Published December 18, 2008
A 49-year-old Florida woman says her former church is threatening to reveal her sins to its congregation after learning that she is in a "sexually immoral relationship."
Rebecca Hancock told FOXNews.com that Grace Community Church, a non-denominational church in Jacksonville, Fla., was against her relationship with boyfriend Frank Young because the two were sexually active but not married.
When she wasn’t willing to obey the church's orders to leave him, she decided to leave the church instead, allowing her two children to remain active members.
Now, she says, church elders have given her the worst ultimatum yet: In a Dec. 8 letter, they told her she either has to meet with them and end her "immoral" relationship or she will face public humiliation.
“Bottom line, on January they 4th they are going to the church publicly with my sins, and my children will be sitting in church at the time,” Hancock told FOXNews.com.
A church leader wouldn't commit to an interview when contacted Thursday by FOXNews.com. The Rev. T. Scott Christmas, pastor of the church, told the Florida Times-Union that the "process of loving accountability" is made very clear to members, and the church is doing "nothing more than following the practices of what biblical churches have done through history."
Hancock, who is divorced, said the problems began in March, when she started telling her church mentor about her relationship — in what she thought were confidential conversations.
“As it progressed I told her about it and she said, 'You’ve got to get out, you’re biblically wrong,'” Hancock said.
Despite knowing her relationship was against church rules, Hancock said she never realized that disclosing it would trigger the first in a three-step process used by the church to deal with sinners: private admonishment, admonishment in the presence of witnesses and finally public admonishment.
Still, she said she tried to follow her mentor’s advice and break up with Young, who wasn't a member of the church.
“I must have gone through 10 breakups trying to end it, but after not having the power to do it I would go back,” she said. “It was hard to give up somebody I love.”
Hancock learned that her private sessions with her mentor hadn’t been so private after all, when in October her mentor pulled her aside in church and asked her come into another room.
“In the room, there were several women that I never told my business to. And they proceeded to tell me about my business and what I was doing and what a sinner I was — just persecuting me.” Hancock said. “One of the ladies was even saying ‘I was at your house when you didn’t come home all night.’"
It was then that Hancock said she decided to leave Grace Community Church.
“I told them, ‘I cannot believe you people are doing this. I’m not going any further — I’m never coming here again,’” she recalled.
Her boyfriend said the church wouldn’t let it end there.
“The pastor kept calling her, and I informed him that she [Hancock] would appreciate it if neither he nor any member of his church contacted her ever again,” Young told FOXNews.com.
Almost two months later, Hancock received the letter from the elders of Grace Community Church, explaining that she had left them no choice but to continue the disciplinary process.
“Your refusal to repent and be restored in your relationship with God and His Church leaves us with no alternative than to carry out the third step of the discipline process,” the letter explained. “In accordance with Matthew 18:17, we intend to ‘tell it to the church.’”
Darrell L. Bock, a research professor for the Dallas Theological Seminary, said that public admonishment is not uncommon in churches that focus on discipline but added, "Most churches would handle this much more privately than this particular community is choosing to do."
This kind of process normally would happen after "much more private interaction" with the person, Block said, and is normally reserved for church leaders as opposed to "a normal member of the church."
More importantly, he said, the actions are unusual given that Hancock had severed her relationship with the church.
Hancock sent a formal letter of resignation after receiving the elders' ultimatum in hopes of solving the dispute. She said she fears for her 20-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter if the church carries out its threat.
“I don’t really care what they do to me. But I am concerned about my children sitting in church with their mother being crucified by the church that they trust,” she said. “I am very concerned about how it would affect them.”