PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA v. LOUISIANA PRESBYTERY
I. SUMMARY OF THE FACTS
1. In case 2006-2, Part 2, the Standing Judicial Commission found that Louisiana Presbytery failed to reach a decision consistent with the Constitution of the Presbyterian church in America when it found “no strong presumption of guilt in any of the charges contained [in the Central Carolina Memorial] and exercise[d] its prerogative not to institute process [against TE Stephen Wilkins] regarding [those] allegations. (cf., the findings of the SJC with regard to case 2007-8.)
The Standing Judicial Commission mandated the following Amends. “Pursuant to BCO 40-5 the Standing Judicial Commission hereby cites Louisiana Presbytery to appear ‘to show what it has done or failed to do in the case in question.’ To implement this process, RE Samuel J. Duncan is hereby appointed to: a) serve as prosecutor in this matter and conduct the case, which is designated as Case 2007-14; b) select Assistant Prosecutors from members of the General Assembly to assist him with this matter; c) draw an indictment to be served upon Louisiana Presbytery, with the circumstances and specifications therein not limited to those raised in 2006-02 and 2007-8; d) prepare a citation instructing Louisiana Presbytery to respond, in writing or at a called meeting of the Standing Judicial Commission, to the indictment and to enter its pleas to the matters contained therein no later than February 1, 2008. (BCO 40-6, 31-2, 32-3) If Louisiana Presbytery enters a plea of ‘not guilty,’ then Louisiana Presbytery is directed to appear, through its representatives, for trial in this matter before the Standing Judicial Commission on March 5, 2008 (BCO 40-5, 40-6, 31-2, 32-3).”
2. The citation and indictment, finalized on January 2, 2008, asserted two specifications of conduct wherein Louisiana Presbytery was alleged to have violated the Constitution. First, that Louisiana Presbytery failed properly to address and record differences between the views asserted by TE Stephen Wilkins and the standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture set forth in our Constitution (BCO 21-4, 21-5, and RAO 16-3(e)(5)). Second, that Louisiana Presbytery failed to find a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of TE Wilkins were out of conformity with the Constitution, and thus was derelict in its duties and caused much unresolved pastoral confusion and harm (BCO 13-9, 40-4, 40-5). The indictment alleged that these failures constituted “a fundamental neglect of the Biblical responsibilities of the eldership (2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:15-16; Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 4:16).” The citation also directed that Louisiana Presbytery appear before the Standing Judicial Commission at a called meeting on February 1, 2008, to be conducted by conference call, to enter its plea on these charges. The citation provided that the Presbytery could respond in writing if it so desired (BCO 32-3). (See the attached citation and indictment.)
3. On January 19, 2008, Louisiana Presbytery met to receive and respond to the allegations contained in the indictment. The Presbytery voted to plead “Not Guilty” to Specification One of the Indictment (failure to address and record differences) and to plead “Guilty” to Specification Two of the Indictment (failure to find a strong presumption of guilt that some views were out of accord) and to “reference the matter to the SJC.” The vote was 9 for, 6 against, and 4 abstentions.
4. On January 27, 2008, the congregation of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church convened in a congregational meeting, and voted to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church in America and to affiliate with the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches.
5. On January 27, 2008, TE Wilkins advised Louisiana Presbytery of his intention to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church in America and to affiliate with the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches. TE Wilkins further applied to be received as a member of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (CREC) and was received by that Congregation as a member.
6. Louisiana Presbytery, Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church, and TE Wilkins advised the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America of these actions in writing by e-mail received on Monday, January 28, 2008.
7. On February 1, 2008, the Standing Judicial Commission met by conference call. It was moved, seconded, and carried to receive the e-mail correspondence of January 19, 2008, from the clerk of record of Louisiana Presbytery, as the plea in writing from LAP. The pleas reflected the actions of Presbytery taken at its meeting of January 19, 2008 (see above). Louisiana Presbytery did not provide at this time any rationale for its plea of “Not Guilty” on Specification 1. It was further moved, seconded, and carried by the SJC “To amend the citation by changing the trial date to 3:00 p.m. on March 6, 2008 and to appoint the officers of the SJC and TE Dewey Roberts as a committee to receive any additional pleas from LAP and to prepare for a trial and/or further necessary proceedings.” A revised citation was approved on February 1 and was sent to Louisiana Presbytery on February 25.
8. On February 9, 2008, Louisiana Presbytery held a called meeting. During that meeting Presbytery “[r]eceived communication that Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church has withdrawn from the PCA and that TE Wilkins has joined AAPC as of [January 27, 2008].” Presbytery noted the irregularity in its minutes as per BCO 38-3(a), and removed the name of TE Stephen Wilkins from the roll of Presbytery as per BCO 38-3(a). A motion to change the plea of Presbytery on Specification 1 to “Guilty” failed by a vote of 5-5. Finally, Presbytery adopted an “Explanation to Accompany the Submission of Pleas to the SJC” (see attached).
9. On February 11, 2008, RE Samuel J. Duncan resigned as Prosecutor.
10. The Special Committee of the SJC for Case 2007-14 (see item 7 above) met by conference call on February 15, 2008. The Special Committee adopted the following three motions. 1) That TE Dewey Roberts be appointed as replacement Prosecutor for the case. 2) “That the Prosecutor be empowered to interview potential witnesses and determine what evidence could be brought to trial on Charge 1, and that if the Prosecutor determines that there are not sufficient witnesses or evidence to conduct a proper trial under the requirements of the BCO, the Prosecutor would then bring recommendation to the officers that the charge be nol-pros (not processed) and the officers would take the recommendation to the full SJC for a vote.” 3) “That should a decision be made to proceed to trial on charge 1, LAP’s representatives be allowed to participate by telephone conference if they so desire.”
11. On March 6, 2008, the Standing Judicial Commission conducted the trial on Specification 1. Representatives from Louisiana Presbytery were present in person to defend the Presbytery. There were two prosecution witnesses. There were no defense witnesses. The prosecution entered into the record 272 pages of documentary evidence. The defense also entered documentary evidence.
Specification 1 – After the trial, Specification 1 was dismissed by the Standing Judicial Commission for reasons noted below.
Specification 2 – The Presbytery’s guilty plea having previously been entered on Specification 2, the Standing Judicial Commission voted to proceed to the imposition of the censure of admonition (BCO 32-3, para 3; 36-3) for the reasons noted below.
III. REASONING AND OPINION
Specification 1 – The Standing Judicial Commission dismisses Specification 1 against Louisiana Presbytery on the following grounds.
a) We cannot conclude that Presbytery was required by Scripture, the Constitution, or the directives of the SJC to apply BCO 21-4 and RAO 16-3(e)(5) to the BCO 31-2 investigation required by the SJC in Case 2006-2 (Part 1, Judgment 3). While, as Presbytery admits, BCO 21-4 and RAO 16-3(e)(5) may have provided wise counsel as to how Presbytery could have better handled their investigation of TE Wilkins, the fact that we are unable to conclude that these steps were required in this matter means that we cannot conclude that the standard required by BCO 29-1 and 39-3 for a finding of guilt has been met with regard to charge 1, nor that Louisiana Presbytery was required to follow any specific set of steps in reaching their conclusion on the required BCO 31-2 investigation.
b) In addition, we recognize and receive Presbytery’s explanation for their not guilty plea (see attached), recognizing that the reference to case 2006-2 in item (3) refers to the SJC’s action on the Part 1 of that case (decision from October 2006), and recognizing the specific items of rationale raised by Presbytery.
c) This dismissal of Specification 1 on the grounds noted in (a) does not negate our concern with regard to evidence raised by the prosecution that LAP failed to make a specific finding with rationale on the constitutionality of TE Wilkins’ views with regard to each of the specific areas raised in the Memorial from Central Carolina Presbytery and that they failed to categorize, at least as far as is required by BCO 34-5, any such views found to be out of conformity with the Constitution. Further, this dismissal in no way lessens the seriousness of Specification 2, nor the implications of Presbytery’s guilty plea with regard to their error “in not finding a strong presumption of guilt that some of TE Wilkins’ theological views were out of conformity with the Constitution and in not pressing forward with a trial.” (See Presbytery’s “Explanation to Accompany the Submission of Pleas to the SJC.”) In this sense Louisiana Presbytery did fail properly to “address” TE Wilkins’ differences to determine whether or not his views were out of accord at key points with the “system of doctrine.” These errors on the part of Presbytery did injure the peace and purity of the Church. However, all the matters raised in this section are also dealt with in Specification 2 and thus, we believe, are adequately addressed by our censure below. We raise the concerns here to be clear on the meaning and scope of our decision to dismiss Specification 1.
Specification 2 – By entering a plea of “Guilty” in this matter as to Specification 2 of the Indictment, Louisiana Presbytery acknowledges the matters alleged and confesses its failures as to them. By so doing it is subject to judgment and censure without further process (BCO 32-3). In light of the withdrawal of TE Wilkins and Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church from the Presbyterian Church in America, there are no practical means by which Louisiana Presbytery could make amends for its failure to find “a strong presumption of guilt that some of TE Wilkins’ theological views were out of conformity with the Constitution and in not pressing forward with a trial.” We appreciate Presbytery’s admission of guilt on this Specification and do not consider further action beyond the censure of admonition to be necessary to preserve the peace, purity, and unity of the Church.
IV. IMPOSITION OF CENSURE
As this matter involves a public offense, the following censure of admonition is to be announced in public by letter to Louisiana Presbytery that is to be included in their minutes and by inclusion in the report of the Standing Judicial Commission which is made a part of the minutes of General Assembly (SJCM 21-2,3), and administered by the Moderator of the 36th General Assembly in the presence of the General Assembly. (BCO 36-3)
The Presbyterian Church in America, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and for the sake of the peace, purity and unity of His Church, does hereby publicly admonish Louisiana Presbytery for its failure adequately to protect the peace, purity and unity of the Church in its investigation of and proceedings pertaining to TE Stephen Wilkins that should have raised a strong presumption of guilt that the views held and taught by TE Wilkins differed from the “standard exposition of Scripture contained in our Constitution.” (BCO 29-1) In failing to find a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of TE Wilkins were out of conformity with the Constitution, Louisiana Presbytery was derelict in its duty under BCO 13-9, 40-4, and 40-5, and thus caused much unresolved pastoral confusion, and, likely, harm throughout the Church.
We further admonish Louisiana Presbytery that, should they be faced in the future with credible reports raising questions about the orthodoxy of the views of a teaching elder under its jurisdiction (BCO 31-2, 40-4, and 40-5), they must insure that they conduct a full and thorough investigation, which would include specific, documented findings as to “…whether [the view(s)] strike at the vitals of religion and are industriously spread, or whether they arise from the weakness of the human understanding and are not likely to do much injury.” (BCO 34-5)
Finally, we admonish Louisiana Presbytery to take care that it be diligent to “condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity and peace of the Church” (BCO 13-9(f) and that it be careful that heretical opinions not be allowed to gain ground (BCO 40-4). These are critical duties of Presbytery that cannot be satisfied by deferring to a lower court or to the views of a teaching elder. (See BCO 39-3(4).) The faithful performance of these duties by presbyteries is a critical component of our corporate responsibility to live out, in love, the truth of Ephesians 4:11-16
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (NKJV)
V. FINAL NOTE
We are thankful for Presbytery’s willingness to work through the issues raised in this and previous cases, to admit their errors, and to hear the admonition of the Standing Judicial Commission of the General Assembly. It is our hope and prayer that the Lord will bring healing and restoration as the fruit of this process. (BCO 27-3 and 27-4)