Second Presbytery Meeting: The Parable of Maurice the Bank Robber


Maurice lived in the little Upstate town of Chicken Neck, South Carolina. All little towns like Chicken Neck have a town half-wit and fool. Maurice was the town half-wit and fool in Chicken Neck.

Maurice lived with his Mama, and, in spite of the fact that his Mama is rich and provided him with a generous monthly allowance, Maurice could not hang on to a dollar. He was always broke. So, at the end of the month, Maurice was continually coming up with goofy schemes to get money.

One day last spring, Maurice needed money to pay off a poker debt. Being the half-wit and fool that he is, Maurice decided to rob the First National Bank and Trust of Chicken Neck.

Maurice put a handkerchief over his nose and mouth and wrote on a deposit slip: “This is a robbery. Give me all your money!” After he handed the robbery note to the teller, bad things began to happen to Maurice.

The teller was Miss Ophelia Odom. Miss Ophelia had been at her station for over 35 years. She was a large and muscular woman who was well over six feet tall, and she was stronger than most men. Bless her heart, she looked like a Marty Feldman character in drag, but not comedic. She had a dire disposition, was plain spoken, was known for a fiery temper, and was unwilling to countenance half-wits and fools. Never making mistakes and being knowledgeable of all the intricacies of banking, she was the best teller in the bank. Not only did she know everyone in Chicken Neck, Miss Ophelia knew everyone in three counties.

When Maurice handed Miss Ophelia the robbery note, she was incensed by it. Of course, she recognized Maurice the town half-wit and fool. He was a distant cousin. Constitutionally, Miss Ophelia did not like Maurice the town half-wit and fool. She glared at the note and then at Maurice and said: “NO! Go home to your Mama, Maurice, you half-wit fool!!” Then she reached across the counter and grabbed Maurice by the neck, shook him like rag doll, slapped him so hard that his handkerchief flew off and his eyes watered, and scared him so badly that he wet his pants.

Maurice ran out of the bank whimpering and cowering like a kicked puppy. Unfortunately for Maurice, the bank manager had seen all that had taken place. He called 911.

When the police arrested him, Maurice complained: “I didn’t rob the bank! Miss Ophelia didn’t give me any money!”

Nowadays, Maurice’s Mama visits him at the penitentiary on Sundays between the hours of 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM. Maurice, the Chicken Neck half-wit and fool, has learned that in South Carolina attempted robbery is just as heinous as robbery!

As we leave the story of “Maurice the Bank Robber,” the Editor wants to remind the reader that a parable is more than just a good story. Though the parallels are not precise, the Editor will note the points of application as they unfold.

We now leave the story of Maurice so that we can turn our attention to the most important action of the Fall Meeting of Second Presbytery. On the agenda of Second Presbytery were the charges that had been filed by the Unity ARP Church against Dr. Jay Hering, ETS professor. Dr. Hering, along with fellow ETS professors Drs. Richard Burnett and Michael Bush, who are both PC(USA) ministers, had filed a civil action in order to maintain a restraining order against the General Synod last March in the matters of the “Snow Synod.”

Below is a copy of the document that Drs. Hering, Burnett, and Bush signed. Note that Dr. Hering’s name is clearly noted as litigate. (Click to view full size.)

Interestingly, though no one seems to have gone to the Courthouse to check it out, it was reported that the secular Court did not receive the above document because the suit the “intervenors” (legal term) attempted to continue had already been dropped and that the Hering/Bush/ Burnett/Chesnut motion was therefore “not filed.” Rather, it was reported that the court subsequently acted on the suit signed by Messrs. David Chesnut, Richard Taylor, and Parker Young filed the next week.

Below is a copy of the report of the Minister and His Work Committee (MHWC) of Second Presbytery that was adopted by Second Presbytery.

Minister and His Work Committee

Report on the Investigation into Charges against Rev. Jay Hering

October 2010

Fathers and Brothers,

At the 2010 Summer Meeting of Second Presbytery, charges were made against the Rev. Jay Hering by the Session of the Unity Church. These charges were referred to the Minister and His Work Committee. The adopted motion reads that these charges be referred …

” …. To determine:

  1. If there is sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges
  2. (If) all preliminary steps have been taken
  3. If there are probable grounds for the accusations
  4. If the charges are proved will they constitute a censurable offense
  5. That they report back at the Fall Meeting (of Second Presbytery)”

The MHWC has investigated this matter according to these guidelines. Therefore, we want to be clear that this report is not intended to be taken by anyone as an opinion or a referendum on the matters that led to the special Called Meeting of the General Synod, any situations at Erskine College and Seminary, or the findings and results of the Moderator’s Commission on Erskine, even though all these situations had bearing on Mr. Hering’s actions and the subsequent charges

against him from the Unity Session.

The MHWC also investigated this matter based on The Book of Discipline, 1.4.,,

The constant responsibility of any church court to a situation calling for discipline is contrition by the court itself. The court will search for any ways in which what the court has done or failed to do has contributed to the problem requiring discipline. True contrition leads to that repentance which will cause the court to confess its own sin and need for forgiveness and to be more responsible. The court will submit itself constantly to the will of the Lord in searching the Scriptures and in prayer.

The MHWC believes that while the Called Meeting of General Synod was in part the result of decades of frustration on the part of brothers in Synod over situations at Erskine, that the hastiness of enacting all of the Commission’s recommendations had great bearing on the matter before us with Mr. Hering. Perhaps if more time had been given to consider the recommendations of the Moderator’s Committee, or if a compromise could have been reached to investigate and resolve civil legal matters that were obviously involved with the Commission’s recommendations, or if the conflicting opinions of attorneys who are members of the court could have been resolved before voting, we would not be where we are today. The MHWC believes this court should consider these things.

The MHWC believes the core of the charges against Mr. Hering is contained in charge #3 from the Unity Session.

Filing public civil suit against his brothers in Christ in the denomination, being a clear violation of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, which explicitly forbids believers taking fellow believers to civil court.

In actuality, Mr. Hering and two other professors did not file a civil suit, but attempted to continue a civil suit previously filed. The MHWC has been given testimony from three attorneys that this attempt to continue the lawsuit originally filed by Mr. Scott Mitchell was not accepted by the court. Mr. Mitchell’s lawsuit had been withdrawn by the time Mr. Hering and the two other professors arrived at the courthouse to file the extension. The civil court therefore did not receive their request for an extension. While rumors continue to circulate around the Synod about what did or did not take place as a result of Mr. Hering’s action, the MHWC has been assured by testimony that no civil action was filed by him. Therefore, while Mr. Hering attempted to do something, that action was not accomplished.

For clarification, the civil matter which Mr. Hering was attempting to continue was not technically, “against his brothers in Christ in the denomination.” The civil suit was asking the court to rule on the clarification of the matter of governance of Erskine since two opposite opinions on this matter had been presented to the General Synod. Mr. Hering believed that the accreditation of Erskine was in peril by the Synod’s action of removing the Erskine Board and appointing a new one, and he believed the reputation of individual Board members who had been removed by Synod’s action had been unjustly maligned (another discussion held at the Called Meeting of General Synod about whether the Board or Synod could remove a trustee and whether or not such removal could be done without cause).

Therefore, the MHWC believes that charge # 3 (and specification # 2) from the Unity Session is unfounded. No civil suit was filed. The MHWC was not charged by the governing motion to investigate “intent” on the part of Mr. Hering, or to determine how the provisions of 1 Corinthians 6 apply to an area in which ecclesiastical and civil matters intersect, as in the case of an institution accredited under the laws of South Carolina, and an institution that has agreed to abide by rules of secular accrediting agencies, while at the same time being an agency of General Synod.

There are two other charges against Mr. Hering from the Unity Session.

  1. A refusal to submit to the decision of the March 2-3 meeting of the ARP General Synod in violation of the fifth commandment and the fourth vow of ordination in the ARP Church.
  2. A failure to promote the unity, peace, purity, and prosperity of the church in violation of Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 6:1-8, which explicitly forbids believers taking fellow believers before civil court.

Regarding charge # 1, MHWC believes this being recorded as a chargeable offense is tied into the matter of charge # 3, the filing of a civil lawsuit. There have been times in which a member of a church court has requested a recorded vote against the majority of the court so that an appeal of a court action might be made. Should such an appeal be filed within the church court system, it would not be regarded as a chargeable offense, but rather a part of parliamentary procedure. There are two points that have bearing on this charge:

  1. The civil action was not filed
  2. Mr. Hering believed the General Synod was in error and had acted hastily. Because of the overlap of ecclesiastical and civil governances of an institution such as Erskine, and that further harm and damage would be done to the church and to Erskine if the decision of General Synod was enacted, he believed his actions were in keeping with the commandments and his vows of ordination.

Regarding charge # 3, MHWC believes that it was and is Mr. Hering’s conviction that he was in fact promoting the unity, peace, purity, and prosperity of the church by his intended action. He believed the Called Meeting of General Synod did not end in unity or peace, and that the purity and prosperity of the Synod was threatened particularly by the adoption of the Commission’s final recommendation to remove the entire Erskine Board and name a new Board. Mr. Hering had also been contacted by people who informed him of certain employees who were to be an immediate focus of the new Board for termination once the Board was convened. Mr. Hering believed that before greater damage could be done to the Synod and to Erskine that might result in civil suits for monetary damages, the question of governance needed to be definitively determined.

In discussion at the Summer Meeting of Second Presbytery, it was determined that MHWC would investigate these charges and that this Presbytery would subsequently need to determine whether or not to move to appoint a committee to draw up charges and prosecute the case if there was sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges. It is the opinion of the MHWC that without the core action of a civil action being filed, these charges might not reach the level of a censurable offense. MHWC believes that there is an important principle in the Book of Discipline, IV. 6., that although addressing “private” offences may apply in the situation before this court. That is, it is the duty of church officers to deal with offenses,

…. that may come to their knowledge and maintain the peace which is often disturbed by public process.

Based on the lack of a filed civil suit and the testimony of Mr. Hering concerning his motives in attempting to get a ruling about the governance of Erskine, the MHWC responds to the adopted motion as follows:

  1. If there is sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges
    1. A. No civil suit was accepted by the court and therefore all references to actions involving such a filing of civil suit are unfounded.
    2. B. Based on his testimony to the MHWC, we believe Mr. Hering personally believed he was acting in a manner that best served the church and that he was not trying to subvert the decision of General Synod or disrupt the church.
  2. (If) all preliminary steps have been taken
    1. A. The Pastor of the Unity Session did call Mr. Hering before charges were drawn up.
    2. B. MHWC believes that perhaps the entire Session of the Unity church could have met with Mr. Hering before charges were drawn up and sent to him and the Presbytery Clerk. This may have fostered additional dialog about the matter.
    3. C. MHWC believes that perhaps a subsequent meeting could have been held between Mr. Hering and the Unity Session after both parties had time to reflect on their previous meeting and discussion.
  3. If there are probable grounds for the accusations
    1. A. The question of probable grounds is clearly in order based on 1 Cor. 6. The Unity Session perceived that Scripture had been violated.
    2. B. MHWC discussed with Mr. Hering that he could be in an entirely different place had the requested continuance been accepted by the civil court.
    3. C. MHWC has requested Mr. Hering to revisit his paper and position on the role of civil courts in church matters and rethink some of the matters therein.
  4. If the charges are proved will they constitute a censurable offense
    1. A. MHWC does not believe these charges, without the existence of a civil suit, would rise to the level of a censurable offense.
    2. B. MHWC believes further pressing these charges without the existence of a civil suit would be potentially more divisive to the church than accepting the brotherly counsel that has already been done with Mr. Hering through this committee.
    3. C. MHWC has requested Mr. Hering to revisit his paper and position on the role of civil courts in church matters and rethink some of the matter therein.
  5. If the charges are proved will they constitute a censurable offence.
    1. A. MHWC does not believe these charges, without the existence of a civil suit, would rise to the level of a censurable offense.
    2. B. MHWC believes further pressing these charges without the existence of a civil suit would be potentially more divisive to the church than accepting the brotherly counsel that has already been done with Mr. Hering through this committee.

In the final disposition of this matter regarding Dr. Jay Hering, Second Presbytery voted to accept the MHWC’s recommendation and dropped the manner. Since the civil judge did not respond to Dr. Hering’s attempt to sue his brothers in civil court, according to Second Presbytery, Dr. Hering did nothing and was, therefore, guilty of nothing. According to Second Presbytery, the filing of a document to sue one’s brothers in civil court is not a violation of one’s ordination vow to submit to the courts of the church if the civil court does not respond. Something in the logic seems to get lost here!

It was fascinating to watch the show. As the Editor and others remember, the motion to drop the matter was made by Mr. H. Neely Gaston, Executive Vice President of ETS. Mr. Randy Ruble, former President of Erskine College made the second. Indeed, these were Dr. Hering’s superiors at the time he filed in civil court against the ARP Church. Now add an emotional defense of Dr. Hering by his brother, and one must say that the meeting of Second Presbytery was NOT a good time had by all.

As Erskine administrators, both Mr. Ruble and Mr. Gaston were involved in the maneuverings to litigate against the ARP Church. In the Editor’s opinion, the actions of Second Presbytery have often been puzzling and disappointing, and this meeting of Second Presbytery is to be added to the number of those puzzling and disappointing days.

Do you remember the story of Maurice? He went to jail for what he attempted but failed to do! Attempted bank robbery is just as heinous as bank robbery.

These are the words of Matthew 5:28: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Do you suppose that one’s intentions are as important to Jesus as one’s actions? Well, Second Presbytery answered that with NO!

Oh, an afterthought: Do you think that if John Wilkes Booth had missed Mr. Lincoln at Ford’s Theater and been captured, he would have been excused and dismissed with the court’s blessing?

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

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  1. Scott says:

    At the Synod’s meeting last March, when Dr. Ruble finished his speech, he closed with these words: “And I don’t even know how I’m going to vote today.” Yikes!

    Dr. Wilson, while the thoughts and intents of our hearts are charable in God’s court – those charges can only be made by God Himself, who alone can judge the heart. I think you added something (Matthew 5:28), which isn’t helpful to your excellent argument, but which should give us all cause to be humble in our judgments – for who among us doesn’t committ these sins many times each day?

    But in the case of Dr. Ruble, who I think should be investigated for his involvment in supporting the lawsuit against the ARP Church, there are words and actions which go beyond mere thoughts and intentions.

    So also with Dr. Herring – the nutty robber analogy is good; something unlawful and observable was done. We even read of potential terrorists who are tricked by our law enforcement officials into thinking that they are participating in plots to blow things up in the US. The would be terrorists purchase dummy bombs, etc., and place them, thinking that they are doign the real thing. Once they’ve placed the fake bombs, they are arrested – not because of their thoughts and intentions, but because they actually did something illegal.

    Such is the case in your analogies of the would-be robber and an errant shot from a would-be assassin. Such is also the case with Drs. Ruble and Herring.