The Standing Judicial Commission Panel deadline for filing their decision in the Philip Dudt vs Midway Session case is fast approaching.
The SJC manual allows the panel up to 20 days from the time of the hearing to make a decision. That deadline was yesterday. The panel then has another 20 days to submit their report to the Stated Clerk of the PCA. That report not only includes their decision, but the entire record of the case, all timely filed briefs, and the audio of the hearing. Those hundreds of pages of documents are then available to the full 24-man Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) of the Presbyterian Church in America to review and decide to concur or disagree with the panel’s decision. The decision of the full SJC is final.
In contrast, when an appeal or complaint is made to the Northwest Georgia Presbytery, they simply assign it to a four- or six-man commission. The Commission hears the complaint/appeal, makes a decision, and then only submits the decision to the full presbytery to concur or dissent. Neither the record nor briefs are ever provided to the full presbytery, even though there is nothing in the Book of Church Order to prohibit that from happening. Typically, as in the Dudt case, the full presbytery has little knowledge to what the underlying issues are when they vote on a case. How can the members make an informed vote without informed knowledge of the case? They clearly cannot.
This practice of the presbytery sweeping complaints under the rug instead of seriously considering them has usually worked out well for them–until it didn’t. The first time the presbytery was embarrassed was in 2019 when a deacon from Midway filed a complaint against the Session stating that their handling of elder elections was unconstitutional. The Session denied the complaint, effectively kicked the deacon off the diaconate, and then the presbytery did their typical rubber stamping of the Midway Session’s decision. However, this time the complaint was elevated to the SJC where the presbytery decision was overturned by an SJC vote of 19-3. Ironically, RE Dudt including that decision (SJC 2019-03) in an e-mail to the Midway congregation, nearly a year after the decision was made, was the basis for his indictment, trial, and conviction.
Then came the complaints concerning the hastily called congregational meeting of July 19, 2020. In this case, the constitutional violations were so egregious that the presbytery’s commission had to agree with the complainants, a first for the Northwest Georgia Presbytery. Instead of the Presbytery’s leadership letting that decision stand, they permitted the Midway Session to circulate the court by ramrodding an unconstitutional motion through an un-informed Presbytery, resulting in the decision being delayed for months. That resulted in thirteen ordained men from Midway sending a letter to the Stated Clerk of the PCA outlining the constitutional violations of the Presbytery, which resulted in the charges against three more Midway elders for standing up against the Midway Session majority. This, in turn, resulted in three more complaints now before presbytery. If the rank-and-file of the Presbytery had been informed and had studied the issues before walking into that ill-fated January 2021 Presbytery meeting, maybe none of those subsequent events would have been triggered, and Midway would not be in chaos today.
During that same January 2021 meeting, without any fanfare, the Philip Dudt appeal was received by the NWGA Presbytery. It was quietly assigned to a young and inexperienced commission. Over the next several months, briefs were filed and hearings took place. Then, that commission effectively rubber stamped the Midway Session decision that Phil Dudt was guilty. At the August 2021 Presbytery meeting with no discussion, all but three members of the full presbytery voted to go along with the commission.
Did any of those members, voting to concur with RE Dudt’s guilt, read or even receive any of the briefs relating to the case? Did any of those members realize that the charges against Phil were not based in Scripture? Did any of those men consider the numerous due process and constitutional issues outlined in Phil’s appeal? It does not appear so.
When a man is convicted in a Presbyterian court, it is in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We would hope the members of the Presbytery would have wanted to make sure that they had enough information to get their decision right. Now Phil Dudt’s fate is in the hands of the Standing Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church in America. We all need to pray that the SJC does their due diligence and gets their decision right. We here at the Midway Guardian believe they will.