“Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of…”
In a stunning blow to fairness, basic charity, and the image of Christ’s church, David Hall’s Session has announced that the 3 Ruling Elders recently charged falsely by his Session will be denied an open trial. Echoing the unreasonable, cruel, and tyrannical manner in which Ruling Elder Philip Dudt was subjected to a secret trial against his will in November of 2020. So great was the prejudice of the David Hall’s court in that case, that he and his supporters on the Session saw fit to separate that which God had joined by even banishing his wife from the proceedings. Observers should surely expect similar behavior in the pending trials of Ruling Elders Clay David, Don Barnett, and James Scott.
As they were being ejected from the Ruling Elder Philip Dudt’s trial, supporters may recall he quoted the words of Rev. J. Gresham Machen (who advocated for an open church trial in a false charge made against him in 1935) saying “court proceedings ought to be open and above board. That right is accorded the most degraded criminals under our civil laws. If men are deprived of it in church courts, that means that the church is standing on a lower moral plane than the world at large. Religion will seem to many people to be little more than a delusion and a sham when it is made the cloak for tyranny such as this.”
This same tyranny is alive and well at Midway Presbyterian Church. With the sword of church discipline in one hand, the beneficial cloak of secrecy to hide prejudice in the other, and a little help from a Session that is “wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause” (WLC 145) – David Hall seems ready to preside over his own “delusion and sham” in a series of church pruning exercises.
Readers of the Scripture may have noticed that God is not mocked and the hand that brings a false charge will not be unscathed. Remember that the the Lord “hates a false witness that speaks lies” (Proverbs 6) and that such person “will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 19). Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Lord of justice, and He abhors “dishonest scales” (Proverbs 11).
If Ruling Elders David, Barnett, and Scott are guilty – let it be seen in the open that all may judge with right judgment (John 7:24). What is the Session afraid of? Does convening multiple secret trials do anything to restore peace to a congregation already in distress? David Hall and his Session practice a strange method of problem solving.
The Midway Guardian accurately predicted that more secret trials were about to shake Midway Presbyterian Church. The prediction was solidified by an announcement shared with the congregation of Midway in a letter from the Session dated October 19, 2021. The letter itself is disturbingly prejudicial in nature given that it assigns motives, presumes guilt, and ignores facts.
See No Evil? Hear No Evil?
The letter states “we wanted to…give you a sense of the process this will involve. Last evening, each of the accused entered “Not Guilty” pleas to the indictments, and the Session adopted the following process by which we will conduct three trials. The 3 trials shall be individual (not as a group). The order of the trials shall be from the least senior (years as a Session member) to the greatest. No session of a trial shall exceed 150 minutes, except by unanimous consent of the Court. All testimony and trial proceedings shall be audio-recorded for transcription purposes only and shall take place in executive session out of fairness for all participants.” (emphasis added). This must be the same “fairness” afforded to Ruling Elder Philip Dudt and his wife. Misuse of so called “executive sessions” and the reliance on secret reports have been used by Midway officers in the past to perpetrate constitutional violations. What assurances do the accused have that such dishonesty is not exactly what is afoot here after so much prejudice has already been shown against them?
Another particularly deceptive aspect of the letter was the attempt to ascribe the words of the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO) without attribution accusatorially toward the Ruling Elders to face trial. The letter alleges that the 3 men “… joined with a group of non-Session Midway members to petition our denomination’s judicial commission to assume jurisdiction over the dispute alleging “grossly unconstitutional proceedings and important delinquencies” against our Northwest Georgia Presbytery.”
What the Session conveniently leaves out of the letter is that this action unto itself is not a sin proven from Scripture or nor is it contrary to the Westminster Standards (BCO 29-1), but rather is a right afforded them within the BCO of the church in 40-5 which reads (in part) “When any court having appellate jurisdiction shall receive a credible report with respect to the court next below of any important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings of such court, the first step shall be to cite the court alleged to have offended to appear before the court having appellate jurisdiction, or its commission, by representative or in writing, at a specified time and place, and to show what the lower court has done or failed to do in the case in question.” Don’t be deceived by this attempt to justify the passing of an unjust sentence by perverting the truth. Ruling Elders David, Barnett, and Scott did nothing more than to exercise a right afforded them under the church’s constitution.
If readers are looking for something that is a sin provable from Scripture and contrary to the Westminster Standards – they only need compare the actions of the Session against their brothers Philip Dudt, Clay David, Don Barnett, and James Scott to God’s standard: the 9th Commandment. Westminster Larger Catechism 145 lists in part the sins forbidden in this commandment – “prejudicing the truth”, “giving false evidence”, “pleading for a false cause”, “calling evil good, and good evil”, “concealing the truth”, undue silence in a just cause”, “perverting the truth to wrong meaning”, “lying”, “stopping ears against a just defense”, “speaking untruth”, and “prejudice of truth or justice” to name a few.
The Session’s letter concludes with the Midway Presbyterian Church tagline as the footer “A Congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America where Christ is King and His Word Rules.” Without much evidence to the contrary, perhaps it should read “A Congregation out of accordance with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church of America where David Hall is King and His Session Rules.“