When Julie Anne Smith and her family severed ties with the Beaverton Grace Bible Church a few years ago, she said, former friends acted like the Oregon mother and her family were complete strangers.
“If I went to Costco or any place in town, if I ran into somebody, they would turn their heads and walk the other way,” Smith told ABC affiliate KATU-TV in Portland. “All we did was asked questions. We just raised concerns. There’s no sin in that.”
Smith may have lost her former friends, but she said she never imagined she and her daughter be hit with a $500,000 lawsuit for defamation for speaking her mind on the Internet. Three other commenters who criticized the church were also named in the suit.
“You will be fine at this church if you never question the elders or pastor,” Smith wrote on Sept. 29, 2011, one of many online reviews she wrote critical of the church, according to court documents.
She said Pastor Charles O’Neal was guilty of “narcissism in the pulpit” and had “chosen to mislead the congregation.”
Smith described a church that told members what to wear, had communal foot washings and discouraged members from having friends outside the church.
She said church members began adding positive reviews, pushing her words down the page and her posts were removed. In February, Smith started a blog called “Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors.”
Three days after starting the blog, she was served with the lawsuit, she said.
“The story of spiritual abuse needs to be told. People are being hurt emotionally and spiritually by pastors who use bully tactics and we need a place to learn, to talk freely, and to heal. I will not be silenced,” she wrote on her blog.
ABC News’ calls to Beaverton Grace Bible Church were not returned.
The suit is scheduled to be heard by a judge later this month.