We translate the Session’s attempt to confuse and obfuscate with its latest congregational communication…
The proposed SJC panel decision was released on Friday, March 11, 2022. That same evening, members of Midway began receiving the following message from their shepherding elders, meaning the elders who they have not suspended.
The Session invokes “transparency” as the reason behind the letter, but given what is going on in the church, “transparency” in this case really means this: “We’re going to try to make you think we are presenting the right and true picture, but really we are going to hide the critical information that would shatter your illusion of our position.”
To achieve this, the letter is clear, until it is not. That’s when you know the spin machine goes into operation. The Session then resorts to vague words with imprecise definitions in order to make their position look better than it is by concealing the true nature of what’s going on.
To help increase your understanding as you read the Session letter, we have offered a translation that clarifies their original meaning.
Translation of Midway Session’s SJC Updates Letter
Dear Shepherding Group Members,
Translation: “Dear Former Members of the Scott, Barnett, David, and Dudt Shepherding Groups,”
Recently, we have received several communications or proposed rulings from the highest court of the PCA, the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC).
Translation: “Over a month ago, we received a decision on the Michelsons’ case against the presbytery, which has taken us a while to spin, and today we received the proposed decision in the Dudt case. That one makes us and the presbytery look really bad, and it has spread like wildfire out of our control, so we have no choice but to spin this one immediately. We would look bad if we didn’t also mention the Michelsons’ decision, so we had no choice but to address that today, too, just in case you’re curious why we didn’t address that one sooner.”
For the sake of transparency, we wish to report below on two recent cases, which have now been adjudicated by SJC panels.
Translation: “An SJC panel ruled on two cases caused by the actions of the Midway Session and its agent, the Northwest Georgia Presbytery.
Back in the old days, we could simply railroad whoever we wanted and then sweep our actions under the rug, and no one with a vote would hold us accountable. This is what we tried to do when the SJC ruled against us in case 2019-03, which would have worked until Dudt shared the news.
But now, as a result of congregation members deciding to take an active interest in the judicial matters of the church after how poorly they think we treated Dudt and the other men we kicked off the session with our heavy-handed tactics, the strategy of suppression no longer works. So, we are changing strategies. We are going to try to get out in front of this and spin it before someone else can.”
1. Stuart and Christian Michelson v. Northwest Georgia Presbytery. Stuart and Christian Michelson each filed a complaint about the July 19, 2020, congregational meeting to change the status of three Assistant Pastors to Associate Pastors at Midway. They alleged numerous errors against the Session of Midway.
Translation: “Just because it looks like we packed the court to drown out the men who were concerned about the congregational voice, there is no proof. It is true that the NWGP judicial commission concluded we were trying to ‘mute’ the congregational voice, but we aren’t going to remind you about that here. All you need to believe is that the Michelsons are just out to get the associate pastors, not to ensure we act according to the Constitution. They are bad people. And this is our subtle way of reminding you of that.”
Your Session always contended that the congregation had unhindered rights to make its own decisions in this matter and could have, as the final SJC decision argues, acted otherwise by majority vote had it wished to act differently.
Translation: “You may have heard us say that congregational meetings are the wild west. There are no rules there. Well-oiled sessions can harness this great power to their benefit. Poorly organized sessions, on the other hand, can lose their shirts to the demands of the congregation. In the PCA, much like in congregationalism, whatever the congregation says, basically goes.
We are not one of those poorly organized sessions. Since almost everyone in the congregation knows less about Robert’s Rules of Order than we do, this gives us the home-field advantage in harnessing this great power and guiding the outcome of congregational meetings to our favor.
Sometimes, you may hear Pastor Hall say congregationalism is bad and presbyterianism is good. But in this case, we are saying the opposite. If that doesn’t make sense, then it’s because you are missing the point: congregationalism is good when it works best for our plans, and it is bad when it acts against our plans.”
After many months of hearings and further complaints, the SJC issued its final decision on these matters on Feb. 4th, 2022, dismissing these complaints in full as being judicially out of order (which is more than a mere technicality).
Translation: “The Michelsons only filed one complaint each, but we are going to lump in their elevations to the higher courts also as complaints to make them sound ‘litigious.’ This is not technically accurate at all, but we barely understand the BCO ourselves (as evidenced by how many of our constitutional violations and errors higher courts, commissions, panels, and other ordained men have identified), and we know you understand it even less than we do, so we are fairly confident we can get away with this and make those boys look bad.
Also, you need to understand how we think: in our minds, a constitutional violation is a ‘mere technicality,’ just like Pastor Hall said in the Sunday school lesson over the summer. Being ‘judicially out of order,’ which simply means that the complaints filed were not technically against acts of the session (which is debatable, but we are grateful the panel’s decision worked out in our favor), is much more serious, you see. In other words, the Michelson complaints may have had merit, but since the SJC concluded their aim was inaccurate, they did not study or rule on the complaints. So, we dodged more water balloons.
We hope you can see, now, how dodging water balloons is why the SJC decision is much more than a mere technicality. Those balloons are still loaded and carrying cold water, so just because they weren’t direct hits, doesn’t mean they won’t pop nearby and get us wet. They could still soak us. We are hopeful they won’t, however, as we will explain next.”
Accordingly, none of the allegations against the Midway Session from the complaints were sustained by the SJC, and the congregation’s actions all remain.
Translation: “You don’t spend all these years dodging water balloons without getting good at dodging water balloons. We aren’t exactly lying when we say the SJC did not sustain the complaints, but we are very close. The facts are that the SJC did not even study the complaints or rule on their merits, so we think we can get away with making you think the Michelson complaints have been defeated.”
Since no correction was offered to the Midway Session by the SJC, there is no compliance needed on the part of the Session.
Translation: “Remember when we said the pregnant water balloons could still damage us? The SJC directed the presbytery to fix problems that they learn arise during congregational meetings. In its August 2021 meeting, the NWGP determined we violated the constitution twice by 1) requiring all three associate pastors be voted on a single slate and 2) by failing to provide ballots at the controversial July 2020 meeting. So, the SJC basically directed the NWGP to, in the words of the SJC panel, investigate, and upon finding any errors, determine consequences.
So technically, no, the SJC didn’t assign any actions to the Session, only to the NWGP. But we know they won’t hold us accountable for our violations, so we are probably in the clear.”
2. Phillip Dudt Appeal v. Northwest Georgia Presbytery. As you may know, Elder Phil Dudt was charged by your Session with a violation of his ordination vows in the Fall of 2020. After a lengthy trial, he was found guilty and suspended from his office without censure (BCO 31-10) pending the outcome of his appeal to presbytery, and subsequently, to the highest court in the denomination, the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). We received word today that an SJC panel (composed of three men) has proposed a decision, which if ultimately approved, would overturn both Presbytery and the Session of Midway in this matter.
So far, so good.
Your Session and Northwest Georgia Presbytery honestly saw things very differently from this higher court.
Translation: “Everyone knows that what we did to Phil was wrong, but we were really hoping we would just get away with it. We thought chances were good that Phil would leave the church and give us an easy victory by just going away quietly. Since the NWGP will do what we say, we knew we were safe in the bottom 2/3 of the justice system. That’s why we created the small NWGP in the first place. It’s easier to control, and even if an issue goes all the way to the top, to the SJC, our control of the NWGP ensures we can delay any final decision for over a year. You probably don’t remember, since turnover in the congregation is high, but Dudt’s trial happened 16 months ago.”
Notwithstanding our opinion, we are men under authority.
Translation: “We do not yet fully control the SJC, which is the top court of the church, so they can foul up our plans.”
We affirm as we often sing that “God moves in mysterious ways.”
Translation: “This proposed ruling seems very out of line with God’s character. How could charging a man with offenses not based in Scripture and convicting him without any proof be against God’s will?”
We do not wish to revolt against the expression of God’s will through the visible church.
Translation: “Down here at the presbytery level, we rule the scene. But at the SJC level, we are playing with fire, and they could effectively separate us from our comfortable jobs and large salaries. So we cannot visibly defy them without threatening our lifestyles.”
We will continue to consult with our brothers in Presbytery but are committed to scriptural obedience, even if it requires humble submission in this instance.
Translation: “Somehow, we are going to figure out how to leave the PCA and get out from under the SJC’s oppressive rule. We are still plotting this departure, and we thought we could buy enough time to figure it out by now. Unfortunately, the clock has run out, and our brightest minds were unable to devise and implement a solution even with all the time we gave them, so we might actually have to put Phil back on the Session.”
Our Lord taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In this case, His will may be contrary to our sincere judgment, and so it is we who must submit and surrender our wills to His.
Translation: “These three men on the SJC panel are idiots.”
The result of this proposed decision, although we have been informed that Presbytery will request a full rehearing before the entire SJC whose final action will be binding, may well be that Elder Dudt will be reinstated for the remainder of his term to the office of Ruling Elder on the Midway Session. If and when that happens, we affirm our commitment to give him the honor and deference which is worthy of his office. We ask you all to do the same and to continue to uphold us and all Christ’s church in your prayers.
Translation: “Even though we may be forced to put Phil back on the session, we will still hold secret meetings without him so that the official meetings will just be well-orchestrated symphonies rehearsed in advance by our grand maestro. This way, he will have zero influence, nor will he be there to hear our real discussions. And you can bet your bottom dollar that we will prevent him from running as elder again in the next officer nomination cycle (we’ve gotten real good at that).
And, in the meantime, we have instructed the Presbytery to request a full hearing to delay this decision even further. There is still a chance David Hall has contacts deep within the wider SJC and can use his political influence to overturn the decision of this panel, just like what happened at the January 2021 presbytery meeting. The seminary guild must stick together, after all! If they throw us to the wolves, they know they are opening the door to congregants holding them responsible, too, so their livelihoods may also be at stake if they set the wrong precedent! Whoever heard of the sheep judging the shepherd?”
***********On Oct. 18, 2021, following conclusion of the two judicial cases filed by members of Midway and finalized by Northwest Georgia Presbytery, your Session adopted this Resolution pertaining to final judicial decisions: “Resolved the Midway Session in good faith will be instructed by the advice of higher courts and going forward will comply by the final rulingof the PCA Standing Judicial Commission consistent with the action of the August 21st, 2021, meeting of the Northwest Georgia Presbytery.”
Translation: “We put this on record so that it looks like we are playing by the rules. We must think out these things far in advance. We put on the record that we would agree with the lesser judgments only, after we were able to get the presbytery to strike the most egregious violations we committed. Especially the one against our beloved Pastor Hall, that heroic man who is courageously battling all the forces of darkness besieging our beloved church; he is just a victim, after all, and not the source of this turbulence. We definitely couldn’t let any possible evidence of his divisiveness stand, like when he asked the large minority of voters to stand and switch sides under peer pressure at the divisive July 2020 congregational meeting.”
It has been our intent and practice to comply with the higher courts and be in submission to them. We want you to know that we are pursuing that same path, even with these recent cases. In short, our Session seeks to model the submission that is required by our officer and membership vows.
Translation: “We have been preaching from the sermon week after week that you must submit to us, and we have indicted the men who did not submit to us. To openly defy that position with our words now will make us look like hypocrites, and we know you’re not that dumb. That’s why we must leave the PCA. We can then get away with this kind of stuff forever and throw off the heavy burden of a higher authority to which we must submit. Because we certainly don’t acknowledge you, little sheep, as anyone whose judgment we must submit to.”
If you have any questions about these matters, please feel free to contact me, as your shepherding elder.
Translation: “If you have any questions, send them to me, and I will forward them to David Hall so that he can tell me how to respond.”