PCA Standing Judicial Commission upholds decision of Siouxlands Presbytery in the Joshua Moon case

SJC states the Presbytery should have used a different procedure to handle the original complaint, but since the ‘Complainants’ did not object to the method of the proceedings, the question of the faulty procedure could not be dealt with by the SJC

(REVISION IS NEAR END OF THE ACTUAL STORY AND IS MARKED.)
In a nearly unanimous vote the PCA’s highest court – the Standing Judicial Commission – denied a complaint from three Teaching Elders in Siouxlands Presbytery against that Presbytery’s action in a case allegedly involving the so-called Federal Vision theology.

While the complete report of the SJC in this case appears at the end of this story, here is a brief summary.

While Siouxlands Presbytery (SLP) was investigating a different TE concerning his views, a member of the committee doing the investigation was TE Joshua Moon, pastor of the Good Shepherd PC in Minnetonka, Minnesota (a western suburb of Minneapolis).

As the Presbytery decided that this different TE’s views were not out of accord with the PCA confessional standards, a paper written by Moon in defense of this TE was approved and was spread on the minutes of Presbytery (made available to the public).

An overture was sent by one of the churches in the Presbytery (Foothills Community in Sturgis, SD) asking them to investigate TE Moon’s theological position which they claimed exhibited Federal Vision principles, based on the content of that public paper. Rather than form a committee to do the investigation that was requested, the Presbytery simply brought TE Moon to the floor to answer questions about his paper. (This event becomes important in the findings of the SJC.)

After questioning TE Moon, the Presbytery voted to deny the complaint from the Foothills Church, finding no ‘strong presumption of guilt’ in TE Moon.

Shortly thereafter, the pastor of Foothills Church complained against the Presbytery for that finding. (Note that he did not complain against the process of the meeting).

At the meeting at which the Presbytery dealt with this new complaint, they had a written statement from TE Moon, they again found that TE Moon was not out of accord with the confessional standards, and denied the complaint.

In January of this year, three Teaching Elders in the Presbytery, including the Foothills’ pastor Brian Carpenter, Wes White, and Art Sartorius (who, by alphabetical order, is the name appearing in the case title), followed the allowed procedure and sent their complaint to the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission.

A three man panel met during the year to investigate the matter and reported to the full SJC meeting in Atlanta last week. The panel recommendation was extensively revised (as a rejection) by a substitute motion, and the SJC voted almost unanimously to deny the complaint before them.

However, in denying the complaint the SJC made this important statement:

Arguably, Presbytery should have proceeded under BCO 32-2, treating the overture not as a report (BCO 31-2) but as specific charges against TE Moon. However, the Complainants did not object to presbytery’s method of proceeding before presbytery or in this complaint, so that question is not properly before us. Process against TE Moon could still be instituted by some person or persons who would undertake to make out a proper charge pursuant to BCO 32-2. Upon such a charge being laid before the Presbytery, the Presbytery must follow BCO 32-3, subject to BCO 31-8.

This statement certainly appears to say that if a document is presented to the Presbytery containing charges of false teaching, along with evidence supporting these actual charges, that the Presbytery MUST FOLLOW BCO 32-3, which means appoint a prosecutor and start a trial. Most likely, some would disagree that the BCO language really says that, but such is the statement of the SJC decision.

REVISION: It should also be noted that the final phrase in the paragraph, ‘subject to BCO 31-8’, is important in that such charges must not be accepted from ‘any person who is known to indulge a malignant spirit towards the accused; who is not of good character; who is himself under censure or process; who is deeply interested in any respect in the conviction of the accused; or who is know to be litigious, rash or highly imprudent.’

Although not quoted in the reasoning of the SJC, the very next section of the BCO seems to apply as well, as it reads: 31-9 Every voluntary prosecutor shall be previously warned, that if he fail to show probable cause of the charges, he may himself be censured as a slander of the brethren. END REVISION

So, as things stand now, the Presbytery’s findings, based on the material before it, is that TE Moon is not out of accord with the constitutional standards.

However, as the SJC report indicates, the possibility of someone bringing formal charges pointing out the chapter and verse of error in a minister’s teaching, would still have to be dealt with.

Following is a complete record of the case as it will be reported to the PCA General Assembly next June.

STANDING JUDICIAL COMMISSION CASE 2010-04
TE ART SARTORIOUS, ET AL VS. PRESBYTERY OF THE SIOUXLANDS

SUMMARY OF THE FACTS

1. At its 79th Stated Meeting in January 2007, the Presbytery of the Siouxlands (SLP) approved a series of affirmations and denials comparing unfavorably the distinctive teachings of “the New Perspective(s) on Paul, the theology of Norman Shepherd and the Federal Vision” to the teaching of the Westminster Standards.

2. At its 82nd Stated Meeting in January 2008, SLP examined Dr. Joshua Moon for licensure. Presbytery approved the differences he expressed with respect to the doctrinal standards. He had previously submitted a five page paper listing and explaining his differences, as well as 27 pages of answers to questions on theology and sacraments. SLP sustained TE Moon’s licensure exam by a vote of 18-7 (secret ballot). No complaint was filed.

3. At a Special Meeting in July 2009, SLP sustained Dr. Moon’s ordination exam by a vote of 15-7. During the examination Dr. Moon withdrew one of the differences he had expressed at his Licensure exam, noting that he had come to a clearer understanding of the Confession of Faith in 7.1. No complaint was filed.

4. At its 86th Stated Meeting in April 2009, SLP formed its first committee to investigate the views of TE Gregory Lawrence. TE Joshua Moon was a member of this committee.

5. At the 87th Stated Meeting of SLP in September 2009, the first committee to investigate TE Lawrence reported and recommended “that the Presbytery find that there is a strong presumption of guilt that TE Lawrence is teaching contrary to the Standards in a way that strikes at the fundamentals of the system and/or the vitals of religion in its doctrine of baptism.”

6. At the same stated presbytery meeting, TE Moon made the following motion for the minority of the committee: “that the Presbytery reject (not adopt) the report of the committee with its motion to find a strong presumption of guilt in the teaching of TE Lawrence on baptism.” The motion passed 25 to 13.

7. TE Moon then made another motion for the minority of the committee: “that the Presbytery of Siouxlands finds no strong presumption of guilt in the
preaching/teaching views of TE Lawrence with respect to any doctrines associated with the so-called Federal Vision that are contrary to the doctrinal standards of the PCA,” The motion passed 20 to 13 with one abstention. The Presbytery then voted to include in its minutes a paper by ‘TE Moon entitled “In Defense of the Above Motion concerning ‘TE Greg Lawrence”.

8. At a Special Meeting in October 2009, the Presbytery responded to a complaint by TE Wes White by repenting of acting in haste regarding its decisions relative to the report of the first committee to investigate TE Lawrence and by committing the report of the first committee to a second committee appointed by the Moderator of Presbytery to report at the 88th Stated Meeting of SLP.

9. At the same special meeting, SLP considered an overture from the Foothills Community Church (FCC) asking Presbytery to investigate TE Moon based on statements in his paper “In Defense of the Above Motion concerning TE Greg Lawrence.”

10. At the same special meeting, TE Moon responded to the FCC overture. Presbytery allowed, and TE Moon answered, questions for clarification and concern from the floor in response to the Overture. The Presbytery voted to find no strong presumption of guilt in TE Moon and to include in its minutes TE Moon’s testimony given on the floor of Presbytery concerning the FCC overture.

11. On November 19, 2009, TE Brian Carpenter, pastor of the FCC, complained against the Presbytery response to the FCC overture.

12. At the 88th stated meeting of SLP in January 2010, SLP approved TE Moon’s request to amend his paper “In Defense of the Above Motion concerning TE Greg Lawrence” which was included in the minutes of the 87th stated meeting. TE Moon said that the changes involved “statements I either changed on the spot, did not read, or did not approve of as misleading or unhelpflul.”

13. At the same stated meeting, the second committee appointed to investigate TE Lawrence recommended that Presbytery find a strong presumption of guilt in the preaching and teaching of TE Lawrence with respect to the so-called Federal Vision theology. The Presbytery postponed consideration of the report of the second committee until the 90th stated meeting and appointed a new committee to instruct TE Lawrence. TE Moon was appointed to serve on the new committee.

14. At the same stated meeting, TE Moon responded to the complaint made by TE Brian Carpenter. This response was included in Presbytery minutes as an appendix. The Presbytery denied the complaint.

15. On January 25, 2010, TEs Art Sartorius, Brian Carpenter and Wes White forwarded the Carpenter complaint to the General Assembly.

II. STATEMENT OF THE ISSUES

1. With respect to certain reports concerning TE Joshua Moon, was Siouxlands Presbytery sufficiently diligent and careful in compliance with its responsibilities under BCO 31-2?

2. With respect to certain reports concerning TE Joshua Moon, did Siouxlands Presbytery err in finding TE Moon’s testimony a satisfactory explanation concerning the reports and finding no strong presumption of guilt in TE Moon related to the reports?

III. JUDGMENT

1. Yes.

2. No.

IV. REASONING AND OPINION

This complaint is brought against Siouxlands Presbytery (SLP) for its alleged failure to properly conduct and conclude a BCO 31-2 investigation into the Christian character of a member of Presbytery, TE Joshua Moon. The provision in question reads as follows:

It is the duty of all church Sessions and Presbyteries to exercise care over those subject to their authority. They shall with due diligence and great discretion demand from such persons satisfactory explanations concerning reports affecting their Christian character. This duty is more imperative when those who deem themselves aggrieved by injurious reports shall ask an investigation.

If such investigation, however originating, should result in raising a strong presumption of the guilt of the party involved, the court shall institute process, and shall appoint a prosecutor to prepare the indictment and to conduct the case.

Presbytery acted upon the overture from the session of Foothills Community Church regarding TE Moon in open session during its October called meeting. Arguably, Presbytery should have proceeded under BCO 32-2, treating the overture not as a report (BCO 3 1-2) but as specific charges against TE Moon. However, the Complainants did not object to presbytery’s method of proceeding before presbytery or in this complaint, so that question is not properly before us. Process against TE Moon could still be instituted by some person or persons who would undertake to make out a proper charge pursuant to BCO 32-2. Upon such a charge being laid before the Presbytery, the Presbytery must follow BCO 32-3, subject to BCO 31-8.

During presbytery’s consideration of this matter, TE Moon specifically denied that he held the heterodox views alleged by the Overture. Following his denial, Presbytery allowed, and TE Moon answered, questions for clarification and concern from the floor. After a motion to close debate Presbytery found that “having hear [sic] testimony from TE Moon, we deem TE Moon’s testimony a satisfactory explanation concerning the report and find no strong presumption of guilt in TE Moon related to the report.”

In coming to this judgment the Record shows that SLP was sufficiently diligent and careful in compliance with its responsibilities under BCO 31 -2. In January of 2008 and again in July 2009 Presbytery had considered at length TE Moon’s views through the licensure and ordination processes, and thus Presbytery’s understanding of his views was recent and familiar.

In the September 2009 meeting Presbytery itself witnessed the expression of TE Moon’s views that were the subject of the FCC overture and had the same recorded in its minutes. In its consideration of the FCC overture SLP heard a direct response to the allegations from TE Moon and allowed questions from the floor.

Having complied with its responsibilities under BCO 31-2, did SLP then err in finding TE Moon’s testimony a satisfactory explanation, in finding no strong presumption of guilt? This Court is bound to rule on this question according to the standards of review set forth in BCO 39-3:

A higher court should ordinarily exhibit great deference to a lower court regarding those matters of discretion and judgment which can only be addressed by a court with familiar acquaintance of the events and parties. Such matters of discretion and judgment would include, but not be limited to: the moral character of candidates for sacred office, the appropriate censure to impose after a disciplinary trial, or judgment about the comparative credibility of conflicting witnesses. Therefore, a higher court should not reverse such a judgment by a lower court, unless there is clear error on the part of the lower court.

Complainants hold that TE Moon’s defense of certain views of TE Lawrence, as views within the permissible latitude afforded by the PCA’s standard for subscription, implies that TE Moon shares in the alleged errors of TE Lawrence. But this is a non sequitur. It may be illustrated as follows: it is widely held that paedo-communion is a permissible minority view within the PCA, but it does not follow that all who consider it permissible, hold to the position of paedocommunion.

Complainants hold that certain views expressed by TE Moon, capable of a heterodox interpretation, must be so interpreted. But this violates the judgment of charity, that if a view can be interpreted in an orthodox fashion, it ought to be so interpreted until one is forced to do otherwise.

Complainants hold that certain of TE Moon’s views imply heterodox doctrines, and therefore impute those doctrines to TE Moon. But this is a non sequitur as well. One cannot properly impute implications that are drawn from a position to a person who expressly denies the implication.

Against this reasoning stand TE Moon’s express and specific denials of the heterodoxy alleged in the Overture, and his affirmations of orthodoxy. The only question, then, is with respect to TE Moon’s credibility. The Standing Judicial Commission must defer to Presbytery’s judgment, unless there is a finding of “clear error” (BCO 39-3(3)). Nothing in the Record supports such a finding. Presbytery exercised its jurisdiction with respect to the theological questions at issue. In fact, Presbytery had previously adopted a statement condemning the very heterodox doctrines alleged to be found in TE Moon’s statements. Presbytery found TE Moon’s defense of his views to be credible. One may suspect that TE Moon is guilty; one may even be privately persuaded that he is guilty; but apart from a showing of clear error on the part of SLP in the Record, this Court must defer to the judgment of Presbytery.

The Summary of the Facts was written by Grover Gunn and David Coffin. The Statement of the Issues and Judgment were written by David Coffin. The Reasoning and Opinion was written by David Coffin, with amendments from the full SJC.