The accused issued their own public statement.
Sometime during the week of October 18, the Midway Session mailed letters to church members presenting their version of the events unfolding in the church courts. That letter explained that the Session “has begun disciplinary proceedings” against Ruling Elders Scott, Barnett, and David as a consequence of their signing of the 40-5 report.
The Session letter also noted that the trials would be held in secret “out of fairness for all participants,” but omitted the fact that the accused men requested public trials which they believed were required in accordance with Scripture.
On Wednesday, October 27, 2021, the three men issued an email that was distributed to an unknown number of church members in response to the Session’s mass-mailing.
The contents of that letter are reproduced below:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is with great regret that we find ourselves needing to send out this communication. You have by now possibly received multiple communications from the Midway Session regarding their charges against the three of us for exercising our constitutional right as granted in the Book of Church Order of the PCA.
- We believe we owe you an explanation because as members of a church under Presbyterian governance, you and we have all made commitments to the Church, and your church has responsibilities toward you. Part of that commitment is the respect for church authority and its courts. We respect all the courts of the PCA. These courts are made up of men and as such are subject to error in their judgments and decisions. Because men are not perfect, we as church officers must try to ensure fairness and equity when dealing with suspected error and disputes. When suspected error or disputes arise, we have to turn to our court system for judgment and relief.
- We love the brethren. We respect our courts. We believe that transparency instills confidence, bringing the truth to light. We sincerely want peace in our church.
- You have the part of the story supplied by our Session. As church officers and your brothers in Christ, given that this is an extremely important matter for our entire church family, we want you to have a more complete set of facts. Because of that, we are giving you 1) the background of the story and 2) relevant documents that we made available to the Session. We believe that providing this information to you is important and will prove to be very enlightening.
What is the cause of this controversy? We think it is simple to explain: a group of ordained men, all in good standing and with decades of service to Midway, believed that our presbytery was mishandling certain official duties entrusted to it. These men attempted to hold that court accountable, using the process established by our denomination’s constitution, by filing a report (BCO 40-5) to the Standing Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of the PCA. That report requested a review of the Northwest Georgia Presbytery’s actions regarding these events.
Three Serious Issues
The Session has taken great exception to the credible report filed in accordance with the provisions of BCO 40-5 and has taken considerable offense to the wording used in the 40-5 report to characterize the presbytery’s actions (“any important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings,” words taken directly from the BCO). However, here are the matters, based on evidence available to us, to which we took great exception:
1.) A Midway Session member contacting a NWGA Presbytery commission member before the commission released its report to the entire Presbytery, which resulted in a changing of the commission’s proposed judgment against the Midway Session. “Ye shall not respect persons in judgment,” says Deuteronomy 1:17.
2.) Allowing the Midway commissioners to that same NWGA Presbytery meeting to sit, make motions, debate, and apparently vote, on proceedings directly related to and concerning a complaint against the Session’s actions at the July 19, 2020 congregational meeting. Is the defendant allowed to meet with the jury before the jury votes in a civil trial? Is the defendant allowed a vote on the jury? The BCO in Section 39-2 quite logically does not allow this either. “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15).
3.) The NWGA Presbytery accepting three apparently false attestations (certifications) of supposed congregational actions taken at the July 19, 2020 congregational meeting which did not happen, the issue being that a congregational vote to appoint men to sign the calls did not occur. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).
Contrary to what the Midway Session purports, the above does, in our opinion, constitute grossly unconstitutional actions committed on the presbytery’s watch. The 40-5 report supplied evidence to the SJC to support the credibility of the allegations.
Also, please note that the language in the 40-5 report does not seek to denigrate or belittle anyone’s service. In the Session’s March response to the 40-5, its Shepherding Elder Package, and the October 19th letter to church members, the Session refuses to acknowledge that the 40-5 report was only signed by ordained men, instead referring to them, at best, as “non-Session” members of the congregation and thereby ignoring the perpetuity of their office while minimizing their many faithful years of continuing service, experience, and wisdom. The 40-5 report, complete with the attachments which the Session failed to include when they sent this out previously, is attached.
More Information Available
We initially thought that this was only a disagreement between ordained men and expected this to be adjudicated within the appropriate courts of our denomination. Our Session at Midway has now evidently determined that it’s best to bring the entire congregation into this by giving you an incomplete picture of the situation. Because the information provided so far by the Session about these events is incomplete, it is therefore misleading. At the October 18, 2021 Session meeting we formally requested that the Session correct the information they were sending out to the congregation in their shepherding elder packet. We were told they would consider our request and get back to us; however, we received no response until we saw the letter sent to the congregation dated October 19, 2021. This letter, which failed to address our concerns, was emailed to us around noon on October 21, 2021 as they were being received by the congregation.
Quite obviously we would wish not to go through the throes and difficulties of a trial, but since the Session has forced this upon us, we have no choice but to endure this ordeal. However, we petitioned the Session in written correspondence dated October 13, 2021 (attached) and presented to the Session at its October 18, 2021 meeting several matters that we believed would contribute to a fair and unbiased trial and hopefully remove some of this distress and turmoil from the Church:
1.) That the trial be referred to the NWGA Presbytery as the court of original jurisdiction. The BCO allows this option on difficult matters, especially where a Sesson is charging its own members, let alone three. As we explained in our letter to the Session, you can understand why we would be concerned about our ability to have a fair trial with the Session majority.
2.) That the trial be open to the public. Why should the trial be held in “executive session” and exclude members of the congregation who elected these men as teaching and ruling elders? We have nothing to fear from an open trial. The Scriptures are numerous that speak to judicial proceedings being in the open, e.g., Deut. 21:19; 22:15; 25:7; and Amos 5:12.
3.) Offering to provide and initially pay for both a professional videographer and a court reporter to accurately record the events of the trial. The Book of Church Order states very explicitly “All testimony shall be recorded (transcription, audiotape, videotape or some other electronic means) . . .” BCO 35-7. Why would a court seeking truth not want the most accurate record and timely transcription of the trials? Yet, the Session denied this request, indicating instead that it would be “audio-recorded for transcription purposes.” The transcription of RE Phil Dudt’s trial was replete with errors. What is the issue in having the trial professionally documented?
Good men can, and do sometimes, have legitimate disagreements. The authors of the Book of Church Order recognized this years ago and incorporated within the BCO a system of graduated courts, which is consistent with scripture (Exodus 18:21, 24-25 and Deuteronomy 1:11-13). Multiple times we have informed our brothers on the Session that it would be wise to wait upon the higher courts, and each time they rejected the opportunity to be patient with the constitutional provisions of our denomination that allow higher courts the right of review.
Why? We really don’t know. We do know this. Transparency and a full accounting of facts are the best way to keep the confidence of the congregation. Properly following the rules in the BCO will reduce or eliminate the need for much of what has taken place. We continue to encourage the Session at Midway and the NWGP to follow those rules carefully, keeping our congregations united under the PCA’s strong and fair government.
If the language and the concerns raised in the 40-5 report are so outrageous, unfounded, bold, and baseless as to constitute slander, then why have only the ordained men currently on the session been charged? Please look at the thirteen names on the 40-5 report and determine for yourselves if these men are known to be intemperate or slanderous or to have shown anything but love and affection to this church and congregation. You may have known some or all these men for multiple decades in their service here at Midway. Do you believe that, at age 60 or 70, a man’s integrity and judgment suddenly change?
We have been painted as troublemakers and accused of being unrepentant and divisive, yet we have endeavored to be peace makers. On March 15, 2021, Elder Barnett read an apology letter to the Session after first sending a copy to the Stated Clerks of the General Assembly and the Northwest Georgia Presbytery. On April 19, 2021, Elders David and Scott presented a joint statement to the Session, a copy of which is attached. We all made what we thought to be reasonable apologies for those areas where we may have inadvertently caused offense yet stated that other areas where we continued to disagree should be properly adjudicated in the PCA’s court system. The Session refused to accept our apologies and wanted to bind our consciences relating to matters that we could not yield on; however, we agreed to accept the ruling of the highest church court and to apologize and repent in those areas in which the highest court deemed us wrong. We also told our brothers on the Session that we expected the same courtesy from them. This is fair and this is reasonable and would be a very important part of the healing process for both our Session and our church.
Additionally, Elder Scott made a “Motion for Peace” at the Session meeting of May 17, 2021. The Session minutes of that date, which are attached, show the defeat of the “Motion for Peace” and the adoption of RE Paul Fish’s motion to establish a committee to study bringing charges against the three of us.
We are deeply saddened that regardless of our best efforts we have not been able to convince our brothers to simply stop and patiently wait upon the church courts to hear the arguments, deliberate, and come to a ruling. Once rulings are made, if apologies are due from either side, we will expect those to be made as part of a healing process.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask any of us. We have nothing to hide and stand firmly behind our actions taken.
RE James Scott RE Don Barnett RE Clay David
- October 13, 2021 letter of Deacon John Livingston to Session
- RE James Scott and RE Clay David’s April 19, 2021 formal response to the Session, which was demanded of them in a March 8, 2021 Session Resolution.
- May 17, 2021 Session minutes showing the defeat of the Motion for Peace and the adoption of RE Paul Fish’s motion to establish a committee to study bringing charges against the three of us.
- The 40-5 letter and all its attached evidence that supports the truthfulness and accuracy of its statements.
- Letter of 10/18/21 requesting correction and proper communication to the congregation regarding these matters
Note: Pertinent sections of all attachments have been highlighted to facilitate ease of review.
Zechariah 8:16 These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace;
Proverbs 11:1 The LORD detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.