Monday, March 24, 2008


An interesting article about some conservative churches which use shunning to keep their flocks under control:

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 cell phone 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 percent 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 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 said.

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While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and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.

I can see an immediate advantage from this practice to any corrupt pastor, say, one who has embezzled the church funds. Just accuse anyone who has spotted that of gossiping and drive the person out of the congregation.

It's not a very democratic practice. But then the conservative forms of the main monotheistic religions are as far from democracy as possible. Rather, they are the model examples I think of when I want to figure out how very authoritarian institutions function. The people on the higher rung of the ladder are not only in power but assumed to be right, to know more, to be able to touch God's toe. And the people on the lower rungs are not allowed to criticize or to question.