No, you can’t withdraw from a nonmember.

On one facet of “withdrawal,” Merie was dead right, and current Stanton leadership is stunningly wrong in their quest to quash dissent. I remember her teaching that once someone leaves the church, the church can’t “withdraw” from them because they’ve already “withdrawn” themselves from the group. For this reason, the church cannot take disciplinary action against a nonmember. The sect has been apparently taking liberties with this, and stretching itself to extend its reach on disciplinary measures. They’ve even invented new forms of discipline to rise up to the task, like re-interpreting “mark and avoid” to fit their current desire to suppress dissent. But I’ll tell you right now, they are just sowing the seeds of tyranny. Here’s why.

What happens if your wife joins a crazy cult? Let’s use an example we can all agree on, like the Branch Davidians, or a Jim Jones type cult. She comes to realize that she wants out, because she doesn’t agree with the cult leaders anymore. She admits in private that she was deceived, but hasn’t had the courage to share that publicly, due to the fear and intimidation tactics of the cult. Instead of allowing her to leave of her own free will, and allowing her conscience to be her own guide, the cult members start using her family relationships to pressure her to stay in and keep her silent. Is that OK?

This is not theater of the mind. This is the reality of how cults work, to wit, Scientology (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief). See any similarities?

Before you get your hackles up, I’m not arguing in this article that Stanton is a cult. That’s a subject for another time, but that’s not my point here. My point right now is that God has given us freedom of conscience and freedom of association. Those are natural rights from our Creator, codified by laws of men in our Constitution here in the U.S. We, by virtue of being humans fashioned in the likeness of God, are free to follow God or not. We can choose to associate with a particular church, sect, or even a cult, or not. We can likewise dissociate ourselves from former associations at any time. No one can make us a member of an organization we choose not to be a member of.

We each bear the consequences of these decisions, some good and some bad, but they are to be decisions freely made, and not under duress. As my parents used to say, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

How does that relate to the Stanton churches disciplining folks who have left their membership, or who do not consider themselves a member at all? It relates, because if a church can simply declare a nonmember to be a member against their will in order to withdraw from them, isn’t that disingenuous? If they can impose disciplinary measures on nonmembers, where does it stop? Isn’t that oppression in the truest sense of the word? I’ll tell you where this unbiblical nonsense stops. It doesn’t. It is just tyranny, plain and simple. It’s the crassest form of lording power over people.

This approach to church discipline runs 180 degrees counter to Merie’s teaching on the subject, and gives free license to the church to persecute dissenters outside their ranks. We’re not talking about real trouble-makers trying to split the church, mind you, like Merie was when she was withdrawn from by East San Diego Church of Christ in 1958. No, Stanton is in the habit of persecuting Bible-studiers for becoming question-askers. We’re talking about dissenters who are attempting to reform hearts and minds and bring them back to the simple gospel.

But if you ask the wrong questions, Stanton leadership takes pride in not responding to your arrogance in questioning their supposed authority. By contrast, Jesus asked a lot of questions of the Pharisees, and castigated them for not being able to give straightforward answers. There’s nothing wrong with asking honest questions, unless you are trying to obfuscate the truth.

Do we really want a society where a church is free to persecute nonmember family members of members, and to take disciplinary action against former members who no longer consider themselves members? Sorry, I subscribe to the Golden Rule here. If I don’t want someone encroaching on my freedom of conscience or freedom of association, I better not encroach on theirs.