Update – Concurring Opinion in SJC 2021-13 (Dudt V. Northwest Georgia Presbytery) Now Available

Thanks to a helpful member of the SJC for making the suggestion…

The original article announcing the final decision of SJC 2021-13 on this site has been updated to include the concurring opinion so that it is not separated from the ruling. As we were informed by an SJC member, the Birmingham General Assembly adopted a recommendation from the SJC to revise the SJC Manual to start holding the main decision in any case until it can be accompanied by any dissenting or concurring opinion. To honor the spirit of that request, the Midway Guardian has posted the concurring opinion from the 2022 Commissioner’s Handbook with our original announcement for posterity.

Anyone who recently read Rev. Terry Johnson’s article smearing the decision of the PCA’s highest court in this matter may be interested in reading the entire concurring opinion so that they may ascertain all the facts for themselves. Johnson quoted a piece of it, but omitted the parts that worked counter to his arguments.

The concurring opinion to SJC 2021-13 has been posted below as well:

Concurring Opinion
Of RE Howie Donahoe, joined by TE Sean Lucas, TE Charles McGowan, TE Mike Ross, RE Dan Carrell, RE EJ Nusbaum, RE Bruce Terrell

We concurred with the Decision but believe two comments are warranted - one as a critique of a Session trial court procedure and the other as a general caution regarding individual elders emailing their congregations.

1. The Summary of the Facts indicates that on November 11, 2020, “The trial commenced at 7:30 pm and concluded at 5:40 am the next day.” The Record indicates the meeting concluded at 5:40 am, but it’s unclear when the defense and prosecution closing arguments occurred. Presumably, because there were three prosecution witnesses and defense witnesses, it was probably well after midnight. That is a highly unreasonable way to conduct a trial. An overnight trial is extraordinary, and so is a court discussing the verdict and censure during the wee hours of the morning. The Record does not indicate time was of the essence in this matter. The trial court committed a clear error of judgment in this procedure, despite the defendant’s failure to object. 

However, because the BCO 39-3.1: “A higher court, reviewing a lower court, should limit itself to the issues raised by the parties to the case in the original (lower) court.” While we agree the SJC should avoid basing judgments on issues unraised by the parties, it is proper to raise concerns about a lower court error, nonetheless. Doing so helps to clarify that serious errors evident in the Summary of the Facts, and thus evident to the reader, are not necessarily judged as benign. 

2. It would be unfortunate for anyone to conclude, that because this Appeal was sustained, it is appropriate for a Session member to email his congregation expressing disagreement with a Session decision. Such conduct would rarely be wise or appropriate. 

It would be unfortunate if any elder feels emboldened by this ruling. Session members have several avenues for expressing disagreement with a Session decision, some wiser than others, depending on the circumstances. And ordination vows 5 and 6 certainly must have some bearing on the matter - #5. “Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?” #6. “Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity, and edification of the Church?”

In addressing Appellant specification of error #3, the SJC ruled: “The Session had a right to refuse to distribute the SJC decision in question. The Session had no right to forbid RE Dudt from doing so, the 5th ordination vow notwithstanding.” We agree. The SJC Decision in Case 2019-03 Crouse v. Northwest Georgia was a General Assembly action and one which the congregation had a right to see, regardless of whether the SJC Decision found error in a Session action. (BCO 14-7)

But the Session’s decision declining to distribute the Decision was not the lone concern expressed by the Appellant in his July 2020 email to the congregation. He offered other critiques of the Session, including his disagreement with the Session’s decision to recommend the congregation promote three assistant pastors to associates and his disagreement with the Session’s interpretation of BCO 20-2.

The Decision ruled that the Appellant’s distribution of the Crouse Decision was not a censurable offense. (Charge 1; Appellant specification of error #3, sustained by the SJC) The Decision also ruled that the Session did not prove the email contained false statements or that the email “as a whole” violated the 9th commandment. (Charge 2; Appellant specifications of error #5 and #6, sustained by the SJC) Nevertheless, the propriety and wisdom of sending such an email to the congregation is, in our opinion, highly questionable.

There are few things that disturb the peace and unity of a church more than individual elders bringing to public attention their disagreements with Session decisions. And few things disturb the peace and unity of a church more than a Session putting an elder on trial for actions related to disagreements with the Session. Not many things divide a church more quickly.