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LINK Woman claims her Christian megachurch banned her for criticizing the pastor -- Friendly Atheist

Rahela Petian says James River Church couldn't handle her well-intentioned criticisms of their leader John Lindell

May 20, 2024

A Christian megachurch allegedly kicked out a member for daring to criticize their pastor before calling on sheriffs to arrest her (in front of her children!) at church just before a service.

Now she wants the whole damn world to know about it.

All of this revolves around a Christian men’s conference that took place last month, hosted by James River Church in Springfield, Missouri (the same church where, last year, a woman claimed that God regrew three of her toes).

As I wrote about at the time, the event descended into chaos after “aerial sword swallower” Alex Magala opened the festivities. Despite Magala’s professional, non-sexual performance, preacher Mark Driscoll later condemned it, equating Magala’s actions to a strip show.

Driscoll was immediately called out by the event’s host. James River Church’s leader John Lindell yelled from the audience, "You’re out of line, Mark! You’re done!” Driscoll acknowledged it, then stormed offstage. Despite some performative apologies from the two men soon afterwards, Lindell continued to criticize Driscoll for airing his grievances that way, going so far as to call him “demonic.”

That’s when Rahela Petian stepped into the fray.

(Follow above article link to view photos/PDFs that accompany this article.)

On April 18, the longtime James River Church member posted her thoughts about the kerfuffle in a way that makes abundantly clear she’s a conservative Christian who simply didn’t like how everything was handled.

In a nearly 2,000-word post (which, because of its stream-of-consciousness manner and Giant Block of Text writing, is tough to read), she explained that Driscoll should have been allowed to finish his speech.

If Mark would have been allowed to explain himself and continue his sermon I have no doubt in my heart that 2 things would have happened: 1) This entire division and real life desperate house husbands drama would have never happened! Could Mark have had the opportunity to preach on the spirit of Jezebel and fully explain what this is and how it impacts nearly every household in our country… things would have SHIFTED GREATLY. 2) We may have had the opportunity to see the largest revival, repentance, & healing/restoration of not just 576 men but possibly 10,000+ men who would have healed from pornography, sexual sin, adultery, cheating, emotional and psychological strongholds and other addictions. I FIRMLY BELIEVE if Mark was allowed to explain what the Holy Spirit revealed, this would have happened without doubt.

Setting aside the delusional idea that over 10,000 men would have been “healed from pornography” if only Driscoll had been allowed to speak, it’s telling that she refers to the spat as “real life desperate house husbands drama.” Lots of Jasmine Crockett energy there.

She also criticized Lindell’s handling of the situation the following week, when he explained his actions to his church audience, largely because Lindell never apologized for anything he did:

I mean ANYTHING would have been good to hear, some form of remorse. The message presented last night, I’m not so sure it has brought “peace” or “unity” to the church, in fact it left many many individuals at a loss of words and heavy burdened. Did pride get in the way of John? There is no doubt about that.

She didn’t spare her church, either. Lindell had accused Driscoll of creating controversy in part to “generate clicks and sales,” but Petian made the point that the church was always trying to make a fast buck, so who were they to talk?

Hmmmmm…I attend JRC every Wednesday and every Sunday. In the last year, I can tell you I may have been absent 3-4 times from a service. I love God. I love church. I love community. But one thing I know for certain, the last 2 years we have seen a great shift from THE HOLY ONE to “fame” to YouTube followers, to market the church not only locally but to the depths of international agenda, to increase traffickers online, to open the online campus, to “bless the church” more and more financially, speaking of $20-25 million in revenue growth, to “share, click, tell your testimony” invite super stars to the church, click click click, sell a book, write a book, market your book on the platform, click click click and subscribe. Hmmmm what agenda has our leadership had in the last few years far greater than ever before? Financial growth and fame. Being known. “Cookies trafficked online more and more”.

There were other complaints in Petian’s post, but you get the gist of it.

As a member and True Believer™, she didn’t appreciate how the church was handling this controversy of its own creation. Her post suggested this was the culmination of a lot of frustrations she’d been having for a while. It’s not that she wanted to quit the church; rather, she wanted the church to stick to its stated mission (about Jesus). They were getting off track, so she decided to do some course-correcting.

On Thursday, nearly a month after that post, Petian posted an update. A 4,330-word update. (All, once again, in a giant block of text.)

This time, she explained that she had been a member of James River Church for 18 years and raised her five children in that church. In fact, it was “rare for our family to miss” services, she said, describing herself as a “JESUS fanatic.”

She added that she posted her earlier message on Facebook largely because she was just following what Pastor Lindell taught: If you have criticisms of church leaders and no one’s listening, you’re supposed to “tell it to the church.” So that’s what she was doing.

Seems like the church didn’t appreciate that.

Petian wrote that after her earlier Facebook post went up, she was contacted by Josh and Laura Longanecker, the pastor and pastor’s wife in charge of JRC’s North Campus: Even though Laura had “never spoken to me face to face or had a conversation with me,” she explained, between April 20 and May 1, Laura “called, texted, or messaged me on messenger a total of 16 times.”

They eventually arranged an in-person meeting on May 1 where Josh told her, “there have been some concerns brought to the church leadership.” He pulled up her post—highlighted and annotated with his concerns—before giving her an ultimatum:

Josh continued to state there are 2 major things here: The post is bringing disunity to the body of Christ and if you are attending James River, our main leader and pastor is John Lindell and we MUST submit to his leadership. He has authority over the church and as members we are to submit to his leading and leadership.

She wasn’t being a good sheep. By criticizing the church’s leader, she was harming Christianity.

Submit, they demanded.

She responded that she didn’t worship men like Lindell or Driscoll; she worshiped Jesus. But she told them she would think about what she had written and, “if it is not aligning with biblical principles,” she’d take it down.

She never took it down.

Why would she? She felt it was fair criticism. She even took notes on the meeting so she could remember everything Josh and Laura said to her:

That appeared to be the end of things… until last week, on May 11, when Josh Longanecker asked Petian to meet with him once again.

… Josh stated that “because you have not taken your post down, the executive leadership has recommended that you not attend services.” You have continued to bring disunity to the body of Christ….(again) & continued to state again the executive leadership…

Josh stated, “I was given an order from executive leadership, and I called to let you know that it has been a week and your post is still up.”

They went back and forth on this. She says they never told her to take the post down. They believed she would on her own due to their insinuations. But the end result was that she was still being kicked out of the congregation.

She asked if she could speak with someone in “executive leadership” but was repeatedly rebuffed. She had no plans to just walk away, though:

I responded, well I’m not a criminal, I don’t have a warrant, I don’t have a no trespassing notice provided, I have children who attend the service and have invited friends for mothers’ day as well. I want to have the opportunity to discuss with my family these demands and to allow ample time for our family to make a decision on what our next steps would be.

On Sunday, May 12, Petian and her children came to James River Church for the Mother’s Day service. They weren’t there for very long. As soon as she was spotted by a church staffer, she was asked to get the hell out of there.

When she pushed back, that staffer alerted the cops.

Justin Neal (north campus head security team lead), a few moments after began to walk towards me and approached me. Placed his arm/hand on my back and cornered me to the signage and whispered in my ear, “Rahela you need to leave right now”…

One security team member was paged to come from the sanctuary and quickly walked and hovered over my and the kids. At that moment my 4-year-old son got scared and began to cry, Justin placed his arm again on my left arm/shoulder area and pushed me back wards towards the door and began to state: “I don’t want to arrest you in front of your kids.” You need to leave now. I stated excuse me? Please tell me what this is about. He stated, “You know what the executive leadership asked you to take your post down”…

Justin signaled 2 Greene County Sherriff’s to approach me and at that time they asked for me to step outside of the lobby to the parking lot to speak. I didn’t know one of the officers’ as he was new to north campus, but the other sheriff was Stan Hamilton. I asked Stan what is going on and is there a reason I am not allowed to be at church? Stan stated that he knows who I am. He has been a friend to me for years. He knows my family, “but Rahela I don’t want to arrest you here.” I responded is this not a public entity or public church gathering. Stan stated that it is a private property, and the church reserves the right to ban members from not attending services.

To summarize, Petian criticized church leadership. So the church decided to banish her. When she showed up to church anyway, they called the cops to take her away, even if that meant arresting her in front of her kids.

On Mother’s Day.

In church.

The issue here isn’t a legal one. As a private organization, the church has every right to set its own membership rules. Rather, it’s the reason they’re doing it: because someone dared to challenge them rather than submit.

That’s how cults operate. And, apparently, megachurches run by weak pastors with thin skin.

Petian finally agreed to leave before the cops forced her hand, but other church leaders told her children they were allowed to stay. The audacity of that statement set off Petian’s oldest daughter:

“My mom is the only parent in my life present, She is our mom. It’s Mother’s Day. She has taught us all faithfully about Jesus and church. How could you ask her to leave for not removing a post but the church doors are open to drug addicts and alcohol addicts to come rehab an attend living free classes?” “How can you ask us to attend but not welcome my mother because of a public post she made with public information our pastor asked us to share?”

(Daaaaaaamn. Well done, child.)

Petian went on to say that it was revealing how the church used the Mother’s Day service—one of it’s most attended services of the year—to preach about the importance of tithing.

Do we all not know the principle of tithing? Or was it to seize another opportunity to bank on the 3rd largest attended service and pray on the emotions of families, mothers, visitors, and bring in the cash cow flow on mothers’ day. This is sickening. 

She tried repeatedly over the past week to get in touch with church leaders over her banishment but kept getting told no one could talk to her because “we are in budget season [and] it’s allllllll about the budget right now.”

Handling money is not only an all-hands-on-deck sort of issue (despite the church having literally dozens and dozens of staffers), it’s apparently a higher priority than letting a longtime church member speak with someone in church leadership.

Petian says she has recordings of all of these discussions and that she plans to post them on YouTube in the near future. (She did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

In the meantime, though, she’s sharing all of this to let her church friends know why she’s not able to attend services anymore—and to show people how the church is mishandling this entire situation.

To my dear dear James River friends, know that I did not abandon you. I did not leave you. I did not ignore you. I am forever grateful for every call, visit, and message from you. My doors are open. Our home is open door. We are open to church and revival in our home. 

So far, the posts are having an effect. Some people have said underneath her statements that they will no longer be attending JRC after reading what she wrote:

I reached out to James River Church to see if anyone there had a response to Petian’s statements, but they also did not respond to me as of this writing. I’ll post an update if I hear back.

snytiger6 9 May 21

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Oh, how I love this. So very revealing and entertaining.


Not saying it was right, but she shouldn't have been surprised. Few churches, even liberal ones like Unitarian, are willing to allow open criticism of themselves, and certainly not public criticism of them by their members, without doing things to punish dissenters. That is how they play, their house, their rules..


So much love...

(Meaning, an utter vacuum of honor and Humanity. Honor and Humanity is what people give up to have faith, which is really just fealty in disguise).


She should have known they weren’t interested in her thoughts, she don’t have any testicles…..👀


In a cult blind obedience is the only way. Never Question the leader, The leader is always right, If the leader says jump 5 feet, you jump 20. If the leader claims the moon is made of mayonnaise, then that’s what it’s made of!!


Religion to a great degree is more of a personality cult than anything to do with mysticism. Helps explain all the various sects and spin offs. And why they can be so dangerous.


Perhaps one day she will be grateful for the result of the action of her church. I would like to see her embraced by a group of friendly humanist's. She could benefit from some objective verifiable facts. If she is warmly welcomed she would be the kind of person who could have a substantial impact on the social club for the superstitious revenue stream.

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