Chronology of the Controversy
Over Misty Irons’ Website
INTRODUCTION (by Lee Irons)
The documents relating to my trial in the Presbytery and my subsequent appeal to the General Assembly in 2003 have been posted on this site for some time. But the controversy over my view of the Law was only half of our struggle in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. My wife’s struggle to be allowed to keep up her website on homosexuality is the other half. From March 7, 2002 to April 22, 2003 she was under the threat of being formally charged and brought to trial if she did not shut down the website. In the end, charges never were filed against her and she never did shut down her website (www.musingson.com).
Being charged as a non-ordained member of the OPC would have meant being tried before the elders for an alleged violation of her membership vows. In Presbyterianism, a member is accountable to the board of elders (or session) of his or her congregation, elders who are also members of the congregation and elected by it. In this case, Misty’s session included myself, two other ministers from the Presbytery, and two (later, three) ruling elders borrowed from other congregations in the area. This group was called “the overseeing session.” It had been appointed by the Presbytery to serve as a subcommittee of the Presbytery’s Missions Committee, in order to provide oversight for Redeemer OPC while it was still a mission work of the Presbytery of Southern California. Because these men were borrowed from other congregations, they were not on the same page with me theologically. One ruling elder was borrowed from a church that had been planted by Ken Gentry, a well-known theonomist. Another ruling elder and his pastor, borrowed from the same congregation, were also on the overseeing session. Not surprisingly, they had similar feelings about Misty and me, and they shared a similar “religious right” political outlook. These three men also co-authored Charge One against me in the Presbytery trial.
I mention these things to show what a unique situation it was. The vast majority of the members of Redeemer OPC were supportive of Misty’s website and were not in sympathy with the pressure that the overseeing session was putting on her to shut down her website. If Redeemer OPC had been organized and had elected its own “home-grown” elders, who would have been closer to Misty in age and outlook, I doubt that they would have contemplated bringing charges against her. In normal church experience, a pastor’s wife would not be subject to discipline by a subcommittee of the Presbytery. In this case, not only was Misty under the authority of a subcommittee of the Presbytery, but that subcommittee contained members that were hostile to her husband and actively pursuing his conviction on “heresy” charges in the Presbytery.
As you read her letters to the overseeing session below, you will see that Misty handled herself with amazing submissiveness, dignity, and grace in the face of tremendous pressure. I deeply respect her for holding to her convictions out of reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel, even though her Lord’s earthly representatives were convinced that she was not only wrong but sinfully so. It is good to be respectful of the human authority that God has invested in the leaders of the visible church. Nevertheless, if those human leaders are not able to support their commands with compelling Scriptural argument, then we must obey God rather than men.
Some of these documents, particularly letters between Misty and her elders, as well as excerpts from session minutes, are published here for the first time. The justification for publishing these documents is that they would have been made public had she been charged and brought to trial. This is an implication of a provision in the OPC’s Book of Church Order which was included at the founding of the OPC in response to the secrecy with which the old mainline Presbyterian Church had handled its defrocking of J. Gresham Machen. That provision reads:
The judicatories of the church shall ordinarily sit with open doors. In every case involving a charge of heresy the judicatory shall be without power to sit with closed doors [OPC Book of Discipline IV:A.1.b].
The public disclosure of documented evidence that a judicial trial occasions can often be for the benefit of the reputation of the defendant who, until that point, has been tried solely in the court of public opinion, often on the basis of rumor and hearsay. Until now, Misty has refrained from publicly discussing sessional matters in an effort to respect the proceedings in her case. But since her case never went to trial, it seems unreasonable to keep this information forever from public view, especially in light of the public nature of the controversy which took place largely on the Internet and in various Reformed Discussion Groups.
Note that my wife has put this chronology together, and that she narrates the events from her perspective.
CHRONOLOGY (by Misty Irons)
Red dates = Events relating to Misty’s case
Blue dates = Events relating to Lee’s case
January 2, 2002 -- My husband, the Rev. Lee Irons, posts my article “A Conservative Christian Case for Civil Same-Sex Marriage” on his website, www.upper-register.com.
February 24, 2002 -- Discovery of my article on my husband’s website is advertised on the Internet discussion list of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Date: Sun Feb 24, 2002 10:36 pm
Subject: Christians should support gay civil unions?
Or so this article says: [link to Lee Irons’ website] This caught me off guard. How can Christians and want to glorify and honor God in all aspects of life support homosexual unions? This seems like extreme religious tolerance and pragmatism to me. What do you all think?
By the following morning, news of my article spread to at least four other Reformed Internet discussion lists.
February 25-27, 2002 -- Internet discussion over my article begins.
February 27, 2002 -- Gary North, Christian Reconstructionist author and son-in-law of the late Rousas John Rushdoony, responds to my article with “Legalize Same-Sex Marriages?” in his ICE newsletter. The newsletter is forwarded via email to thousands of people all over the country.
February 28—March 6, 2002 -- I voluntarily sign on to the OPC Discussion List for one week to field questions about my civil same-sex marriage article.
March 7, 2002 -- The Overseeing Session of Redeemer OPC, where Lee pastors, calls an emergency meeting in response to the controversy and numerous letters they received demanding my discipline. I was asked to be present during parts of the meeting. Excerpts from the minutes:
Discussion of Mrs. Misty Irons’ article...Mrs. Irons explained the history of her study of the issue of homosexuality, her www.musingson.com website, and why she wrote the article. [Mr. K--] was prepared to bring a charge and specifications against Mrs. Irons for an offense in the area of conduct, namely, disturbing the peace and purity, and/or unity of the church. However, when Mr. Irons explained that it was solely his decision to post the article on his website (www.upper-register.com), the charge was not presented.
March 16, 2002 -- The Session of Beverly OPC (in the Presbytery of Southern California) writes a letter to the Session of Redeemer OPC, outlining specific disciplinary actions that should be taken against me.
March 30, 2002 -- Meeting of the Presbytery of Southern California. Four charges are presented against my husband, the Rev. Lee Irons.
April 2002 -- Nicotine Theological Journal publishes a portion of my 3/5/02 post from the OPC discussion list in an article Calvinists, Pelagians and Homosexuality.” From the editors’ introductory note:
...In the course of answering some of her critics, Mrs. Irons sent a follow-up post to the presbyterians-opc list that made some important points on how Reformed Christians should understand homosexual orientation and homosexual activity. Specifically she offers insightful reasoning for why Calvinists, of all people, ought to recognize homosexuality as a condition antecedent to choice. Setting aside the controversy over same-sex unions, the editors believe this piece warrants a hearing. We are grateful for Mrs. Irons’ willingness to let us reprint a portion of her post.
April 2002 -- Douglas Wilson, Christian Reconstructionist author and pastor, briefly critiques my civil same-sex marriage article in his magazine Credenda Agenda (Volume 14, Number 1). His article, titled “Thundering Naivete,” concludes as follows:
I am very sorry to be put in the position of having to show rudeness to a lady. But Mrs. Irons wants to be a Christian writer and thinker, and she is not up to the task. And if she can’t stand the heat, she should get back in the kitchen.
May 13, 2002 -- Meeting of the Overseeing Session of Redeemer OPC (excerpts from the minutes):
On motion it was determined to display the following statement on the Upper Register website, with the consent of Mr. Irons:
“We the undersigned members of the overseeing session of Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Church of San Fernando Valley affirm our belief in the Bible as the only infallible rule of faith and practice. We deny that it is ever appropriate or allowable to call any behavior ‘good’ that God calls an abomination. We believe that homosexual activity is an abomination in the sight of God, and therefore ought never to be given support. We therefore believe that government sanction of same-sex civil unions is contrary to God’s Word, and that Christians have no warrant from God’s Word to call for such government sanction. We believe that even the unfulfilled desire for homosexual activity is sin. We believe that the power of God is able to change homosexuals who repent of their homosexuality and put their trust in Jesus Christ.”
Mr. Irons gave his consent to have the above statement posted on his Upper Register website.
On motion it was determined to direct Mrs. Misty Irons to remove her www.musingson.com website from the Internet, and that [Messrs. K-- and T--] be instructed to compose and send her a letter explaining the reasons for this action. Mr. Irons requested that his negative vote be recorded.
May 24, 2002 -- In keeping with the motion of the May 13, 2002 Session Meeting, “Mr. T--,” on behalf of the Overseeing Session of Redeemer OPC, writes me a letter directing me to shut down my Musings On website.
June 1, 2002 -- Meeting of the Presbytery of Southern California. The first charge against Lee is dropped. The presbytery adopts the first, third, and fourth charges. (The third and fourth charges are renumbered as Charges Two and Three respectively.)
June 23, 2002 -- I write a letter in response to Redeemer Session’s 5/24/02 letter, requesting explanations on several points regarding their directive that I shut down my website. I also suggest the idea of placing a disclaimer on my website, since the Session is concerned that my views have harmed the OPC’s reputation.
July 11, 2002 -- Meeting of the Overseeing Session of Redeemer OPC (excerpts from the minutes):
The session discussed communication #2 from Mrs. Irons [my 6/23/02 letter]. On motion it was determined to request Mrs. Irons to put the following disclaimer on her website:
“The views expressed on this website are solely my own opinions and do not represent the official position of my local church or denomination.”
On motion it was determined to request Mrs. Irons to meet with the session on July 23 at 1:00 p.m. to discuss communication #2 from her.
July 19, 2002 -- Lee responds to Charge One with a paper “What I Believe About Homosexuality.” The paper is distributed to members of the Presbytery of Southern California.
July 20, 2002 -- Meeting of the Presbytery of Southern California. One of the presbyters, Mr. Po--, accuses me on the floor of presbytery of being unsubmissive to my Session. He believes he can make this accusation on the basis that: 1) Redeemer Session had directed me to shut down my website, and 2) the Musings On site was still up and running. Now that Mr. Po-- has made the public accusation that I have sinned against my Session, I plan to ask the Session members at the July 23 meeting whether they agree with Mr. Po--‘s assessment that I have been unsubmissive to them.
July 23, 2002 -- Meeting of the Overseeing Session of Redeemer OPC (excerpts from the minutes):
Present: [Mr. P--], [Mr. K--], Lee Irons, and [Mr. T--]. Also present was Mrs. Misty Irons. Bill Baldwin later entered the meeting at the request of Mrs. Irons with the approval of the session.
Absent: [Mr. B--]
This was a special meeting of the session to meet with Mrs. Irons about her Musingson.com website.
On motion it was determined to request [Mr. K--] to write to [Mr. Po--] on behalf of the session to correct a false impression that he gave at the last presbytery meeting (July 20, 2002) regarding Mrs. Irons’ relationship to the session.
Mrs. Irons was given the opportunity to explain her views of homosexuality and of same-sex civil unions.
Mr. Baldwin entered the meeting at 2:28 p.m.
Discussion with Mrs. Irons continued. Questions were raised about specific statements on her website. Mrs. Irons indicated that she would like to qualify and modify some of those statements. She explained the nature of her website using the model of cross-cultural evangelism.
The elders responded to Mrs. Irons’ communication #2 [my 6/23/02 letter] (to the previous meeting of session) to clarify why they issued the directive to shut down her website. They argued that the website is derogatory of other Christians, and violates the command of Ephesians 5:11 to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather reprove them” (KJV)
In light of Mrs. Irons’ intent to qualify and modify some of the statements on her website, there was general consent not to take immediate action, but to monitor the website over the next several months in order to evaluate the modifications she makes. [This motion was not included in the original minutes, but added as a correction -- see Minutes, p. 2002-13.]
The meeting was adjourned at 4:15 p.m. with prayer offered by [Mr. T--].
July 30, 2002 -- On behalf of the Session of Redeemer OPC, Mr. K-- writes a letter to Mr. Po--, informing him that Redeemer Session does not agree with his accusation that I have been unsubmissive to them.
July 31, 2002 -- In a private email to an OPC pastor friend who is supportive of my website, I summarize my recollection of the discussion that took place at the July 23 meeting over the contents of my Musings On site.
August 19, 2002 -- Mr. Po-- responds negatively to Redeemer Session’s 7/30/02 letter.
September 4, 2002 -- Lee distributes two papers in response to Charges Two and Three to members of the Presbytery of Southern California. See “Response to Charge Two” and “Response to Charge Three.”
September 15, 2002 -- The Judicial Committee requests to postpone Lee’s September 20-21 trial date to a later time. After reviewing Lee’s papers in response to Charges One, Two and Three, they realized they were not prepared to deal with the arguments he presented and requested additional time. Lee gives his consent to the postponement of the trial date.
September 24, 2002 -- Meeting of the Overseeing Session of Redeemer OPC (excerpts from the minutes):
Present: [Mr. P--], [Mr. K--], Lee Irons, [Mr. B--], and [Mr. T--].
The minutes of July 11, 2002 were read and approved as presented. The minutes of the special meeting of July 23, 2002 were read and approved as corrected.
6. From Lee Irons, e-mail, dated September 21, 2002, informing the session of the changes that Misty Irons made to her website in light of her discussion with the elders on July 23, 2002...
We also received a reply from [Mr. Po--] to the communication from [Mr. K--] on behalf of the session correcting a false impression that [Mr. Po--] gave at the July 20 presbytery meeting regarding Mrs. Irons’ relationship with the session...In lieu of replying to [Mr. Po--] at this point, it was determined that [Mr. K--] recast the letter he sent to [Mr. Po--] as a letter to the presbytery, explaining the session’s understanding of Mrs. Irons’ attitude toward the session.
On motion it was determined to send the following letter to Mrs. Misty Irons:
“We thank the Lord for the opportunity we had at our July 23 meeting to hear your explanation about your website and your views on homosexuality. While it remains obvious to all of us that we have serious disagreements about what Scripture teaches regarding the issues before us, we do rejoice in the attitude you displayed at the meeting. We are pleased to know that in spite of our disagreement you consider us to be dear friends in the Lord. Rest assured, we share that same bond of Christian friendship and consider it a privilege to be your elders.
“Our sincere hope is that our meeting clarified in your mind the reasons why we have asked you to shut down your website. While your purposes in establishing and maintaining MusingsOn are certainly noble, we remain convinced that to continue its operation at the present time would be wrong.
“The reasons for this, as we stated at the meeting, involve both the content and the tone of the articles on the site. We are grateful for the disclaimer, for the deletion, and for the changes that were made as of September 5, but we still believe that much on the site promotes unbiblical views regarding homosexuality and contains language that is demeaning to brothers and sisters in Christ. We further believe that the continued publication of these views seriously jeopardizes the peace and purity of the church.
“Therefore, we are directing you once again to shut down your website and expect that to happen as soon as possible.
“We are in constant prayer for you and desire that the Lord would grant to us a closer unity based on a shared understanding of His Word as we together strive to serve our Lord and His church.
“Faithfully yours in the service and fellowship of Christ,
“The Session of Redeemer OPC”
Mr. Irons requested that his negative vote be recorded.
September 24, 2002 -- After the session meeting, my husband Lee delivered to me a copy of the above letter.
October 18, 2002 -- Meeting of the Presbytery of Southern California. Redeemer Session’s letter correcting Mr. Po--’s public accusations against me is presented as a communication to the clerk of Presbytery. Communications from sessions are normally read aloud on the floor, however Mr. Po-- rises to oppose the public reading of the communication, proposing instead that it be sent to a committee for further examination. A 45-minute debate ensues over whether the letter should be read aloud or sent to a committee. A vote is taken: 15 vote in favor of having the communication read aloud; 11 vote against. The communication is read aloud on the floor of Presbytery.
October 19, 2002 -- Meeting of the Presbytery of Southern California. Charge One against Lee is dropped “without prejudice,” meaning that the presbytery has chosen not to pursue the charge at this time (though it might take up the charge again at a future time). The main problem with proceeding with Charge One was the fact that Lee’s paper in response to Charge One, “What I Believe About Homosexuality,” made it difficult for the presbytery to prove that he was guilty of “publicly promoting and encouraging homosexuality” as the charge alleges. A further difficulty was, since the charge centered around my article “A Conservative Christian Case for Civil Same-Sex Marriage,” the presbytery would have had the problem of trying to prove Lee was guilty for statements made in an article that he did not write.
October 19, 2002 -- I respond to Redeemer Session’s 9/24/02 letter, disagreeing with their perception of what took place at the July 23 meeting and explaining my own recollection of what took place on that day.
October 30, 2002 -- I write a letter to Redeemer Session, thanking them for the letter they wrote to the Presbytery of Southern California which was read aloud at October 18 meeting.
November 20, 2002 -- I post “My Friend Buddy and the Conservative Church,” in which I support celibacy for gay Christians, refer to both homosexual behavior and homosexual orientation as sinful, and demonstrate that Buddy’s faith in Christ was based upon the historical Protestant and Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone.
December 13-14, 2002 -- Meeting of the Trial Judicatory of the Presbytery of Southern California. Lee’s trial over Charge Two begins.
December, 2002 -- Mr. B-- resigns from serving on Redeemer Session for reasons unexplained, leaving a four-member session that is split evenly over my case. A split vote is not enough for the session to take disciplinary action against me.
December 26—January 3, 2002 -- “My Friend Buddy and the Conservative Church” is discovered by someone on the OPC discussion list and debate ensues. The debate starts out over the article, but ends up in speculations about my case before the Session, which leads to accusations being leveled against me for being allegedly unsubmissive to my Session. (Oddly enough, the accusations are made by an elder in the Presbytery of Southern California who was present at the October 18, 2002 presbytery meeting, where the Session’s communication in defense of my submissive behavior toward them was publicly read.) The moderator of the OPC Discussion List also accuses me of failing to make the modifications in my article that I promised at the end of my time on the OPC discussion list. I send a private email to the moderator in response to both accusations. The moderator then conveys parts of my response to the discussion list.
January 10-11, 2003 -- Meeting of the Trial Judicatory of the Presbytery of Southern California (continued). By a 17-16 vote, taken by secret ballot, Lee is found guilty of Charge Two. The Presbytery votes to give Lee the censure of indefinite suspension from the ministry, having been found guilty of Charge Two (re. his view of the Law). With regard to Charge Three (re. his view of civil government), the Presbytery concluded, by a standing vote of 17-17, that the charge, if proven, was not serious enough to warrant a trial. Lee gave informal notice of intent to appeal conviction on Charge Two to the General Assembly (the OPC’s highest court of appeal).
March 4, 2003 -- Mr. K-- and Mr. T-- from Redeemer Session write me a letter in response to my 10/19/02 letter. They acknowledge that they are writing to me as individual elders and are not representing the session as a whole, since they no longer represent the majority. Attached to their letter are three documents for my review:
1. A list of ten points they composed called “Why Shut Down the Website.”
2. A copy of the first two pages of Charge One that was written against Lee (which the Southern California Presbytery dropped on October 19, 2002).
3. A post from the OPC discussion list, critiquing my article “My Friend Buddy and the Conservative Church.”
April 22, 2003 -- Meeting of the Overseeing Session of Redeemer OPC (excerpts from the minutes):
Copies of the communication (dated March 4, 2003, with three attachments) from [Messrs. K-- and T--] to Mrs. Irons were distributed to the rest of the members of session. The March 4 communication was not from the session itself but from two members of the session. There was discussion.
On motion it was determined that the session request Mrs. Irons to remove from her MusingsOn website the article titled, “A Conservative Christian Case for Civil Same-Sex Marriage.” [Mr. T--] requested that his negative vote be recorded.
Note: Mr. T‘s request that his negative vote be recorded is an act of protest against the Session’s shift in their attitude towards my website. Instead of “directing” me to shut down Musings On as they had been doing before, they are now “requesting” me to do so. A directive implies a threat of discipline if it is not carried out. A request implies that the Session seeks to persuade the individual, yet leaves room for the individual to act according to his/her own conscience.
May 19, 2003 -- I receive a letter from the clerk of Redeemer Session (my husband Lee served as the clerk of the Session at that time) informing me of the motion that was passed at the 4/22/03 meeting and explaining that the session is no longer “directing” me but “requesting” me to shut down my website.
June 25—July 3, 2003 -- Meeting of the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. On June 30, 2003, Lee’s appeal of the Southern California Presbytery’s verdict on Charge Two is denied. Thus Charge Two is reaffirmed, along with the censure of indefinite suspension from the ministry.
July 5, 2003 -- Mr. K-- sends me an email on behalf of himself and Mr. T--, requesting further explanation of my view of common grace and its relationship to the Mosaic Law.
August 2003 -- During July and August, insinuations about my standing as an OPC member are made on the OPC discussion list by a minister and a ruling elder, both of whom are in the Southern California Presbytery. At my request Mr. P--, the moderator of Redeemer Session, writes an email informing the OPC discussion list that I am a member in good standing in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
September 17, 2003 -- I write a paper, “Common Grace and the Mosaic Law,” in response to the questions Mr. K-- asked me in his 7/5/03 email. I distribute the paper to all the members of Redeemer Session.
October 18, 2003 -- Meeting of the Presbytery of Southern California. Lee withdraws from the OPC.
December 2003 -- More than half of the congregation at Redeemer Chapel still wanted Lee to continue pastoring them outside the OPC. However, Lee decides not to do so, citing the need to take a break from the ministry.