Home / News / Who would Jesus sue? Social media demands justice over pastor's lawsuit against his step son and others speaking out against sex abuse
Who would Jesus sue?  Social media demands justice over pastor's lawsuit against his step son and others speaking out against sex abuse

Who would Jesus sue? Social media demands justice over pastor's lawsuit against his step son and others speaking out against sex abuse

In a bizarre story last spring, we reported that Julie Anne Smith and four others were sued a whopping $500,000 by her former pastor. Smith had left the Beaverton Grace Bible Church, near Portland, a few years ago and gave the church bad reviews on the Internet after she and her family were shunned by the community after leaving the church.   In his lawsuit, the pastor alleged that Smith's use of words like "creepy," "cult," "control tactics," and "spiritual abuse" in her Internet reviews were defamation.

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IMPORTANT UPDATE POSTED FEBRUARY 22, 2013 – Julie Ann Smith will be joining us in the 3rd hour of God Discussion's Freethought Fridays and Variety Show February 22.  The show page is being updated, but you can access the livestream, call in and participate in the web-based chat at BlogTalkRadio.

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Smith's blog, Spiritual Sounding Board, notes, "The case of Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith is over. The decision phase concluded when the judge presiding in this case issued his decision to dismiss it. That was on July 23, 2012. The “denouement phase” concluded when the plaintiffs completed their payments of the defendants’ court costs and attorneys fees, which totaled over $60,000. Now is the documentation phase, so the resources and lessons of this case are captured for future generations."

She's involved in another project as well, serving as media contact for "Calvary Chapel Abuse."  Like the Beaverton Grace case, Calvary Chapel involves the clergy suing over defamation.  Activists are getting the word out through the use of social media, and in particular, Facebook posts and Tweets using the tag, #WhoWouldJesusSue.

Calvary Chapel Abuse issued a press release explaining the case and why Internet activists are demanding justice:

Pastor Bob Grenier of Calvary Chapel Visalia (CCV), California, is suing Tim Taylor of Visalia and also one of his own step-sons, Alex Grenier of Idaho. He specifically contends that Taylor and Alex Grenier have committed “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress,” “Defamation,” and “Conspiracy to Defame.” The defendants view this as a legal maneuver to intimidate and silence them and others from speaking out against sexual abuse, physical abuse, and ecclesiastical corruption they allege he perpetrated.

In 2004-2005, Alex confronted Pastor Grenier and the elders of CCV concerning the child abuse he and his younger half-brother Paul say they suffered at the hands of their step-father/father. These church leaders refused to address these grievances. Alex remained silent until 2009, when he found an online forum of former CCV church members, who share their personal accounts of spiritual abuse.

The forum went viral and, in July 2010, Alex began a spiritual abuse survivor blog – Calvary Chapel Abuse. It received over 3 million hits in its first three years. He sees this as a clear indicator of public interest in this case, as well as in other abuses and controversies in Pastor Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel franchise of churches.

Those systemic issues were addressed by reporter David Sessions from The Daily Beast in a January 26, 2013, article: “Calvary Chapel’s Tangled Web.” Besides examining some of the organizational dynamics related to the murder of Calvary Albuquerque prison ministry Pastor Greg Griego, he lists other problems. Accusations of lack of accountability, cover-up of sexual abuse, local abuse of authority, and interference in local affairs by national leaders dog Calvary Chapel – and other similar kinds of evangelical associations of so-called “independent” local churches, and denominations.

Alex Grenier was also unsuccessful in attempts to have Pastor Smith or any other national Calvary Chapel leaders intervene in the CCV situation with his step-father. So, his only recourse has been to publicize the abusive experiences that would otherwise remain hidden in his step-father’s private life.

The lawsuit was filed on October 17, 2012, in Tulare County, California, where Pastor Grenier served until recently as a chaplain to the local police force. (He agreed to a leave of absence on February 19, 2013.) In his lawsuit, filed with his wife and co-plaintiff Gayle (who is Alex’s and Paul’s mother), Pastor Grenier claims to be an innocent victim of a “cyber-bullying hate campaign.” They are asking for an award “of exemplary and punitive damages.”

On February 8, 2013, Paul Grenier submitted to the court a sworn Declaration supporting Alex’s allegations. For instance, Paul claims that as a five-year-old boy he “was forced to perform oral sex on Bob.” He also details a childhood of suffering sadistic physical and sexual abuse by his father.

The defendants’ attorney, Paul Clifford, filed an anti-SLAPP motion on December 17, 2012, contending this is a clear issue of freedom of speech and suggesting the lawsuit is frivolous. A tentative ruling on the motion will be made on February 25, 2013, with a court hearing scheduled for February 26 before Superior Court Judge Paul Anthony Vortmann.

The decision on this case has momentous ramifications for First Amendment rights as “citizen journalist” bloggers and spiritual abuse survivors organize and speak out against ecclesiastical abusers. This may also involve separation of church and state. A social media campaign around the theme of #WhoWouldJesusSue begins February 20 to publicize the suit.

Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering and Cindy Kunsman of Under Much Grace explain on their respective blogs how social media can be employed to get the word out about this case.

Twitter has been active with #WhoWouldJesusSue messages today.  "Be honorable and hold your ministers accountable. People look to churches and ministers for guidance," Kunsman writes in one of the tweets.  The #WhoWouldJesusSue Twitter feed can be viewed here.

Who would jesus sue

About D. Beeksma

One of the growing crowd of American "nones" herself, Deborah is a prolific writer who finds religion, spirituality and the impact of belief (and non-belief) on culture inspiring, fascinating and at times, disturbing. She hosts the God Discussion show and handles the site's technical work. Her education and background is in business, ecommerce and law.
  • Sheri

    I'm so happy you continue to bring these stories to light, Deborah. It's about time some of these churches that seem to operate above the law are held accountable. Perhaps soon they will also be stripped of their tax exempt status so the public no longer has to subsidize their abusive practices.

    • Alex

      Yes, thank you Deborah. Sheri, I agree, I think churches should lose their tax exempt status and I am willing to testify before congress to the things I know from being a kid "in ministry" in the Calvary Chapel system of churches. There is a lot of corruption and a lot of money that doesn't go to helping people other than the pastor and his friends. Many churches are run like for-profit businesses and should be taxed as such. I don't mind an entrepreneur making a buck, I don't think it's right when they do it under the guise of "ministry" and then get tax exempt status for doing so which puts the burden of taxation on others like you and me.

    • Deborah_B

      Thank you, Sheri, for the great points about tax exemption. Right on.

  • Alex

    Deborah, thank you for covering this situation. Speaking out about Child Abuse and corruption in the church is NOT "cyberbullying" nor is it a "hate campaign". If Bob Grenier and Calvary Chapel are successful in their assertion of such, then it will have a chilling effect on victims of abuse and whistleblowers within the church who may report the abuses publicly. I want justice for my brother Paul (and all the others BG and CC have hurt) and I will continue to speak out about it as loudly as I can.

    • Deborah_B

      Alex, thank you so much for your comments and we'd love to have you on our GodDiscussion show, if you are willing. You are so correct about the chilling effect on victims of abuse — this has got to get more media attention.

      • Alex

        I would be honored to come on your show. I'll have Julie Anne send you my contact info if you don't have it.

        • Deborah_B

          Fantastic and thank you, Alex! Julie Ann will be on the show tonight, thanks to her response to an email last night. It's last minute, so I want to have a follow up that specifically concerns Calvary and your experience. That way, we can market it better and get the word out. We have a contact form on the top of the page — send me a line. Your willingness to do a show is very much appreciated! It's time for all of us to unite and stand up against this kind of abuse.

          • Alex

            Great interview! Listened to the whole show this morning. I appreciate the setting aside of philosophical beliefs to focus on an issue we can all agree on (or should agree on): child abuse and corruption in institutions of trust by positions of trust is wrong and needs to be called out, whether it's Penn State, the Catholic Church, in Govt. Agencies, in Calvary Chapel. Whether Atheist/Agnostic, Evangelical, Buddhist, Orthodox Jew, Catholic or Paganist, we must protect our kids and we must protect the right to call out abuse and corruption in our Institutions. Like you said, this is an important issue that we CAN and SHOULD unite on.

          • Alex

            For some reason I couldn't get the code to send my info through the "contact" form. Please drop me a line at agrenier7 at gmail dot com. Thanks! :-)

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