Expulsion From The Church An Expression Of Love?


ALEXANDRA ALTER
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.

A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church's lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.

Her expulsion came as a shock to some church members when, in August 2006, the pastor sent a letter to the congregation stating Mrs. Caskey and an older married couple, Patsy and Emmit Church, had been removed for taking "action against the church and your preacher." The pastor, Mr. Burrick, told congregants the three were guilty of gossip, slander and idolatry and should be shunned, according to several former church members.

"People couldn't believe it," says Janet Biggs, 53, a former church member who quit the congregation in protest.

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 went to Florida for the winter, and when she returned to Michigan last June, she drove the two miles to Allen Baptist as usual. A church member asked her to leave, saying she was not welcome, but Mrs. Caskey told him she had come to worship and asked if they could speak after the service. Twenty minutes into the service, a sheriff's officer was at her side, and an hour later, she was in jail.

"It was very humiliating," says Mrs. Caskey, who worked for the state of Michigan for 25 years before retiring from the Department of Corrections in 1992. "The other prisoners were surprised to see a little old lady in her church clothes. One of them said, 'You robbed a church?' and I said, 'No, I just attended church.' "

Word quickly spread throughout Allen, a close-knit town of about 200 residents. Once a thriving community of farmers and factory workers, Allen consists of little more than a strip of dusty antiques stores. Mr. and Mrs. Church, both in their 70s, eventually joined another Baptist congregation nearby.

About 25 people stopped attending Allen Baptist Church after Mrs. Caskey was shunned, according to several former church members.

Current members say they support the pastor's actions, and they note that the congregation has grown under his leadership. The simple, white-washed building now draws around 70 people on Sunday mornings, many of them young families. "He's a very good leader; he has total respect for the people," says Stephen Johnson, 66, an auto parts inspector, who added that Mr. Burrick was right to remove Mrs. Caskey because "the Bible says causing discord in the church is an abomination."

Mrs. Caskey went back to the church about a month after her arrest, shortly after the county prosecutor threw out the trespassing charge. More than a dozen supporters gathered outside, some with signs that read "What Would Jesus Do?" She sat in the front row as Mr. Burrick preached about "infidels in the pews," according to reports from those present.

Once again, Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.

In the following weeks, Mrs. Caskey continued to worship at Allen Baptist. Some congregants no longer spoke to her or passed the offering plate, and some changed seats if she sat next to them, she says.

Mr. Burrick repeatedly declined to comment on Mrs. Caskey's case, calling it a "private ecclesiastical matter." He did say that while the church does not "blacklist" anyone, a strict reading of the Bible requires pastors to punish disobedient members. "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."

In Christianity's early centuries, church discipline led sinners to cover themselves with ashes or spend time in the stocks. In later centuries, expulsion was more common. Until the late 19th century, shunning was widely practiced by American evangelicals, including Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Today, excommunication rarely occurs in the U.S. Catholic Church, and shunning is largely unheard of among mainline Protestants.

Little Consensus

Among churches that practice discipline, there is little consensus on how sinners should be dealt with, says Gregory Wills, a theologian at Southern Baptist Theological seminary. Some pastors remove members on their own, while other churches require agreement among deacons or a majority vote from the congregation.

Since Mrs. Caskey's second arrest last July, the turmoil at Allen Baptist has fizzled into an awkward stalemate. Allen Baptist is an independent congregation, unaffiliated with a church hierarchy that might review the ouster. Supporters have urged Mrs. Caskey to sue to have her membership restored, but she says the matter should be settled in the church. Mr. Burrick no longer calls the police when Mrs. Caskey shows up for Sunday services.

Since November, Mrs. Caskey has been attending a Baptist church near her winter home in Tavares, Fla. She plans to go back to Allen Baptist when she returns to Michigan this spring.

"I don't intend to abandon that church," Mrs. Caskey says. "I feel like I have every right to be there."

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6 comments:

Alexandra said...

Someone should remind this guy that Paul praised the Bereans for checking his teaching against Scripture.

Wilson O said...

He has his agenda and she is standing in his way so she has to go.

Dawn said...

She should be proud to be shunned from that church. What a bunch of insane megalomaniacs. The police should be reprimanded.

What year are we living in again?

Bill said...

There's nothing wrong or rebellious with insisting the church follow its own constitution.

The deacons/elders are supposed to be there to hold the pastor accountable.

The fact the pastor doesn't want deacons or elders overseeing his actions means he isn't worth employing as a pastor.

Shoot, we're in a megachurch and members can see (going in person to the church office) the pastor's and every associate pastor's current salary.

InHisHands said...

Did anyone ever think that perhaps the Pastor is being controlling, or that there are things he is doing that is contrary to the Word of God? The Holy Spirit will prompt us when things are not right. We can ask in love, just like the disciples did with Jesus and Jesus answered every question. A Pastor who will not answer questions from members who are seeking the truth from the Word of God is one who will soon be a controlling pastor and his congregation will be a cult. Anyone remember Waco??

petbones said...

This is not something new. When an entire family was expelled recently because they posted a comment in Facebook wondering why the church taught about sex, sluts, players and gays in Sunday School to her daughter and not the Bible, and why the leaders didn't use the name of Jesus Christ, or why they were afraid of mentioning the Bible or Jesus as the source of their declarations, or other New Age practices. Church has been falling their call for centuries, using a power that's not biblical to decide who is going to be saved and who is not.

According to the Bible, pastors don't have any right to shunned any member. The only case in the NT to expelled somebody from church was fornication and adultery. Pastors don't have a clear understanding of the Scriptures but a deep desire for control and power, the original sin, and to be like God. But who will say any different, if they are experts in brainwashing their members?

http://petbones.wordpress.com/open-letter-to-vineyard-usa/