James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel has published an op-ed in Christianity Today defending his poor choice to sue other Christians as “biblical.” I’ll have more to say on his decidedly unbiblical argument in a future post, but for now I would like to point out yet another reason why it’s a bad idea for churches to sue disaffected critics for defamation: the “actual malice” standard.
As the leader of one of the largest megachurches in the country, MacDonald is unquestionably a public figure, and his church is the same. In the interest of preserving public discourse and the freedom of the press, the public is given wide latitude to comment on matters of public interest. A private figure wishing to make a defamation claim need only prove negligence: that the defamatory statement was false and that the defendant was negligent of the truth in making the statement. This is still a very difficult standard to prove in court, but a public figure is held to an even higher standard of proof, and that standard is what’s known as “actual malice.”
Actual malice does not mean what you think it means. It doesn’t mean “spite” or “ill will,” it means that the person who made the defamatory statement knew that it was false when they made it, or that they made the statement with reckless disregard for the truth.
Christianity Today recently reported that Harvest Bible Chapel—a 13,000-member megachurch based in Rolling Meadows—is suing a pair of bloggers (and their non-blogging wives) for defamation, along with a reporter who was working on a story about HBC. The bloggers used to run The Elephant’s Debt, a watchdog site dedicated to exposing alleged financial mismanagement and leadership dysfunction at HBC. I say “used to” because the blog went inactive after December 5th, 2017, and has since only posted brief updates on the lawsuit (this will become relevant in a minute).
I have no firsthand knowledge of Harvest Bible Chapel. I have never visited them (despite living next door in Palatine for three years) or blogged about them, and I was not aware of The Elephant’s Debt prior to today. I’m commenting on this because, earlier this year, I found myself in a nearly identical situation as the TED bloggers. I was sued pro se by Arlington Heights business owners concerning posts I had made on a consumer watch dog blog. In their complaint, the business owners alleged that that I was guilty of both defamation and false light, just as HBC now alleges of TED.
In another striking similarity to HBC v. TED, the blog I had created had been mostly inactive for over a year prior to the suit. I had posted frequently between May and November 6th, 2016, then pretty much stopped posting. The plaintiffs had printed out most of my blog in mid-September, 2016, and then, as far as I could tell, never revisited the blog. They sent me a cease-and-desist letter in late October 2017. I promptly removed the entire blog per their request, but they sued me anyways in mid-December 2017, citing only posts that were published in 2016. Their case was dismissed with prejudice in March 2018.
I cannot comment on HBC’s deceptive trade practices claims against reporter Julie Stern Roys, but having read the complaint (h/t Wondering Eagle), and having recently defeated a very similar lawsuit against me filed in the same state and same county, I will comment on the lawsuit against TED.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my favorite shows from the late 90s / early aughts. It has all of the things I like in my fiction: horror, comedy, feminism, subverted expectations, and a woman who literally kicks so much ass posterior.
With that said, in honor of the fact that today is both Reformation Day and Halloween, I’d like to call attention to the fact that, in Roman Catholicism, the Virgin Mary kind of kicks ass posterior. Exhibit A is this illustration (from a 13th century book) of Mary punching the devil in the face:
Admit it, your day can always be made just a little bit better by a picture of Mary punching Satan in the face.
Exhibit B is this statue of Mary as the Woman of the Apocalypse from Revelation 12, spearing Satan through the head: (more…)
Those of us who support women in ministry are often accused of “not believing the Bible” when we explain that we have different interpretations of those few passages that, on the surface, appear to either restrict women from leadership roles or subjugate women to men.
If you look at those passages in context, you’ll find that those who restrict women in ministry “don’t believe in” the passages they use against women, either. (And by “don’t believe in,” I mean their definition of the phrase—where if a passage isn’t interpreted and implemented at face value, then the person in question “doesn’t believe in it” regardless of any hermeneutics or context that they may otherwise use to explain the passage.)
This isn’t some occasional problem with their hermeneutics. Literally, every single one of the key passages that they use to argue for the subordination of women has at least one verse that they routinely fail to preach or teach. They expect us to believe that the subordination / restriction verses are crystal clear, but when you point out the rest of the passage, the hemming and the hawing begins.
For this post, note that I’ll be using the abusive boyfriend of Bible translations, aka the English Standard Version, to show that even a translation that was created specifically to give safe space to evangelical complementarian views isn’t able to translate these passages in a way that they can teach and affirm. Normally I wouldn’t use the ESV for anything other than holding down the lid on my George Foreman grill.
Here are the wedding vows that we used for our ceremony, as well as the sermon that my friend Katie Langston preached when she married us. Katie and I met online almost 10 years ago when I was mostly blogging about Mormonism, where she was one of the Mormon commentators on my blog. She is now a divinity candidate at Luther Seminary, preparing to serve as a pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The vows came in part from the egalitarian wedding vows available at The Junia Project. I suggested the quotes from John Wesley and Christine Caine, while Katie crafted the sermon on Song of Songs 8:6-7. (My immediate response when Katie asked me if she could preach on SoS 8:6-7 at my wedding was, “Why? What’s wrong with verse 8?”)
I thank Katie again for flying out to my wedding and putting together this beautiful sermon on such short notice.
Welcome and Prayer
Officiant to audience: On behalf of the Jeffries and L. families, welcome to this celebration of marriage of Bridget and V. Join me in prayer as we ask God to bless this union.
Something stronger than pain engulfed me. Not just loss of happiness, but the loss of any sense of purpose. I had been Mrs. Interfaith Marriage for so long, I had no idea who I was or who I might be without that in my life. I had dreamed of getting an MDiv and becoming a chaplain, or getting a PhD and becoming an academic, but my post-abandonment dreams swirled around survival alone.
And then there was crushing loneliness. Few people will ever be able to contemplate the despair I felt on those mornings when I woke to an empty bed along with the realization that my husband had spent another night out with his female co-worker. My marital distress waned into post-marital melancholy, and from the mire of my grief, I could see no end in sight.
And then, the unexpected happened.
God was there, and he breathed new life into me. Out of the ashes of my marriage rose something fiery and determined and stronger than ever.
I’ve never understood how belief in traditional gender roles survives an actual reading of the Gospels. Case in point: when I thought about what the Bible specifically says about mothers (as distinct entities from fathers), this verse immediately came to mind:
“As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’
“He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.'” Luke 11:27-28 (NIV)
If God’s divine design for women is, primarily, for them to serve the world through the rearing of children, this would have been the place for Jesus to have taught that by affirming what the woman said. Instead, he corrects her: women are blessed not explicitly by mothering, but by discipleship.
The previous chapter saw a rebuff of other traditional “women’s work”:
“She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’
“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” – Luke 10:39-42 (NIV)
Again, Jesus insists that discipleship is a woman’s true path. His rebuke of Martha makes little sense if, for women, housework and true discipleship are one and the same.
There’s nothing wrong with childrearing (love my kids) or housework (also love a clean home), and I don’t doubt that, for many women, true discipleship regularly involves both.
The wrong is in insisting on those as the paths that all or most women must follow.
Things used to freak me out a lot. I’m a person with a short fuse, descended from a long line of people with short fuses, and when I ran into a setback or some other form of adversity, I could lose my temper fast. I would get angry, and most people didn’t like me when I was angry. If I wasn’t getting angry, I was otherwise pushing the “panic” button.
I find that, these days, I’m seldom like that. I can’t even remember the last time I got angry or upset. The biggest reason for the change is that I’ve learned peace.
Joy is a Christian virtue that I find especially difficult. When life is going well, you don’t need to be told to have it. When life isn’t going well, having it is nearly impossible.
The Bible tells us otherwise. It tells us to be joyful, even in tribulation (James 1:2-4). Gotta admit, still getting there.
What I do know is that, when I look back over my life at the times when I have been most filled with joy, I see that those moments occurred after painful trials. Moments like:
When I was accepted to my undergraduate school, having been rejected the first time I applied and having spent the previous six months trying to improve my high school résumé for the re-application.
When my son was born after an emotionally difficult pregnancy, and after 8 hours of laboring without pain medication.
When I finished my master’s degree in spite of my ex-husband’s abandonment.
I may not have always had joy while these things were going on, but once I overcame them, the joy I experienced was nearly overwhelming. I’m not sure this would have been the case without the preceding experience of pain.
The victory and promise of Jesus is that his people can and will, someday, overcome all things. Even death.