Monday, March 12, 2007

How to Survive Discipline: Force a more specific charge (Part 10)

This is a complex defense that will work on most vague charges (particularly lifestyle ones). The idea is to force the church to
  1. Argue that a "lifestyle" or inclination even if the specific acts have not occurred is sinful or
  2. Prove that specific acts occurred
The idea is to essentially defeat common sense. That is raise the standard of proof so that the prosecution needs to show a specific act in fact occurred. For example assume an unmarried couple live together. The church wants to discipline them for fornication. Force them to prove that fornication is in fact occurring. I mean obviously there is good reason to suspect that the unmarried couple is having sex, but most likely they can't actually prove it.

The key to this defense is that you are not obligated to make "statements against interest". You never lie, you simple indicate the prosecution is obligated to prove grounds for their case. In are fornication example, a specific act of fornication at a specific time not a general suspicion of fornication. Churches with a strong judicial history will not excommunicate for refusing to make statement against interest, and if you come from a catholic or presbyterian tradition make sure to quote these references. Those with a weak one may consider it, but this is America people are going to be mighty reluctant to convict just because you "plead the 5th". If you are to be excommunicated make sure its for refusing to make statements against interest not for the specific charge. You should understand however that you will be under intense pressure to make such statements; the philosophy of most churches is masochistic arguing you should welcome their authority. Expect arguments like: "You aren't submitting to biblical authority", "this isn't a court you can't refuse to confirm or deny facts"... the point is to make your stand here not on the issue. Ultimately this defense is going to hinge on the fact that the bible supports a despotic form of government while Americans tend to believe in a democratic form. You are unlikely to be excommunicated for things that most people believe are your within your rights (like refusing to plead).

A more complex example of this working is homosexuality. In general churches that excommunicate homosexuals have one of two beliefs. The first view is that homosexuality is a sin in and of itself. That is it is a perversion born of sin, like drug addition alcoholism or a gambling addiction. A person is a homosexual because they have cultivated a taste for perversion. The second view is that homosexuality itself is not sinful. Specific sex acts (like "topping" during anal sex) are sinful.

  1. Force the church to come down clearly on one side or the other. In general most churches in today's world will be very reluctant to openly take the first position. They by in large believe it, but they won't admit to believing it as it so politically incorrect.
  2. If they argue the first case make them prove the process of cultivation and perversion. That is make them prove the pattern of acts leading to the inclination
  3. If they argue the second case force them to prove a specific act with a specific person at a specific time.

Larry is a 17 year old boy whose mother caught him with gay porn. Larry is brought before the pastor who argues that Larry needs to undergo transitioning to deal with sinful, homosexual impulses. Larry has no desire to undergo a brainwashing procedure with a one of three chance of success and a virtual certainty of serious psychological damage and harm. On the other hand he doesn't want to lie. He also doesn't want to be excommunicated.
So the first step for Larry is to declare that while he is sexual excited by men he is not a homosexual. He is in fact still a virgin, has never engaged in any sort of extreme sexual behavior and believes himself to simply be sexual immature perhaps developing a bit late. He won't know for a few more years. He also repents for masturbation.
The pastor now is on the spot. If he declares that a sexual taste for men can develop in the absence of sin then the homosexual inclination is in itself not sinful and thus Larry can't be excommunicated for it. Larry doesn't have a positive obligation to go to Exodus, he's not required to change. The pastor can't prove sex acts (because there aren't any serious ones) and Larry is willing to repent of any petting or whatever he's engaged in.
If on the other hand the pastor isn't willing to agree, he's going to need to prove how Larry cultivated a taste for perversion. That is is the pastor will need to show how Larry choose to develop these abnormal tastes. That's an impossible task.
Either way Larry doesn't get excommunicated while refusing to go to Exodus.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Karen Dammann

Rev. Karen Dammann is an out of the closet lesbian in the United Methodist Church. She came out and was immediately suspended under section 304.3 which conservatives viewed as banning self-avowed practicing homosexuals. "Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."

UMC juries however were being extremely strict in their interpretation. Arguing that the prosecution had not proven practice, she was in a committed relationship with a "partner" but there was no evidence presented of sexual activity, the jury found not guilty. An example of a successful force a more specific charge defense. Other juries had similarly taken strict lines on ministers which had performed gay marriages arguing that the rules only prohibited performing civil unions. Many insiders, as well as some outsiders held this was essentially jury nullification. Conservatives responed by changing the wording slightly. To some extent making homosexuality (itself not the practice) incompatible with Christian teaching (ref1 ref2). That is the rules were actually strengthened. Further this dissension led to discussion of splitting the denomination.

additional links:

How to Survive Discipline -- Resign quietly (part 7)

For many people the goal is not stay in the church but rather to avoid public disclosure of some sin or event the church believes occurred. The goal may also be to avoid formal excommunication. If you aren't sure if your church will allow you to transfer or resign to avoid excommunication you can ask. Meet with the pastor and ask if you can coordinate a quiet withdrawal / transfer from the church. Again most churches are not that interested in discipling someone who is leaving.

They may refuse to be quiet feeling that your new pastor needs to know about the problem. If your have a new church and your new pastor already knows you can ask for a "letter of transfer" to the new church. Note however that many churches will not issue a letter for someone starting the disciplinary process unless you are willing to have the cite the problems. In this case most church will be amenable to the letter of transfer. Further be forewarned that even if the letter says nothing your old pastor may feel that your new pastor needs to know about any issues so as the transfer progresses they will be informed.

If a letter of transfer is not an option then the next possibility is for you to issue a letter of disassociation. This is a much more serious matter since for most churches a letter of disassociation is considered a disciplinary act and they will record a "black mark" next to your name.
A letter of disassociation has a few key parts.
  1. Formal statement of disassociation.
  2. A brief history of your introduction to the church and your positive impressions
  3. A discussion of "major issues" that forced you to disassociate. This part can be grouped by related topics, such as "Doctrinal", "Personal", "Social", "Organizational" and so on.
  4. An explicit list of requests (e.g. "Don't do follow-up calls", "Don't try to shepherd my children"). If you have no specific requests, you can leave this part out.
  5. Conclusion. (e.g. wish them well on their quest to find meaning, and assure them that you are pleased to have made your decision to broaden your search for truth).
The formal statement is simply statement indicating you are no longer a member. They look something like:
  • I hereby renounce all claim to membership in church XYZ.
  • It is with great reluctance that I am forced to resign my membership from church XYZ
  • Many hundreds of hours and over seven hundred compiled scriptures later, my clear conscience will no longer allow me to uphold the convictions common among (name of denomination)
This has to appear somewhere in the letter to make it clear that you no longer consider yourself a member. This can appear anywhere but its the most important part. The second part is important for explaining your reasons for membership. Because it occurs in the letter you are acknowledging you were at one time a member and that this is being drawn to a close. It goes hand in hand with the 3rd section which explains why you've decided that the new information/status is causing you to leave. I.E. you are indicating the bad outweighs the good. These two sections are often far too specific to offer much advice. The key thing is (if possible) you want to include some point of disagreement with a statement that is required for membership (generally the profession of faith). By doing this, you establish you are not merely fleeing a disciplinary procedure but no longer share their beliefs. You'll want to pick a genunine area of disagreement. So for example:
  • Quiting the Mormons: I no longer believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
  • Quitting a Baptist Church: I have come to believe that children are part of God's covenant and should be baptized at birth.
  • Quitting Soka Gakkai: I no longer believe that chanting the Gongyō will bring benefit to my life.
If doesn't have to be that fundamental it could be much more minor proving its a part of the creed:
  • Quitting Baptist church: Our profession of faith requires assent to the Nicean creed, however I no longer believe that Jesus is of one essence with the Father.
  • Quitting the Mormons: I no longer believe in the gift of tongues
After this the next step is to establish how you want the church to treat you as an x-member. This is where you can make explicit your request that discipline halt. This part can sometimes be harsh. You need to be explicit.
Since I have voluntarily resigned from the organization, and are therefore no longer a Jehovah's Witness, I expressly prohibit you from disfellowshipping me or in any way defaming my character before others. If I am disfellowshipped or am slandered in any way, I will have to take legal action against you.
I have prayerfully considered the vow I made. Jesus said "My yoke is light." I am casting off the burden I have been under for so many years while under the scrutiny of the man made organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. In full faculty I am stating that I am disassociating from that organization. I no longer want to be recognized as a Jehovah's Witness because it does not fill the expectations I was led to believe.

(1) I do not want my family to contacted or coerced in any way.
(2) At my death I do not wish to be remembered as a Jehovah's Witness.
(3) There is no need for prayers or further attempt to reverse my decision.
(4) When the Congregation makes an announcement it should be an announcement of disassociation not apostasy

Finally the conclusion. Again this should be friendly if possible

some samples: Gloria Muscarell Juliann Velasquez Melissa C. Thiring

Saturday, March 3, 2007

David Noel and 16 Excommunications

Two references to start this off:
Herald Tribune (the south Florida one, not the international one)

David Noel is a pastor of a small Seventh-Day Adventist church in Port Charlotte, Florida. There were some serious questions about how money was being spent. However, the church is not locally governed and the pastor is not appointed by the congregation. The higher office didn't get involved, tensions escalated, there was a mild protest, and Noel excommunicated everyone involved.

This seems like a clear-cut violation of adventist guidelines. The next level up is getting involved once it hit the papers but no sign of how it was eventually resolved. So does anyone know what really happened? Why didn't the protections in place work?

Friday, March 2, 2007

How to Survive Discipline: Flirting with a Church Your Church Hates (Part 6)

The key to this method is to appear that you find the discipline process so upsetting that you are getting ready to make major life changes other than those the church desires. We are going back to the defense layout. First off, what I mean by "a church your church hates" is a church your church considers a non-Christian cult or "heretical" a fake church.... Evangelicals, for example, would "hate" Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Uniterians. Fundamentalist churches would "hate" Catholic churches and liberal churches, but then, for them almost anything works. For liberal churches (though I'm not sure how much discipline they actually do), cults and possibly hardcore fundamentalist churches. For Jehovah's Witnesses: evangelical churches, particularly those with an interest in missions to Jehovah's Witnesses. For cults" almost anything outside the cult works. In other cases, you can figure out who the right groups are pretty easily.

It's important to pick a church your church hates primarily because otherwise the pastors are likely to have friendly relations and see things the same way. If you make a minor change, like Orthodox Presbyterian to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, you'll have two pastors who work together or at least see eye to eye on most issues. The natural tendency is for them to work together to "resolve your problem". You need to go to a pastor with whom your own pastor would never consider cooperating.

Discipline serves three purposes.
  1. To try and bring the member to repentance for their sin
  2. To help the church by keeping it godly
  3. To serve as a witness to the world
Flirting with a church your church hates undermines the whole discipline process. It would be like getting a new live-in girlfriend a week before a separation. First off, you are demonstrating you have a direction to go if you are excommunicated. You are developing an alternate source of emotional support. The purpose of the discipline process is to induce crisis by isolating you. That can't happen if you are busy going through the process of joining a new church. Second, since your church hates the other church, they are going to view joining it as apostasy. Apostasy is seen as a very serious sin. Your pastor doesn't want to induce apostasy.

This also undermines your church. It identifies itself as being "better" than the hated church. What would happen if the hated church brings you to repentance where your original church had failed? This, by the way, is not uncommon. Discipline processes are frequently successful in a new church where they were or would have been dismal failures in the old church. The new church doesn't have psychological and political baggage to work through, so it can address problems directly.

Let's take an example. Jill is a 17-year-old girl and a Jehovah's Witness who gets pregnant. Jay, her steady boyfriend, will not admit to being the father because he's terrified of admitting to fornication. Jill does not want to alienate the father of her baby. She knows Jay is going to be part of her life for years to come and "turning him in" would be destructive. She refuses to name the father and she hopes he comes forward when the baby is born.
Jill's pastor wants Jay confronted and says that Jill has not fully repented since she is still covering up details. He starts a disciplinary process to excommunicate Jill for unrepentant fornication since he can't prove anything regarding Jay until Jill cracks. Jill is miserable, so she starts going to the Catholic church. She also gives a full confession to the priest (who is bound by an oath not to talk). As the elders confront her, Jill bursts into tears and talks about how she can't find any solace in Kingdom Hall anymore and she goes to Our Lady of Chastity for peace. She tells them she made a full confession to Father Brown, and when asked why she talked to him, she responds that she just doesn't feel comfortable anymore talking to any of her elders because of the pressure. She makes sure to leave a brochure for Good Counsel Homes (Catholic Crisis pregnancy home) in her room and in plain sight. She also takes to carrying a rosary. Pretty soon everyone comes to believe she is cracking and the pressure disappears.

Notice that Jill never threatens and she seems emotional. She not rationally choosing to leave the Witnesses. She's just having trouble dealing all the pressure. She would like to stay part of the JW but she might fall away if they keep it up. She talks about how people aren't really listening, how they are just all she is looking for are people who really care about hurt she is by all the the only time she can talk to Jesus anymore is when she has the peace and love of (hated church). She's just too upset to even try and pray in her current church.

There is one major downside to this method. If it doesn't work, it can speed up an excommunication. However, it's one of the few methods for staying in a church where submission is impossible. It also has the nice effect of starting the separation process in advance, thus making the separation, if it happens, less painful. Moreover, you may find yourself much happier with a type of congregation you never would have considered. It might be that you don't want to be a member of SPPV but really want to be a liberal Protestant, or don't want to be fundamentalist Independent Baptist and really do like the Jehovah's Witnesses more.

A false accusation, why there can't be discipline across churches

I'm pulling comment 10 and 12 from

I would truly like to see some of you respond to me on this one. I am in full agreement with the idea of church discipline, but right now we are dealing with this on a different level. We are dealing with being falsely accused of sin we haven't committed, and with the fact that our former pastor is the one who committed the sin, but is unrepentant.
This is a very long story, so I'll just give a summary.

My husband and I brought a doctrinal issue to our pastor that we and many others in our church felt needed to be dealt with; he seemed uninterested in dealing with it.
My husband was very concerned by this lack of interest on the part of the pastor, and wrote a very respectful email to him.
My husband was then accused of lust (quite falsely!) and I and some other ladies were accused of gossip. This was also a false accusation. We then were kicked off the worship team and were called in to a meeting with the elders in training. There are no elders in our church, and we are nondenominational, so there is no authority over our pastor.
At this meeting, he angrily blasted us in front of the 3 other men, who all seem afraid to speak to him about his wrongs. This pastor brought up matters of a private counseling session in front of these men, and read off a list, rapid-fire, of my "offenses".
After leaving this church, I have contacted some of the many people who have left this church, and their stories are very similar to mine. He is leaving a trail of hurt people throughout our community. He was kicked out of the CMA denomination for similar offenses.
This pastor is very abusive to anyone who questions him on anything! Even if you are totally respectful! He then makes up sins you have commited and says you are being disciplined.
Anyway, there is so much more to this that I can't put it all here.
What does one do when they are being falsely accused throughout the community by a pastor who has no accountability to anyone, and will not even admit his own sin?

Comment 13:

I appreciate your comments. We certainly have been in prayer regarding this situation, and I do confess that I am struggling with anger and hurt over this. I do find it difficult to pray for him. I'm not sure how to pray... I pray that his "ministry" will end and that no one else will get hurt, but what do I pray for him specifically? I do pray for his repentance. This pastor is someone that we respected and admired up to this point. We simply had never really questioned anything yet, so we didn't know he would react in such a manner.

The pastor angrily threw a couple of papers in the trash that I copied off of John MacArthur's website regarding the doctrinal issues at hand. He said to my husband angrily, "Who ARE you? You're NOTHING!" At one point I tried to peaceably ask him if he could at least admit that he had an anger problem, and his response was "NO! I DON'T!" Every person in the room looked at him in shock and then admitted that they do occasionally deal with anger. But not the pastor!

Two of the elders-in-training are very upset about what happened and saw the pastor as being clearly in the wrong, but are afraid he will lash out at them the way he did at us if they say so. The other elder-in-training is very loyal to the pastor, and will no longer speak to us. It is a shame; we thought he and his wife were good friends of ours.

We have many friends in this church, though it is a very small church. I have been told that there is hardly anyone in attendance anymore since this happened. My concern is largely for the few who are left who do not see him for what he is. He has counseled a number of people and then they have heard the details from others later! He cannot keep his mouth shut about private matters, and many have said they believe he and his wife are the real gossips. Isn't this a breech of confidence?

He would not take any accusation against him. What does that mean practically anyway? I mean, what is the result?

This is BTW a very clear cut case of one of the core reasons why it will be so hard for protestant churches to recognize one another's discipline. Many of them don't follow any kind of due process or require the level of elder oversight needed to have a genuinely just system. One poster addressed the issue directly

The other problems brought up here (as well as the gossip-mongering) accentuate the need for proper church discipline, which includes a proper *context* for discipline.

After all, to be disciples (students, retainers, servants) together, we must be obedient together. That can't happen if we're allowing the dictates of a single person or a parachurch hierarchy to rival Christ.

Proper church discipline will require mutual submission, deference to all others at all stages of growth and responsibility, as its most basic framework. That probably means that an unaccountable, single-elder church is screwed up long before anyone abuses the power he shouldn't have.

Obligation to assume

Challies tries to directly address the issue of how to determine if an orthodox evangelical should treat someone as a Christian, "a brother in Christ". Essentially he cites an interesting criteria,

1) He used Belgic confession to define a true church as "The marks by with the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preaching therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church."

2) He defines a profession of faith as going through the entire process, "How we define a credible profession of faith may vary slightly from church to church, but it should definitely contain an affirmation that the person is saved by grace through faith, should affirm many of the doctrines concerning the nature of God and the person should have been identified with the church through baptism or other forms of membership. If a person has professed faith, been baptized and been received into membership his claim to be a believer has a certain level of credibility. Conversely, if he has refused to be baptized and to be received into membership we would have a good reason to be concerned about his profession."

A person then is not assumed to be a Christian then if any of the following:
  1. They have not professed faith
  2. Their profession has been incomplete
  3. They have professed faith within a true church and would be expelled from a true church if they had (see #1)
The Obligation To Assume
Obligation To Assume: Church Discipline .
an earlier piece where he disagrees with the harder fundamentalist line (a single error):
The Ultimate Human Judgment.

While I think Charllies provides a good right wing evangelical definition I'm a bit
concerned. There is an expression in driving, everyone who drives faster than me is a maniac and everyone who drives slower than me is a asshole. I suspect Charllies is falling into the same trap: everyone to the right of me is too strict and everyone too0 the left not strict enough. On the other hand I give him a great deal of credit for laying out objective criteria. Few other writers have been willing to do that. All, told well done!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

An evengelical definition of heresy

Albert Mohler (head of the SBC) has an interesting 3 tier position on heresy:

1) The first tier for him are those truths which are essential, for example the divinity of Jesus. That is orthodoxy.
2) The second tier for him are those truths which are not essentially but are divisive in practice that is they require denominations. For examople (infant vs adult baptism)
3) The third tier for him are those truths that while they may be important don't require different churches. For example differing views on eschatology

He defines theological liberalism as treating groups 1 and 2 as if they were in the 3rd group and fundamentalism as treating the 3rd group as if it were the first. I think that's an excellent description. Well done Albert!

BTW I rephrased slightly in response to Heretic (first poster below). Thanks for the comment!