"...When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matt 9:36

"Do not rob the poor, because he is poor... for the Lord will take up their case and plunder those who plunder them." Proverbs 22:22-23

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bloggers: 2, Pastors: 0. Julie Anne Smith Wins Complete Victory in Anti-SLAPP Motion, Chuck's Lawsuit is Chucked by the Judge

Julie Anne Smith and her co-defendants have prevailed. Their pastor's attempts to sue them for half a million in damages because they dared to criticize their former church and pastor, have ended in shame and disgrace for Beaverton Grace Bible Church - and have piled on a debt of probably $50,000 in legal fees and court costs.

Judge Jim Fun granted Julie Anne's anti-SLAPP motion, tossing out Chuck O'Neal's ridiculous lawsuit, and ordering Chuck and Church to fork over the money to pay for the defendants' legal defense.

And there ain't no insurance that will pay for this one. This money will come straight from the coffers of Beaverton Grace Bible Church.

Can you say "special offering"? Can you say "Double Tithe Sunday"?

Seriously, to a small 501(c)3 like BGBC this can be a fatal blow. Chuck and friends rolled the dice on this one, and he lost big time, and may have taken his church down with him. Too bad there weren't some elders/deacons/trustees with a backbone to stand up to Chuck and his cockamamie idea of suing the sheep. Too bad compensatory damages aren't required by the court for the anguish Chuck and his board of elders/deacons/trustees has caused to all of the defendants involved.

Kudos to Julie Anne Smith for her tenacity. Unlike her pastor, she has handled herself with grace and courage through this entire ordeal. Julie Anne has taken the heat, not shying away from the press coverage. She has used the platform given to her by this set of unfortunate circumstances to speak out against spiritual abuse, and no doubt she will continue to do so.

Make no mistake, Julie Anne is a trailblazer. She has won a very important case for religious bloggers who seek to share the truth about churches and pastors. Lawyers who represent well-to-do mega church pastors who are criticized on line are sure to take the judge's ruling to heart. As I said before, if O'Neal won, I believe we would have seen more of these lawsuits by pastors who want to shut up their critics who aren't good for their "business". The judge ruled that religious blogs critical of how pastors run their church and how they treat people, are matters of public interest, and opinions expressed about said pastors is protected free speech.

Here is a very important part of the judge's ruling:

"Plaintiff [O'Neal and his church] 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. Consequently, the foregoing claimed defamatory statements are dismissed."

Awesome. Julie Anne did what she did, "authorized by law". Problem is, in the world of fundamentalist, authoritarian preachers like Chuck, Julie Anne was not authorized by Pastor to do what she did. Pastor didn't like Julie Anne's opinions. Pastor thinks Julie Anne's criticism was sin. Pastor got his hat handed to him by the judge, and Pastor's congregation has to pay the legal bills.

Here is the summary paragraph from Judge Jim Fun's ruling:

"In summary, defendants Julie Anne Smith [and other defendants'] Special Motions to Strike are granted. The court finds that the defendant's internet postings on plaintiff's website and defendant Julie Anne Smith's blog site, were made in a public forum and concern an issue of public interest. The court further finds that plaintiff has not met the burden of presenting substantial evidence the defendant's statements are defamatory. "

This is all made sweeter by going back and reading Chuck's "press release" from a few months ago, where he said:

"We have not gone hastily to court. For three and a half years this group has been engaged in a public, church to church, and World Wide Web defamation, showing their willingness to harm children, to harm wives, to harm the church, and harm the testimony of Christ's Gospel. It is BGBC's firm conviction that this cannot continue. The ministry of the local church and the Gospel cannot continue to be hindered."

The loving pastor accuses Julie Anne and the others of harming children and wives, and even harming the testimony of Jesus Christ himself. Actually, Chuck, YOU are that man! The last statement above shows why Chuck and his men couldn't make the right call:  their religious zealotry made them think their lawsuit was required by God himself to stop Julie Anne from "hindering" the church and the Gospel. In the fog of their religious confusion, they thought they were doing the very will of God.

As I close, I can't help but go back to the statement made by Chuck's wife when interviewed by KPTV, staring right into the camera and saying of Julie Anne and her co-defendants (while Chuck had a Cheshire-cat grin, see left):

"The only thing worse than a vicious woman is a group of vicious women." Mrs. O'Neal

I guess to Chuck and friends, they now have discovered there IS one thing worse - in their twisted minds - than even a group of "vicious women" who are "hindering" the local church and the Gospel:

One judge who can rightly put an authoritarian pastor and his cultish church in their place.

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Other sites posting articles on Julie Anne's tremendous victory, and some quotes:

Julie Anne's blog: Judge's Decision

Wartburg Watch: Julie Anne Smith Prevails Against Her Former Church
"There can be no doubt that the major news outlets will be reporting on this story, which has garnered tremendous attention.  I do hope that hyper-authoritarian pastors are paying attention…  First there was Tom Rich (on the East Coast); now Julie Anne Smith (on the West Coast).

Yep, from coast to coast judges are ruling in favor of parishioners who have the right to exercise their free speech.  It does appear that the internet is the modern day version of the Gutenberg Press which was a major contributing factor to the Reformation.
"
Bene Diction Blog: Beaverton Grace Bible Church Loses Court Case Against Blogger
"Some of the best coverage of this Beaverton Grace Bible Church bully suit has been by Tom Rich of FBC Jax Watchdog – another blogger who dared question his pastor and who also faced spiritual abuse and struggles in US courts."
 Previous Watchdog Articles on this Case:

Mother and Daughter Being Sued by Their Former Pastor - May 13, 2012

An Analysis of Chuck O'Neal's Press Release - May 17, 2012

Greater Love Hath No Pastor - June 1, 2012

Donate to the BGBC Legal Defense Fund - July 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Critique of the Creepy and Unbiblical Deacon Qualifications at an SBC Mega Church: "Lifting Up the Hands of the Pastor" and Other Such Nonsense

When I read the expectations for deacons at Bellevue Baptist Church, my creep meter red lines.

If Bellevue Baptist's deacons qualifications are typical of an SBC mega church, it seems to be a deacon nowadays you have to be wealthy (or poor and agree to be poorer), agree to do things that are absolutely not in the Bible, and you have to pledge your allegiance to a man. I've said it before: give the SBC another couple hundred years, and their hierarchy and devotion to professional religious men will be indistinguishable from the modern Roman Catholic Church.

What I read as the qualifications of a deacon are absolutely indistinguishable from what the standards were for a small SBC church when I was ordained as a deacon and served as the Vice Chair of deacons in the 1990s.

And these expectations are not just creepy, I believe they helped to create an environment where abuses - should they occur in the church - would be covered up and not fully disclosed to authorities or the congregation.

Here are the Bellevue Baptist Church deacon qualifications that peg my creep meter:

1. "The deacon would be expected to give a tithe (one-tenth) of his income for the work of Christ through the local church."   Darn. You have to either be wealthy enough to afford to fork over 1/10th of your income, or you have to agree to be irresponsible in managing your finances and give more than your family can afford for the privilege of rubbing elbows with the big boys at Bellevue. The New Testament standard is regular, generous giving - this could be 25% for some, 0.5% for others. Again, we see legalism making the gospel bad news for the poor who can't afford a tithe, very good news for the rich who could give more.

2. "The deacon is one who is to help create and preserve harmony in the church. He should be able to have and to maintain the reputation of keeping in confidence those things which should not be discussed openly. He should be wise and discreet. "  Huh?  Isn't this just common sense? Aren't mature adults in any sort of leadership expected to keep things in confidence which need to be in confidence? Why does this have to be stated as an expectation? I'll tell you why: because deacons at this church and others are expected to suppress any and all negative information that might harm the church or the pastor. This is a form of the "cant' talk rule" described by Johnson and Van Vonderan: "If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem...the truth is, when people talk about problems out loud they don't cause them, they simply expose them....the 'can't talk rule', however, blames the person who talks, and the ensuing punishments pressure questioners into silence." A deacon is to "create and preserve harmony" - that means they are to help silence troublemakers. Harmony doesn't need to be created or preserved - it is the natural outflow of a healthy organization.

3. "He should see that his duty is to lift up the hands of the Pastor..."  Why does a deacon need to "lift up the hands of the Pastor" (capital "P"). What on earth does that mean, anyhow, "lift up the hands"? Creepy language that means nothing but to set forth the idea that the Man of God is more important than anyone else, a "Moses" of sorts whose hands tire as he lifts them to stay the hand of God. If it means to assist him in certain duties, why not say "assist the pastor as needed in pastoral duties"? Are there any job descriptions out there talking about "lifting the hands" of your boss?

4.  "....and to work positively and with loyalty under the Pastor's leadership."  Yes, you must be "positive" and be "loyal".  I have yet to see a job description in the real world where an adult is told to be "positive" and "loyal" to a man or woman in the organization. This is the stuff cults are made of, friends. In ANY organization, your "loyalty" is not to people, or even to an organization. It would be to the goals and ideals of the organization, and a Pastor or anyone else who acts in opposition to those ideals deserves no loyalty from anyone. This is just another indication of the "can't talk rule" being in place at this church. If you ask questions, or become a voice of dissent on an issue, you are not "loyal", you are not "positive", you ARE the problem.

5. "He is to free the Pastor to do the work to which God has called the Pastor to do."   Why does the pastor need to be "freed" to do his work? How do we "free" him? What work does he need to be freed to do that he can't do unless the deacons "free" him to it? Should lay people free the deacons? This is an elevation of the position of "Pastor" (capital P) to a spiritual plane higher than everyone else.

6. "The deacon's family life should be an example. He should be the husband of one wife and must guide and lead his children and his own house well. Neither husband nor wife has been previously married."   So we have to eliminate anyone who has ever been married before. A remarried widower, for example, cannot serve. I've seen this ridiculous rule implemented and eliminate men who would be fine leaders -sorry, "servants" - in a church.

7.  "The very word "deacon" means servant. This does not demean or lower an individual. To the contrary Jesus said, 'And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave' Service exalts."  This is funny. Apparently the men who might serve as a volunteer in the position of deacon have to be TOLD that being a deacon and serving is not demeaning. They have to be told that it actually will "exalt" them. Yes, serve as a deacon, and you will be exalted by your service. Do grown men need to be told this about serving in a volunteer capacity?

8. A deacon should not drink alcoholic beverages, use nicotine or other addictive substances, or participate in questionable amusements."  Not in the Bible- the verses they quote say a man shouldn't be addicted to wine, doesn't say anything about nicotine, and I'm not sure what "questionable amusements" might possibly be. Like "R" rated movies, playing the lottery? Maybe reading the Watchdog? I would say one of my "questionable amusements" is listening to a Steve Gaines sermon every now and then.

OK, let me wrap this up by making a couple of points:

No wonder so many mega churches handle instances of abuse so poorly - covering up cases of abuse, failing to properly report abuse to authorities, or shuttling a suspected abuser to the next church without alerting authorities. Look at the diminished pool of candidates from which they can choose their leaders who would wisely discern a course of action: candidates are all men, only married men - sorry, only married men who have been married once - only married men married once who happen to have decent children and who don't drink beer, wine, or whisky. From that restricted pool of leaders we now have to eliminate the poor slobs who can't fork over 10% of their income, who might have a glass of wine with their wife at dinner, and eliminate all those who aren't willing to keep secrets and pledge their loyalty to a "Pastor". Wow.

What large organization, what large corporation could function at maximum efficiency - could make wise decisions - if they restricted their managers to be selected from such a narrow pool of candidates?

Deacons at Bellevue will tell you that all of these qualifications come from scripture, from 1 Tim 1:3-10. But not really. These verses don't say anything about "tithing", and they don't say that you must not drink alcohol. I've been around SBC churches long enough to know that exceptions to these "biblical standards" are made if it is convenient - but there is ONE qualification that they don't bend on:  deacons must all have penises.

Eliminating women from serving as deacons or elders in most SBC churches eliminates them from possibly serving on a board of trustees - as the trustees are typically selected from the body of deacons. Although 1 Tim 3 is used as the basis for eliminating women from the position of deacon, this ignores the fact that there is evidence that women served the church in leadership positions in the New Testament. "Phoebe" served as a deacon in Romans 16:2, and "Junia" was described as "outstanding among the apostles" in Romans 16:7. And look at women leaders in the Old Testament. And about "Junia" in Romans 16:2: what your pastor won't tell you is the name "Junia" was changed to the masculine form "Junias" in the bible in the year 1100. Look it up.

It is no wonder that evangelical churches who subscribe to the unbiblical standard of male-only leadership have trouble handling scandal: the leaders are only once-married males who pledge their loyalty and 10% minimum of their income to their institution and Pastor....

...and who are capable of keeping secrets.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ed Young's 8000 SF Mansion On the Market in Texas: A Steal at Only $2.2 Million - And We Get a Glimpse Into the Lavishness of His Abode


"Why are you even coming to church, if you're not bringing the tithe? Seriously, what are you expecting? Just hang out at home, man, play golf. You don't need to be here. What are you, crazy? You're not going to get anything [from God for not tithing]...You're wasting your time, my time, you're taking up space here.." Ed Young telling his church members to tithe or stay home.
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Ed Young told his congregation in October 2010:  "Its...all...about....the money....show me the money!".  You did, Fellowship Church, show Ed the money, and now we show you what your money bought. 

Below are some of the pictures now online displaying Ed Young's 8000 square foot mansion located on Lake Grapevine northwest of Dallas - the house has been on the market since April 2012.

And the asking price is a steal at only $2.2 million.

The listing portfolio has 25 pictures showing exterior and interior views of this lavish house. When you browse the pictures, Fellowship Church donors get to see what a reported $1 million per year salary, along with a $250,000 tax exempt "parsonage allowance" will allow a mega church pastor to purchase.

Take a good look, Fellowship Church tithers and givers. This home is what you are giving to each week. Pastors like to show you pictures of missionaries telling people about Jesus, and shelters for unwed mothers to which the church gives a miniscule percentage of their revenue - and tell you THAT is what your donations are buying. But look at these pictures, Fellowship Church, because your pastor's lifestyle also is what you are helping to fund. Lavish, outlandish luxury for your Man of God.

It is quite sickening when you see these pictures of his 6 bed, 6-bath, 5-fireplace, 4-car garage, 4 acre "parsonage", to think that just a few weeks ago Ed was mocking Christians who feel a sense of urgency in traveling to remote parts of the earth to help dig wells so that impoverished people can have access to clean drinking water. Earlier this year, Ed blasted the "heretical poverty vibe" in Christianity (while Mary the camel took a dump on the platform), and Ed boldly declared:

"No where in the Bible does it tell me as a follower of Christ I'm to take an oath to poverty. Where's that in the Bible? Where's that in the Bible that I should feel guilty if I'm blessed of God?"

If you really want to experience the full effect of Ed's hypocrisy, browse all 25 videos of his lavish home here, then watch 10 minutes of video where he blasts his church members for not tithing. It will all make sense; you'll see what Ed is all about. Ed Young is telling people to not even bother coming to church unless they are bringing their tithe with them, pronouncing God's curses on people who donate less than 10% of their income to his church. Ed uses the money he does take in to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

After all, as a Man of God, Ed Young is rich, and he is famous.

And Jesus wept.

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The prosperity gospel according to Ed Young:

"You wonder why your marriage is stoned. You wonder why your kids' future is stoned. You wonder why your career is stoned. You wonder why you don't have joy....it's all about the money! It's all about the money, you don't get it!....80% of you are robbing God. 20% of Fellowship Church pays for everything. 20% pays for it all. We're just operating on 20%. Only 20% are bringing the tithe. Only 20% are living in the land of 'more than enough'....

"I want to help you get blessed. Now hopefully you understand when I say 'get blessed' I don't mean you begin to bring your portion to the storehouse and you will become a multi-squillionaire. I'm not saying that, but some of you will. I said 'some of you will'....He's gonna make a lot of us a lotta money - I'm talking about God - because He knows if he can get it through us, he'll get it to us. But the problem is, God wants to bless a lot of you, but you're in the Jordan River, in your floaties, splashing around thinking a mission trip will do it, thinking another bible study will do it, thinking that serving the church will do it, thinking prayer will do it. It's all about the money. It's all about the money. Show....me....the...money."


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Readers, Please Donate to the BGBC Defense Fund - Two Days Before Anti-SLAPP Hearing in BGBC Case

This Friday an important court hearing in Oregon will take place in the pastor Chuck O'Neal slander lawsuit. As I've discussed here on this blog, O'Neal is the pastor of Beaverton Grace Bible Church who has filed a $500,000 slander lawsuit against former church member Julie Anne Smith and others who dared to publicly criticize O'Neal and his church.

Friday's hearing will be for the judge to rule on Julie Anne's "anti-SLAPP" motion filed to dismiss O'Neal's ridiculous lawsuit. "SLAPP" is short for "strategic lawsuit against public participation" - meaning a defamation lawsuit designed to silence a critic by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense. In response to an increase in SLAPP's filed in the 1990's harming free speech, some states have created an "Anti-SLAPP" legal defense, which when exercised by a defendant, the plaintiff has a high burden to prove their case has merit else the judge must dismiss the lawsuit.
 
As this important hearing approaches, I wanted to encourage readers to consider making a contribution to the BGBC Survivors Legal Defense Fund by clicking below:


It is extremely important that we come to the aid of Julie Anne Smith and others who have been sued by their former pastor, Chuck O'Neal, for daring to use social media to raise awareness of what they consider to be a spiritually abusive pastor and church. Julie Anne faces mounting legal bills, and so do other defendants in this lawsuit - some have thousands of dollars of legal fees simply because O'Neal and BGBC decide to sue them but then later modified the complaint and dropped those defendants from the suit. Oh, the love of a pastor that sues and then drops the charges against the sheep.

Since blogging arrived on the scene as a powerful force for Christian expression in 2005 and 2006, much opposition has arisen against those daring to speak up against preachers and denominational leaders. We can go back to the brutal attempts by IMB leadership to silence and discredit Wade Burleson in 2006, to Ergun Caner's sermon at the Georgia State Evangelism Conference in 2007 bashing bloggers, to Jerry Vines' spitting on anonymous emails at the 2007 Pastor's Conference. In the fall of 2007 the Georgia Baptist Convention passed their "Resolution on Blogging", and then the following year a Jacksonville police detective who also conveniently served on his church's discipline committee used subpoenas to find the author of this blog, and when sued the state attorney's office conveniently lost all the associated paperwork which may have justified pulling investigative subpoenas. Next we saw in 2009 at how Perry Noble's church staff went after a college professor who dared to criticize NewSpring church. And just a few weeks ago we had Ed Young declaring "Blog" stands for "basement living, opinion giving", and declaring bloggers live with their parents and blog in their undergarments.

Even in the midst of many bloggers acting independently to research and expose Ergun Caner's "decade of deceit" during 2010, Caner and his defenders tried to discredit bloggers as being "Calvinists" and "frustrated people in their basement" eating Cheetos. Ed Young followed Caner's example last month, blasting the evil "Calvinist" bloggers for being his harshest critics.

If nothing else, blogging has exposed these supposed "Men of God" as mere mortals who are really just professional religious profiteers whose religion and power has turned them into the very thing they preach against. This really is nothing new, all through the history of Christianity we see abusive professional religious men seeking to get their hands on people's money (and/or their genitals) to build religious institutions, satisfy their egos, and then to silence critics who rise up from within.

True, us bloggers don't always get things right, we make mistakes like any other human who dares to criticize those in power. But unlike most pastors, we welcome open dialogue on our blogs, and we can engage our harshest critics in the discussion on our blogs.

But back to Julie Anne's situation: in the past few months we've now seen a pastor go on the legal offensive to try to shut down a blogger. The outcome of this case will be incredibly important. Julie Anne's lawyer is wisely using the anti-SLAPP provisions of the law to protect Julie Anne from this frivolous lawsuit designed to keep her from exercising her first amendment rights.

If Julie Anne loses her anti-SLAPP motion, I think more pastors will follow Chuck's lead - especially when they see their revenues and church attendance continue to dwindle and they blame the evil bloggers. Church pastors don't have the financial constraints bloggers have: pastors can tap into their church coffers to pay for their legal maneuvers, and they likely have very rich friends who will help. Nothing can silence someone faster than the prospect of having to drain their financial resources to defend themselves against a frivolous lawsuit brought by a loving Man of God.

So let's help Julie Anne and the others affected by Chuck O'Neal's and BGBC's lawsuit. Give generously to help a person who is doing God's work in standing up to her former pastor and daring to speak about spiritual abuse.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

NewSpring and Perry Noble Resort to False Claims of South Carolina Church Attendance to Raise Funds to Build More Satellite Churches

"85% of our state does not attend church"
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"Between now and July 1st, I'm asking everyone in this church to do the best you can to make the largest financial contribution to a church you've ever made in your life. For some of you that might be twenty bucks. Amen and praise God. But for some of you that could be ten million." Perry Noble appealing for large contributions on "Take the Land" video
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It is time for South Carolinians to contact the Federal Trade Commission to report deceptive fund raising practices of NewSpring Church. I'm not talking about the ridiculous "first fruits tithing" doctrine Perry Noble uses to scare people into forking over 10% of their income else God will bring curses on family and fortune. I'm talking about NewSpring making false claims in their latest fund raising video (see below) about church attendance in South Carolina to try to create an urgency in order to raise millions of dollars to "Take the Land".

Perry Noble and NewSpring church are trying to raise millions of dollars under the false claim that only 15% of people in South Carolina attend church. As you can see in the graphic above, this is absolutely false and misleading. According to Gallup, the actual figure is 56% - making South Carolina the state with the third highest church attendance! NewSpring's claim is so blatantly false that it defies and explanation. Kudos to Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio for being all over this story.

If only 15% of people attended church in South Carolina, that would put them well below Vermont, who Gallup says is the state with the lowest percentage of church attenders at 23%. Gosh, even people in California attend church at a 35% clip, Perry!

And the 56% statistic from Gallup is those who responded that they attend church "every week" or "almost every week" - we're talking regular church attenders here! Now it is true that Gallup lumps in those who say they attend synagogue or mosque in their "church attendance" figures. But U.S. Census numbers indicate that 93% of people in South Carolina consider themselves "Christian", and 84% are "Protestant". So this doesn't even come close to explaining the huge gap between NewSpring's 15% and Gallup's 56%.

It is not uncommon to see preachers purposely fib to their congregations. But here, Perry Noble takes it to a much higher level. Perry is looking straight into the camera and making an appeal for people to give millions of dollars, right after the video creates a false sense of urgency with the claim that only 15% of people in their state attend church.

Fact is, South Carolina is absolutely chock full of churches (go to Google Maps, and search "South Carolina churches" and you will see what I mean - you will be shocked). Not ones that Perry would approve of I'm sure. After all they are probably boring and dull churches, don't have rock bands, and some of the ministers wear robes instead of skinny jeans. And I'm certain that almost none of them have opened an Easter service with AC/DC's "Highway to Hell".

Too bad the Federal Trade Commission doesn't investigate churches and clergy for their false claims in efforts to get people to fork over their money to their ministries. If any other non-profit were to raise money using the tactics of many modern evangelicals, complaints would be filed with the FTC, an investigation would be done, and charges would be filed. While we long have accepted the prosperity TV preachers will lie about giving money to their ministry causing the "windows of heaven" to open and financial blessings to flow,  we don't expect evangelical churches to lie about people in their state to raise money to build more churches in a saturated market.

But this is the trend - we are in the era of church marketing. These are no longer churches ministering to people - they are huge businesses run by CEO's with egos to match, who compete fiercely for market share. How else do mega churches in Jacksonville justify building "satellite" churches when there is one on nearly every corner?