I've had a number of people ask me to provide additional details regarding our departure from St. Peter Presbyterian Church. Suffice it to say we had some differences of opinion with the St. Peter church Session over what qualifies as pastoral conduct, and how far a pastor's jurisdiction extends over other men's families, including my own.
At this juncture I prefer to not go into details and will only offer some general comments regarding what is already widely known through various internet sources (any resourceful person can find the particulars for themselves on the internet, especially on the blogs, so please don't ask me to provide you with links).
What is already commonly known is that at least one of the reasons the Kershaws transferred out of St. Peter Presbyterian Church is because of the manner in which the Session "disciplined" the John Austin family. If the Austins could be censured and threatened with excommunication, and the entire family (including children) shunned over a minor doctrinal difference of opinion, even though there was no biblical justification, and even though the RPCGA BCO could never authorize such "discipline," I knew that it was only a matter of time before I too would be subjected to the St. Peter Session's "discipline." For the spiritual health and well-being of my family we had no choice but to get out, and get out as fast as possible.
I'm pleased to say that we were immediately welcomed into another Reformed Presbyterian church in the area, and that the pastor has been very pastoral toward me and my family. Other former St. Peter members are also members there. That church isn't likely to be a permanent home for us. However, even though it may be just temporary, we're grateful to our new pastor and our new friends, for their Christian compassion. Their kindness has helped us immeasurably in getting through this difficult time.
The ecclesiastical tyrannies perpetrated against the John Austin family are just the tip of the iceburg behind why we had to leave St. Peter Presbyterian Church. Though not widely known, that pattern of abuse has actually been taking place for a number of years. Several other former St. Peter members have recently written the Presbytery giving detailed personal accounts of their traumatic experiences under the heavy hand of the St. Peter Session. Their accounts closely parallel the abuses suffered by the Austins. In at least two separate written testimonials the magnitude of the St. Peter Session's ecclesiastical tyranny is even far more problematic, particularly in terms of potential legal consequences, than it was in the Austin case.
Perhaps at some point I will be able to provide considerably greater detail. However, because I have filed a number of grievances against the members of the St. Peter Session to the Westminster Presbytery of the RPCGA, it would be problematic to make detailed public disclosures over those matters, at least until such time as Presbytery renders a verdict (at present the Presbytery is investigating the charges and will soon set a date for trial). Whatever I do say at that time I trust can be gracious. Moreover, I trust that the verdict of Westminster Presbytery will speak for itself in conclusiveness and render any comments of my own redundant.
However, at this juncture there isn't much I can or should add, other than what follows, and what follows deals with the issue of the sometimes rather heated discussion now taking place on the internet regarding R.C. Sproul Jr and the Session of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church. The St. Peter Session would much prefer things be kept private, which is quite understandable. Others believe that the nature of the offenses committed by the St. Peter Session warrants public exposure, discussion and debate. What follows are some factors to consider in reaching your own determination in the matter.
R.C. Sproul Jr is a controversial man. That never troubled me because I too am known as being a bit controversial. However, I believe that it's possible to be controversial and yet not make a habit of offending people. I believe that it's possible to be controversial without being proud about it. Certainly, one should never take pride or delight in infuriating their audience.
R.C. Sproul Jr takes pride in the fact that he has offended many, and has even made a number of enemies over the years. From time to time some of R.C. Sproul Jr.'s adversaries vent publicly against him. That would be nothing new. However his treatment of the Austin family has provided considerable new incentive for bloggers and grist for the blog mill.
Now it would seem that there's even just that much greater degree of venting currently taking place against R.C. Sproul Jr, and much of it is over his ordering the shunning of the John Austin family by St. Peter Presbyterian Church.
R.C. Sproul Jr has outraged many people over the years through his squiblog and articles in Every Thought Captive. He's even publicly slandered a number of people through his Open Letters. Two former St. Peter members have recently filed grievance letters to Presbytery over R.C. Sproul Jr.'s public slanders against them in Every Thought Captive. Since the folks that R.C. Sproul Jr. publicly slanders aren't his supporters anyway, and since no one to date has sued him for libel, he's probably come to believe that he's had little cause for concern for exercising such unpastoral conduct. To date R.C. has been lucky that he hasn't been sued, but that luck will eventually run out. 1 Corinthians 6 is not intended to be a license to violate the Ninth Commandment.
Not only has R.C. Sproul Jr. made enemies of former St. Peter members, it would seem that he also has some disaffected current St. Peter members. In an effort to assist the Austins, former St. Peter Presbyterian Church member Rick Saenz posted "the Austin letters" on his Cumberland Books web site. However, Mr. Saenz posted no links to that specific page. The only people who were informed of that page, and the only people who would have known how to find it, were St. Peter members, and it was, therefore, from one of those St. Peter members that the source of a "leak" originated.
Now that "the Austin letters" have been leaked to the public there has been a great deal of internet chatter about it. Every day people send me emails with links to new blog discussions. Some of it may be healthy, but a great deal of it probably is not. While I can appreciate people's frustrations, for my part I would much prefer first having Westminster Presbytery adjudge the matter. After that has happened then let the court of public opinion be called into session.
On the other hand, I can see a valid basis for the concerns that some people have about feeling obligated to shine some light on the St. Peter situation. Some of the concerns being aired appear to be from one or more current St. Peter members, likely posting under aliases. There are yet others who say they have visited St. Peter Presbyterian Church, and have witnessed first-hand things that have troubled them, are also posting their comments and concerns.
Several St. Peter members have argued that it is inappropriate for anyone to be publicly discussing the problems of their church, whether it be discussion by their own members, or former members, and particularly outsiders. Perhaps so.
Certainly, it could be argued that the St. Peter Session needs to be given first opportunity to correct its transgressions. I quite agree, which is precisely why only one of the three letters that I prepared, detailing a litany of very serious allegations against the St. Peter Session, and in particular against R.C. Sproul, Jr., was made available to St. Peter members -- specifically "the Austin letter." The other two letters chronicle even far more serious allegations. However, since they are transgressions that are unknown to any current St. Peter members (several former members are quite aware and, in fact, left St. Peter over those very issues), I deemed it appropriate to give the St. Peter Session the first opportunity to resolve them. However, for the sake of accountability, I did cc all three letters to the Presbytery.
All of this I did prior to being released from membership at St. Peter Presbyterian Church. As such, the risk of me coming under the discipline of the St. Peter Session was extremely high. Such risks I took very seriously. Some have alleged that there couldn't be any basis to the written allegations that I made against R.C. Sproul Jr, Laurence Windham, Wayne Hays, and Jay Barfield, which I preferred to Presbytery, and this in spite of the fact that such detractors have never even seen my written allegations. Some have alleged the same regarding the only written allegations that they have seen -- "the Austin letter." However, if there had been no basis for my allegations, both what they have seen and what they haven't seen, and were I not to have had the requisite two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:19), why didn't R.C. Sproul Jr. immediately charge me with slander and contumacy? If the allegations were baseless that's what he could have, should have and, I can assure everyone, that's exactly what he would have done. Instead, he released me from membership in St. Peter Presbyterian Church, and he did so in record time. That, in and of itself, should speak volumes to my detractors. Those matters are now in the hands of the Presbytery to adjudge.
The principle to be employed, as it applies to Elders, is a biblical one: Private sins should be confronted and dealt with privately, and if the sin is genuinely repented of, the matter must remain private. Public sins should be confronted and dealt with on the same scale as the knowledge and effect of the sin has spread.
In my estimation, the St. Peter Session handled very poorly its "repentance" to the Austins. Furthermore, the shunning does not seem to have in any way abated. The alleged "repentance" on the part of the Session has had little or no practical effect. While the Session claims that it has "repented," the St. Peter Session has yet to formally revoke its shun order and restore fellowship with the Austins. One can only suppose that if repentance were being biblically modeled there would be some evidence of it. As such, it should be no surprise to anyone that the shunning of the Austins has become the subject of so much public debate. That indeed is most regrettable, not only for St. Peter Presbyterian Church, but also for the Austins. Public debate is not the desire of the Austin family, nor is it my desire. What we all desire is healing and reconciliation with every St. Peter family.
This morning I was directed to a blog where a lady made the following argument regarding whether or not it was appropriate to be publicly discussing R.C. Sproul, Jr. and the problems at St. Peter Presbyterian Church:
- "What if you knew someone who was accused of sexual abuse toward a child? Would you have the same wait and see attitude? Would you still support that person, even in the face of testimony in a church court, until you had heard from the accused? Or would you act to protect and then wait for an explanation? You see, people get all would up about sexual abuse, as well they should, but they don’t take seriously spiritual abuse, which as far, far graver consequences."
I find such a comment alarming, even a bit over the top, but it does make the point. Had the Austins known R.C. Sproul, Jr.'s propensity for "spiritual abuse" (as the above blog commenter terms it), I doubt they would have ever moved to Bristol. Likewise, the Kershaws would have never moved to Bristol either. There's no question but that we would have appreciated someone giving us fair warning. Moreover, the St. Peter Session has a moral obligation to provide full disclosure to prospective members.
A blogger at another site makes that very point, and argues that, given that R.C. Sproul Jr. is such a public figure, and given the extent of his following and his influence, it's unrealistic for him to expect that his church problems, such as the Austin debacle will, or even should, remain private:
- "Dr. Sproul is not just some small town local pastor. He is an author, a man with a huge following, someone who is endorsed by others, such as Doug Phillips at Vision Forum, who has literally millions of people who hang on his every word. Dr. Sproul is a keynote speaker at homeschooling conferences where there are families who hear him speak and who pattern their lives and those of their children after him. As I admonished him last spring when I addressed his views of women bloggers, he is in the same situation as Peter Parker (Spider Man), with much power comes much responsibility. There are quite a few people who, like Sallie and David, have considered or are considering a move to Bristol. The Austins had listened to the Basement Tapes and made a 3000 mile move with their family only to end up disillusioned and shunned. Shouldn’t others who are also desiring to make a move there be warned?"
That concern appears to be the major motivation behind why so many people are currently blogging about R.C. Sproul Jr and Saint Peter Presbyterian Church. Should people who are contemplating a move to Bristol to join St. Peter Presbyterian Church, or even people who want to make just a brief visit to St. Peter, be warned, even prior to Westminster Presbytery rendering a judgment against the St. Peter Session? There are valid arguments both pro and con.
Perhaps a "let's wait and see" approach would be in everyone's best interests, and would demonstrate a willingness to not judge and condemn the St. Peter Session, prior to Presbytery's verdict being handed down. If you feel it necessary to warn friends, I'd like to suggest that you warn them only to "wait and see."
For my part I eagerly await the Presbytery's verdict. But how well I know the challenge of being patient while Presbytery sorts it all out.