Just when you thought the church had fully succumbed to attractingÂ membership withÂ a mega-tolerant and fuzzy-feel-good version of Christianity, the fundamentalists bring us back to reality. The â€œrealityâ€ ofÂ Old Testament style discipline,Â that is.
This weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about Karolyn Caskey,Â a woman who was expelled from her congregation after 50 years of attendanceÂ during which she regularly tithed (donated 10% of her income) and even taught Sunday school. This 71 year-old woman, who limps due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement was handcuffed and escorted to jail by the local police for showing up at church after her expulsionÂ (aka trespassing). Why was she shunned? Because she â€œquestioned [the pastorâ€™s] authorityâ€.
So it seems church discipline isnâ€™t limited to nuns wielding rulers; no, various protestant churches across the country are getting in on the act. According to the article, â€œLast week, the pastor of a 6,000-member megachurch in Nashville, Tenn., threatened to expel 74 members for gossiping and causing disharmony unless they repented. The congregants had sued the pastor for access to the church’s financial records.â€
In a world where the congregation canâ€™t question authority, church leaders have a dictatorship. Such power almost inevitably leads to corruption. So, do wrongfully rejected worshippers have recourse in the courts? The article says “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.â€ Hm. Churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise. How far does that right go?