From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
[PCUSANEWS] Suit accuses congregation of 'brainwashing'
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
Fri, 19 Mar 2004 10:34:48 -0600
Note #8171 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
March 19, 2004
Suit accuses congregation of 'brainwashing'
For Fort Lauderdale church, quick dismissal would be a spring break
by Alexa Smith
LOUISVILLE - Angus Walton, a commissioned lay pastor, was surprised to learn
that his congregation had been sued.
One day a process server showed up at the door of the Sunset
Presbyterian Church, a redevelopment congregation on the edge of Fort
Lauderdale's inner city, and handed the church secretary a summons.
That was surprising enough, but the real mind-boggler was the nature
of the complaint: Sunset Presbyterian is accused of brainwashing people with
Why Sunset Pres? Walton has no idea.
"I wish I knew," he says, in a Scottish brogue purring with r's. "I
try very hard every Sunday to convince people that Jesus is Lord and Savior;
if that's brainwashing, so be it. I knew nothing about this a-tall."
Walton says he has no memory of anyone of the complainant's name who
had come to one of Sunset's Sunday services, in English or Spanish. He
doesn't remember any angry phone calls. He doesn't recall any fussing about
the theology of a sermon or the conduct of worship.
Things had been going very well. A 36-member Hispanic congregation
that had been using Sunset's facilities recently joined the larger
congregation, pushing membership to nearly 100 and Sunday attendance to about
Walton, a financial executive in his former life, is fluent in
Spanish, having worked in Peru for 10 years. But he says he doesn't know much
about brainwashing. In English or Spanish.
The Presbytery of Tropical Florida has asked the Broward County
Circuit Court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the case is frivolous and
interferes with the free exercise of religion, a right guaranteed by both the
state and federal constitutions.
Preparing and filing the motion for dismissal cost $900, which
presbytery Executive Arlene Gordon finds less than amusing.
The civil case was filed in mid-January by an apparently indigent
woman. The process server told a secretary at Sunset Presbyterian that he had
summonses for several other churches in the neighborhood.
According to the circuit clerk's office in Fort Lauderdale, the
plaintiff filed 11 lawsuits between Jan. 5 and Feb. 17. The defendants
include five other churches, the Bush administration, Northern Ireland, the
People's Republic of China, a local television station and a medical center.
Walton first became acquainted with Sunset in 1987, when he was
appointed to a presbytery task force on the future of the then-dwindling
congregation. He's been a commissioned lay pastor there for over two years
and thought his ministry consisted of washing away sin.
But, apparently, at least one person thinks he's washing away much
"I find it quite amusing," he says.
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