There's a holy war erupting in Beaverton, Oregon, after a mother and daughter gave a local church negative reviews on the Internet. Now, Pastor Charles O'Neal of Beaverton Grace Bible Church is reportedly suing the duo, among a few other commenters, for $500,000 as a result of their posted assessments of the church.
According to Julie Ann Smith, the mother, her family exited the church a few years ago after she claims that they were inexplicably shunned. Then, she says church members were told not to associate with her or her family.
"If I went to Costco or any place in town, if I ran into somebody, they would turn their heads and walk the other way," she told KATU.com. "All we did was asked questions. We just raised concerns. There's no sin in that."
So, following these negative experiences, she took to the Internet to voice her opinions on both Google and DEX -- forums that allow for free expression and honest reviews. Her online comments were quickly met with counter praises from current church members who railed against her claims.
To take more control over the situation, Smith decided to launch a subsequent blog called, "Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors." According to Smith's web site, this is the original Google review that started all of the drama:
Although this church touts to be "Beaverton Grace Bible", the "grace" word is lacking. This is more of a legalistic church where if you don't do things their way (which is the "only" way), you will have challenges. Beaverton Grace is famous for shunning former members/attendees without giving an explanation or following Biblical principles on disagreements. You will be fine in this church if you never question the elders or pastor. Their emphasis is heavy on evangelism to the extent that you get the feeling if you do not regularly evangelize "their way", you are not a true Christian. Be wary of churches that broadcast that they are one of the only few remaining churches that preach the Word. There are true Bible-believing churches who preach the Word, don't mince the hard teachings, yet also have a balance of truth and grace and humble leaders. Do not be deceived.
"I thought, I'm just going to post a review," Smith told KATU.com. "We do it with restaurants and hotels and whatnot, and I thought, why not do it with this church?"
On the site, she explains her experience with the church in the following words:
I began this blog in Feb. 2012 after noticing that the Google reviews I had posted of my former church were being removed. Days after the commencement of this blog, I received a legal summons suing me and three others for defamation to the tune of $500,000. The story of spiritual abuse needs to be told. People are being hurt emotionally and spiritually by pastors who use bully tactics and we need a place to learn, to talk freely, and to heal. I will not be silenced
Little did Smith know that the church wouldn't take her online activities lightly. The stay-at-home mom is dumbfounded by the large sum of money being sought out by the church and claims that this is simply not an amount of cash that she to dole out.
In his lawsuit, the pastor claims that Smith's use of the words "creepy," "cult," "control tactics" and "spiritual abuse," among others, constitute as defamation. In addition to Smith, the lawsuit targets her daughter and three other commenters.
"What somebody does in the church is one thing, but when you get out into society we have the right to free speech, and it may not be what people want to hear, but we absolutely have that right," Smith said, doubling down on her stance. "He can say what he wants in the church and say, don't talk about this or don't talk about that, or don't talk to this person, but when you're out in the civil world, you don't do that anymore."
According to KATU.com, the pastor and his family have declined thus far to give their side of the story. The Smith family has filed a free-speech motion in an effort to dismiss the lawsuit. A judge will examine the case later this month.