When Shepherds Allow the Sheep to Be Attacked

The calling of a shepherd, by definition, is to care for the sheep. That includes nurturing, feeding, and protecting. On occasion, if the sheep is straying, it can involve correction and discipline. But attacking or abusing the sheep violates that calling and is offensive to the Good Shepherd.

At a recent meeting of a presbytery (not my own), as was reliably reported to me, a young minister, speaking on the floor of the meeting, used the terms a “ruthless wolf” and “Jezebel” to describe a member of the denomination who was not present, a member in good standing. The presbytery meeting, as is normal in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, was open to the public.

My purpose here is not to comment further on the speaker—I don’t think I need to. He may be facing ecclesiastical charges, and I abhor doing church discipline on social media. In any case, he will be afforded due process which he fails to grant the sister whom he attacks.

What appalled me is that, although two presbyters rose to object to that language being used against a member in good standing, the presbytery allowed the speech to continue. While the speaker is accountable for his choice of words, the body as a whole bears responsibility for what it allows as acceptable ecclesiastical discourse. The terms used refer to enemies of the cross. The presbytery permitted them in an attack on a sister who is a member in good standing.

Any attack by a shepherd against the sheep is abhorrent. But when a body which is a group of shepherds allows that kind of speech, it is giving tacit approval to abuse. Addressing my fellow presbyters, this ought not to be. Not only do we need to guard our own tongues and pens (and fingers on keyboards), but we need to take responsibility for what we allow as acceptable discourse. To my brothers in the presbytery involved, I plead with you: you can do better than this.

A presbytery allowing this kind of language on the floor is not the core of the problem. Behind it lie some deep issues, including whether we value one another, male and female, as fellow images of God, and whether we are using our ecclesiastical authority to serve the flock (for which the Good Shepherd laid down his life) or to protect ourselves. Our heart issues will not be resolved by sustaining points of order. But that might be a small, but significant, first step.

Peter addresses those he calls fellow elders: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:2–4, ESV)