In many church discipline situations, the pastor is privy to specific details that are not shared with the congregation. I believe this to be appropriate and would support my pastor in conducting church discipline in this private manner. However, this support is contingent upon the idea that sufficient details have been shared. The congregation can only make an informed decision regarding a member’s conduct and subsequent restoration or removal if sufficient information is given.
If my pastor brought a young man before our congregation, and the young man confessed to theft, I would hope the response (and requirements) would be different if the theft was of $10 from a friend’s wallet or the violent armed robbery of a bank. I would also hope that my pastor understands that — while he needn’t share all of the gory details — indicating the level of the offense to the congregation is vital to our decision-making process.
Relate this to the recent brouhaha involving Chuck Phelps and Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, NH. (If you are unfamiliar with the case, this article provides the most complete list of allegations that I’ve found.) Apparently Ernest Willis was brought before the church, and he confessed to unfaithfulness to his wife. The church then voted to forgive Willis and allow him to maintain his membership. (I was not an eye-witness, but members of the congregation who were present have related these events.)
Chuck Phelps says he reported the incident to both the Concord Police and to the Department of Children and Youth Services. My question is: What exactly did Phelps report to them? After all, he performed church discipline on Willis for unfaithfulness without also mentioning to his congregation that the unfaithfulness occurred during the course of two rapes of a 15 year-old girl. Given this, I’m not inclined to think that he was entirely forthcoming when he reported the incident to the authorities.
And THAT, my friends, is one of the reasons many think that Chuck Phelps holds some responsibility for Tina Anderson’s continued victimization. If Phelps minimized the crime to the authorities, then he did not seek justice for her as he should have as her shepherd. When a wolf named Willis injured one of Phelps’ flock, Phelps sent the injured lamb away and allowed the wolf to remain in the fold.
That’s just poor shepherding. (At best.)