Family gives church bad review. Church decides: let’s sue!

Last September I ran across a story about a website designed to rate one’s pastor. I thought it sounded like a good idea at the time and I still think it is. A church and those who operate it should be held accountable for what they do, including how they treat those who choose to attend that church and how they treat those who choose to leave.

Julie Anne Smith of Beaverton, Oregon claims that when her family decided to leave the church they’d been attending, the rest of the congregation was essentially encouraged to shun them. Smith chose the internet as her soapbox to describe her family’s negative experiences and eventually felt compelled to start a blog called Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors. It looks like interesting reading. Unfortunately for Smith, the church sees it as evidence of slander and defamation and is taking her to civil court.

“What somebody does in the church is one thing, but when you get out into society we have the right to free speech, and it may not be what people want to hear, but we absolutely have that right,” Smith said.

The lawsuit didn’t just target Smith. Her daughter and three other commenters are also being sued.

“He can say what he wants in the church and say, don’t talk about this or don’t talk about that, or don’t talk to this person, but when you’re out in the civil world, you don’t do that anymore,” Smith said. “And he’s not my pastor anymore. He does not have that right to keep people from talking.”

The Smiths filed a special free speech motion to dismiss the lawsuit. It goes before a judge later this month.

Attempts by KATU.com to get the pastor’s side of the story failed and one anonymous commenter on the site notes that the “opposing side” is choosing to focus on “name-calling, correction of spelling errors” and refuting things that have zero relevance to the issue at hand.

Where are the rebuttals? The clarifications? Why are they not decrying statements made by those who have been shunned or given the boot? Why? Well, I think we all know the answer to that!

Like the old adage, there are three sides to every story – his, hers and the truth. Smith and company are probably not intentionally lying about what they experienced under the roof of this church and after. There are people who can only run things in a heavy-handed kind of way and make it rough on anyone who doesn’t agree. They’re saying that’s what they were up against and the pastor chose a heavy-handed kind of way to deal with their criticisms. Civil lawsuits can’t be cheap.

Hopefully I’ll remember to check back on this and see what results.

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