Attorney: Texas Case Will Address Court Interference in Church Matters

Whereas I feel disassociation of a church member is a very extreme measure, the pastor is actually following the instructions from Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 18:15-17.
Now with that said, my approach would have been different. I would have made sure that every sermon the lady was present for, would have had a message about adulterers and unrepentant sin. While delivering this message, I would be looking directly at her. That way, she can continue to hear the Word of God and maybe realize that what she is doing is not right.
Some might say “Well maybe she was in an abusive marriage of something”. That could be true. The news story does say “Westlake had approached Penley about her inappropriate relationship with another man as well as her decision to terminate her marriage without any biblical basis.”
Because it says “without any biblical basis”, this leads me to believe that she just didn’t want to be married to the same guy anymore, not that she was being abused. It is Biblically correct to be divorced from an abusive spouse.
But back to the article, it will be a very bad day for the church if the courts rule that they have jurisdiction in internal church policy.

(AgapePress) – The Texas Supreme Court has announced it will hear a case that could determine whether courts have the authority to interfere with matters such as church discipline.
The case known as Penley v. Westbrook dates back nearly six years to when Buddy Westbrook, pastor of Crossland Community Bible Church of Fort Worth, Texas, disassociated female church member Peggy Penley over divorce and adultery. Pastor Westbrook was sued after sending a letter to church members informing them of the situation.
Hiram Sasser is with Liberty Legal Institute, which is representing the church in the matter. He maintains that the U.S. Constitution protects churches and pastors when it comes to internal matters such as church discipline, and he says this case is “extremely important,” in that it deals with this fundamental First Amendment issue.
According to Sasser, Pastor Westbrook followed the three-step model for conflict resolution outlined in Matthew, Chapter 18, and was left with no other choice but disassociation after Penley refused to repent of her sin.
The attorney says Westlake had approached Penley about her inappropriate relationship with another man as well as her decision to terminate her marriage without any biblical basis. It was only after these efforts failed and Penley refused to repent that Crossland Community Bible Church’s pastor wrote the letter to congregation members outlining the reasons for Penley’s removal.
Increasingly over recent years, Sasser notes, a pattern has existed “of new lawsuits against pastors for following biblical principles and following the Bible.” One of Liberty Legal Institute’s goals in this case, he points out, is “to make sure that we establish clear precedent that pastors are immune from suit under the Constitution of the United States.”
Now the Texas Supreme Court will hear the case, one that the Liberty Legal Institute spokesman believes could have a major impact in the future on whether courts have the authority to meddle or intervene in internal church matters, particularly with regard to church membership, governance, and other similar issues.
“This case, perhaps, could forever settle this new trend of suing pastors for engaging in church discipline and following biblical principles,” Sasser contends. He says the U.S. Constitution protects the right of a church to choose its members and govern itself “in any manner it chooses according to doctrine and faith, without government interference.”
Likewise, Sasser asserts, pastors have a constitutional right to inform their congregations of “the influence of sin on church members and the steps being taken to address such sin.” He says the U.S. Constitution prohibits individuals from suing churches or pastors for simply following biblical mandates that require disassociation from unrepentant members.

6 Responses to “Attorney: Texas Case Will Address Court Interference in Church Matters”

  1. beth says:

    I applaud this pastor for having the guts to carry out the commands in Matthew. Our pastor had invoked church discipline more than once and I believe it is of God. Matthew specifically states how the situation should be handled. I thank God that there are pastors who still take God’s Word to mean the same for us that it did to Paul.

  2. It is required of us to follow the Bible and things need to be done according to His Word, but I hate to see anyone put out of a church. I still maintain that preaching them the truth would eventually get through to them.

  3. beth says:

    In the recent case at our church, a man left his wife and 4 children for another woman. After much pleading by the woman, our pastor went to him and he refused to turn from his sin. Then the pastor went back with an elder in the church – still not willing to change. He left his family and moved in with his mistress. The pastor took a couple more of the elders in our church to try to convince him to turn from this lifestyle. He plainly told them that as soon as he could divorce his wife, he planned on marrying the woman he was living with – he said he didnt care what the church thought – he said he knew God would understand. This was a “Staple” family in our church (they were very involved and always there)and this affair went on for a couple of years – something like this can bring reproach on God’s church when it is so blatantly flaunted. I beleive God meant for us to adhere to his word even when it isnt pretty. He said that in the case of adultery, divorce is permitted (not liked – he hates it, but permitted) and so for the wife in this instance (who remains in our fellowship) it was important for that to happen. It was done in a way so that our church family would know that she had done all she could to save the marriage and that her husband is the one who has turned his back on God. If the man were to repent of his sin of adultery (even if he didnt remarry his wife) our pastor and our church family would welcome him back with open arms.

  4. Well, that was certainly the correct way to handle it. It is so sad when people turn away from the Lord for something as shallow as that.

  5. Lynn says:

    Thank you, Beth, for recognising the gravity of Pastor Westbrook’s action concerning Mt. 18 with his beloved church member. I realize this issue, in the courts’ eyes, is not about his guilt or innocence, but about the government’s right to dictate activities in churches. But as a charter member of Crossland Community Bible Church and long time friend of the Westbrooks, it affects me personally and I applaud him as well. I’ve been in the prayer meetings when love and concern for Peggy Penley has been the focus. I’ve seen the tears of those she has accused: she and the Westbrooks have been friends for 20 years. I know that we also would welcome her back with open arms. And, of course, I completely believe in his innocence, but lest I am discredited by my emotional involvement, let me say that I wish every Christian who has an opion would research the legal aspect of it. They would find that Ms. Penley admitted under oath that she never told Pastor Westbrook anything about her relationship with this man. He found out that she had left with him and located her personally to find out from her and to ask her to come home. She admitted it to him but refused to come back. How, then, could he have breached a confidence??? It’s simply not true. Please ask all concerned to pray for this issue. Guilt or innocence is inconsequential at this point. September 25, the Supreme Court will hear this case. The door is opened for church members all over the country to sue pastors anytime, for anything, which means the Church is no longer separated from the State. This is so huge.
    Thank you,
    Lynn

  6. beth says:

    Lynn,
    It is so hard when there are problems and division in the church. It is like your family is in conflict. I believe in church discipline, but I dont believe that many pastors in this day and age carry through with what God intended as far as church discipline is concerned. Did you know that one of the most used verses from the Bible (Where two or more are gathered together in My name, there I will be also) actually refers to church discipline? It was important enough to be written in the Bible,so it must be important to our God. I will pray for your church family and your pastor. Do not be discouraged about this but remember that the same God who parted the sea can take this situation and use it for His glory.

    InHim,
    Beth

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