter and filed a half million dollar lawsuit against them for defamation.
And now here we are today. I don’t think Chuck’s lawsuit was aimed at me, it’s aimed at my mother. I was fuel to add to the fire. Chuck never tried to contact me after I left the church. I never knew if I was shunned or excommunicated, as I didn’t talk or associate with anyone at that church unless they initiated the conversation. I lived a good 45 minutes away on the other side of town purposely so I wouldn’t accidentally run into people I knew from my “old” life. Honestly, I was busy just living my life, finishing up my Bachelor’s degree, building my career, finding new friends. But now I’m involved in a half-a-million dollar lawsuit. Life has a strange way of working. But I’m glad I’m in this . I will stand by my mother every step of the way. It’s her blog, but she, and I, and the other defendants, and EVERYONE has a right to their opinion, especially if they believe it’s the truth. The best defense against defamation is just that - the truth. And the truth is what my mother wrote, and truth is what I wrote.
KCTV out of Kansas City had this in a July 13 story:
BEAVERTON, OR (KPTV) -
A woman who badmouthed her former church on her blog may have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars after the church filed a defamation lawsuit.
A Washington County Judge heard arguments from both sides Friday afternoon and now must decide whether the case will move forward.
The Beaverton Grace Bible Church sued Julie Anne Smith, saying her blog could ruin their reputation. Smith's daughter and a third former church member are also targets of the lawsuit.
Smith said she stands by her blog posts.
She said the church practices spiritual abuse. She also wrote the pastor knew there was a sex offender in the church and gave him access to children and the nursery.
That's one of the accusations that the church lists in their lawsuit. Church leaders said it's false and that Smith only posted it to get back at Pastor Chuck O'Neal.
"It's an attempt o ruin us, and it's been highly successful," Pastor O'Neal told Fox 12 outside of court. "They have said the worst possible kind of things you can say about a pastor, about a church." Beaverton church sues blogging ex-member, seeks $500,000
Flash forward to July 26th. Fox 12 states the following:
BEAVERTON, OR (KPTV) -
The lawsuit against a blogger who badmouthed her former church has been dismissed.
A judge threw out the defamation lawsuits filed against Julie Anne Smith and two others by the Beaverton Grace Bible Church.
Note what the judge said:
The report from Judge Jim Fun said the internet postings "were made in a public forum and concern an issue of public interest. The court further finds that the plaintiff has not met the burden of presenting substantial evidence the defendant's statements are defamatory." Lawsuit dismissed against blogger critical of Beaverton church
The mother and daughter started a blog for survivors of the cult.. BGBC Survivors
If this sounds familiar it is exactly like what one Church of God cult leader in the southern hemisphere has been doing for several years now. Using threats and intimidation on Facebook and various COG blogs, he has threatened and filed suit against several who are critical of him and his asinine teachings. This should serve as fair warning the next time he gets pissed at someone who doesn't like him and says so.