"You do not become a 'dissident' just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society." Vaclav Havel, Czech Dissident
--------------------------------------Things are getting stranger by the day in the story of the Oregon pastor who has sued some of his former church members for their online criticism of he and his church.
In this article I want to highlight just a few of the twists and turns - for the entire story and literally a day-by-day chronicle of events, visit Julie Anne Smith's blog.
First, let me say this about Julie Anne and her blog: I really do commend Julie Anne for continuing to use her blog as a means to highlight the actions of her former pastor in real time. I also chose this route in 2008 when the letter of my 16 sins and trespass papers for me and my wife (her sin of "associating" with me, a sinful, slandering blogger) were delivered to our doorstep on the eve of Thanksgiving. As we have seen in several high-profile cases of church intimidation and spiritual abuse, religious men tend to overlook the possibility that what they think will be a quiet, behind-the-scenes method to intimidate dissenters into silence, might actually turn into a humiliating public record of their own actions.
In my opinion, what Chuck thought would be a nifty way to get Julie Anne to cower in fear over her blog by slapping her and other church members with a slander lawsuit, knowing Julie Anne probably didn't have the resources to wage a legal battle with a pastor and church, causing her to shut her blog down - it all has now blown up in Chuck's face. His actions are now international news as people are dumbfounded to hear of a pastor suing his former church members. Julie Anne has an extremely competent lawyer, and has the support of thousands and is raising money for her defense. Multiple thousands of readers per day are reading what is happening. Of course if somehow Chuck prevails in striking down Julie Anne's anti-SLAPP motion, I fully expect Chuck to move for a gag order.
Blogs today are a reality that pastors need to deal with. Blogs like Julie Anne's are the place where pastor misconduct, spiritual abuse, and false doctrines are met head-on by the analysis, critique, and criticism of Christian lay people who care about their church and care about the blight these pastors' actions have become in modern Christianity. Religious men will always accuse their critics of "slander and gossip". Even the highest most holy-men of God in the SBC accused Wade Burleson of slander and gossip when he used a blog to give voice to his objections over harmful policies implemented by the International Mission Board. It doesn't matter if done anonymously or with your name attached to the criticism. We've seen enough over the past 5 years or so since blogs have become a popular vehicle for critique and dissent to know that ANY dissent expressed in ways not approved by the holy men of God, made in a public venue, will get the stamp of "gossip and slander".
So keep on speaking, Julie Anne.
OK, back to the point of this post.
Here are some comments on two recent developments in Julie Anne's case:
Modification of the "Press Release"
The Beaverton Grace Bible Church apparently doesn't like their May 16th "press release" so much any more. As I blogged here, Chuck O'Neal and the BGBC leadership issued their press release as the "other side to the story" that wasn't being reported in the press, or on Julie Anne Smith's blog.
But apparently their "other side" has another side to the other side. You see, in the past week or so, Chuck and BGBC has significantly modified the press release on their website.
And no explanation for the edits was given. No statement of retraction
Here is what they changed...below is the first portion of the 2nd paragraph of the May 16th press release in which Chuck and BGBC tells the world what the "facts" will reveal:
"The facts will show that this is not a free speech case. Just after the release of the before mentioned staff member, in Dec. of 2008, a member of this group called the police and the DHS to deliver a false report accusing Pastor O’Neal of physically abusing his own children and allowing pornography to be distributed to adolescents in the church. He, his family, and the church were subsequently investigated by the authorities and the case was dismissed as unfounded. His only response to these vicious charges was to state his own denial. As the campaign has escalated the postings on the internet have falsely accused Pastor O’Neal of being a “wolf,” a “liar,” a” narcissist” and one who “knew about a sex offender in the church who had access to the nursery and the children on a weekly basis and did not have any safeguards in place.”.....See the red letters? Those have been deleted by Chuck and BGBC in the current version of the press release hyperlinked on their website.
Chuck and BGBC owe the world an explanation for the significant modification to their press release. Chuck and the holy men of God at BGBC released it to the world when the story was very hot, and they accused Julie Anne and the other defendants of committing the crime of purposely delivering a false report of child abuse to a state child protection agency and to the civil authorities.
Why did Chuck take it down? Chuck - why?
Interestingly, there is a new statement from Chuck on his website stating he is an American Patriot claiming his right to defend himself from:
"....World Wide Web Internet assaults consisting of false criminal accusations and character assassination of the worst kind."
He claims his lawsuit is to defend himself against "false criminal accusations". Seems he might have made a false criminal accusation on his website against his former church members.
No Greater Love Hath the Pastor....
...than when he removeth the sheep from his lawsuit. As Julie Anne reported on her blog Wednesday, Chuck has amended his lawsuit and removed the defendant whom he accused of slander when she stated online Chuck was a "wolf" and who recommended online that people don't visit the church because it is a "hellhole".
Finally, a good move by Chuck and BGBC. But why did Chuck sue this person to begin with? This, in my humble opinion, strengthens Julie Anne's anti-SLAPP case. That might help convince a judge that the motives here were not to defend himself against defamatory remarks online (no way calling someone a "wolf" or a church a "hellhole" is legally defamatory), but to intimidate former church members into silence through a lawsuit. That is exactly why there are anti-SLAPP options available to defendants such as Julie Anne.