Who's Right? Who's Wrong? (Response to Valerie Hobbs: Pt. 3)

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. 

Proverbs 18:17

There must be two sides to every story
And who's to say who's right and who is wrong

                                                    Willie Nelson 
 The Babe and the Curmudgeon

One side of a story. With Serving the Status Quo, we have come, God be praised, to the last of three posts by Dr. Valerie Hobbs regarding a woman named Jessica Fore. Ms. Fore and Dr. Hobbs believe Ms. Fore has experienced two kinds of abuse, domestic and ecclesial. Ms. Fore separated from her husband whom she considered abusive. We do not know what kind of abuse Ms. Fore believes she suffered. We know only that Dr. Hobbs has told us of Ms. Fore's allegation and what followed. 

Nor have we heard this story from other vantage points. What would be Mr. Fore's story? The Pastor of the church's story?The Session of the church's story? The Clerk of the Presbytery's story? The Shepherding Committee's story? The Presbytery's story? 

If Ms. Fore were writing a book, the title could be My Story as Told to and by Valerie Hobbs. I don't know who Ms. Fore is, of what church she is a member, who is her Pastor, of what Presbytery her church is a member, the name of the Clerk against whom she has grievances, or anything else. All I know, and most readers know, is limited to the three posts at The Aquila Report by Dr. Hobbs in which she told us of Ms. Fore and her experience.

We know one side of a many-sided story.

Judicial Process. Because of Ms. Fore's separation from her husband and her refusal to accept the church's counsel that she reconcile with her husband, her church removed her from her position as a "worship leader." In my opinion this should have been the end of the story so far as her "position" was concerned. She took an action, separating from her husband, which she had the legal right to do. The church judged this to be unacceptable conduct on the part of a "worship leader." The church, as was its ecclesial and legal right, removed her (or, as Dr. Hobbs put it, "fired her") from the position in which she had served. The church had no way to compel her to return to her husband. She had no right to try to compel the Pastor and Session to restore her to her position as "worship leader." (If one reads Dr. Hobbs's original post, it appears that at some point Ms. Fore was excluded from a small group "without due process." This is, to put it mildly, confusing, raising questions about whether participation in a small group is a church member's right and if "process" is required to remove such member.) With regard to the "worship leader position" her removal should have been the end of the story. 

But that was not the end of the story. At that point in various ways the PCA Book of Church Order kicked in. In almost every case the implementation of the procedures and processes of Book of Church Order, involving charges, testimony, trial, sanctions, and complaints means the situation is unlikely to be resolved pastorally. Relationally, it's almost bound to get worse. The Session (board of elders) disciplined her, she and the Clerk of the Presbytery clashed, and she submitted two complaints to the Presbytery. Along the way Ms. Fore has been advised by Dr. Hobbs and others. 

One thing that should be noted about the PCA and some other presbyterian churches is that they term their governing bodies "courts." There is a positive historical reason for this. They are called courts because they are not legislative bodies, but judicial bodies. They do not make law; they declare and administer the law of Christ as it is found in his Word, the authoritative interpretation of which is the denomination's Confession of Faith and Catechisms. This is supposed to restrict the authority of the church to make pronouncements and rules that limit the freedom of the consciences of its members.

However, calling the governing bodies of the church "courts" tends to put the focus on their judicial functions and in some cases to cause the body to rush to judicial procedures to resolve problems. When that happens, the possibilities of pastoral solutions greatly decrease, while the likelihood of judicial solutions greatly increases. Once problems get wrapped around the wheel of judicial procedures, they are all but impossible to untangle. 

At the last General Assembly the Presbytery was cited by the Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records as not having properly handled Ms. Fore's complaints, so presumably the Presbytery will hear the complaints again and dispose of them according to the procedures prescribed in the Presbyterian Church in America's Book of Church Order. That is about the best one can hope for now. But, so much has happened, that it is impossible to imagine, apart from an unusual work of God's grace, for the broken relationships to be restored, deep hurts to be healed, and the pastoral care (remember the "pastor" is a "shepherd" which implies both care and leadership) of Ms. Fore to be re-established in the congregation where this whole mess started.

It seems that this is not what Ms. Fore wants now. What she wants is vindication, acknowledgement that she has been wronged and is in the right. Perhaps she will get what she wants. But, it might be helpful for her to hear from some of us that sometimes, when we have thought ourselves in the right, we have been in the wrong. That sometimes, when we have thought ourselves entirely right, we have been partly in the right and partly in the wrong. And sometimes we have, so far as we can see, been entirely or substantially in the right and suffered wrongs within the church inflicted by fellow Christians, and that these show no signs of being put right in this world. The church and Christians, though redeemed by Christ, remain fallen.

What if? Not infrequently, when it comes to a woman's difficulties, the question comes, "What if she were a man?" If a woman with five children is not hired for a position, the question may come, "What if she had been a man with five children?" 

I'd like to turn the question around regarding how the church initially responded to Ms. Fore's separation from her husband. She was removed from her position of leadership in worship. What if there had been a man who led in worship? Without taking up with another woman or alleging adultery on the part of his wife, the man says he "can't take it anymore" and moves out? Soon the state of his marriage is a matter of public knowledge within the church. After consulting with the elders, the pastor goes to the man and says, "We think it is best for the church and its worship that you not to continue in your leadership role while you are separated from your wife. We want to talk with you both, understand the circumstances of your marriage from both perspectives, and, if appropriate, arrange for marriage counseling." Would anyone consider it unjust or unreasonable for the man to be removed from leadership in worship? I expect that almost anyone who has, as a Senior Pastor, been responsible for paid and volunteer staff has faced such delicate situations.

Behavior. In the evolution of the case, Ms. Fore has done some things that can only be termed bizarre. I don't mind using Dr. Hobb's word "deviant" to describe the conduct. Mrs. Fore  painted words she alleges the Presbytery Clerk had used on a dress and wore it to Presbytery. She made a sign that said "Justice Not Abuse," took it to church, and placed it in front of her. 

As I understand it, Dr. Hobbs thinks our response to such behavior should be to ask ourselves, "What kind of hurt is it - and how deep it must be - that would lead a woman to paint words and a dress and wear it to a Presbytery meeting or lead to her making a sign and placing it in front of her in worship?" 

Again, I would ask, what if the person were a male - let's say a minister? Suppose he is not guilty of any heresy, dereliction, or immorality, but he loses the approbation of some of his elders and important members of congregation. The Presbytery's shepherding committee gets involved and advises him to resign (they almost always do). Believing he has been called to that charge, he does not. But a congregational meeting is called, and by a narrow majority the congregation votes to retain him. The shepherding committee brings the matter before Presbytery and recommends that, because of the tenuousness of the  situation in the church, the pastoral relation be dissolved. The Presbytery concurs.

The minister continues on the role of Presbytery without call, and he feels wronged, aggrieved, and isolated. So he takes a white dress shirt and, using a laundry pen, writes on the shirt the slanderous things that have been said about him by elders, church members, and some fellow presbyters on the shepherding committee. He wears the shirt to Presbytery. He also starts bringing a sign to Presbytery which says "Vindication Not Condemnation for Faithful Servants"? Is it possible that he is in the right or at least substantially in the right, having not done or failed to do anything that would justify his removal? Suppose he has been ground down by congregational and presbytery politic. Suppose he and his family are deeply hurt and scarred. 

Let me ask: Does anyone consider his wearing the shirt and carrying the sign to be normal behavior? Are any, even friends, going to say of him, "How much pain he must be in"? Perhaps those who know him well and love him will sympathize, but even his friends will take him aside and sympathetically counsel that he not continue to wear the shirt and carry the sign. If they believe it could help, they might without condescension suggest he see a medical doctor and perhaps a therapist. But, it is unlikely even the most sympathetic ally will consider such behavior indication of a healthy psychological/emotional/physical state. And it is certain that such behavior will not result in redress of his grievances.  

Dr. Hobbs. Who is Dr. Valerie Hobbs and what is the perspective from which she writes and analyzes the case of Ms. Fore? As I pointed out in my response to her first post:
On her University of Sheffield page she writes: "My primary research at present focuses on the discourse of conservative evangelical Christians, particularly the ways in which members of this community talk about gender roles..."
Dr. Hobbs is an academic, teaching at both a secular university and a theological institute. Her training is in linguistic analysis from a feminist perspective. She brings this with her not only to her academic work but also to her analyses of the dynamics of conservative presbyterian church courts (which are all male bodies) and of male-female interactions within the church, particularly in light of what she perceives as the privileges and powers of males in relation to women whom she sees as marginalized and disadvantaged within conservative evangelical bodies. You may have noted how Dr. Hobbs offered her expertise to the Presbytery of which Ms. Fore's church is a member:
After it became clear that the shepherding committee would not hear Jessica’s complaint against the clerk, I suggested to Jessica that I send them an analysis of her conversation with the clerk. I hoped to impress on them the magnitude of his violation of her and the paltry nature of his response. I sent my letter and analysis in early January, 2016, after which the chair duly thanked me for my ‘unbiased opinion of the event.’ 
How might such analysis look? I will run the risk of quoting from my first response to Dr. Hobbs's first post, where I quote myself from an earlier Blog in which I made some observations regarding Dr. Hobbs's report of her attendance at an OPC Presbytery's trial of a minister:
There is something about Dr. Hobbs' paper that I noted in my first reading and have in every reading since that gives me concern...My concern is the academic framework that seems (to me clearly) to influence both her thoughts and her vocabulary... It appears that she is influenced to some (significant) degree by feminist scholarship in the fields of language and sociology. A few quotes taken from three sections of the article will show why I have this concern. She writes: 
I am a linguist at the University of Sheffield, and so my interest was academic to some extent. For several years, I have been researching the kinds of language used by Reformed Christians to characterize women and their roles in the home, church, and society. As this trial involves not just the defendant but also his wife, I attended to observe the kinds of language used to speak about the defendant’s wife. (Emphasis added by me indicated by bold print in quotes.) 
What I aim to show in this report is that central to the trial itself and to my experiences therein are the repeated denial of a woman’s physical self and the elevation of her spiritual, domestic, idealized self. 
... this Presbyter’s questions and behavior were, in my opinion, founded on the assumption that since my physical presence was neither domestic nor docile, it was unacceptable.
It is of no little importance to remember as we read Dr. Hobbs's three posts the person who is writing, her academic training, and her life perspective. We are reading the well-intentioned report by a Christian-evangelical-reformed feminist of the experience of Ms. Fore in her marriage, her PCA church, and her church's PCA Presbytery. Furthermore, should we suppose that Dr. Hobbs is not a feminist, we are still left with the bottom line that all we know about this case of which Dr. Hobbs makes so much is what she tells us in three posts. 

But since Dr. Hobbs practises linguistic analysis and has a particular interest in the ways that "conservative evangelical Christians" talk about "gender roles," and "Reformed Christians...characterize women and their roles in the home, church, and society," it might be of interest to members of these groups to know how she analyzes the ways that Apostles spoke about gender roles and whether conservative evangelicals and the Reformed have rightly understood the ways the Apostles wrote. What of the Apostolic teaching regarding man/husband and woman/wife in the church?
For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man (1 Cor. 11:9).
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church (1 Cor.14:33-35). 
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Tim. 2:11-14).
What of the Apostolic teaching regarding wives in relation to their husbands?
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands...However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband  (Eph. 5:22-24, 33).
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (3:1-6).
And, since the case of Ms. Fore touches on separation and perhaps divorce, what of the teaching of our the Apostle and our Lord?
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.  If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.  But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Cor. 7:1-16)
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Mt. 19:3-9). 
And, inasmuch as Ms. Fore is a member of a presbyterian church is it worth asking how Dr. Hobbs analyzes the language of the Confession of Faith:
Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God has joined together in marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their own case.
I ask but two questions, though I acknowledge they are difficult and complicated. (1) What do these texts mean? (2) What use should the church make of them?

To Go or to Stay? Dr. Hobbs addresses both the advice given by some and the legitimate question some would ask: Why has not and why does not Ms. Fore leave and go to another church? After all this is America. Church membership is voluntary. While churches have a right to receive or reject members who wish to join, they have no power, save spiritual (which most consider to be of none effect), to retain members. Why in this five year ordeal has Ms. Fore not moved on to another church? As noted above, what is her reason for staying? Apparently, she desires vindication. But, what if in the reconsideration of her complaints, she is vindicated by the Presbytery? Does she intend to return to the congregation where all this began and place herself under the preaching and pastoral care of the Pastor and Session? Perhaps she does. But, I have trouble envisioning it. 

Perhaps she has in mind that, though she will not return and submit to that church, it will be good for the Presbytery and the church to acknowledge their wrong and make such repentance as they can. Otherwise, it is hard to see the point of it all. It begins to look like vindictiveness rather than a quest for vindication.

I have from time to time experienced hard things at the hands of the brethren and have moved on. You move past, but you don't get over those things. However, there came a point at which, not with regard to myself but another, I saw what I believed then and am certain now was a grave mal-use and injustice in the disciplinary processes of the one Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. I made use of the avenues available to me for the reversal of that wrong, but, when the process came to an end and the decision was confirmed by the General Assembly, and I continued to be certain that injustice had been done, and that I could no longer trust or entrust myself to the politics and processes of that system, I availed myself of an avenue open to me. I had come to love worship according to the Book of Common Prayer. I encountered a mainline Episcopal priest who gave damn about me, while my wife received no care from the pastor of the church she attended. I made contact with my old friend from college days, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Morse, a Bishop in the Reformed Episcopal Church. He was willing to receive me - warts and all - into his Diocese. So I got two blessings for the price of one - I exchanged the chaotic worship of the Presbyterian Church in American for the Prayer Book worship of the Reformed Episcopal Church and the judicial government of the PCA for the pastoral government exercised by the Bishops of the REC. 

Thanks be to God. 

As I write I am in Europe. The other day we had an experience which allowed me
Boatman and Victim, "Honey"
the opportunity to practise Dr. Hobbs's linguistic analysis. We took a boat ride through the canals in Bruge, Belgium, and when the trip ended the boatman climbed up on the dock, and, when she was ready to get off the boat, he took my wife, Susan's, hand and said, "Take your time, honey." Here is the analysis: Taking her hand. (assuming she would need, allow, and welcome his action and in the process taking control of her as she exited the boat). "Take you time" (assuming that she might need more time than a man and that she needed his permission to take her time), "honey" (demeaning word for a woman and familiarity not based on an existing relationship between them). This stuff is not hard if you know the code. I should thank my college philosophy professor who taught language analysis courses, my seminary professors who taught me exegesis, and, Dr. Hobbs for the update.

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