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.
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.
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.
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.