You have to love litigation as the cure-all for ecclesiastical problems. In Dallas, two members of a church called “Watermark” are suing to prevent the pastor from talking to other people about their sins, which, according to the story, they “thought they had revealed…to Watermark’s pastor confidentially.”
I don’t know all the details of how Watermark works things out. Some things seem a little strange, like “Watermark’s bylaws say a member ‘may not resign from membership in an attempt to avoid such care and correction,'” and “Watermark’s next step would have been to send more than a dozen letters to people who know “John Doe” – half to Watermark members and half to members of other churches who know and have worked with him.”
“The basis of the lawsuit was the church wanted to go outside of the church and the community at large, including potentially even their employers,” said Jeff Tillotson, attorney for the man and woman.
But this story raises the larger issue of church discipline and what kinds of risks congregations take in actually exercising it. I kind of doubt that the pastor of Watermark was engaged in private confession and absolution. It sounds like they just told him their sins and he felt like he had to begin the discipline process. It also sounds like the man refused to repent of the behavior for which he was called to account.
It’s always a little risky to draw conclusions from newspaper stories, when all the details are not known. This will be something to watch, especially for pastors and congregations who take church discipline seriously.