Some articles you read in the newspaper send chills up your spine. Today's Daily Oklahoman article by reporter Kyle Schwab, recounting the Syrian man's conversion and baptism in Oklahoma and his capture and torture in Syria, was one such article.
After the Syrian finally escaped his captors and made it back to the United States, he filed suit against First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma. The man argued before the court that he never consented to the church's publicizing his baptism, and made it clear he wished it to be confidential. The pastor, disputing the man's account, said he never requested "that the church depart from its normal practices, which includes making records of baptisms publicly available."
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled yesterday on behalf of First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa. The court ruled "the publication of the baptism was an act rooted in religious belief." Further, the court stated,
I have a friend on the Oklahoma Supreme Court named Yvonne J. Kauger. She wrote a dissenting opinion and stated, "the church's autonomy doctrine is only applicable to internal administrative matters and to church action involving members." First Presbyterian Church frequently baptizes converts to Christ who do not desire membership in their church, similar to the baptism of this Syrian man. Associate Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Kauger argued in her dissenting opinion that the church should be held liable for the torture of this convert.
Regardless of your feelings about the majority opinion or the dissenting opinion, this extraordinary case should cause all of us who broadcast our services over the Internet to pause. We live in a different world today than we did even 20 years ago. What we used to say in the comfort and security of our local churches is now being broadcast to the world.
In the 1980's police television show Hill Street Blues, a police supervisor would always end roll call with words that are appropriate for churches who use the Internet in 2017:
"It's a dangerous world. Be careful out there."