I have gone back and forth whether to write anything after the Presbytery of the Southeast (PSE) trial on January 15 &16th, regarding the charges against Michael Spangler. There could be multiple motivations in doing so, and I needed time to consider what it would actually accomplish—or more accurately put, I have no expectation that it will accomplish anything. The officers of the PSE have made their ruling. I have no agency in that. I still am wondering how in the world I have gotten in such a situation, and that/if/why God would have me to follow through with it. And frankly, I am just weary. This whole process and experience with ministers and elders in Genevan Commons and with the PSE has been so devaluing: the fact that I had to publicize it for it to be addressed, that only two church officers were held accountable, the committee’s actions and report, the charges they took over and reduced, the trial, the contempt they had for me there, to this outcome. The message they sent was clear.
After reporting on the way this has been handled, an internationally known expert on abuse reached out to me saying that I am under gross spiritual abuse, and that is putting it mildly. This is my motivation in writing about it, the underlying question that needs to be in the forefront: what message has the church sent to any woman who speaks truth and looks to the officers in the OPC for help?
This is a plea for reform that has little hope behind it. And yet I feel compelled to use the voice that I do have to say what is painfully obvious to me. Sure, this is about justice; but it is about more than that. A few questions that arise reveal that what is really needed is reform:
- Why do I need to ask for justice?
- What theology about men and women is being taught, promoted, or tolerated by officers in Reformed denominations?
- How important are the qualifications for elders and preachers?
- How do those in power respond to the vulnerable?
- How are victims impacted by the decisions and process of the system?
Here is a brief update. You can read here, here, and here to get more details about how we got to this:
Charge #1 against Mr. Spangler is for offenses against his brothers, for “sowing discord in the church by publicly disparaging the governance of the Presbytery.” In the charge, it notes that he violated the 5th commandment. The specification was the letter that Mr. Spangler and Mr. Anderson wrote to the congregants of their church, written about in my last update.
Charge #2 against Mr. Spangler is for his offense against me and Rachel Miller (reduced from the original charges which included the names of others, particularly absent was Valerie Hobbs, the third named woman in the “feminist army” that Spangler called out) for “publicly reviling and detracting from the good names of Mrs. Aimee Byrd & Mrs. Rachel Miller.” In this charge, it was noted that he violated the 9th commandment. The specification reduced the years of reviling, the harassment, the plotting, the sermons, and the 5 articles written against me and others to merely two words which Spangler wrote: “ruthless wolves.” That’s it. They had piles of evidence of abuse. That sets the course of the trial.
In both charges, it stated that these offenses “seriously disturb the peace, purity, and unity of the church.”
No one overseeing the charges in the PSE reached out to the victims when forming their charges or to prepare for the trial. However, mine and Rachel Miller’s sessions were contacted and asked that they cite us as witnesses in the trial for the defense. Both of our sessions declined.
During the trial, Spangler plead guilty for charge #1. He gave an apology with his plea.
He plead not guilty for charge #2. And I was informed by several who attended the trial that my name was continuously detracted on the presbytery floor, as if I was the one on trial. There was momentum building that the real problem is me and my “teaching.” Few men objected to this (but I am thankful for those who did, against the tide). Some were actually shaken about how this is even acceptable behavior during a church trial. Reading about it is horrible enough, but being there and seeing it makes you feel the filth.
16 church officers voted “not guilty” on charge #2. 23 voted guilty. And yet, I heard that much of the consensus revealed in the speeches and testimony of the trial was that Mr. Spangler was fighting a good cause and a real danger in the church (me and my so-called feminist teaching, “the biggest evil of our time”). Many of those who voted guilty thought Mr. Spangler was right about me and Rachel Miller, but he crossed a line. This recap given by one of the officers there to his Sunday School class concurs.
Now for the censures: For charge #1, Mr. Spangler received a definite two year suspension from office for two years. His fellow brothers exhorted him to show fruits of repentance on charge #1 during his 2-year suspension.
For Charge #2, he was admonished, the mildest option of censure available—not even a rebuke, which is the second mildest out of 5 options (the others are definite suspension, indefinite suspension, and excommunication).
The difference between these censures communicates, again, who is valued in the OPC. For the last two weeks, I have been sitting in the soup of devaluation, feeling the yuck of how the PSE crushed my dignity and worth. Over and over. They continue to lob public shame on me. I am to sit in the humiliation of what is “the real problem” so they can hold on to their legitimacy. The charge includes reference to the “heinous nature of which is aggravated by Mr. Spangler’s office as a minister of the Word.” And yet I sit in the contradiction for them to call his guilt heinous and not to censure him properly. He was not only destructive to the church in charge #1. The difference is that he was destructive to people without power, the people in their care. What is heinous is that the charges were reduced to two words. What’s heinous is that my name and others can be further trashed on the presbytery floor. What’s heinous is that officers with the authority to discipline do not get at the heart of the matter. And what is heinous is that this is all done in the name of God.
Shane Anderson seems to have evaded a trial by demitting office. He has stated that he is now worshipping at a CREC church. And yet he was Michael Spangler’s counsel at the trial. And Spangler has now stated that he will be worshipping at a Free Church of Scotland Continuing church, the pastor of which participated in the Genevan Commons discussions and defended Spangler at the trial.
Michael Spangler has not appealed in the time allotted for him. So, now I guess this is all supposed to be the final word of justice. And I’m left feeling like collateral damage with the heart of the matter never even being addressed. And seeing no repentance anywhere. This isn’t merely about the offenses of Michael Spangler. This is a whole infected system. And as a friend pointed out, their procedures, their orthodoxy, didn’t fulfill the most basic of Christian duties. They missed love and therefore missed Christ. So without reform, it will continue. I feel like the clobbered bride in the night scene of the Song of Songs, seeking help from the guardians of the walls while desperately seeking to find the One whom her soul loves.
Thankfully, I learn from the bride. My eyes are on the Groom. If all of our eyes were on the Groom, we would see that Christ delights in his people. He does not shame them because he bore our shame, and our guilt. We should be able to confess our sins and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. This is core gospel stuff. We wouldn’t want to heap shame on others. We would not want to control others. We certainly wouldn’t participate or tolerate a pattern of gross spiritual abuse against others. And we could critically engage in our differences in a healthy way.
The hope that I do have is due to some officers in the OPC who have reached out, ministering to me, and wanting to be a part of change. Additionally, the signers of the Open Letter sent a strong message, calling those members of Genevan Commons involved in abusive behavior to repent, saying:
Such sins are an outrage and are extremely grievous in the sight of God. They bring shame and reproach on the church of Jesus Christ, and they encourage a culture of disrespect and derision in the very body which is to be known for its love (John 13:35). Rather than honoring women the way that Christ has honored his precious bride, these men have encouraged each other (and indirectly, the rest of the church and the world now that these words are made public) to disparage women.
As Wade Mullen teaches in his book, abuse is a community concern. But it costs to address it. I am the one paying that cost, along with the many other “wounded warriors” as Scott McKnight and Laura Barringer name it. Those who aim to be neutral need to understand that they are actively hurting Christ’s body with that decision—“People who chose to remain neutral give a safe passage to lies….Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” (Mullen, 180).
This is why I am writing.
“Because abuse breeds in secrecy, confronting it is doing the opposite of what it wants you to do: confronting abuse is seeing it when it wants you to look away, making sense of what you are facing when it wants you to accept confusion; opposing it when it wants you to remain converted; speaking when it wants you to be silent.” (Mullen, 173)
Abuse is enslaving, which is the opposite of the gospel.
So I am pleading with my denomination, asking that question directly: how do you treat women who speak truth to you? Is that a gift? Or a threat? I have done a lot of reflecting about how I want to use my voice as a victim, and how vulnerable and hard that is, while encouraging others to do the same. I’ve heard from numerous women (and men) who left the OPC because they had no support. And now their abuse cannot be formally handled, as they are no longer members in the OPC. The abusers remain. The system remains. It cost them less to leave. And yet they carry that heavy weight of devaluation and of knowing it’s happening to others.
The irony is that the whole reason I have found myself in this nighttime scene is because I tried to use my voice theologically to help the church. I was branded as dangerous. Certainly, churches need to be vigilant in guarding orthodoxy. We have our confessions of the faith that help us here. I am not saying that every opinion and teaching has equal validity. There is a difference between critique and suppression or abuse. Not critiquing errant teaching is also a sign of devaluing a person. But how do we treat those whom we disagree with within the bounds of our confessions? Do we have nothing to learn from others?
Church officers in the OPC, would you consider seeking out the wisdom of those who have suffered under your governance for training pastors and elders about the dynamics of abuse and for nurturing a culture where the vulnerable are cared for, where their stories can be told, where their voices matter, and where their dignity matters? Would you consider learning from those who see with different eyes, recognizing that your perspective may have some blind spots? Would you investigate the theology of man and woman that is being taught by your pastors and destroying the dignity and personhood of both the men and women in your churches? Would you hold abusers accountable, even when they are your friends? Would you examine the process of addressing sin, regarding how it impacts victims of abuse? Would you look at infected presbyteries—do you have a way of addressing that?
Would you acknowledge the Rizpahs of our time, keeping watch over the bodies of collateral damage from abusive power (2 Sam. 21)? Would you in a sense “sit shiva” with us? Would you join us in calling for repentance? Would you help keep the vultures away?
This whole experience with church government has been traumatic. The expert was right—it is gross spiritual abuse. I have come out worse after having sought help. And all along, I am told to trust in the process (The very slow process, which doesn’t address the heart of the matter, doesn’t care for the victims, and forces them to pick up the tab). But as one person observed, “The BCO is never what you are navigating, it’s always the whims and group dynamics of particular presbyteries made up of a pastoral guild that has no training relevant to running a court or understanding dynamics of relational trauma and how systems work to negate justice and truth….as an ecclesiology, it only recognizes power.”
We need reform.
44 thoughts on “A Plea for Reform: Observations from the Trial in the PSE”
Thank you Aimee. The treatment you, and others, have endured leaves me in tears. There is no excuse for it. It does not look like Jesus.
LikeLiked by 1 person
LikeLiked by 2 people
You need to get out of the OPC. It is no place for a woman. No good will come from it for you. Let it go. I am so sorry.
I agree, she needs to be removed from the OPC
Do you plan to stick with the OPC? Is your session supportive? It strikes me you might be happier in the CRC, where you might find yourself on the conservative side.
LikeLiked by 1 person
As an OPC member I’m angry and appalled at such egregious behavior by officers in my denomination. You have my prayers and hope that you will find the justice you have a claim to and may they even now ne convicted of your rights that they violated.
Thanks for writing this. You’re singing a song I know all too well- coming out worse after asking for help.
One lane of the problem in educating church leaders about abuse is the lingering effects of the modernist/fundamentalist controversy. One effect being a general distrust of science /psychology. Trying to teach men who have a conservative temperament and a tendency for black and white thinking is a very long uphill battle. I don’t envy those who are fighting it.
Thanks for being a terrific person.
Grieving with you. Seems like this presbytery failed to address the major issue highlighted in the screen shots and the Open Letter. At least some discipline has occurred. Hopefully more reform will take place as these matters are brought out into the light.
By the way, I hope you stay in the OPC. You have a lot of supporters.
And a lot of opponents. Aside from Norman Shepherd, I can’t remember a more-polarizing figure than her. This post is a perfect example of why women are not allowed to be elders. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. She’s run her own standing judicial committee from this site to pressure the men conducting the trial, she won, and now she’s still not happy because she thinks they deserve worse.
You should ask yourself why the OPC never grows despite the relative fecundity of its member families compared to society at large. Why do all the kids leave? Why can’t so many Reformed people stand it?
LikeLiked by 1 person
What is your theory regarding why the OPC fails to attract many new members and has many departures?
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) has grown in membership about 640% since its inception, from about 5000 in 1937 to about 32000 in 2021.
Baus, that seems to contradict the information from “Some Guy.”
Cynthia, yes, the facts do contradict his (false) assertion.
Baus, perhaps he will return and explain what his point was, irrespective of the data’s accuracy.
Have you looked at the statistician’s report from the 2019 GA?
Click to access 2019-GA-86-red.pdf
The number of communicant members grew from about 4,000 in 1938 to about 23,000 in 2019. It grew about twice as fast as the US population in the same period of time. However, over the past 10 -15 years communicant membership and total membership have stagnated while the US population continued to grow. Children have historically formed 1/2 to 1/3 of the membership. Why aren’t they becoming communicant members and swelling the ranks? Where are they all going when they grow up? In my experience, few of the children stay. Maybe it’s different where you live.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Perhaps you can find some solace in David’s insight in 2 Samuel 16:10-12 at Shimei’s cursing: “Leave him alone, for the Lord has bidden him to curse me. It may be that the Lord will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.” May it be so with your soul.
They should be ashamed of themselves. Much respect for those who spoke up whether leaders or not.
So sorry you’ve had to endure such abuse for so long without meaningful resolution. In addition to Mullen’s and McKnight’s excellent books, please consider reading Remy Diederich’s book “Broken Trust”. All of these resources, along with strong personal support systems, will help you heal over time. Mullen even says that some abuse victims may need professional counseling. As others opined, perhaps it’s time to move on from the OPC. The fact that both of the accused abusers left the OPC says they don’t buy into the charges and choose to walk away rather than confront their sins. And Anderson going to the CREC/Douglas Wilson is telling indeed as they represent the epitome of misogynistic, racist, and legalistic church systems.
Thanks for all you do and I pray that you find peace in the days ahead.
OPC guy on the east coast here. This sounds like politics. Local and ideological. And too much Doug Wilson. I get none of that where I am.
In my previous church life I’ve suffered from cage stage Calvinism and hypercal-legalism. Spangler comes off like a theological sociopath from a few centuries ago. He may have a good heart underneath but somebody better get him some help before he spiritually kills somebody.
I think there’s an existing culture where you’re at that will leave you frustrated.
But on the flip side, I think we have a less vested interest on the issues you are covering and kind of see it as a distraction. There are some areas where I think a female presence would help guide the hearts of some men. But I think where that’s required the women are too condition.
I don’t agree with all your expressed views and I believe there are some who would love to manipulate toward liberal utopia, but I believe in you and I think your heart is in the right place. God Bless and don’t lose heart!
‘there are some who would love to manipulate (you) toward liberal utopia…..’
I love your writing. I love your passion. I love your love for Jesus and His church. I also hurt when I see spiritual abuse, and sadly there is way to much of it churches that should know better. I pray God’s healing blessing for you and that you surround yourself with people who will value you as the person who is loved and gifted by God.
It is spiritual abuse and also “social abuse,” as it were. Now that you’re on the radar of this group of hostiles, it’s unlikely that they’ll let up, since there’s no downside for them in continuing to harass and denigrate you. (Just call me Merry Sunshine …) However, since you have heard the voice of Jesus telling you the truth about yourself and his love and his love for you, you have an incredible defense for your heart and soul. I pray for you often. Your writing is of great value for many readers.
Regarding the OPC, maybe you could consider why you originally chose the OPC in preference to other varieties of Presbyterianism, other varieties of American Protestantism, other varieties of Christianity. Do those reasons still satisfy you? Is your positive experience of your local congregation sufficient to override you negative experience with some leadership of the denomination?
No easy answers.
So Spangler and Anderson are out of the OPC into the FCSCont and CREC, respectively? If so, THANK GOD!
Too bad for the FCSCont, but the CREC is a heretical group anyway.
According to the website of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), this sub-sub-subdivision of Christianity has five congregations in the United States with a total of 250 members. If one thought the OPC was top-heavy with hyper-authoritarian men in “leadership,” well … there’s an even smaller pond out there for a wannabe Big Cheese.
You are a forthright thinker and speaker. It is too bad some in the OPC take offense at your work. I wonder if you paint the OPC with too broad a brush. I the Presbytery of the Southeast an exception or is it representative of those who criticize your work. Miss you on MOS.
Aimee, thank you for the update. I am seeing multiple people suggesting it may be time to leave the OPC; I’m not sure we’re there yet. I do think it is time for action at the General Assembly level, perhaps by those who signed the Open Letter in coordination with your session. The primary two offenders have already cut and run in what looks to be an attempt to evade further accountability (and possibly cause you future problems?), and I think you staying put will only highlight that reality. Should a majority of officers in the rest of the denomination allow the PSE’s behavior to stand, however, then it may be time to think of leaving. If this happens, I think it would be appropriate to “tell it to the Church”, and I hope you would go out in a public blaze of glory, so the rest of the Christian world may be warned about these men. Not just the obvious troublemakers, but the far larger number of OPC officers willing to tolerate what should be disqualifying sins in their peers. Safety and justice for the female sex should not depend upon which church or presbytery one is a member of. The rapidly repaganizing world around us is already prone to think badly of how the Christian religion treats women, and the last thing anyone needs to see is Christians themselves living up to the worst misogynist stereotypes out there.
Let me get this straight, you say….. “I’m in the OPC and I affirm the rule of elders, sessions and presbyteries except when I don’t. Then I’m a victim of “abuse”. Is that about it?
It is better to dwell on the corner of a roof than….
Yes, Graham Dugas you have it right. She wants a platform like Beth Moore.
You mean just like Jesus did? I can’t believe He claimed to be a victim of abuse against the righteous church leaders of his day!
Answer a fool according to his folly lest he…
Not quite Mark. Christ challenged his detracters head on. Aimee has only engaged in gainsaying, backbiting and calumny. She claims she “just wants to start a conversation but when she is presented with an answer that she doesn’t like, then she plays the victim card. “Oh those mean men just want to supress women.” Be direct and honest Aimee, say it. You want to teach in the Church. Christ was honest and direct.
“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses…'” Jesus then calls them out, behind their backs as it were, as much as Aimee is doing here, for ways in which they pervert the Law of God for their own benefit while pretending to be righteous. I would say that is precisely the approach of this blog.
Yes, Jesus took them head on when given the opportunity, on HIS terms, but he also talked about them, as you say, “gainsaying, backbiting and calumny” I assume by “gainsaying, backbiting and calumny” what you mean is making evil things your friends have done public. When he was brought into the Pharisee court, he remained silent.
I find that the twisted Reformed logic when it comes to victim blaming always falls back on Jesus’s head. Jesus was not a nice guy and he said nasty things about people, and then he was crucified by the people he verbally beat up. Was he a victim? Again, by your logic, he got what was coming to him, right?
I am just asking Aimee to be honest. Tell us straightly… Aimee wants to teach in the Church. Stop hiding behind this phony “I want to start a conversation” biz. She has something to say and she wants us to hear it. In the Church. Just admit it.
Ahh, the truth comes out. At first, you took the OPC high ground – using the word “teach” implies that she wan’t to have authority – a no-no in the OPC, but now you’ve backpedaled to “She has something to say and she wants us to hear it. In the Church.”
Now you’ve fully admitted to having an abusive mindset. What she has to say is not worth hearing because… why? “the church”. So, you’re going to take it upon yourself to silence all the women in the church?
Is it ALL the women in the church you want to silence, or just the ones that might hold you accountable?
Mark, who is included and who is excluded in these passages?
1Cor:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
I would say that you “claim” to have a Reformed hermeneutic, but your hermeneutic is simply “how can I subjugate women?” I don’t understand what the specifics are of that passage, but that is Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Also in the same letter, three chapters earlier he says:
“Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.” He goes on to solve the “problem”, not by telling women to be silent, but to tell them to cover their heads. So I can’t assume that Paul’s command for silence is universal.
I also read, in the same book: “The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but the one who prophesies edifies the church.”
Now, I look for clarification elsewhere in the Bible and I see: “‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and your daughters will prophesy, And your young men will see visions, And your old men will have dreams; And even on My male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days, And they will prophesy.” – given in Joel, and important enough for Peter to repeat it in Acts
And, when I read all that, I come to the conclusion that Paul’s command that you reference cannot even be generally applicable to the Corinthian church, much less applicable to all women everywhere.
The person who reads that verse and wants to silence all women, well, let me say, doesn’t need to read that verse to want to silence all women. I would say that even Calvin does not approach this honestly: “It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other.” I would ask Calvin why a book that condemns meaningless arguments: “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.” (Paul himself writes this!) engages, by his words, in the very thing.
To Calvin’s credit, though, I believe he asks a correct question. But instead of the question leading him back in a teachable spirit to scripture, he chooses to take the easy way out. “Why” is answered with an off the cuff “Why not?”
If you have fleshed out an understanding of important matters that you believe is incompatible with OPC teaching then you should follow your conscience. But I don’t see CBMW as anything but a distortion and a distraction to biblical truth. If that is your fight, that’s not a fight against the OPC. That’s a political fight that would happen outside the OPC. I think the bad behavior of individual members needs to be dealt with via each member directly. I’m not sure how that happens. But a closed group that mocks and wails is an exercise in cowardice.
But if you leave the OPC it should be over doctrine, not politics. That’s an important separation and distinction. Just like I make a distinction between legalism and orthodoxy. Spangler is too much legalism. Anderson is too much politics. They are both too much satire bordering on mockery. I’m not see how any of that is a winning formula and the OPC would be better served if they were to repent or leave. They made their choice. You should try to make similar distinctions if you are able. Don’t let the failings of men, even some who may, in fact, be unregenerate, influence your mind and heart.
Many folk mention Denny Burk going full kids-gloves on Matt Hall. What is that, the 11th commandment?
It’s Politics. That’s what it is. Too much political posturing. Take all these individuals with a grain of salt. Too much celebrity posturing. We must decrease and let scriptures speak for itself. If heresy arises we don’t have to validate it with an over-response and/or elevation of extra-biblical over-corrections. These are demonic distractions that need no regard.
The belittling and mistreatment of women and minorities deserve our attention but Jesus and scriptures as a whole formulates the proper response to exploitation, abuse and partiality.
The church has always been a place in which desperately insecure people with no sense of their true self exercise power over the most vulnerable in order to validate their false selves. It’s always been this way, it is this way, and it will always be this way. How to reform? Church government reform certainly helps but is insufficient. The only way this changes is for the majority of “giving units”and “pew-sitters” to grow into their identity in Christ and understand they do not have to submit to spiritual abuse, spiritual neglect, illegitimate authority – abusive systems and abusive people. I’m not sure if this can be a whole scale reform; maybe it just happens on an individual or small group level. The church needs to know what healthy church government, healthy pastoral care, and healthy participation in church life looks like. Then we can tell the unhealthy from the healthy. Right now, I think the majority swim in the sickness. They know nothing different and there is nothing different to escape to.
Aimee, you sound like a woman who likes to whine and let people know you have been offended. Stop crying .
What a sad, sad comment. If you or I were publicly defamed and called an arch-heretic for years and could still represent ourselves with this much grace – more than I would have had in the same situation – we should be congratulated.
Instead, your language is that of the bully: “Stop hitting yourself! Why are you hitting yourself?? Why are you crying??”
Also – why not leave your real name and email rather than hiding behind a fake name? Thanks.
This argument fails miserably since Aimee is an arch-heretic. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.