Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Touchy Tom

Christianity Today has a case of church discipline involving a new pastor who kicks a guy out who is active in the church but is "touchy". He's excommunicated by community vote having done this for years. In many ways this is an example of the way church discipline and excommunication are supposed to work. However everything about the incident sounds fake, like a made up example. Tell me what you all think

Mark Lauterbach comments from his blog

Mark's first book was on church discipline. I haven't read it but it will be on my to do list. Anyway he mentions discipline on his blog, though in general the comments seem rather circumspect (as does the blog). He doesn't seem to be a strong stance kind of guy which is unusual in someone who makes his first book about discipline. Anyway, I've invited him to comment.
The Gospel and the Purity of the Church part1 part2 part3 part4 part5 postscript

His latest post on evangelism is wonderful:

What does that mean? Well, it is simple. If the lesbian lovers bring the child to term and raise it for four years and then both of them are converted – and come to church – will they be welcomed? And what will be our counsel to them? The same would be true for the singe woman who adopts a child . . . or the couple that is living together as divorced . . . or the pregnant woman whose baby has been sold to another. And how would we white evangelical respond if someone took a distinctly non-Republican position in a discussion? What would we do with such folks if they visited church? If they invited us over for dinner? Would we invite them into our homes and lives?

We could add to this so many varieties of our modern culture – hair styles, tattoos (I don’t think they go away when people walk in the doors of the church or are converted), piercings. Or the guy who drives a Rolls Royce and throws away his substantial millions willy nilly. Or the dual income couple who sends their kids to child care and school every day and has a nanny. Or the single Mom who has to work in order to care for her children. Or the person who is now on their third marriage.

List of Cases

Some key court decisions on church discipline:

Yoder v. Helmuth

(Ohio Court, 1947)

Summary: A church member, Andrew Yoder, attempted to switch churches to buy a car. His previous church excommunicated and then shunned him. He argued that his business was destroyed and he and has family had been made to suffer intense emotional pain. He argued that this sort of discipline constituted religious coercion.

Outcome: The court supported the Yoder, found the the church leadership's act $5000 saying that while it couldn't make any individual interact with Andrew Yoder the church organizing the shunning had constituted a violation of his civil rights.

Bear vs. Reformed Mennonite Church

(Pennsylvania Supreme Court, 1975)

Summary: A church member was excommunicated for criticizing the bishop's teachings. Other members, including the man's wife and children, were ordered to shun him. He argued that his business and family were destroyed.

Outcome: The court supported the man, saying that despite the church's First Amendment rights, its conduct interfered with superior concerns, such as the preservation of marriage.

Paul vs. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society

(9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, San Francisco, 1987)

Summary: A Jehovah's Witness in Washington withdrew from the church because she felt her parents had been unjustly excommunicated. The denomination said members who quit should be treated just like those who are excommunicated. When the member visited her hometown, friends in the church shunned her.

Outcome: The court said she had no standing because shunning is part of the faith and protected by the Constitution.

Guinn vs. Church of Christ of Collinsville

(Oklahoma Supreme Court, 1989)

Summary: Elders publicly confronted a church member with a rumor that she was fornicating with a man and asked her to repent. When she refused and tried to quit, the elders told the congregation to call her and urge her to repent. They asked other Church of Christ parishes to do the same.

Outcome: The woman was awarded monetary damages. The court said she withdrew her consent to be disciplined when she quit the church.

Wollersheim V. Church of Scientology

(California and USA Supreme Court, 1989)

Summary: Lawrence Wollersheim was subjected to criminal acts of abuse when he attempted to leave the church and a campaign of fraud as part of a discipline process.

Outcome: The courts held that criminal acts even if part of religious process are not protected. The courts reaffirmed the 4 part test of Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) for regulating expression of belief. They held in particular that discipline may not include criminal acts.

Williams vs. Gleason

(14th District Texas Court of Appeals, Houston, 2000)

Summary: Elders at a Presbyterian church disputed a Sunday school teacher's lessons. The teacher filed a complaint against the elders. They in turn accused him of lying and disciplined him. A deacon's wife called another Presbyterian church where the teacher preached and questioned his qualifications.

Outcome: The court said it was constitutionally prohibited from ruling on an ecclesiastical dispute over church discipline.

Bryce vs. Episcopal Church

(10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Denver, 2002)

Summary: A Colorado Episcopal church sent letters and held meetings with members after learning that its youth minister had entered into a same-sex civil commitment with a minister in a non-Episcopal church. The letters said homosexuals are promiscuous and get terrible diseases. The youth minister and her partner said members made offensive remarks at the church meetings.

Outcome: The court said the two women had no standing to sue. Though the partner wasn't a member, the church still had a right to discuss their religious beliefs.

Penley vs. Westbrook

(Texas Supreme Court, 2004)

Summary: A woman and her husband attended a group marriage discussion hosted by their Bible church pastor, a licensed professional counselor. The woman divorced her husband and quit the church. The pastor sent a letter to the congregation, saying she had an inappropriate relationship with another man.

Outcome: The court said the pastor's First Amendment rights might not apply because of his role as a licensed counselor. He has appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

See Also

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Jim West and discipline

Jim does a little looking at history. Finds a few cases part1 part2 part3 part4 part5 He ends with a quote from 1774:

“A church of Christ is like a garden or vineyard, which, if not taken care of and this ordinance of excommunication not used, will be like the vineyard of the slothful, overrun with thorns, nettles, and other weeds; but by means of this it is cleared of the weeds of immoralities and the bitter roots of false doctrine are plucked up and eradicated, and withered branches are gathered and cast out.”

Mainly though the posts are too short to have much to comment on. Though Jim seems very interested in the topic.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Excommunication of non members, Norman Hancock

The case of Norman Hancock is an interesting one. It establishes firmly that churches cannot excommunicate members who leave during discipline, based on the Marian Guinn precedent. That once someone quits instantly their legal protections against libel and slander are restored. The state has no authority over the the disciplinary process within the church, but the person has no longer given their consent and this changes things.

The case is standard. In 1985 the Mormon church excommunicated Norman Hancock after he submitted a letter of resignation to the church. Hancock filed an $18 million lawsuit against the church, saying a person has a right to voluntarily resign from a church. The suit was settled out of court. Church representatives agreed to change the records such that there would no longer be any record of an "excommuication": the records would show that he resigned, that is he had asked his name be removed from thechurch role.
Mormon Alliance Home Page

Charismatic defense, Ted Haggerd and Chalcdeon

Chalcedon takes a hard line.

Nov 3: They attack the Charismatic right for being too soft on homosexual leaders. They list: Paul Cain, Roberts Liardon, Paul Crouch, and Ted Haggard. Arguing (in essence) the problem is systematic to the movement.

Nov 10: An explicit call for immediate excommunication.
"I have no compassion for Haggard. I have no compassion for the delusional church members either who cannot discern between good and evil. I do not have a compassion for his wife who should have clearly known her husband was "up to something." Believe me, wives know.

The only party deserving compassion are Haggard's children....

Haggard did not "fall" into immorality. He jumped with both feet. Using such descriptives as "fall" and "struggle" are heinous attempts at whitewashing this grotesque offense against God. The woman who wrote me is part of the problem as she is prepared to coddle a man who must be turned over to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5).... put him out of the church lest a worse thing fall upon both him and you." Your coddling of his wickedness is causing the heathen to blaspheme the name of our Lord even more...Haggard didn't want restoration. He wanted anal sex along with crystal meth to enhance the experience"
Nov 15: Defends the position for judgment and continues
"Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that the Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (I Cor. 5:5). You see, this is restoration. The only type of restoration for such extreme criminality.'
Nov 16: Greg Bahson continues the theme:
We are without chastisement, and therefore, we are an assembly of bastards. We act as if we have no father because we live like those without discipline. We are unruly, disobedient children that do not share in His holiness. We sleep soundly in a bed of transgression and welcome sodomites as our bedmates.

America is a nation under judgment, and rightfully so. The insanity of the Religious Right, the corporatism and homosexuality of the GOP, and the added perversions of Christian leaders are all clear indicators that mainstream evangelicals are identified with the wrong groups. Granted, a whole host of them have not bowed their knees to Baal, but their silence is deafening.
Nov 21: Chris Ortiz states he believes the evangelical movement itself is becoming apostate because of their liberalism:
For a number of years now I've been persuaded that without restraint the modern evangelical/charismatic church is in danger of eventual apostasy within its multiple factions. After reading Article 29 of the Belgic Confession, I saw disturbing parallels:
As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God;
It does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ;
It does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in His Word;
It rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases;
It bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ;
It persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.


OK so this is an attack on the hard right from the harder right. However, what this presents for defendants is an interesting list of people.
  1. Everyone in the list is a minister
  2. Everyone in the list is an important minister and a leader of tens of thousands
  3. Everyone was married with children at the time of their sins
  4. None of these people were excommunicated
I think this list might be a good one for a fairness defense for people from Charismatic groups. None of the kids that are getting excommunicated rise to this level. Either homosexuality is a serious sin and Chalcedon is right or the churches by excommunicating kids while doing nothing to leaders is proving that their interests are not in bringing sinners to repentance but rather in proving their righteousness by condemning the helpless. Of course they also mention Jimmy Swaggart who had 2 separate major sex scandals (as well as wrongful termination issues).

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Disqualified forever

A blogger dealing with church discipline (interesting read). He castigates the church for not having it. He brings up a case of a guy had 17 affairs in 7 years. He is something of a leader and the blogger develops a 4 point plan.

1. Confess and ask forgiveness from his wife;
2. Confess and ask forgiveness from each of his families;
3. Confess to the Sunday School class that he had started and to step down from any future leadership position for due to his lifestyle he was disqualified forever in serving in any kind of local church leadership role, and
4. Go with an elder of the church to every one of these seventeen women in the Nashville area and ask for forgiveness as well.

Now I'm a little curious about disqualified forever. Paul was in the business of killing Christians and yet he wasn't disqualified forever. The idea of a church discipline that offers no chance of full reinstatement is worth discussing. I hope Steve responds either here or on his blog.

How to Survive Discipline -- Contest Jurisdiction (part 8)

We are moving out of methods designed to keep you in the church and into methods designed to let you leave on your own terms. Contesting jurisdiction is a classic here. Its also one of the most effective. Everything is lined up in your corner. The whole design of the excommunication process is try and get an unrepentant members of the church to either repent or be cast out. The church is ready to fight a battle on whether you are repentant or not. They aren't prepared for a battle on whether you are a member or not.

First off, most churches are perfectly happy to have you leave gracefully. The have no intention of disciplining or continuing the discipline process on someone who wants to leave. Particularly if you agree to coordinate their leaving with the elders and pastor and clean up any other unfinished business they are often quite anxious to make it amicable. Understand in advance if it is possible for you to leave gracefully. If it is and you like this method you are done. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise this is an area worth exploring. The big issue you are likely to encounter is that are going to feel they are leading you into sin by giving you permission to leave. Make it clear you intend to leave and that the only question is over terms. For most churches that's the end of it.

However some churches have very strong rules about fleeing while under discipline. Others consider leaving to be a serious offense anyway. For example many churches have explicit statements to that effect regarding terminating membership can not be done while under discipline. Others like the OPC assert that only the session can release you a member cannot quit. These sorts of churches will either convict you in your absence (for failure to appear) or even try you in absentia and you end up being excommunicated and they will sully you name.

OK so what to do. First off understand that they are absolutely in the wrong. 2000 years of church history teach that apostates can be punished for apostasy, they cannot be tried by a church court. A church court is something that is voluntary. You have an absolute right to flee. Moreover US law is clear here. Church discipline is legally protected under the free exercise clause because churches are voluntary associations. When they cease to be voluntery their rules become subject to secular court review. The Jehovah's witnesses used to consider anyone who quit the witnesses "disfellowshipped". They got their head handed legally for excommunicating non members. So they've invented another term for people who leave called "disassociated". Many conservative protestant churches don't have national organizations or if they do they haven't done enough volume of member discipline and don't quite understood the complications here. But they moment they consult with an attorney they will.

The next thing to understand is that the prosecution is going try and get you off message and address your "sin". Do not let them. There is one issue under discussion are you a member and subject to their authority
E - Joey I know that Sam has talked to you about this. Mixed dancing is a sin, if you don't stop going to mixed dances were are going to excommunicate you
J - Mr. Brown, I'm not a member here, I just started attending during college
E - You've been going here every Sunday for 3 years you are a member.
J - No I'm a member of Sun Valley Baptist back at home. I never agreed to membership here, I never signed the card or met with the session. I just show up regularly.
E - Joey you need to be under someone's oversight
J - I'm under the oversight of Sun Valley Baptist I just regularly attend here. I can stop attending if you want.
E - No we want to help you realize your errors and bring you to repentance, you are sinning.
J - That would be a good thing for one of my elders to do, but since you aren't one of my elders I don't think its appropriate to discuss my spiritual state in an atmosphere of authority with you.
E - Joey are you saved?
J - Yes. I have a covenanting relationship with Jesus just not with this church.
Joey never ever starts discussing the issue. He keeps the focus on membership. The moment he starts treating Brown like an elder his legal protection is gone until he explicitly quits. If you waver you lose, you must be sure before you go down this road. If you are going to use this method make it absolutely explicit your just some guy showing up at the church. If you can stomach it even better would be saying you are showing up because you had nothing better to do on a Sunday. The final question is a good one. It shows the Elder no longer is sure that he has authority. Joey's answer is also good.
So how do you contest jurisdiction? This is the possibilities in order of preference.
  1. You were never a member
  2. You were a member but you resigned some time in the past
  3. You thought you were a member but were mistaken
  4. You were a member and are now resigning in spite of the "no resigning rules".
#1 is far and away the easiest.
  • At least legally the burden of proof will be on them. Moreover most religious organizations believe in voluntary membership and so their own organizations will place the burden of proof will be on them that they need to prove membership before discipline can occur.
  • The minister is going to have to vindicative jerk to spend hours developing a chain of evidence that you a member just so that he can excommunicate you.
Understand though that once you agree you aren't a member the pastor or an elder can eliminate your right to attend ("toss you out") fairly freely. You avoid the actual act of excommunication but you might not be able to attend services or participate in activities. To pull #1 you'll need some reason to assert you were never a member. For example if you were child raised in the church and never made a profession of faith (or it was ambigious). If your wife or husbands signed the membership card and you didn't. If your never validly transferred (for example you were an associate member and then just started attending regularly). You can often assert that you were a regular attendy and not a member.

#2 is good one for churches that are going after college age kids. One of the really nasty things that has been going on is for churches to excommunicate kids who have moved away, and haven't gotten involved in an approved faith. However many of these churches have rules regarding transfer for moving and time limits that are in effect. Arguing that a transfer occurred was not properly documented is an excellent way to contest jurisdiction. Quite simply the church would then have to argue that it is capable of providing oversight to someone living hundreds if not thousands of miles away.
For Presbyterians we can be more specific. They have a notion of "associate member", and the assumption would be that a kid in college is an associate member of his college congregation unless he transfers. However if he were to claim that he transfered but failed to do so properly and then repents for failure to transfer properly the old congregation is going to have jurisdiction problems in trying the case. Even better if had made statements to people about "his church" meaning his college church thus proving he identified himself as having transfered.

#3 Trying someone who has renounced their baptism has been a sin so serious that it was grounds for excommunication. The inquisition wouldn't even do it. A protestant renunciation of baptism would be something of the form "I don't think I'm saved", or "I'm not a Christian" or "I don't believe I was born again". If a statement doesn't end the trial ask the minister point black if he intends try someone who had denied/renounced their baptism in a church court.

#4 This is often quite complicated. Essentially you are creating a gap between what a church is allowed to do based on tradition and law and what they want to do. I've addressed the process in a later post.

homosexual example

How to Survive Discipline -- Introduction (part 1)

You've just been charged with something or the elders are coming to you with something that had been a private offense. This one a big deal for some reason, you can't just admit say you are sorry and move quickly. The first things you need to understand is that
  1. Guilt or innocence really doesn't make a big difference. The church doesn't have access to an investigative body. The only things that really are going to matter are if the leadership wants to find you guilty and what you say. Further churches are highly authoritarian structures that punish non conformity, while they can't admit to it viciously punishing an innocent person is probably more in their interests (that is it terrifies the other members) more than doing it to a guilty person.
  2. Your relationship with the church is unavoidably damaged. The good days are over. In trying to establish goals you are going to figure out what to do from here. But holding on to the past is going to do nothing but hurt you. Accept the fact that things are going to be bad for you. You will never (or at least for a long time) be trusted or esteemed the same way again.
  3. Church courts work on your conscience and they are very effective.
What the rest of this study is going to present is a strategy for the defense. Its designed to help you think through your options and weigh the plusses and minuses. It presents all the options pragmatically. The goal is
  1. to provide a "how-to" guide
  2. as well as help you to think of options you may not have
  3. help you consider plusses and minuses
If you still believe in "let go and let god" then you will hate this guide. On the other hand if you believe that trusting god to drive your life is not much different than letting go of the stearing wheel in your car and seeing how well god drives you'll hopefully got a lot out of this. Either way let me know and feel free to comment and discuss

The basic structure is to first decide on a goal, then:

Methods that allow you to remain in the church
Methods that allow you to join another church
Methods that avoid civil repercussions
Protestant ministers are discussing a full blown move back to church discipline. The membership needs an honest handbook that serves their interests.

How to Survive Discipline -- Plead to a lesser charge and repent (part 5)

Again this is similar to utter denial but likely to work better. Because the church investigators aren't professional investigators they are likely to do a bad job. They are also going to be satisfied with a full confession to a lesser charge and repentance. Often the problem is that the repentance means a public confession, and the specific things that needs to be confessed would be damaging. By pleading to a lesser charge you can go through the processes without taking the hit. To avoid making it sound like you are justifying your sin make sure to condemn it in even harsher terms.

Sam is going through a very rough patch in his marriage. He doesn't want to get divorced. He's been visiting a prostitute regularly and gets seen by several people leaving her place. They start the confrontation process. Regardless of what he does in terms of discipline this is getting back to his wife. The church (and his wife) consider adultery grounds for divorce and she'll divorce him. So what Sam does it make it seem like he was there for something that is perverse and his wife wouldn't do. Sam immediately confesses and repents for immorality and indecency but strongly denies adultery. If further questions are asked he demands to talk to one of the elders in private. He then admits to that elder something very embarrassing but that falls short of adultery (like maybe he was having her pee on him while he jerked off, or she paraded around in a variety of very high heels and then let him suck her toes....). The elder believes him (I mean after all who make up that stuff), his wife gets told he is struggling with lust issues but has not committed adultery, they get the counseling they need and life gets better for both of them.

To see a historical example of this defense Anne Le Fert.

How to Survive Discipline -- Utter Denial (part 4)

The disciplinary process has essentially 5 steps from an evidence perspective
  1. An individual confronts you
  2. Several individuals confront (a confrontation in front of witnesses)
  3. It goes to the elders who investigate (or trial)
  4. Conviction
  5. Church call for repentance / excommunication
Denial is very effective on steps beyond the 1st step, and this makes it very tempting. The biblical standard for evidence is several witnesses. Most likely the prosecution doesn't have that. If push comes to shove they aren't going to be able to prove their case and they are unlikely to convict without evidence. Further, the conviction without evidence is unlikely to be taken seriously by anyone else and thus community support for discipline will be lacking.

This strategy does have a major negative. It raises suspicions and diminishes trust tremendously. Further if you do get caught for the same act after having denied they are going to throw the book at you. Moreover because they think you got away with something, they are going to try harder to catch you and when they do the consequences will increases. This leads to a large increase in fear for you as a member, and that's going to cause emotion disfellowship. For this reason, really should be considered part of "stall" rather than a solution. Think about Nixon and Clinton, it wasn't the crime as the cover up.

If you deny the charges utterly make sure that at least one of the below is true:
  1. You can prove your innocence beyond a reasonable doubt or
  2. You start laying the ground work for changing churches.
  3. You understand they are really going to nail you on the next thing you did do.
  4. You are mainly trying to prevent civil harm and don't care very much about your church relationship
This strategy while often the one used, tends not to be very tempting, but really is useful only in the limited cases above.

Lets look at 2 cases:
Stuart Jones book (see walk throughs) gives the example of a man who is looking for his nephew during the sabbath on behalf of his brother at a football game. He is charged with sabbath breaking and because the only defense witnesses was a close relative (the brother) and the offense was public he is sentenced to excommunication (he ends up winning the appeal on a technicality btw). Lets assume for a moment he lacked the nephew excuse. In the story there is only witnesses and that witness only saw his car. Total denial "No I wasn't at the game and neither was my car" or "oh I was ill, my cousin had my car" would have killed the prosecution's case dead.

How to Survive Discipline -- Submission (part 3)

OK you've thought about what's likely to happen if news of your sin gets out. And you take the consequences. Lets say its sexual immorality of some sort and your husband would be hurt but he would understand the honesty might be helpful. Lets say its gossip and everybody already knows your mouth is way too big. Or maybe you didn't do it at all, but the consequences of leaving the church or fighting far outweigh the consequences of just "repenting" and going on with life.

Lets face it, you probably joined this church at least in part to improve your walk with God. Going through the discipline process will help that.
For those that have not caught sight of the glorious beauty of church discipline, fearfulness is often the main obstacle. The fearful one must ask himself, however, what the real object of his fear is. Is the worried look of one, the furrowed brow of another, the imploring expression of still another, something to strike terror into one's soul? One should ask himself whether his fear is not rather the fear of having sin exposed which was comfortably hushed up and tucked away in the privacy of his heart. Fear in this sense is sin. Overcoming such sinful fear is necessary in order for the believer to stand before God with a clear conscience. This comes near to the essence of godliness. (From Timoth Harris, see Walk Throughs)
At the end of the day unless you have a good reason not to (see part 2), this is the method of choice. Living in fear is truly horrible and learning to be honest without yourself can be enormously freeing. Further if you are still religious after this it can make a big difference. This can be an opportunity to fix things that have been a drain for years. "Come out of the closet" and into the light.

How to Survive Discipline -- Decide on a goal (part 2)

Right now you are probably very upset. You've been accused of wrong doing and the people doing it are planning on escalating to elders (or you've already been talked to by the elders). This is going to really unpleasant for you. The first thing to figure out is to calmly and rationally decide what are your goals.

Start with why you joined a right wing church, the kind of church that practices discipline in the first place. Was it because you grew up there? Was it because you really do believe in what they believe? Was it because the preacher is talented? Do you still believe what they believe?

To be a bit more religious for a second, Augustine talks about two types of sins those of the animal self (like lust) and those of the demonic self (like pride). By and large the sins that people get into serious trouble for and won't repent are lifestyle sins (those of the animal self). Utilizing weaknesses in church structure so as to circumvent their processes falls under the 2nd category. Make sure you are going to be able to sleep after you do it.

What do you want to have happen at the end of this? Would be OK with getting out without getting excommunicated? Do you want to go on doing what you are doing while remaining a member in good standing? Do you want to transfer to another type of church all together? Does you church practice shunning and could that cost you your family, job and/or close friends? Maybe you are gay and you know there is no way you can change that.

Do you not care about the church related issues at all, but are more concerned with other issues. Like rumors of this sin getting out could cost you your marriage, your job, your freedome, you love of your children, or respect you've spent a lifetime earning? That is operating in survival mode and right now the church is just a threat to your well being.

Think carefully what your goals are. This series is going to focus on how to abuse the process to achieve those goals. You need to be clear in your own mind what you are trying to accomplish or you'll get lost in your own web of deceit.

You'll always need to have a clear "why" you aren't going with the process (unless you choose submission which is part 3).
  1. You don't agree with the church's teachings
  2. Don't really want to be part of the church anymore, anyway and this is just the catalyst
  3. The pastor / elders that is you would like counseling on helping this problem but not by them.
    1. They are basically evil or controlling and you don't trust them
    2. They tend to use counseling opportunities to server their own interests
    3. Their methods will make the consequence too great. For example Marc Driscoll has a policy of reporting sexual issues to spouses and criminal issues to the police. Someone who believes that Christian counseling must be concerned with "justice" you could view as simply unsafe as a counselor.
Once you are clear your mind about the "why you are doing this" and the "what you want to accomplish" then start examining the various techniques.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Heresy defense

This blog will not attempt to assist ministers or pastors charged with heresy. Those cases are too complicated and too specific to the particular church/leadership structure.

Heresy charges are often added to the original charges. There will be two main defenses that might work, assuming the definition is something like that of Aquinas.
Accordingly, certain doctors seem to have differed either in matters the holding of which in this or that way is of no consequence, so far as faith is concerned, or even in matters of faith, which were not as yet defined by the Church; although if anyone were obstinately to deny them after they had been defined by the authority of the universal Church, he would be deemed a heretic.
1) The teaching isn't yet a declared heresy. This requires that the following four steps be followed:
  1. Doctrine challenges an established teaching with a controversial teaching
  2. Doctrine is circulated among the believers
  3. Church leadership meets to deal with the new teaching
  4. Leadership corporately rejects the new teaching
If you can establish that those steps haven't been followed, then you've shown that you have merely subscribed to an incorrect position. You have not committed heresy. Disagreeing with leadership does not make you a heretic, and it has an obligation to have met specifically on that issue and come to agreement.

2) If those four steps have been followed, then your defense needs to be that, as a believer, you haven't yet engaged in pertinacity. That is, you have not yet been provided with the church's counterargument--the reason the heresy was formally rejected. You cannot be guilty of heresy in ignorance.

Do not attempt or agree to argue the correctness of your belief as part of your trial. You are trying to win on a technicality. If you argue the belief, you will be excommunicated and the trial is "just for the record" (see minister trials if you want to go down that road). The problem there is that agreeing with you is essentially a declaration that the belief is not heretical. To win, you need only prove that it's not heretical for you yet. Don't let them raise the bar.

Make it clear that you agree that once the belief were declared a heresy, or once you were made aware of why it's a heresy, you would be obligated to immediately examine your conscience and either (a) come into compliance, or (b) if because of "intellectual delinquencies in myself that were involuntary and imputable", you were unable to come into compliance, you would need to ask for a letter of transfer. That makes it absolutely clear that you are agreeing to be bound by leadership without actually agreeing to agree with them in advance. If they don't find that sufficient, they are the ones on shaky ground.

For example Helena is sexual experimenting and is trying lesbian sex. She tells her best friend, Marissa that the bible doesn't condemn consensual homosexuality only prostitution. Then her friend feels comfortable fooling around. The two girls get caught and Marissa confesses everything but blames Helena. Everyone wants to excommunicate Helena and so Helena gets charged with heresy in addition to sexual immorality. She defends herself against the heresy by arguing that it was religious books make this case that "qadesh" is a temple prostitute and "to’ebah" is a specific practice. She has never claimed to be hebrew scholar herself and the church has never provided her with hebrew training. Nor had she received instruction in proper translation. Nor had she been told that the NIV's translation was authorative. It had never been explained to her why the NIV translators used "abomination". At the time she told Marissa her opinion it therefore could not have been heresy (even though it might very well have been incorrect).
The one thing Helena must do is make this case about her state of knowledge at the time she made those statements, she cannot attempt to defend that they are true or its over. She should refuse to address those issues and ask for further instruction on them.

Good references:

Friday, February 23, 2007

Deborah Boschman

I'm not really even sure what to say about this case, also here. I heard about it from another blog. A woman by the name of Deborah Boschman was excommunicated from Bethel Christian Assembly either for attack the city of for being really weird. The pastor of the church has a prayer meeting with the mayor and the city council (sort of a semi official function).

The cbc (which is like the BBC but for Canada) goes for the political persecution angle on this (which is a pretty high end source)
The church censored its guest book of all the references to the controversy.

Both blogs carry this counter claim about a horn being blown:
I happen to attend this church. The situation with this lady has been happening for a while. She was approached by church officials a few times about how she conducts herself in service. (One example of an issue that they confronted her about is: She was blowing a horn, the kind you take to a hockey game, in the middle of the song service. It was becoming very distracting and irritating to most people in the congregation. The pastor kindly asked her to not do that anymore, and she made a huge fuss. I clearly recall one service where she was blowing the horn, and a child in front of her was crying because it was so loud, she was oblivious to the fact she was making a young child cry).
There isn't much on her. And the facts are muddy. I don't have much to say.


(Follow up) 2 years after this was written Deborah told her side of the story below in the comments.

(Follow up#2 written Feb 2010): After about 500 posts in this thread the evidence finally broke. Deborah Boschman was excommunicated for writing a fairly typical letter to her local paper asking for standard municipal actions, which resulted in her get excluded from her church for embarrassing the pastor. We may never know if this was poor judgement or abuse of office but we do know that had proper procedure been followed Boschman would have remained a member of Bethel. If anything the CBC understated the extent to which Pastor Davis' actions were questionable.

Official Documents

If your church has a book of order or book of discipline read it cover to cover with regards to your case. If it doesn't try a selection of related ones

Code of Canon Law The core code in the catholic church
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)

Presbyterians will always have one. They provide a good model for other evangelicals:

ARPC BOD Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
BPC BOD Bible Presbyterian Church
OPC BOD Orthodox Presbyterian Chrch
EPC BOD Evangelical Presbyterian Church
PC(USA) BOE Presbyterian Church USA
PCA BOD Presbyterian Church in America
APC BOD APC FOM American Presbyterian Church
RPCNA Constitution Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
CANRC BOE Canadian and American Reformed Church
CREC Constitution of Membership Christ Reformed Evangelical Church (Doug Wilson, et al)
CCRNA BOE Christian Reformed Church
UCC CON United Church of Christ Constitution, also Testimonies of Faith
FMC BOD Free Methodist Church
ELCA bylaws, continuing resolutions and model constitution Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Seventh Day Adventist SDA Chruch Manual Official Statements Guidelines
Mormon: Church Handbook of Instructions
Christadelphian Ecclesial Guide

Edwards on effects of discipline

Discipling Movement from Cult Awareness This attempts to show how discipline in practice leads to authoratarian structures. The article quotes Edwards on the effects:
  • Young men and young women learned how to rebuke and criticize one another when they were in an authoritarian movement. This is something no one should learn well. Sometimes rebuke gets to be an almost savage thing. Christians, especially young ones, ought not to do such things to one another.
  • Pride in people's hearts was appealed to, cultivated, watered, and fertilized.
  • Men and women who left those movements lost all hope in even the theoretical honesty of Christian workers. That is doubly tragic. If you lose trust in Christians, you have absolutely nowhere to go.
  • Families divided--splits, separations, divorces.
  • Christians lost--or never got a chance to lay hold of--the wondrous, unshackling experience of liberty in Christ.
  • Fear and confusion became the order of the day. --Young men and young women who might have grown up--and grown old-serving the Lord as workers were ruined . . . forever.
  • Across our land have grown up little pockets of Christians who are bitter and shipwrecked. They seem to be able to find one another, move near one another, and fraternize together--like glazed-eyed beings in Dante's Inferno--forever dining on nightmares, partaking of mutual cynicism and hopelessness. That is the saddest of all scenes. . . . There appears to be an almost total disregard--by the leaders in these groups--of the mounting and appalling destruction resulting from authoritarianism.26

Argument for discipline

Tess's Story This is a fictional account (which turned out to match a real life situation) about a blow up between a pastor and a church secretary that ends up being very damaging for the church.

Important People

This is a collection of discipline related articles by big names:


Waynesville Baptist

This was an excommunication of 9 members of a baptist church (small southern town) for being members of the democratic party. The pastor in this case argued that supporting Kerry, meant support for abortion and support for abortion was an excommunicative offense. He has quite open in indicating he believed that the church should be "political".

This piece is interesting. Outside of tradition I'm hard pressed to see much difference between these excommunications and excommunications for a wide range of opinions expressed. Either people should have freedom of conscience of they bring their stated opinions into line with the church. Of course, I'm hard pressed to see Kerry as a major facilitator of abortion but that's a disagreement on the facts of the case so isn't really relevant.

Another interesting point about the case was that the pastor in this case violated his church rules creating an impromptu business meeting to force the 9 erasures. However instead of going after the weak and the defenseless (a more typical situation norm for church discipline) he went after successful people who had access to outside resources and the pastor lost the power struggle. Lots to discuss in this one.

Discipline Procedures

These are a series of pastoral walk through of the process:


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Secret disfellowshipping

There are consistent reports of people being disfellowshipped or excommunicated out of process.
Catholic 14 year old homosexual
JW rock star
UCG intellectual over calendar dispute they kept private. The real reason may have been his sense of humor

Excommunication and shunning

Churches and books have a wide range of doctrines about what to do with the excommunicated.

  • Jonathan Edwards (important American theologian of the 18th century) establishes that excommunicates are to be treated substantially worse than heathens (impolite, and entitled only to minimal human rights) in the Nature and Purpose...

Jehovah's witnesses

The JWs have a long history of church discipline. For them its absolutely core. So there are a lot of resources about their discipline..
One thing that is key is that because the law on disciplining non members is questionable they have created a class called "disassociation" (someone who has severed ties) and they distinguish this from "disfellowship" which is disciplinary. Shunning occurs regardless but the idea of disciplining a non member is thus avoided.

Minister trials

By minister trials we mean trials for preaching. Not trials for stuff like stealing that happen to involve a minister. Minister trials are the easiest to find notes of on the web. The ministers being tried are frequently very public spokesmen for unpopular positions and the organization is generally very happy to have the beheading be public. They are unfortunately not representative of general disciplinary issues. Everybody involved knows there are larger issues at stake and they may be quoted a 100 years from now. The minister is willing to lose the battle to win the war.

Lee Irons:

This is the trial of a minister in the OPC (hardest right organization in NAPARC) that took a slightly liberal position on moral law. The debate is very technical but you got to love his final note:
I am not prepared to say that the OPC has fallen into irreparable apostasy, but something is terribly amiss with a denomination that is willing to indefinitely suspend me from the ministry for holding a position that is part of "a significant and vital stream of Reformed, Presbyterian, and confessional thought," and then turns right around the very next day and fails to censure a man who teaches a doctrine of justification that has never been part of any stream within the orthodox Reformed tradition, indeed, that denies the very reason for the Reformation itself. The implication is staggering: Murray's recasting of covenant theology is now an essential test of orthodoxy in the OPC, but the historic Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone is not.

Wikipedia articles

Wikipedia is loaded with good stuff.

Other reference

Here's a bunch of

references article from a sites like wikipedia. Theopedia is a presbyterian site. with tons of good links and some summary information about membership.

This one covers getting in and out of various presbyterian churches:
Theopedia Church Membership

This one covers the debates about who is subject to discipline
Theopedia Church Discipline

Gameo (Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encycllopedia Online): Church Discipline Excommunication Pastoral Counseling

David Huckabee (independent baptist) Church discipline and Church membership

Watermark Community Church

Here is an interesting case. We have a guy who decides to have an affair. The "other woman" is not part of the church, yet the discipline process is applied to her. They have a very well written 6 page document regarding discipline

Religion News Blog

Moreover the news stories the church actually wanted to go the wider world even after the person tried to quit. I decided to debate this one. Its also being debated at worldmagblog.

The policy as written
1) doesn't give them the ability to go after 3rd parties
2) It doesn't give the ability to disclose counseling details to the broader community
3) And the policy is vague about people who "run away from this community to avoid care and correction" (fugitives from discipline)

The church deserves to lose this lawsuit.