[Update: One of the pastors who was interviewed for this article, Hershael York, has written about how his interview was taken out of context. That is one of the reasons I refused to do an interview in the first place. Whether the interviewer took my position or Doug’s position out of context, neither possibility was acceptable to me.]
I mentioned earlier that the Wall Street Journal had contacted me to tell my story about Doug Phillips. I refused to tell my story to the public, considering this to be a church matter, so they chose a different story, but wrote an article on the recently renewed practice of church discipline and shunning. Here are a few quotes from the article, but I highly encourage you to go read the entire article, by clicking on the title below.
Banned From Church
Reviving an ancient practice, churches are exposing sinners and shunning those who won’t repent.
By ALEXANDRA ALTER
On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. “And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P.”
Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff’s officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.
The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey’s real offense, in her pastor’s view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he’d charged her with spreading “a spirit of cancer and discord” and expelled her from the congregation. “I’ve been shunned,” she says.
Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.
Scholars estimate that 10% to 15% of Protestant evangelical churches practice church discipline — about 14,000 to 21,000 U.S. congregations in total. Increasingly, clashes within churches are spilling into communities, splitting congregations and occasionally landing church leaders in court after congregants, who believed they were confessing in private, were publicly shamed.
In the past decade, more than two dozen lawsuits related to church discipline have been filed as congregants sue pastors for defamation, negligent counseling and emotional injury, according to the Religion Case Reporter, a legal-research database.
Courts have often refused to hear such cases on the grounds that churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise, but some have sided with alleged sinners. In 2003, a woman and her husband won a defamation suit against the Iowa Methodist conference and its superintendent after he publicly accused her of “spreading the spirit of Satan” because she gossiped about her pastor. A district court rejected the case, but the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the woman’s appeal on the grounds that the letter labeling her a sinner was circulated beyond the church.
(Quoted with permission.)