The world of email, blogs, and other electronic forums have complicated and magnified the potential for rumor, insinuation, and false reports. Sometimes church leaders get drawn into wars of online words, and before they know it, they've inadvertently done more harm than good.
One of the most dramatic cases of this began with a negative Google review of a church in the Pacific Northwest. A former member of that church posted:
"Although this church touts itself 'Garringberg Grace Community,' I found very little 'grace' there. This is a legalistic church where if you don't do things their way (the 'only' way), you will have challenges. Garringberg Grace shuns former members/attendees without giving an explanation. You will be fine in this church if you never question the elders or pastor. If you do not believe, worship, and evangelize 'their way,' they will let you know you are not a true Christian. Be wary of churches that proclaim they are one of the few remaining churches that preach the Word. Do not be deceived."
Other church members tried to rebut the negative Google reviews with positive reviews. One example: "Many churches today are entertaining goats instead of feeding sheep. Churches should be preaching repentance and faith (Acts 20:21). Garringberg Grace holds fast the faithful Word, that we may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict (Titus 1:9). Our pastor preaches the gospel and faithfully upholds the Word of God. My wife and I have been blessed by over ten years of his preaching and guidance. Our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11)."
As often happens in open online forums, the vocabulary got nastier and more mean-spirited. Anonymous posts began appearing: "Garbage church. No interest in teaching the word of God. The pastor just wants to mindrape the members for personal gratification."
Eventually the pastor and the church elders waded in: "To Whom It May Concern: Almost a year ago the woman who wrote the review and her husband were biblically put out of Garringberg Grace Community with a group of families and individuals that were engaged in ongoing divisive slander. After attending many churches and leaving them in a similar manner, the group has now splintered. Many of those in this fractious group no longer attend church at all. It is sad to see that she remains steadfast in her destructive behavior. For obvious reasons we exhort you to heed the following Scriptures: Prov. 6:16-19, 28. Rom. 16:17-18. Titus 3:9-11. It is our prayer that there will be no more wood thrown upon the fire of contentiousness, strife, and discord. If you have any questions, please contact the pastor and elders."
When the negative reviews continued, eventually the church's leaders appealed to Google to remove what they considered the most offensive comments. And, indeed, Google did remove some, including the one that started it all. But removing reviews on one website didn't solve the problem.
The author of the original review launched her own blog, "Garringberg Survivors," where she posted more of her own criticisms and stories of "spiritual abuse" from others who had been hurt by the church. The blog became a gathering place for the disaffected, the critical, and those who felt mistreated.
In one post, the blogger wrote: "I was abused as a child. I remember reaching out to adults who 'dissed' my story. They either didn't believe me or did not want to get involved. I get very angry when people sit by idly and allow abuse to continue. I remember so many times in my childhood asking God, 'Why is this happening to me?' Could God be using my childhood story for a higher purpose? I don't know. All I know is that somehow this story has taken off. I did not plan this. When I posted the review, it was to give my story, share my church experience so that people could come to their own conclusions. I did it because I wanted to protect others from what we had gone through.