Brentwood - Their church has been called a cult. They've been accused of secretly backing political candidates and playing a role in the death of an 8-year-old boy.
Last week, http://www.remnantfellowship.orgRemnant Fellowship Church founder Gwen Shamblin and church official Tedd Anger took a step toward stopping the gossip. Shamblin and Anger filed a lawsuit against a Cleveland, Tenn., man who they claim has been spreading lies, publishing false accusations and attacking their reputations.
That man is Rafael Martinez, who runs Spiritwatch Ministries and the Web site www.spiritwatch.org . The lawsuit, which was filed Aug. 12 in Williamson County Circuit Court, claims Martinez posted a comment on a Web site calling the Brentwood-based church a "dangerous cult" and accusing Shamblin and Anger of giving "child-rearing directions" to a Georgia couple that was convicted of killing their son.
Martinez's comments were posted Aug. 13, 2008, on a story on the Web site Celebgalz.com, according to the complaint. He called Shamblin a "twisted woman." Martinez wrote that Remnant was able to "cop a deal" to avoid being involved in the murder trial of Joseph and Sonya Smith, who were church members.
"I think he's stepped over the line," said attorney Samuel J. Harris, who represents Shamblin and Anger. "I think the man has been hateful and malicious to Gwen for several years."
Martinez did not immediately return a reporter's phone call.
Harris said Shamblin and Anger thought about taking legal action against Martinez for nearly a year, and finally decided they'd had enough.
"He's saying they killed that child at the direction of Gwen and Tedd, and that we used our influence to keep Remnant out of the case," Harris said. "That implies that they are out there corrupting the system. We're saying it hurts Gwen and Tedd. It does affect them emotionally that people would think that."
Shamblin and Anger are seeking a combined $700,000 from Martinez.
Lawsuit isn't the first
This isn't the first time Remnant has gone after Martinez. In 2006, Shamblin and 78 church members filed a $3.3 million defamation suit against him and an anonymous blogger. That lawsuit, which was eventually dropped, claimed Martinez made statements that described church members' use of "extreme discipline" such as "harsh spankings and whippings."
"We thought, 'We don't want to get into the expense of this all,'" Harris said. "We voluntarily dismissed it. We were willing to let it go."
Martinez's Web site contains multiple articles and testimonials from former church members about Remnant, Shamblin and her faith-based weight-loss business The Weigh Down Workshop. Martinez authored an article on the site titled "Fellowship Of The Bling: How The Remnant Fellowship Cult Uses The Media."
On the site, Martinez gives a detailed account of the 2006 lawsuit proceedings. He called it "an attack upon my freedom of speech."
Remnant was founded in 1999 with eight members. About 800 people come to the church's Franklin Road campus each week to worship and another 1,400 watch services via a Webcast. Remnant has approximately 120 satellite locations around the world.
Child's death spurred investigation
Following the arrest of the Smiths in 2003, Georgia investigators raided the Franklin headquarters of The Weigh Down Workshop, collecting files and computer disks over two days. Harris said police abused their power during the search.
"They came in there and took things that weren't even in the warrant," Harris said.
Shamblin gave the Smiths "hundreds of thousands of dollars," according to Harris. She and other Remnant members believe the couple is innocent. They were sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison but are appealing their convictions.
Police said the Smiths beat their son, Josef, locked him in a wooden box and confined him to a closet for hours at a time before he died in October 2003. Many critics, including Martinez, said the Smiths were disciplining their son according to the teachings of the church. Police testified during the trial that they could find no link between the boy's death and the religious institution.
Remnant has been accused of trying to influence the 2005 Brentwood election by putting newcomers in the homes of church members. Multiple members of the church were shown on county voting rolls as sharing single-family homes. Shamblin denied any political involvement by the church. She said the new members simply needed temporary housing while they looked for a permanent residence.
City officials eventually passed an ordinance stating that only one family could live in a single-family home.
Church members have repeatedly stated they have nothing to hide. Anger told The Tennessean in October that there's nothing secretive about Remnant. He said anyone that wants to visit the church is welcome.