pro·to·col: a system of rules that explain the correct conduct and procedures to be followed in formal situations Merriam-Webster
We need to return to the circumstances of the Sitler–Travis marriage because of a newly discovered protocol that addresses the Kirk elders’ responsibility & authority in this matter. The Kirk elders documented this protocol in the Christ Church Book of Worship, Faith, and Practice, which among other things is the Kirk’s official manual for ecclesiastical process: “This is a collection of procedures and practices that we use to govern Christ Church in a consistent and conscientious manner” (Introduction, 7).
To remind you, on September 5, 2015, Pastor Doug Wilson of Christ Church, Moscow, published An Open Letter from Christ Church on Steven Sitler on his personal website. Mr. Wilson wrote it “on behalf of the elders of Christ Church” and it includes the following defense of Sitler’s marriage:
“. . . the decision to marry was the couple’s decision, not ours. . . Moreover, if everything is on the table, we do not believe the church has the authority to prohibit or ‘not allow’ a lawful marriage.”
One month later Mr. Wilson doubled-down on this argument to defend himself against Rod Dreher’s criticisms:
“What precisely would Rod have wanted me to do? Would he want me to refuse to conduct the wedding, or would he want me to simply prohibit the wedding flat out? If I just refused to officiate, and Steven got married by a justice of the peace, what then? Would I have to excommunicate him for marrying? There is no biblical case for that. If his wife is fully apprised of all the facts, and she was, and she wanted to marry him, should I excommunicate them both for marrying? Don’t I need a verse or something?” (From Where You Are, October 2, 2015)
Accordingly, Douglas Wilson claimed that the Kirk did not have the authority to override state law and he claimed that Kirk could not discipline members who got married under lawful circumstances, which brings us to the Christ Church “Protocol on Courtship/Engagement Disputes”:
Protocol on Courtship/Engagement Disputes
In most cases, parents with children seeking marriage do the right thing in guiding their children toward good bonds and away from potentially unhealthy marriage relationships. Sometimes, however, parents can misjudge courtship/engagement situations in a detrimental way, causing more grief than good. In either case, our assumption is that parental authority has the benefit of the doubt and default authority.
In the rare cases where two individuals in good standing with the church seek permission for engagement/marriage but are not answered or are refused permission without good grounds by one or both sets of parents, the couple can appeal to the elders for protection against church discipline if they nonetheless choose to go ahead and pursue marriage in such circumstances. The elders recognize that courtship and engagement situations often involve tough judgment calls by the parents, often including heartbreak based on those decisions, and we want to support parents in the normal difficulties these situations raise, but our focus here is on setting protections in the extreme cases.
In those odd cases where the couple appeals to the elders for protection from negative discipline, the couple bears the burden of proof as to why the elders should allow this, and their reasons should not be an occasion for disrespect against the parents. The elders will investigate the situation, counseling any and all as possible. If the elders discover no good grounds to hinder the relationship from proceeding toward marriage, then the elders can refuse to bring disciplinary action against the couple seeking marriage, in effect, granting them permission to be married without the threat of negative ecclesiastical discipline. (Christ Church Book of Faith, Worship, and Practice, page 184)1
These three paragraphs mean what they say: The elders of Christ Church assert themselves as the final authority to sanction a marriage. Specifically, if two adults want to get married against their parents’ wishes, the Kirk declares its authority to “bring disciplinary action against the couple seeking marriage” and the Kirk claims authority to grant the couple “permission to be married without the threat of negative ecclesiastical discipline.” This Kirk policy does not affirm or acknowledge the legal right of a couple to marry or the lawfulness of such a union if they act on that right. Rather, it threatens the couple with discipline if they exercise their legal right. This Kirk protocol contradicts Mr. Wilson’s claim, “Moreover, if everything is on the table, we do not believe the church has the authority to prohibit or ‘not allow’ a lawful marriage.”The Kirk elders state the reason for this protocol: “our focus here is on setting protections in the extreme cases.”2 I cannot imagine any case more extreme than a fixated serial pedophile who wants to marry and father children, and I cannot think of anyone who needs more protection than the infant child of a fixated serial pedophile. The Sitler–Travis marriage appears to be the kind of worst-case scenario that moved the Kirk elders to adopt this policy. Sure, the context stipulates a disagreement between parents and their children but the principle still applies — the Kirk arrogates supreme authority to veto parents, couples, and the state in the matter of lawful marriages.
Doug Wilson’s baloney about “everything is on the table” did not relieve the Kirk elders of their responsibility to stop this catastrophe; it obligated them to act with greater urgency. Now everything is on the table. Baby boy Sitler lives in a home without the security of two parents who love him. His father wants to molest him and his mother — well, no one knows what she is thinking. And Douglas Wilson pleads helplessness after the fact, knowing that he had an official written policy authorizing him to “prohibit or ‘not allow’ a lawful marriage.”
One last point: Douglas Wilson published An Open Letter from Christ Church on Steven Sitler while acting in capacity of his office as the Presiding Minister of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) and no one from the CREC has attempted to correct this falsehood or the others, which we have documented.
1 Yes, this policy is absurd but they wrote it and they adopted it. Imagine if two members in good standing get married against their parent’s wishes, in the face of threatened discipline from the Kirk. What next — what kind of biblical discipline can the elders exercise? Do they suspend the young couple from the Table? Do they excommunicate them? This is silly. All of the arguments that Mr. Wilson made to Rod Dreher apply. Not so with Steven Sitler, who stated his intent to father children before he married. Now he has a baby boy and he admitted he has “deviant sexual fantasies regarding the infant” — Doug Wilson and his baseball bat do nothing.
2 According to Doug Wilson, the elders hardly discussed the matter. From the Q&A at the special Kirk HOH meeting:
QUESTION: Did the elders debate about the upcoming marriage, or was that something that the minister decided — that you decided?
DOUGLAS WILSON: I don’t remember a debate. The minutes do record discussion of it beforehand, uh, before and after. And there was discussion of it at the heads of households. So, um, this is 2011, April of 2011,
“Douglas updated the elders on the upcoming Sitler–Travis wedding.”
So the elders talked about it.
“Douglas will mention the wedding at the upcoming HOH meeting.”
So everybody in the congregation was informed. And,
“Douglas will send Toby a copy of what he’s going to say at HOH.”
So we had full ventilation of the upcoming wedding at the time. Some of the other elders can help me. I don’t remember any debate, “Yes, we should, no we shouldn’t.” I don’t remember anything like that, but there was full disclosure — full ventilation of the situation. (October 27, 2015, Christ Church HOH Meeting)