Church Discipline

Just when you thought the church had fully succumbed to attracting membership with a mega-tolerant and fuzzy-feel-good version of Christianity, the fundamentalists bring us back to reality. The “reality” of Old Testament style discipline, that is.

This weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about Karolyn Caskey,  a woman who was expelled from her congregation after 50 years of attendance 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 expulsion (aka trespassing). Why was she shunned? Because she “questioned [the pastor’s] authority”.


So it seems church discipline isn’t limited to nuns wielding rulers; no, various protestant churches across the country are getting in on the act. According to the article, “Last 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.”

In a world where the congregation can’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.” Hm. Churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise. How far does that right go?

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  1. Well, to be fair, women aren't allowed to talk in church…

    I Cor. 14:33-36 – "Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church."

  2. This is true on so many levels, I work for an environmental engineering firm and you would not believe the questions we get when working with churches. In fact we have deemed them the worst possible clients and generally (if possible) will skip over any proposals they are involved with. They ask questions like, "well draw it in on the plans but do we really have to install these measures, were a church". Like just because they are a church means their stormwater runoff isn't polluting rivers and ground water. Its downright laughable, or downright sad.

  3. "In a world where the congregation can’t question authority, church leaders have a dictatorship."

    If this was the government of another country, we would be telling them that they need to respect the rights of their people, and threaten them with sanctions. And if that failed, then we would bomb them. But since these are churches they get away with it.

  4. I don't have a problem with this. The bible spells out that women will have a secondary roll in the church, to all of a sudden start questioning dogma at this late date. Kind of like complaining after you join the KKK and saying there a bunch of racist ass holes and being shocked.

  5. Having read the whole article…I see an crabby stubborn old woman pulling on the heartstrings over her age. Refusing to back down over a pointless issue. A pastor is supposed to have some control and authority over the church and someone is threatening that. If he wants to keep that authority he would have to do something about it regardless of who it was.

    Giving money to the church means you should have a say in how it's run. Not final say in all matters.

  6. There's a huge difference between suddenly realizing the church is being run by a bunch of corrupt power hungry bastards, and having been a loyal follower for half a century and one day being dragged off in handcuffs by the police because you dared to question the priest.

  7. I'm on the Board of a charity. If one of our longtime volunteers suddenly started defying the appointed corporate officers, you bet we'd exclude her from meetings and if necessary have her removed. Luckily it hasn't happened in the 12 years the organization has existed.

    IOW, I think people here are overreacting to this because a church is involved. They tossed a disruptive person out of a meeting, is all.

    Note: I hate picture avatars. Why yes, I am much older than Rebecca, how did you guess?

  8. I think this is a private property issue. A church is still private property and can kick anyone out they want for any reason they want.

  9. Nitpicking said: They tossed a disruptive person out of a meeting, is all.

    No, they shunned her and tossed her out of the church because of what started happening at the meetings, and then her "failure to repent" for obstinacy over the issue, which was:

    The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church's charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church's quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church's bylaws. "She's one of the nicest, kindest people I know," says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. "But she won't be pushed around."

    In April 2006, Mrs. Caskey received a stern letter from Mr. Burrick. "This church will not tolerate this spirit of cancer and discord that you would like to spread," it said. Mrs. Caskey, along with Mr. and Mrs. Church, continued to insist that the pastor follow the church's constitution. In August, she received a letter from Mr. Burrick that said her failure to repent had led to her removal. It also said he would not write her a transfer letter enabling her to join another church, a requirement in many Baptist congregations, until she had "made things right here at Allen Baptist."

    She has since been able to go to the church without the police being called, but fellow congregation members continue to shun her while others support her. She's just not technically considered a member.

    "A lot of times, flocks aren't willing to submit or be obedient to God," he said in an interview before a Sunday evening service. "If somebody is not willing to be helped, they forfeit their membership."

    She was a "bad" sheep. Repent or be publicly sheared.

  10. Wow, great post Melusine.

    I understand and agree with the comments above about removing disruptive people from private property – we even deal with that where I work sometimes. Businesses of all sorts certainly have the right to do that.

    But you also bring up a good point, Melusine. Was she really being disruptive by holding or even spreading this opinion? I don't know that I agree with Caskey in principle (a board of deacons for a 12 member church??), but I don't know that she should be shunned for having such an opinion or even sharing it with other members of the congregation, especially when the bylaws were on her side.

    All that aside, the woman gave 10% of her income for 50 years – that's a good retirement fund. Maybe she should be ON the board of Deacons.

  11. Hey, even the Jedi church will force you out of the church…if you go to the Dark Side. BBC

    However, any congregation member drawn to the dark side of the Force, embodied in the film by Darth Vader, would be advised they are following the wrong path and could face expulsion.

    Barney explained: "Obviously, if someone starts to try and use the good force for greed and power, they are going to bring negative interference into the meetings.

    "We cannot have the Force disrupted by negative interference."

    BTW, if you want an easy source to keep up on all sorts of religious and cult news, this site collects articles from major papers. Glad the goat sacrificers in the Dallas area lost.

    Geesh, I feel saner every day…

  12. The point exactly:

    The priest was the one not sticking to the rules. In normal society, when the board is not playing according to the rules, the members have a right to call a board meeting and air their grievances. If there's a vote, the members may even get to decide what to do with them. This is how normal non-profit organisations work in most parts of the world. And this goes for any non-profit ranging from the little league baseball team from smalltown USA to the International Red Cross.

    Apparently, being a priest somehow puts you in a whole separate legal position. You get to mess with the church's funds without being held accountable by anyone. Sure, you might be obliged by law to publish your financial records, and you may even get a slap on the wrist if you neglect to do so, but can anyone in the congregation complain about misuse of funds? If they do, just kick 'em out of the congregation for being "disruptive, disobedient, unrepentant sinners" and your worries are finished.

    Or am I exaggerating things a bit?

    Oh, and speaking of that legal position, it seems as a priest you also get to molest little kids and get away with it by being moved around by the church until the law can't find you any more.

  13. I think this was a pastor not a priest, but otherwise you are right. Here's the church hierarchy of authority. Each one gets to kick those lower down on the list.


    Bishop (etc., sometimes)

    Pastor or Priest

    Deacon or Elder (sometimes)





  14. It does rather seem like having an argument about the best way to flog a dead horse.

    You'd think if there were only 12 active members, they'd have been able to sort some kind of compromise out.

  15. Yeah, with only 12 members, everybody gets to be somebody important. Unless the priest decides to cut everyone out and be the only one in charge.

    But the fact remains that the rules say that's how it's supposed to be done, even if there are only 12 members.

  16. Well, especially if everyone got together and a large majority agreed they were happy with the pastor be in sole charge, I the pastor could appoint deacons who weren't really going to do anything in the way of questioning the pastor.

    That way, they'd be complying with the letter of the constitution while not actually doing anything.

    Even if the woman in question is right in not liking how things are run, if she's in a sufficiently small minority, things are likely to suck for her in that congregation.

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