The Wall Street Journal’s Alexandra Alter reports on the newest reason not to spend your money and time at church: shunning has returned, meaning that years of devotion to your religious institution can be cut off if you do something like gossip or dare to question the grand panjandrum:

On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. “And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P.”

Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff’s officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey’s real offense, in her pastor’s view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he’d charged her with spreading “a spirit of cancer and discord” and expelled her from the congregation. “I’ve been shunned,” she says.

Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.

The revival is part of a broader movement to restore churches to their traditional role as moral enforcers, Christian leaders say. Some say that contemporary churches have grown soft on sinners, citing the rise of suburban megachurches where pastors preach self-affirming messages rather than focusing on sin and redemption. Others point to a passage in the gospel of Matthew that says unrepentant sinners must be shunned.

The full article is free on the Journal’s site today, and it’s worth a read. I find it interesting that gossip plays such a powerful role in shunning–it’s pretty clear that gossip in this context can undermine religious leaders’ authority, especially when it appears that a leader may be up to shady financial dealings.

Comments

  1. #1 Matt Penfold
    January 18, 2008

    I thought trespass was a civil offence. It certainly is under English common law, which is what US law is based on. Either the law is different in the US or the police committed an offence here.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    January 18, 2008

    Ha! Getting kicked out of a church should be viewed as hitting the jackpot!

  3. #3 Boris
    January 18, 2008

    Yeah, the law is different in the US, the police can enforce trespass. It is no way an emergency however, so the pastor abused the emergency 911 system. Nice.

    It would be fun to sue the church for her tithe back.

  4. #4 Tristram Brelstaff
    January 18, 2008

    I suppose she was lucky not to be accused of being a witch and burnt at the stake.

  5. #5 joseph duemer
    January 18, 2008

    She ought to be grateful the cops didn’t taser her.

  6. #6 The Ridger
    January 18, 2008

    I’m wondering how they explained that to the kids watching. “Mommy, would the preacher ever send us to jail?”

  7. #7 Bob of Quantum-Faith
    January 18, 2008

    Such a _fine_ example of “WWJD”— not.

    It’s acts like this that are a part of the decline of religiousness.

    Give’em enough rope…. and yeah, if I were her, I’d certainly sue to recover her tithes, too.

    At the least, it would drag the financials of that church into the cold, hard light of day…

  8. #8 Rugosa
    January 18, 2008

    Reminds me of a story in one of Alan Lomax’s (the folk music collector) books. A woman who belongs to a very conservative fundamentalist church is seen at a dance. The next Sunday, the preacher denounces her from the pulpit and asks “Are you sorry?” “Yes” she answers, “I’m sorry I joined a church with such stupid rules.” And walks out for good.

  9. #9 Crudely Wrott
    January 19, 2008

    “I find it interesting that gossip plays such a powerful role in shunning”

    Well, Chris, there you go. There is your answer. The reason that gossip plays such a powerful role in shunning is that gossip plays a powerful role in all irrational belief. After all, it was upon gossip about the life of Jay-sus! that the edifice of Xtianity was built.

    Be calm. Relax. It’s only gossip.

  10. #10 Joshua
    January 19, 2008

    I fully endorse this practice! After all, what better way to ensure an atheist future than for pastors to ban their flocks from coming to services?

  11. #11 Linda
    January 19, 2008

    It seems to me that these churches and pastors are all about power, and power in the church has always been the ugliest of sins. God is inclusive not exclusive and for these mere mortals to assume they know the mind of God is the worst sort of presumption. Bloody stupid

  12. #12 iRobot
    January 20, 2008

    Linda, god is inclusive? ha, thats funny, right? That sounds like SOP, the killing in the name of god is just people, gods innocent, he had nothing to do with it. Is this god omnipotent or can he not stop people killing in his name? Cant have both, if he cant stop the catholic/protestant killing in northern ireland, he certainly could not have created the whole universe!

  13. #13 Caledonian
    January 20, 2008

    iRobot, why are you arguing with a person who says

    God is inclusive not exclusive and for these mere mortals to assume they know the mind of God is the worst sort of presumption.

    all in a single sentence?

  14. #14 Lab Lemming
    January 20, 2008

    So has anyone been shunned for fucking the altarboys yet, or is that still considered a lesser crime than gossiping or speaking out of turn?