There appears to still be a lot of controversy surrounding George’s excommunication, even in 2008. My understanding of this controversy revolves around the perception of the question, “Was George’s excommunication fair and scriptural?” In my opinion, the elders in Fullerton treated George more than fairly; and I have a very hard time believing that others think that George wasn’t treated in a scriptural manner. I can’t figure out where they are coming from. I wonder if it would help them to compare George’s own excommunication to another similar situation, except in this case George himself was the one counseling and guiding the disciplinary action.
In 1979, when the Ottawa Assembly was only a few months old, we were listening to tape ministry. I don’t remember what the series was called. However, I clearly remember George saying that if you are aware of sin in the life of an elder or someone in a position of leadership, you have a responsibility before God to make it known. He explained that for the sake of the Lord’s people, to keep them from being stumbled, sin must be dealt with and removed from the leadership.
This really convicted my heart, as I had been sexually molested by an elder in the Brethren church that I had previously attended. This elder was also a very close family friend, whom I had loved, trusted and respected since I was an infant. The first person I told was Armand, who then talked to George. George advised and guided us each step of the way in bringing this sin to the attention of the other elders in that church.
George and Armand both knew that the sexual molestation had been committed privately, with no other witnesses to the sinful act. It was definitely a case of my word against his. Yet through out the whole ordeal, George and Armand believed me and supported me. George counseled Armand to support me in whatever way I needed, which he did. As the time drew near to talk to the elders, I was scared stiff. Armand met with me once a week to discuss the situation and to pray with me.
Since my Dad was an elder in another Brethren church, George counseled me to talk to my parents and let my Dad be the one to interface with the other elders. I did this, and both my Dad and my Mom were wholly and completely supportive of me over the next difficult months. Dad was willing to interface with the other elders on my behalf. The argument that came back from the other elders was that I needed to follow the instructions in Matthew 18, and talk privately with this abusive elder first.
George strongly advised against this step. He was adamant that we needed to follow the instructions of I Tim 5:19&20, which state: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest may be fearful of sinning.”
George explained that the “two or three witnesses” was not referring to ones that had witnessed the sinful act, but that “two or three witnesses” were required to be present if an accusation is to be made against an elder. George strongly believed that this needed to be the starting point for two reasons:
1) This man is an elder; therefore, any meeting must have others present.
2) The sin that was committed was sexual molesting. Since meeting privately would further traumatize the offended one (the victim), this step needs to be avoided. Therefore, any meeting must have others present.
It took approximately four months to bring about the actual meeting with witnesses present. The abusive elder kept insisting he would only agree to a meeting with me in private. With George and Armand’s strong support, and with the Lord’s enabling strength, I stood my ground and refused to meet privately, insisting on a meeting with witnesses present. George counseled that if the abusive elder continued to refuse to meet, then the sin needs to be told to the church; and if he still refuses to repent, he needs to be excommunicated. Refusing to meet in order for the sin to be addressed does not prevent the elders from disciplining him.
After I presented this direction to the elders, I got a lot of pressure from my parents and from the other elders to just drop the issue. There argument was that since I had already left this church, it didn’t really matter. They did not like the box in which they found themselves. I argued in response that this man was in the position of an elder, and that the Lord’s people could be stumbled if his sin is not addressed. Also, I had a responsibility before God to make the sin known and to work together with others for the purposes of repentance and reconciliation.
Finally, after about four months, the meeting was finally arranged. We met in my living room and sat in a circle. My Dad and my Mom sat on either side of me giving me emotional support. Then there was the abusive elder and his wife. My Dad had insisted that the man’s wife be present, because he had violated his marriage vows. Then there were two of the other elders present.
The abusive elder contradicted himself constantly, with even his wife catching him in the middle of a contradiction. He refused to acknowledge his sin and he definitely did not repent. The two elders present went back and reported to the elders that had not been there. Then, the discipline action they decided on was to remove this man from being an elder. However, they still allowed him to preach and to break bread.
When George learned of this disciplinary decision, he stated that the discipline should have progressed to the sin being told to the church; and if the man still didn’t repent, he should have been excommunicated. George mocked and ridiculed their weakness to deal with the sin, and their lack of backbone to excommunicate him.
So, I have to conclude that George’s own excommunication was done scripturally and fairly. Any other conclusion would mean there are one set of standards for George and another set of standards for everyone else.