How I Can Relate To Angela Driver: A Response To The Slander Case Against Mark Fogarty
Ms. Angela Driver’s situation reminds me so much of my own. I was publicly reprimanded on several occasions while still sitting in the church I eventually left. Those who read my story should know that I’m not angry about what took place, though I am saddened by situations like these, and I do get frustrated when I hear about situations that are similar to mine. I miss some of the people from my former church that now shun me, yet at the same time I’m glad I left. Some may wonder why I would write this response. The sad truth is that Ms. Driver’s situation, though perhaps not common, isn’t nearly rare enough. For those who’ve been through similar situations, please be aware that you are not alone. You are not a bad person because someone labels you that way, and there are people who understand where you are and have been there, too.
In 2002-2003 my former church had a change of pastorate, just as Ms. Driver's did in 1998. In 2005 I brought what I considered a potentially dangerous situation to my (now former) pastor’s attention. Very little was done to resolve the situation, and months later, it still was not resolved, so when given the opportunity, I spoke privately to an authority on the subject, requesting suggestions and information on how to resolve it. The ideas I was given were simple and cost effective. Happy with the results of the conversation, I presented the suggestions to the pastor. When he found out that I had talked to someone outside the church about the situation, he was furious. He publicly reprimanded me, citing 1 Corinthians 6 as the reason for his anger. I should not have told anyone outside the church of any potential church “problems,” should have trusted his judgment that there wasn’t a problem, and should have accepted the outcome of his decision, even if it was harmful to me or others. Further, the fact that I expressed my concern about a problem in the church to someone outside the church made me a “bad witness.”
For several years after that, the pastor would tell me things in private to deliberately tear me down and cause me to doubt myself. Several times he privately said things like “God doesn’t need you and this church doesn’t need you,” “You’re too proud. You think too highly of yourself! You're nothing,” and “You just want to leave! Go! Get out! I don’t want to see you again. You want to leave, so leave!” If I would begin to cry, he would compliment me in order to rebuild my confidence in him. My life became a roller coaster at times of wondering if he thought I was “right with God” or not, and a maze of trying to prove to myself and others that God loved me.
In 2007, a member lied about me to cover her faults. At first the pastor believed her. Though the pastor later said he believed me, she had spread her lies around the church. Within months, two more members went to the pastor with lies of their own. He called me in and “questioned” me about what he had been told. When I responded that I didn't know what he was talking about, he called one of the two individuals in. He asked the individual to repeat her accusations to me. She did. Believing she probably really believed what she was accusing me of, I asked her when and where the things she was saying had taken place. The pastor cut me off and told me that I should know, that she wasn't “on trial,” that I was, and then asked her to continue. Several months later, I finally put all the pieces of her accusations together and realized she had strung together bits and pieces of over a year's worth of conversations.
Although it was later proven that all three had lied, and they also proved themselves to be liars on several other occasions, I felt like people in the church still looked on me with suspicion after these accusations. Those who had lied were told to apologize to me, but they were never told to make things right; to tell those they'd lied to that their accusations were false. When I requested that this be done, I was told to "forgive and forget" and to stop being so negative. I was expected to act as though nothing had happened and suffer the consequences of other members' lies silently.
Then during a sermon one day, I was pointed out (not mentioned by name, but an entire rampage was directed at me via looks and gestures), falsely labeled, and reprimanded. I was used to the false labels, but I couldn’t figure out what the pastor was so angry about that particular day. I bought the CD, thinking I could figure out what I’d done wrong, or if the whole tirade had been as unfounded as I thought it might be. It was. I had simply given the scripture reference to someone who asked for it. And the pastor said:“…You don’t need to tell her what I just said! Excuse me. I’ll tell you what I just said. Excuse me! Quit running your mouth while I’m preaching!! …women’s lib spirit! God never expected a woman to run the house! God never intended for a woman to be a man! … I’m mad now! … God gets mad too. God hates too. Prov 6:16 These six things doth the Lord hate. Hates. And if God hates ‘em… I hate ‘em. And if God’s message is a message of “I hate these things,” well, his messenger is gonna preach the same message! God hates those things… If they have any questions, let them ask their husbands at home. That’s in your Bible. That means shut your mouth while I’m preaching. That’s why some of you ain’t married. You don’t want no man talking to you. You don’t want no man telling you what to do. And that’s why some of you are not happily married. Oh its your day, woman. Can you take it… (laughs) I was gonna say take it like a man. (laughs again) … that bossy woman spirit. And that woman running the house and running her mouth spirit… You ain’t got no husband to tell you what to do but you got a pastor that’s gonna tell you what to do… You wanna be identified with that lesbian spirit?!?! You really wanna control a man?…”
At that point, I began preparing to leave. Those types of things had happened once too often, and I'd promised myself the last time he had been verbally abusive that I'd leave if he ever talked to me that way again. I'd heard the same things in private too many times. Before I left, I discovered that another member of the church had quite possibly blatantly lied to win a lawsuit. My testimony was requested, and my name had been included on documentation by the member, not the other party. I was asked to provide documentation as evidence in the suit. In my eyes, there was no case. The individual had told me privately that nothing had happened that was worthy of a complaint, much less a lawsuit, and had even laughed about the incidents that were now part of the complaint, stating that there wasn't a problem and no harm had been done.
As I reviewed dates of incidents, I began to suspect that the individual had spoken to the pastor and gotten permission to file the suit just a few days prior to the time I was publicly rebuked. I can't be positive of that, but when I attempted to discuss the issue with the pastor, I was told that the other individual had already explained everything, and I was dismissed. The pastor apparently believed the lies. This placed me in a situation where I could lie and help the individual, or I could tell the truth and go against the individual and the pastor who believed him/her. Had I remained in that church, I felt I would have faced a significant amount of pressure to back the lies, and most probably have been expelled or seriously reprimanded for not believing a “Holy Ghost filled saint” and for "going to law against" a member of my church.
Driver vs. Fogarty reminds me very much of my own situation. We both dealt with slander from the pulpit, and we were both accused of being "unsubmissive." Pastor Mark Fogarty should have retracted his statement when requested to. But I know my former pastor never would. As a matter of fact, if someone asked for a retraction, he would have most likely gotten up and said the same thing again and preached how he was the man of God, that people should respect him, that he was just preaching the Truth, and that they could throw him in jail, but he'd still preach the Word of God!
Seething anger, public humiliation, labeling and gossip have no place in the pulpit or the pew. I've witnessed several services where a pastor indicated that a teen or even preteen would probably be raped, or that a young man would probably end up in jail, that someone was either a homosexual or a pedophile, or that a visitor was labeled as hell bound for leaving after being rebuked for wearing a baseball cap, knee length shorts, or - for women - pants. Those types of statements, whether they are made in a pulpit or on a street corner, are wrong. It is sad that Ms. Driver or anyone else should deal with slander under the guise of religion. It is sad that she had a case, but I'm glad she won it.
Posted July 25, 2010
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August 23, 1997
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