By Michal Ortner
One Minnesota woman says that her life has been ruined since her church excommunicated her four years ago. LaVonne Pfeil is filing a defamation lawsuit against St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church for causing undue pain and heartache to her and late husband, Henry Pfeil.
“I lost my church, I lost my husband, lost my reputation, lost a lot of money,” said 79-year-old Pfeil. “I can go to a grocery store. If people see me, they turn around with their cart. I used to know everybody. Now I have no friends.”
She says that her husband told her to seek the claim against the former pastors of the Worthington church shortly before he passed away. The claim includes the accusation that the leaders of the church spoke falsely of Pfeil and her husband, causing the community to turn against them.
Though disputes among members of religious organizations are typically not dealt with by the judicial system due to the guarantee of religious liberty and Minnesota constitution, this case is an exception. The Supreme Court will allow Pfeil to testify and to stand for her good name against the church because it has caused issues for her outside the walls of the church.
According to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, this is a “terrible and dangerous decision.” In their amicus brief, regarding this case, they stated, “Courts should not pry into the mind of a pastor with respect to his judgment that a member of his congregation sinned.”
The attorney of the former pastors who allegedly defamed the Pfeils’ name release this statement through their attorney, William Davidson:
“We believe a civil court is not in a position to second-guess the internal decision that the church took in this case, and to do so would chill a church’s practice of its faith and the communications within a church between other members and the leaders of a church.”
The Pfeils were excommunicated after a dispute over whether or not LaVonne Pfeil use of profanity in the church kitchen got out of hand. The argument escalated to the point of slander.
“The discipline that ultimately was undertaken was done so reluctantly and after many different attempts to discuss the matter with the Pfeils, and after many, many attempts at reconciliation,” the pastors said in a statement to the “Star Tribune.”
Pfeil believes the dispute led to her husband’s ill health and has ultimately left her life in ruins. “It takes a whole lifetime to gain a reputation, and five minutes to lose it,” she said.