Further Thoughts on Protecting the Sheep

Last week I reflected on the responsibility of a presbytery to protect sheep who are being attacked. A number of readers expressed appreciation. I was also contacted by a half dozen or so members of the presbytery involved. A couple of them asked that I modify or take down the post. Several raised concerns and questions, wondering if I properly reflected the context of what happened.

I appreciated the conversations. Even though we may not have convinced one another, we were able to have good communication. I told the brothers that I would give prayerful consideration to their concerns. Upon reflection, while I am not persuaded that I should withdraw my post, I want to add this, both to correct some possible misunderstandings and to respond to a couple of the more major concerns raised.

Some who contacted me felt that I was unfairly criticizing the presbytery as a whole when they and many others, they believe, disagreed with the kind of speech that was made. Some of them said they had spoken privately to the man who made the attack in question, urging him not to make those kinds of statements. Rather than being unconcerned about victims, the presbytery was in the process of taking judicial actions against the man who spoke.

In my previous post I spoke of two men having raised objections to the speech. I am grateful for those who did speak up (and raised eloquent points in doing so) and was glad to hear from some of my contacts that they too would have spoken out had the speech continued in the same vein. I do not believe that every member of the presbytery was failing to protect sheep from an attack.

I wrote that the speaker may be facing ecclesiastical charges. The presbytery has determined to move forward with charges that were presented from parties outside the presbytery. The first meeting of the trial is scheduled for later this week, at which time those charges will be read and formally presented to the accused. Furthermore, the presbytery set up a committee to consider drafting additional charges. While I was trying not to presume on judicial events that are still future, I wish I had written that the man is facing charges. The presbytery is moving forward on judicial process, and that, I believe, is appropriate.

At the same time, I wish that the presbytery had been more proactive in its oversight of its members who have spoken in the way that the man I referenced spoke. Is that not part of its shepherding responsibility? Language that I consider offensive and demeaning has been going on unchecked for many months, or even years. Some of these matters were before the body because of an open letter coming partly from members of that presbytery but largely from officers outside of the presbytery. And the current charges were filed by people outside the presbytery. Perhaps outside efforts would not have been taken had the presbytery itself been more careful and prompt in its oversight.

Several who contacted me suggested that my post was unfair because, they said, the two objections raised did stop the speaker from continuing with the language to which the men objected. He announced that he was moving on with other parts of his speech. What this overlooks is that the presbytery missed the opportunity (and responsibility, I would suggest) to rule out of order a speech on the floor of the meeting, a speech which used abusive language. According to the presbytery committee’s own report, the man had a history of using such language. The body allowed its meeting to be the forum for another attack. When the offensive language was used, neither the moderator nor the body as a whole ruled it out of order. Instead, it allowed the speaker to make his own decision to move on to less offensive matters. The presbytery missed the opportunity to communicate that that such attacks would not be tolerated in their presence. I was not trying to suggest that the presbytery intentionally allowed abusive language on its floor. Rather, it simply failed to rule such out of order.

My plea in my previous post was for the presbytery to do better in the future. I believe you can. You have some difficult matters ahead of you. At this point I have no intention of continuing blog posts on this matter. I am praying for you as you move forward with your work.