Thursday, February 16, 2012

Just think... what if she had a blog?

February 16, 2012 -- On the front page of the Commercial Appeal (above the fold, no less) appeared this story:

Unchurched: Longtime member faces discipline at Second Presbyterian

In a nutshell, Dr. Nan Hawkes, 59, a member of Second Presbyterian for 35 years, has been accused by the pastor, Sandy Willson, and the church's elder board of "offenses of immorality and contempt for the established order of the church." Hawkes was notified in a FedEx-delivered letter from the church that she has been barred from attending her Sunday School class and is expected to appear before a "commission" of 5 church members headed by criminal court judge, Chris Craft. Pending the outcome of this disciplinary hearing, Hawkes may be excommunicated from the church.

So... what "offenses of immorality" did Hawkes commit? Stealing? Murder? Child abuse? Sexual immorality? Blogging??? Nope. Dr. Hawkes, a neuro-psychologist, is accused of calling senior pastor Sandy Willson a "narcissist" because of his heavy-handed tactics and ruling over the church. Hawkes claims she did call him a narcissist but that it was taken out of context. Specifically, she claims, someone on the church staff asked her how to best deal with Willson.

Now, if someone on staff actually had to consult a licensed psychologist for advice on how to deal with the pastor... doesn't that establish that there might just be a very real problem with Willson's leadership style? It sounds as if Hawkes recognized in Willson the characteristics of "Narcissistic Personality Disorder" and, I assume, advised the person accordingly in a private conversation. Here is an excellent article on the problem of NPD in the pulpit. Unfortunately, we've seen other megachurch pastors with many of these same traits.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), of which Second Presbyterian is a member, approves of female elders but apparently leaves the decision on this "non-essential" issue up to the individual congregation. Dr. Hawkes claims the root of the problem is that she has nominated women for the board of elders only to be told by Willson that only "qualified men" can be elders in his church. It's unclear from the article if this is part of the church bylaws or if it's simply a decree by Willson. It would seem Dr. Hawkes' defense hinges on this point. Have female elders always been expressly forbidden by this church's bylaws (in which case Dr. Hawkes should have moved on long ago if she objected and the majority of church members didn't desire to change things), or is this a lone declaration by Sandy Willson (in which case the board of elders needs to get a tighter rein on him)?

Here's some interesting background on Chris Craft, the criminal court judge charged with leading this kangaroo court. Funny, but his call for less transparency there flies in the face of his comments here. And in a statement that shows the true colors of authoritarian men and the men they surround themselves with... here is Chris Craft explaining that "laymen" don't possess the ability to understand what judges must endure, thus making them unqualified to serve on the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary, the misnamed body charged with hearing complaints against judges and imposing sanctions when necessary. In other words, only judges can police other judges. Which may help explain why corruption among the Tennessee court system is so rampant. But I digress.

What's even more appalling, as if this story could get more appalling, is that a friend of Dr. Hawkes, Jan Wardle, a fellow 2PC member and member of the church choir, dared to defend her friend in a letter to church leaders. The leadership responded in typical loving "Christian" kindness by banning Ms. Wardle from the choir "until the matter is resolved."

And it gets worse if Dr. Hawkes' account is accurate. She claims the church wants her to sign a document which states she cannot sue the church (she claims she couldn't sue them anyway) but that the church retains the right to sue her. Who in their right mind would sign something like that? Why would the church want her to sign something like that?

The comment stream, over 200 comments as of this writing, is interesting. As several people noted, there must be more to this story than what the article states. However, we've seen enough of this type behavior from other megachurch pastors with seemingly narcissistic tendencies to confidently speculate that the problem is an authoritarian figure who cannot ignore criticism and will not stand for anyone disagreeing with him or criticizing him in any way. Maybe the woman is a pain in the rear, but dealing with difficult people is part of being a leader. Unfortunately, the way many church "leaders" deal with those who don't fall into lockstep with them is to try to silence them through intimidation. Most of the time this is effective, but every once in a while you get a Nan Hawkes. Or a "Watchdog."

Ask any upper-level staff member at Bellevue about the "covenant" which they were required to sign after Steve Gaines was hired, the document they were required to sign if they wanted to keep their jobs. It all boils down to this. There will be no disagreement with "Pastor." You will tithe and we will check it. It's my way or the highway. If you don't like it, leave.

I couldn't have summed up this whole thing better than this:

patbuchannan writes:

So, to prove the himself not a narcissist, the minister moves to excommunicate someone who criticized him. Well, that's a narcissist for you.

Other select comments:

bingo writes:

This is embarrassing to all Christians. Leave the woman alone. The Church is full of gossips over there. You are all being laughed at. It is a church, not an empire. You people on this committee should be ashamed of yourself. She is the only woman in that church that gossips? Sure, go hang out with some of the PDS moms for 5 minutes and rethink that.

(PDS is Presbyterian Day School, 2PC's private all-boys school which will set you back about $18,000 a year in tuition and fees. I guess girls are expendable.)

rtaman50 writes:

I can only hope there are comments that were made that were more serious than what was pointed out in the article. Otherwise I agree with bingo. Gossip is a human failing that can be found in any church. And it is a forgivable sin. As a Presbyterian (and Christian who struggles daily with my failings) I am embarrassed that something like this should be elevated to the level of a church trial. If this lady is tried, you'd better go after the adulterers, liars, and cheats that are surely within your congregation. Church is supposed to be a hospital for sinners; not a shrine for sanctimonious "saints".

(I've never liked the "church is a hospital for sinners" line, but "rtaman50" states the obvious. Why this particular woman? And why the "minor" sin of "gossip" when you ignore the "major" sins of adultery, etc.?)

funnymom writes:

Willson and Hawkes need to be locked in a room together where they can come to an agreement without all the grandstanding in front of church elders and the media. I'm sure there's a way for both of them to save face, and to use this strife as an example of how healing can occur even when you think it can't. Of course, both of them have to want to heal. They need to pray for each other and not pray to win.

(You're an idealist. That would have been the way for Mac Brunson and Tom Rich to try to iron our their differences, too, or when people asked to meet with Steve Gaines, access that was flatly denied by David Coombs, but egos like those of Brunson, Gaines, and apparently Willson, will not permit coming to any "agreement" or any compromise. They will not even consider the possibility that they could be wrong about anything. Remember, it's their way or the highway.)

clintatl#542381 writes:

Typical. This "church" has become less about worshiping God and more about worshiping Sandy Willson. Sounds to me like Dr. Hawkes should find a real church and leave this cult of personality behind.

revreader writes:

in response to ohknow:

It hurts my heart also. I can only imagine that this lady's actions and words have been understated in this article. Sandy Willson is a reasonable man and a wonderful pastor.

The context of forgiveness in this case does equal acceptance. They are not trying to kick her out of the church, as in the Body of Christ. They are trying to get her to stop coming to this particular church.

Reading between the lines, I believe she's a raging feminist who's resentful that none of her female nominations have been approved. Maybe those denials have been on merits and have nothing to do with their sexual organs!? Just a thought.

If she is so disruptive to a congregation that this action is necessary, my guess is there's something terribly wrong (with her).

What would Jesus do since cynics are asking? Well, He is Lord and Savior so I doubt any of us actually have a clue what He'd do. But he does command us to forgive our debtors, and I'm sure most at the church will make forgiveness a top priority. But, forgiveness is far from acceptance.

Denials based on merits?

Riiiight, just like the Memphis Country Club turns down blacks for membership on their merits, not their color. Get your head out of the sand, good sister. The hypocrisy of this church and its leadership is off the charts.

dahrius1#340734 writes:

in response to robject:

Second Pres is a long, narrow city block of brick and intolerance. What an absurd and pathetic joke this religious star chamber is.

Yes, Second Presbyterian was a charter member of the MCRA along with Idlewild. The MCRA is a church sports organization that got kids from Whitehaven to play with kids from G'town and Bartlett. There were churches all over the city and sometimes that meant a white church like 2nd Pres would have to visit an unfamiliar part of town. It was great and just what this city needed until some of the parents from 2nd Pres, Independent Pres and Hope Pres decided they were uncomfortable going to those areas and started the ESCRA which basically means East Shelby white church rec assoc. Yeah, I'm sure this woman is a "raging feminist." 2nd Pres just isn't the place for people like her that would dare challenge the church. They do have a good school if you have loads of cash....

EdRedLives writes:

in response to wahoo71:

This is yet another example of the high level of arbitrary authoritarianism that has been going on for years at Second Presbyterian.


It’s not restricted to just Second Pres. That is the main reason why I do not belong to a large church. They tend to lose sight of the reason for their existence somewhere along the way.

AUserWithThisNameAlreadyExists writes:

The part of this that especially bothers me is that they wanted her to sign a paper stating she would not sue, but that said that they could sue her.

I wonder if a male acquaintance who dumped his wife and moved with a co-worker to another state is still considered a member in good standing there.


lifespalette54 writes:

in response to EastMem:

I am a member of Second Presbyterian Church. When I joined the church I took the same oath as every other member which states the Church has the authority to discipline its members who break God's law. I do not know the woman mentioned in the article but I have found 2PC to be a place of love and kindness. I am sorry for her unhappiness. All of us are fallen and sin. Thankfully, God has forgiven me and continues to forgive me. I thank the church for making hard decisions and holding its members to the law. I don't know what charges she has been accused of but I do know that 2PC takes this process very seriously. It is unfortunate she felt the need to go to the CA.

Careful EastMem..... talking about someone you don't even know and about something you don't know anything about.... isn't that gossip?

Maybe the church and Pastor Sandy should set your church trial for the next business meeting agenda as well...... rules are rules as you say.


rcoleman72 writes:

I'm Christian and I don't get this at all.

How and why in the world would you bar anyone let alone a professed Christian from Sunday school class? No matter what differences you have with them. If there's a perceived problem with a person's level of faith/obedience to God, how do you help them by banning them from being taught the word of God??? I would understand if the person in question was teaching the Sunday school class or holding some other position of authority (then you would just have them step down from leadership), but that isn't the case here.

And... a fellow church goer writes a letter on her behalf and is asked to leave the choir? What?!?! So anyone that supports a friend is punished?

C'mon fellow Christians, enough with the banning of people that aren't already "perfect Christians." We should be drawing those people nearer to us!!

EdRedLives writes:

Several years ago, we got a call at one of the "tolerant" Presbyterian churches in the general midtown area. We were met at the door by a staff member who angrily informed us that "one of those people" had wandered into the sanctuary. I never found out if "those people" referred to the guy being homeless or black, but he had in fact come into the church and was sitting in one of the pews. Just sitting.

The "tolerant" church staff demanded that we arrest him. They didn’t care why he was there and didn’t want to ask. He never gave us any trouble, or even said a word. I suspect he was there for help, but they wouldn't hear of it.

We made a big show of "arresting" the poor guy, but we seem to have gotten lost on the way to 201 and wound up at Union Mission instead.

So much for my dealings with the "tolerant" midtown / Presbyterian churches.

patbuchannan writes:

Well, she is just a woman, so why does what she said about Sandy carry any weight? I mean, you know how hysterical women can get.

(Good point.)

jackreacher writes:

I have been in church for more than 60 years and have never known anyone to get kicked out of the church for disagreeing with the minister or even talking against the minister. And kicking someone out of the choir for taking sides against the minister - the 2nd Pres leadership seems like a bunch of Nazis.

If it were me - I wouldn't take part in this kangaroo court they dreamed up - there has to be a better church to go to.

(I wouldn't go either, but if Ms. Hawkes does decide to show up I'd highly advise her to not go alone! Do NOT meet with these people alone! Take a lawyer and at least one trusted friend, perhaps Ms. Wardle. Oh, and be sure to record the proceedings.)

Griff64 writes:

in response to EastMem:

I am a member of Second Presbyterian Church. When I joined the church I took the same oath as every other member which states the Church has the authority to discipline its members who break God's law. I do not know the woman mentioned in the article but I have found 2PC to be a place of love and kindness. I am sorry for her unhappiness. All of us are fallen and sin. Thankfully, God has forgiven me and continues to forgive me. I thank the church for making hard decisions and holding its members to the law. I don't know what charges she has been accused of but I do know that 2PC takes this process very seriously. It is unfortunate she felt the need to go to the CA.

I would be wary of any church that makes members sign a membership covenant that includes submission to discipline. This is a troubling sign of an authoritarian pastor who has put himself in the business of substituting his own judgment for God's. It's also the first step in the slippery slope that is the descent from church to cult. (For an example of a church that's somewhat further down that slope, click on the link below.) It has also been my observation that churches which seek to enforce this type of submission in its membership also encourage and cultivate a culture of male dominance, which also seems to be at work here. One does not have to be a radical feminist to recognize it and push back against it.

This type of church power structure is not the norm, and it is not an EPC thing. I belong to another EPC church in the area, and we have nothing like it. (We also have about 50% female elders, and one female pastor out of three).

(Hey, someone else out there reads The Wartburg Watch!)

Sistawoman writes:

Good heavens, what has happened to 2nd Pres? When did they take a hard right and lock-step back a couple of centuries? The really puzzling thing to me is that I have known many sharp, professional, savvy women who belong to 2nd Pres. What are they thinking about the "no women shall be elders rule"? I can't believe they meekly go along with that like sheep or like brainwashed Muslim women.

(Which brings us back to the question of whether this is set-in-stone official church policy or Sandy Willson's proclamation.)

Balance writes:

What kind of church is this church??? Christian church? Is this Judge Chris Craft the same one who in now in trouble with the legislature for covering the corruption in the Tennessee Court of Judiciary? It is going to be interesting to know what kind of gossip this poor woman was spreading. Maybe it was just the truth.

AverageJoe1001 writes:

Although we don't know all the details of this story, a few things sound odd. If indeed they exclude women from the position of elder, then there is something fishy about this church.

There is a slippery slope when you start to single out people for exclusion based on their gender. Who else is excluded from this church leadership? Seems like a rather exculsive church.

Women in other cultures are routinely put down in a very public fashion (many are not allowed to drive or get a drivers license). Women in the American culture are put down in a more subtle fashion, but there are some striking parallels. Obviously stoning is not allowed in this culture, so perhaps a legal form of stoning. Having a judge preside over a church court seems to be a serious misuse of position and power.

Just a few thoughts. How about publishing all the facts about this case so we can get a real and accurate picture of this situation. It would benefit all churches in Memphis and also benefit women in Memphis if we could know and understand this situation. If this is a legitimate thing, then the church should be glad to have it aired in public, otherwise it would look like they are hiding some secrets.

(Ah, but their argument is that exclusion based on "gender" is biblical. After all, according to Piper, Driscoll, et al., Christianity is masculine. And as for having a judge presiding over things... A.C. Soud at FBC Jax, anyone?)

feburg writes:

in response to wahoo71:

This is yet another example of the high level of arbitrary authoritarianism that has been going on for years at Second Presbyterian.


I think with your statement, and the Dr's observation, alleging Willson to have a narcissistic personality (NP) disorder, and comments by others from his church, perhaps the church council should consider exploring that possibility before it moves against Dr. Hawkes. I would suggest that all parties (especially the appointed judge) consider the following article, with citations, that discusses NP leadership and the church: In particular, I found that this article suggests that "[it] would be prudent to... have a formal evaluation of the pastor done, ....", prior to exercising the extraordinary action of removing any parishioner. A NP pastor will always try to remove those who he feels threatens his authority (arbitrary authoritarianism) and can cause much dissention within the church.

(Yes, this would appear to be a good place to start. It'll also never happen.)

AverageJoe1001 writes:

I would hope that the women of this church would stand up for themselves and stand in solidarity behind this woman just for the principle of the thing. Are the women of this church capable of thinking for themselves, or are they entirely slave to the husband's power, position and money? The greater issue here goes far beyond this woman against this church.

(Don't hold your breath. Most probably didn't know about it until this morning, but don't you know the phone lines were buzzing and discussion among the PDC moms was especially lively today?)

1oftheBest writes:

Second Pres has absolutely nothing to do with God. Why would a church need another book on how to conduct yourself in the Lord's house. The BIBLE is what governs the Lord's house. When you make up your own church and rules God has nothing to do with that. One God, One Church, and One Baptism. The Church was paid for with the Blood of Jesus and it is written how you should worship and where. Doc, they're doing you a favor.

(The Book of Order and Discipline does have sort of a Book of Mormonish ring to it, doesn't it?)

priceless109 writes:

Sandy is among those that I respect most. I am sorry that he is having to deal with this.

(Oh, good grief. Poor Sandy. Look, Sandy Willson is a public figure. He should deal with this the same way most public figures, at least non-megachurch pastors, deal with it. He should either ignore it or try to learn from it. Just like Mac Brunson's actions and Steve Gaines' inactions (see Paul Willaims), Sandy Willson's own actions ultimately resulted in this making the front page of the newspaper.)

AverageJoe1001 writes:

in response to aztec13:

Whatever your personal beliefs, it is still unconstitutional for the government or lawyers or judges to tell churches how to govern themselves. You'd be surprised how many women don't agree with you. An elder is an ordained position, and many men and women think that ordained positions should only be filled by men. It's not necessarily what I believe, but I can see the argument from both sides.

I would not be surprised in the least if many women did not agree with me. How could any woman think logically if she had been taught all her life that she is inferior due to her gender, and unequal to a man. If you hear such garbage all your life you come to believe this nonsense. You have only to visit one of the other Presbyterian churches in town that have a woman minister to realize just how equal a woman minister is to a man. I cannot help but admire the courage of that woman who was kicked out of the choir. At least one woman at 2nd Pres has the dignity and courage to stand up and say in public, "This is not right."

songbird61 writes:

I was a member of 2PC for years. At one time a teacher of a women's group was asked to stop teaching. Her husband was divorcing her so he could marry his mistress. That church is ruled with an iron fist -- Sandy's.

Poonster writes:

According to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church's Book of Order and Discipline, "immorality" is:

" ... conduct inconsistent with the biblical standards for conduct, including but not limited to bickering, brawling, debauchery, drunkenness, gossiping, hatred, idolatry, impurity, slander, and sexual immorality such as adultery, fornication, homosexual practice, and bestiality. The terms 'bickering' and 'gossiping' as used herein are intended to deal with those acts that are disruptive to the peace and unity of the church."

That should wipe out about two-thirds of the congregation, shouldn't it?

(I'd guess closer to 100%.)

synapse writes:

I've been wandering why The Commercial Appeal has been ignoring the Mo' Money Taxes thing.

Now I most certainly understand.

Certainly this incendiary crisis demands all available journalistic resources available.

Has Channel 5 sent their helicopter yet?

(Certainly. It is indeed curious why this story would make the front page of the paper.)

Eaglemate writes:

in response to aztec13:

If the EPC is like many denominations, they may allow any number of things, but they leave the decision up to the individual church. That way if a church congregation is more conservative, they may choose not to allow female elders (or whatever), while a more liberal church in the same denomination can have all the female elders they like. Neither congregation is going against what the denomination decides is acceptable, and therefore both liberal and conservative churches within the same denomination can be happy. It's supposed to cause less division this way, but there are always people who want to change the nature of the church they're in rather than finding a church that fits their beliefs. It's very telling that this woman has chosen to take her argument to the media (who love church division). I suppose it takes a narcissist to know one, since only a narcissist would assume the entire city of Memphis wants to hear her complaint against a small group of people.

Aztec13, OK, I get that. Second Pres gets to decide whether it wants women elders and no by-laws dictate that. I looked then to what seems to be accepted in similar churches of the EPC, and after hunting around today, it looks like the EPC does have churches who have female elders.

I am not lobbying one way or the other, but I would muse over a few things, the first being how change ever comes about. We said blacks shouldn't use public restrooms, and someone objected to that. We said we shouldn't get involved in Nazi Germany, but someone objected to the lunacy of that.... see where I am going with this? How does change and evolution ever occur without strong people objecting to circumstances that may not be acceptable?

My only position is that if a church member is being "investigated" and a "tribunal" held because she is objecting to the lack of female elders, and someone in authority is making aggressive moves to denounce her because of difference of opinion, then the utter lack of respect is unacceptable no matter what the subject is.

Maybe the issue needs to be put on the table forcefully.

Next, I want to know whether this kind of "tribunal" has been held for other members who have failed to meet the "codes" of the church, such as marital infidelity, debauchery (wonder how many DUI's you'd find among the members.... think I'll have to run a check on that one); other criminal offenses. Get my drift here?

Failure to apply this kind of action as a matter of routine and uniformity, is selecting her and singling her out. It smacks of a personal agenda and persecution.

Then, one has to ask the obvious question. What rationale is used to keep women out of positions of power in the church? Some EPC churches embrace it, so they must have come to theology that supports such, right? That tells me that Second Presbyterian is fighting mighty hard to stanch an evolution of common sense and just plain wisdom, if not Biblical connotations that support women as elders. Or did other EPC churches just "make that up"?

Finally, my question is "Who is 'the church'"? Did the church hold a referendum or stage in-house focus groups to discover what "the church" wants? Or is the church the male pastor and 12 male elders? Well, that one is kinda "duh".

Imatiger63 writes:

in response to AverageJoe1001:

Why has this story made the front page of the Commercial Appeal? Perhaps because it is about more than a woman, a church and its pastor. Perhaps it is about the God given rights of women to be treated as equals. Perhaps it is about being able to speak your mind and support another church member without being excluded from the choir. Wouldn't it be interesting if every woman member of this church wrote a letter of support of this woman to the pastor. What would they do, exclude all the women from the choir. Women are the church just as any man is. The church better parachute in some more high powered lawyers on this one, they are on the wrong side of the issue, and no amount of lawyers can correct this situation.

I agree. I am a Christian, but it bothers me to no end how a few claim to be more in touch with God than the rest of us. These people make themselves out to be the judge and jury of a woman who may or may not have said something mildly inappropriate. And to try to silence others by banning them from other church activities for excercising their right to free speech is appalling. It's no wonder that organized religion turns so many off. Their treatment of this woman is kinda in the same mold as those idiot Muslims that call for the death of someone that says something against Islam. Except the death part, the basis is the same -- intolerence even as Jesus preached tolerence and forgiveness of EVERYONE. This woman is going to be 'on trial'? Wow, I wouldn't have believed it, seems like these people are living in the 16th century.


So what will happen next? Will there be some resolution before "court" convenes? Will the church have an MPD detective from the congregation start an "investigation" into Ms. Hawkes' "possible criminal activities"? Will they issue trespass papers against her and any family members? Will the elders draft a "resolution" warning others about what will happen if they dare to criticize the leadership? If so, will they read it out loud during a church service, have the congregation vote on it, and nail it on the front page of the church's website? Will Nan Hawkes start a blog? Will Jan Wardle return to the choir? Will anyone in the choir walk out in support of her? Will Sandy Willson rail against the sin of gossip in his next sermon and remind the sheep he's "God's man" with special God-ordained authority? Will anyone leave 2PC over this? Will the church's income go down? If there's any fallout from this and it hits them in the collection plate... watch out.