17 May GS 2001 art 71
GS 2001 Article 71 – Appeal from br. and sr. S. Hofford, et al.
In closed session, Committee 3 presented its proposal on the appeal of br. and sr. S. Hofford, et al. The following was adopted.
The appeal from brother and sister Steve and Christine Hofford et al is declared admissible because it is an appeal against a decision of Regional Synod East of November 10-12,1999.
- 2.1. The appellants believe Regional Synod East of November 10-12, 1999, wronged them when it upheld the decision by a Classis Ontario South to give approbation to the request of Grand Rapids to release Rev. B. R. Hofford according to CO Article 11.
- 2.2. The appellants are of the opinion that if the allegations are true, then the use of CO Article 71 was the only way to deal with Rev. B. R. Hofford.
- 2.3. The appellants believe that the broader assemblies took upon themselves the discretionary power to decide whether or not the allegations in the letter of Consistory dated March 2, 1999 were going to be taken seriously. The appellants point out that instead of dealing with all the allegations, the two broader assemblies considered the root causes of the difficulties.
- 2.4. The appellants state as their primary concern that “whether or not the consistory itself was seeking to pursue discipline via Article 71, Classis was obligated to refuse approbation of Article 11 because the allegations and allusions of sin were present in the case.”
- 2.5. The appellants refer to a statement by Regional Synod that “… this does not mean that every allegation and allusion is correct.” The appellants express amazement about this, saying, “Not only does Regional Synod legitimize the use of allegations and allusions, they in effect say that incorrect allegations and allusions can form a basis for Article 11;they may not be true, but they are useful.”
- 2.6. The appellants state that Regional Synod is condoning an unscriptural approach to sin, for sin must be dealt with by means of church discipline to produce repentance and forgiveness (and, in the case of a minister, perhaps the use of CO Article 71), or excommunication.” Thus, the appellants state that it is important to know, “whether or not the allusions and allegations were correct so that proper measures could then follow.” Further they state that what Regional Synod has done is an abuse of Article 11.
- 2.7. The appellants state that, “By upholding Classis’ approbation of Article 11, Regional Synod has created a number of contradictory and distressing circumstances, such as: a) a minister stands publicly accused of sin while yet remaining eligible for call, b) congregation members are asked to submit to a consistory which they believe indulges in slanderous allegations, c) unresolved substantive issues remain that continue to fester in the local congregation and in the federation at large (as some members leave to attend other sister churches).”
- 2.8. The appellants request Synod to find that, “Regional Synod erred in upholding the decision of Classis to approbate Article 11 in the Grand Rapids/ Hofford case. They also request, “that Synod recommend that the consistory at Grand Rapids either publicly retract the letter of March 2, 1999 in which the allegations and accusations of sin are made; or, if the Grand Rapids consistory insists on maintaining the accuracy and legitimacy of those allegations and accusations, that they deal properly with them in accordance with the requirements of the Church Order.”
- 3.1. One of the objections of the appellants is that the broader assemblies did not verify the accuracy of the accusations and allusions found in Grand Rapids’ letter of March 2. It should be noted that Classis Ontario South of May 26-27, 1999 said in its first consideration, “The church visitors concluded, ‘the consistory might be pointing at some things said and done by the minister that could be identified as sinful, yet this is not a case that calls for church discipline. At the root is the inability of the minister and the consistory to work together for the building up of the congregation because of the widely different approach on a number of points that has left the Church at Grand Rapids with insoluble difficulties’” (Church Visitation Report of April 21, 1999).This is not a matter of ignoring the “accusations and allegations” of the consistory. Both the church visitors and Classis considered these accusations and allegations and drew their conclusions. Considerations 1a, 1b, and 1c of Classis demonstrate that there was an examination of the basic problems in Grand Rapids. It was on the basis of these Considerations that the church visitors and Classis came to the conclusion, which was to recognize the inability of the minister and the consistory to work together for building up the congregation. It should also be noted that the appellants in their appeal to Regional Synod did not raise the point that Classis did not deal with the matter of the accusations and allegations seriously. Thus it is not valid to say that the broader assemblies did not deal with the accusations and allegations seriously.
- 3.2. The appellants make the point that since “allegations and accusations of sin were present in the case,” therefore Article 11 should not have been used. Instead, only CO Article 71 applies. Again, we refer to the first consideration of Classis Ontario South mentioned above in 3.1.The report of the church visitors, with which the Classis is in agreement, points out that some things done by the minister might be identified as sinful, yet are not a cause for church discipline. When one looks at all the material submitted by the appellants, it becomes clear that the things of which Rev. B.R. Hofford was accused arose from a situation and relationship between the minister and consistory which had ceased to function. In a situation where an act of sin by the minister is the root of the problem, then it becomes clear that CO Article 71 applies. But when certain sinful things are said and done by a minister when a relationship between the minister and his consistory becomes strained, that does not necessarily imply that the course of action switches from CO Article 11 to CO Article 71. Thus, the allegations and accusations by the consistory of Grand Rapids underscore the point that, as Regional Synod says in Consideration 2,“these allusions and allegations were understood to illustrate their inability to work fruitfully with Rev. B.R. Hofford.” This clearly leads to Article 11.
- 3.3. The appellants also refer to a statement by Regional Synod that follows the quotation found at the end of Consideration 2 of Regional Synod, “this does not mean that every allegation and allusion is correct (see response to appeal 5.2.5).” The appellants express shock that incorrect allegations and allusions can form a basis for Article 11. Synod notes that within this quotation from Regional Synod which is Article 25, agenda item 5.2.6, there is a reference to another agenda item, 5.2.5. Unfortunately, the appellants did not supply us with a copy of that part of the Acts of Regional Synod. Therefore it is impossible to judge what Regional Synod was referring to here. At the same time, it is quite a jump for the appellants to go from this statement of Regional Synod to “they in effect say that incorrect allegations and allusions can form a basis for Article 11.” Again the point is this: there was a broken situation in Grand Rapids in which certain allegations and allusions were brought by the consistory against Rev. B.R. Hofford; even if some of these were not correct – for which we have no proof – this all illustrates the inability of Rev. B.R. Hofford and the Grand Rapids consistory to cooperate fruitfully any longer. Hence Article 11 is legitimately in place.
- 3.4. Based on the above, Synod cannot agree that Regional Synod has created a number of contradictory and distressing circumstances. A distressing situation started with the broken relations between consistory and Rev. B.R. Hofford. Thus consistory properly sought approbation in the use of Article 11, and both Classis and Regional Synod upheld that request.
Synod deny the appeal of br. and sr. S. Hofford et al.
The following delegates abstained from voting: Rev. A. J. Pol, Rev. Cl. Stam, Rev. G. Ph. van Popta, and Rev. J. P. VanVliet. Synod ended closed session.