In the midst of this “faithless, crooked, and perverse generation” the church of God must take a stand. After all, discipleship is about holy living, isn’t it? The Elders of the Collinsville Church of Christ sure believed so.
That’s why, when rumors began to surface that one of their long-standing members, Marian Guinn, was having an illicit sexual affair with the town mayor, they began to investigate. As the rumor became reality they began to take disciplinary action against this one whom they had baptized, helped financially, and seen grow spiritually.
With “tremendous concern for [her] soul and the welfare of the Lord’s church” the Elders followed the “instructions set forth in the Scriptures in dealing with matters of church discipline.” (Letter dated September 21, 1981 sent to Marian Guinn citing Matthew 18:15-17 ).
A good case can be made that the Elders did everything according to Scripture (Matthew 18):
- Guinn was first confronted personally, not publicly.
- She admitted her sin and promised to repent.
- However, she did not repent. In fact, her own children called the Elders to tell them that she was once again seeing her companion.
- Only then did the Elders “take it before the church.” The members were encouraged to contact Guinn in an effort to get her to come back and repent.
- When that failed the Elders announced that the open fellowship of the church was being withdrawn from Guinn.
The Elders also notified four sister congregations of their action since Ms. Guinn had previously told them, “I have no choice but to attend another church…! Where men do not set themselves up as judges for God. He does his own judging.”
Ms. Guinn told the court (yes, following the American tradition she filed suit against the church), “What I do or do not do is between God and myself.” She alleged that the Elders had no right to “mess with someone else’s life.”
Her attorney, Thomas Fraser, agreed. He told the jury in closing argument: “I demand the right, on behalf of Miss Guinn, to lead her life the way she chooses.” He then added, “He was a single man. She was a single lady. And this is America!”
Well, this may be America; however, we are still God’s church. And being a member of God’s church is about holy living. And without church discipline being an integral part of who we are and what we do, how can we claim to be the church of God?
Editorial Notes on the Final Disposition of Guinn v. Church of Christ
The case went all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The opinion of that court can be read at Guinn v. Church of Christ of Collinsville, 775 P. 2d 766 – Okla: Supreme Court 1989 or online at http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14957090786981708632&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr
In short, the case was remanded (sent back) to the trial court by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The issue on remand was this: once Ms. Guinn communicated her desire to resign as a member of the Collinsville Church of Christ then the church was under an obligation to honor that request. The church argued that a member cannot resign from membership. According to the church, becoming a member of a church is like joining a family. You cannot un-join a family. Once you’re in, you’re subject to the rules and discipline of the family forever. The Oklahoma Supreme Court disagreed.
According to the Supreme Court, once Ms. Guinn resigned from the church she was no longer a member. And because she was no longer a member, the church could no longer invade her privacy by exposing her immorality (any more than the church can invade the privacyof any private citizen by exposing his or her immoral lifestyle).
On remand, the new trial court would have to determine how much damage, if any, was caused to Ms. Guinn after she resigned as a member. The first award of damages had not made this distinction and, therefore, was probably inflated because it included money for damages that occurred prior to her resignation, when she was still subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the church.
After being reversed and remanded for a new trial, the case was settled out of court before a retrial could take place.