The Saga of My Expulsion from
Hope Christian Church

Steve Amato
of
The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources  


On March 21st, 2012, in the middle of trying to reconcile with the elders in seeking a team of three mediators as the elders had demanded of me, they suddenly rescinded the invitation to reconcile with me for no apparent reason and expelled me from Hope Christian Church. I have yet to hear from the elders as to why they had rescinded the invitation to reconcile with me.

Here's what they wrote to me:

We, therefore, with deep sadness and heavy hearts, absent any appropriate repentance on your part, rescind the invitation to continue efforts towards reconciliation with you, directly or with the assistance of a mediation panel. There are only two possible outcomes, either (1) you meet with us in person and repent, or (2) you completely remove yourself from the HCC community and seek a church with elders under whose authority you are able to sit comfortably.

In our view you would need to repent of the following:

 

  • of accusing the elders of intentionally mishandling Scripture
  • of failing to submit to our overseeing authority as a Sunday School teacher
  • of accusing Michael Bradford of being an incompetent elder
  • of accusing the entire elder board of incompetence in ordaining Michael Bradford as elder
  • of failing to recognize your own pride (evidenced in your view of yourself in a special class, namely, a person who submits to no overseeing authority)
  • of consistently failing to treat us in a respectful manner evidenced by the language and remarks made about us particularly that we are conceited, hateful, corrupt, disingenuous, duplicitous, and untrustworthy (and removing such derogatory comments from your website)
  • of imputing motives upon our actions that border on libel and making that known to other church members
  • of consistently using rhetoric that is destructive rather than edifying


Signed: Michael Bradford, David Chamberlain, Todd Cravens, Douglas Simpson, Iain Whitfield




I wrote a response to their accusations of which I share at the end. But first to go through the history of these events:


"It is Finished"

As of 3/20/12 the elders of HCC excommunicated me, and that without providing any scriptural basis for doing so, nor did they allow this matter to come to the church for judgment so that they may avoid being scrutinized. I was condemned without a trial. And what was my "sin" but simply scrutinizing the elders as any good Berean would do. I was condemned for much the same reason as Jesus was, and was condemned behind closed doors to the shame of the elders of HCC. They failed to follow the Matthew 18 procedure in having me expelled, nor did they provide any scriptural reasons for this atrocity they committed against me.

 They refuse any correspondence with me, even if it be through a mediator. Doug Chase is doing his own investigation into the matter. They held a meeting after my expulsion which I was not invited to, but my friends attended. Ruben asked them why I had been excommunicated without allowing the church to be involved according to Mt 18:15-17.They said it wasn't a Mt 18:15-17 process. And this despite the fact that one of the points of their handout they provided, which is the pdf file linked below (HCC Elders Ultimatum), they claim it was a Matt 18 process. And at that meeting they failed to mention any scriptural basis for the atrocity they have committed. Months later Doug Chase asked as to what was their scriptural basis for having me expelled, but after waiting for months they finally got back to him and said that they refuse to answer the question.

Though all I said to them is true, they have returned evil for good, stigmatizing me for life. San, Ruben and Dan joined me in attending another church - Countryside Bible Chapel in Lexington. Ruben even joined me in attending the Bible study group they had there. But in just 3 weeks I had attended there I was expelled, and that after the elders there had talked with Todd, the teaching elder at HCC. They sent me a letter characterizing me as a sinful Christian and that neither I nor anyone associated with me would be allowed to attend their church. I wrote to them asking what sin I had committed, but they never responded to that.

This clearly demonstrates the anti-Berean sentiment of institutional church leaders in this area. Because that's essentially the reason I was expelled. I was expelled for being a Berean, which is reckoned honorable according to Acts 17:11. Seems nothing has changed since Jesus' day. If you scrutinize the religious elite, this is characteristically what you should expect.



Reviewing my original excommunication from HCC, this is a blurb from the pdf the elders of HCC sent me on 3/20/12. "We, therefore, with deep sadness and heavy hearts, absent any appropriate repentance on your part, rescind the invitation to continue efforts towards reconciliation with you, directly or with the assistance of a mediation panel. There are only two possible outcomes, either (1) you meet with us in person and repent, or (2) you completely remove yourself from the HCC community and seek a church with elders under whose authority you are able to sit comfortably." The end of the pdf was signed, not simply "the elders" as they had in the past, but explicitly "Michael Bradford, David Chamberlain, Todd Cravens, Douglas Simpson, Iain Whitfield"

I've linked their whole pdf file at the end of the series of correspondence I've documented below. I don't completely agree with their viewpoint as to the events which have transpired as they have recorded in that document, nor their characterization of myself. Furthermore regarding their pdf, the elders withhold a significant amount of information whereby people could make an informed decision regarding this matter, which itself says something.

But ironically this action, along with all the actions they've taken against me as recorded below would seem only to affirm my view. But let third parties judge for themselves based upon a rather comprehensive collection of the correspondence made between myself and elders recorded below along with their edicts and actions taken against me. I trust many will discern the same things that I've discerned over these many months.

As for this ultimatum, one of the many things I find interesting is that I was in the very process of trying to comply with their requirement to develop a panel mediators to continue this reconciliation process, as can be seen from the correspondence I had with them near the end of the web page, when I received this ultimatum of theirs whereby they have rescinded the invitation to reconcile with me.

The Elders Final Decree

I received this from the elders on 3/22/12

Pursuant to our letter sent to you on March 20, in which we indicated a March 22 deadline and in our email sent to you last night (clarifying what you needed to repent of) we stated that we needed to hear your decision (either to repent or remove yourself) by 7:30 p.m. tonight. We did not hear from you, so we concluded that you had chosen to remove yourself from HCC. Whether you have chosen to leave or not, regrettably, we are now requesting you to leave HCC. We also clearly advised you that we would communicate your response to those whom we knew were aware of the situation.

Removing yourself from HCC means no longer attending HCC or any of its events or Bible studies. Meeting with HCC members would be a decision between you and the other person. Anyone is at liberty to attend your Bible study provided that it does not take place in HCC facilities.
Apparently by "you completely remove yourself from the HCC community" what they meant was HCC programs and not the people. (typical!)

FORCED OUT OF HCC

As of March 22,2012 I, Steve Amato, have been forced out of Hope Christian Church against my will by a unilateral decision of the elders which they made apart from the consent of the members of HCC.

Members Accountability

All that the elders do reflects upon the members as to the reputation of HCC and that of its members. However, most at HCC have been largely unaware of what's been going on between myself and the elders, and so at this point I don't hold them accountable. Rather their reputation in this matter and that of HCC will be established by what they do next and by what they fail to do next.


Summary

To summarize the situation up to this point,

1. The Censure

I was co-leading the Sunday School class on 1John with my old friend Michael Bradford who had now been an elder for year. He asked me, over email, to comment on a lesson he was preparing. I had found something that was alarming to me in his lesson, something which was an on-going issue, and which could, if unchecked, have huge ramifications for the future of HCC, such as indicating a potential trend which could lead HCC down to the path towards Unitarianism. So I admonished him on that point, which he didn't take very well. In a private meeting with him afterwards he told me that my admonishment to him was sinful, and added that I was characteristically sinful (despite the fact that he and Todd chose me to teach Sunday School), and he then went to the elders who immediately removed from teaching the Sunday School. They then called me to a secret meeting to listen to my viewpoint, and again they reacted in much the same way, censuring me entirely from teaching in any official capacity at HCC, including teaching in any small groups, including the Chinese Bible Study I've been leading for many years now. They sent me an official edict as a response to the testimony I had give them. Near the end they conclude, "we cannot permit you to continue to teach at HCC under our overseeing authority as elders. Furthermore we believe that your teaching role as a small group leader within HCC should be similarly withdrawn."

Some time later they relented on the censure they had imposed upon me with regards to my small group, but continue to ban me from teaching, (and later banned me from all HCC activities other than the corporate worship and the weekly men's Bible study, as I will note below) Furthermore they indicated, that if they are not satisfied with the outcome of these negotiations, they say, and I quote, "Absent that, we presume that, in light of your views of our leadership, it might prove difficult and unedifying for you to remain." 

At the time, I viewed this whole thing as an overblown reaction on their part to an admonishment I gave. But the implications were disturbing.
2. The Resolution
On 12/5/11 San and I had a meeting with the elders of HCC at my house. At the outcome of that meeting a resolution was accepted that the elders would officially take the public position that it is contrary to HCC policy to allow Bereans to teach at HCC in an official capacity. To elaborate, what was told us by Iain was that the viewpoints of the elders were not to be scrutinized by Sunday School teachers at HCC. I told him that as a Berean I require the freedom to scrutinize all viewpoints in light of the Word of God. He then sat back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, looked up on the ceiling and then twice repeated to himself, "Can Bereans teaching Sunday School at HCC?" His decision was NO! And this decision, this policy, this edict Iain arrived at in unilateral fashion without consulting the two other elders who were present. (This becomes more relevant later on). On that basis I, as a Berean, had to step down from teaching. I was also informed that opportunity would be afforded me to explain to the class the reason I had voluntarily stepped down.
3. The Resolution Broken

What disturbed me was what followed that meeting.
1. They had agreed to give me the opportunity to explain to the class why I had voluntarily stepped down. But after months, no such opportunity was availed me.

2. They did not apply this same policy equally to others.

3. Just before leaving my house I asked Iain as to what public explanation he would suggest I give to others. He said just to tell people I don't know all the viewpoints of the elders and thus I am disqualified from teaching since whatever is taught must conform to the viewpoints of the elders, and you can't do so unless you know all their viewpoints. Yet soon after, Todd wrote me saying, "I do not hold the expectation that SS teachers must conform their interpretations to what all the elders believe." This contradicts what I was told at the meeting. And he goes on, "How is that even possible? As you have stated, it isnít. If that expectation is the case, then you are right, that would indeed be placing the elderís interpretation of Scripture above the meaning of Scripture" Though I've continued to query about this ambiguity, they continue to evade the question.
4. The Second Expulsion
Furthermore much as at the meeting their anti-Berean policy was to be limited to official teachers, in fact they have created hostile environment for Bereans in general. Months later in hypocrisy Michael encouraged the class to be Berean and scrutinize his teachings. I was no longer a teacher, but simply was attending the class, so I thought I would be allowed to scrutinize his teachings. Afterall, he literally asked for it. So I did so. And in addition I reminded him of the anti-Berean policy, the basis of which I was disqualified from teaching, and the fact that the elders have yet to allow a public explanation to the class as to my stepping down from teaching.

He forwarded the email to the other elders, claimed to disagree with everything I said, but failed to elaborate on what he meant, and went on the say, "we've forbeared your sins". And again did not elaborate upon what he meant and despite writing him again concerning this matter he refused to respond. And I also included this comment to him, "Furthermore notice that with regards to my comments on IJohn, you offer no rational opposition, no discussion, but simply discard it out of hand. Doesn't that tell you something about yourself? You explicitly encouraged in the last Sunday School class that people scrutinize your teachings. But when they do so, this is the attitude they're met with. Face it, while claiming to be Berean and telling others to be Berean, you have an anti-Berean sentiment, which is consistent with the policy of HCC as established by Iain Whitfield who apparently has the same sentiment, and for which reason I was forced out of the Sunday School teaching program at HCC." Yet no response.

Given this kind of treatment I decided about a week and a half later to unaffiliate my Bible study group from HCC. This was an option we had discussed with the elders back in Dec of which they had approved. So on March 2nd I wrote the elders of this change of status for their information and again reminded them of the reason they had banned me from teaching and the fact that they have failed to make that policy public and they have failed to provide a public explanation for my stepping down from teaching. I noted to them also the recent response I had received after scrutinizing Michael's teachings, at his own request, and noted that it appeared their anti-Berean policy extended beyond merely Sunday School teachers and rather it seems they have created a hostile environment for Bereans in general. My Bible study group is intended to be Berean and as such I find it necessary to unaffiliate it from HCC.

But rather than respond with a rational dialog, Iain informed me that the elders decided to hold a meeting without any further input from myself, to determine how to respond to me. "God willing, on March 9 we expect to return to collectively discern God's will for the next step of response to you." Indeed if I hadn't written them concerning my unaffiliating my Bible study from HCC, it seems I would not have even have been informed of such a meeting at all. Their response was the following:
Dear Steve,

I am writing to you on behalf of the elders. We would first like to affirm our love and concern for you. In addition, we would like to encourage you to continue your participation in corporate worship and the weekly Bible study, and you are welcome to continue using HCC to host your small group, though you have withdrawn any affiliation with HCC.

With regards to our present impasse, would you be willing to invite a mutually agreeable third-party to mediate further dialogue in the hope of arriving at an agreeable conclusion?

Sincerely,

Todd Cravens
This decree thus appears to presently restrict me to two HCC activities, namely the corporate worship and the weekly Bible study, of which I take to be the Wed Men's Bible Study I've been attending. Thus in response to my comments and inquires, rather than answering my inquiries, they have imposed further restrictions upon me and in addition they have imposed the restriction that any further dialog with them requires a third-party. In fact later they suggested a panel of three third-parties.

Now I'm in the process of trying to locate enough people to fulfill their restriction just to get them to respond to my queries. Essentially, barring finding such a panel we can both agree on,  they are telling me they are no longer on speaking terms with me with regards to dealing with the contents of my queries.

My impression is they that are simply trying to evade the issue by taking steps to restrict my activities and my correspondence with them in hopes that I would simply leave HCC that what they have done may be swept under the carpet.

Update: As of the night of 3/17/12 the elders have allegedly (you can never tell with these guys) countermanded this particular decree of theirs, thus freeing me up from all the restrictions they've placed upon me other than allowing me to teach. Still no explanation was given, nor any response to the queries I had been sending them. But the deception they tried to pull in this regard is a matter of record as shown by the correspondence near the end of this document.
5. What Needs Resolving?
I think as a necessary step to reconciliation, it seems reasonable that the elders will have to discuss with the mediators:

1. What do the elders say was the policy imposed upon me as justification for my exclusion from teaching Sunday School, as agreed upon at the resolution meeting in Dec?
 
If what the elders allege is different than what was explicitly told San and myself at the resolution meeting in Dec, then we're going to have to have more discussion about that.
 
2. Was the policy applied to me without partiality?
 
3. Why did the elders fail to fulfill the stipulation of providing a public explanation of my stepping down from teaching? And why did they fail to so much as to respond concerning this point when I had written them on Feb 20th saying, "no public explanation was ever given for my being removed."? And then again on March 2nd saying, "no public explanation was ever given for having ejected me from the Sunday School teaching program, nor were the restrictions, which were placed upon me, applied equally to others. These actions, as you may know, I reckon to be malicious on your part."
 
4. In fact after writing them in Feb concerning their failure both to fulfill this stipulation and their failure to apply their policy without partiality, on what basis did they then hold a meeting without any further dialog with myself and sent me an edict welcoming me only with regards to two HCC activities, namely the "corporate worship and the weekly Bible study"?

We'll just have to see if we can even get this far.
Presently I would have to characterize HCC as a church hostile to Bereans. Hopefully that will change some day. Furthermore given my personal experience with the elders I note they are characteristically duplicitous, saying what they find to be politically expedient at the time for the sake of their public image, but taking the very opposite stand at other times. So I've learned to put much more stock in their actions or inactions rather than in their words. The elders are unsupervised, having no one scrutinizing them. And given what I've been subjected to over these many months it seems they refuse to be scrutinized. So I'm calling on the church to do that.

3/20/12

The Elder's Final Ultimatum

Just 3 days after countermanding their decree which had restricted me to only two HCC activities, namely the corporate worship and the weekly men's Bible study, the elders have rescinded their invitation to seek to reconcile with me and that the only possible outcome, barring me "repenting" (whatever they might mean by that), is that I remove myself completely from the HCC community.


A Warning to the Simple

Let the naive be forewarned of the rhetoric of the elders. For "he who hates, disguises it with his lips, And lays up deceit within himself; When he speaks kindly, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart; Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly." Pr 26:24-26

Summary of the Content of the Scrutiny

The present conflict has little do with any essential doctrinal issues. Rather the primary issue has become whether the elders at HCC can be scrutinized at all without threatening those who do so with expulsion, as has been my experience. It has become about issues of practice and church policies used to justify such practices rather than about issues of doctrine. And it is increasingly becoming more about the character of the elders themselves and inevitably about the reputation of Hope Christian Church.

But as for the content of the scrutiny, there were two occasions in which I scrutinized Michael Bradford's teachings at his own request - once in October, and once in Feb. Each case resulted in me being expelled from HCC to different degrees. The first got me expelled from teaching, and the second got me expelled from all but two HCC activities and has led to these present circumstances. At issue is not so much the subject of the scrunity but how the elders handled it.

But as for the subject of the scrutiny, both times involved largely the same subject. In both cases Michael quite literally asked for it and they both involved his Sunday School teachings on 1John. And in both cases I expressed concern to him that he was making statements about the meaning of 1John without thorough reseach. I had made him aware of certain facts but he chose to disregard them without giving a basis for doing so.

In the first case, I was a co-teaching 1John with him, having been chosen to do so by he himself and Todd. And seeing as such a role implied I endorsed his teachings, I held him to a high standard. Today in the Christian community there are two popular yet incompatible, diametrically opposed interpretations of 1John. Basically the two involve whether John is primarily talking about the distinction between the saved and unsaved among the visible church, which is the traditional viewpoint and follows a clear reading of the text, or whether 1John is talking about two different categories of people among those who are saved.

For the two classes I managed to teach early on, I presented these two different interpretions and the history behind them and began to show how one had more weight than the other, that is, can be shown to be more valid than the other based upon the scriptural evidence of which I planned to continue to validate as I taught through 1John.

Michael, on the other hand, taught as an indoctrinator. He taught his view without allowing his interpretation to be scrutinized in light of a comprehensive inductive study of scripture. Fine, that's his choice, but as a Berean, and as a co-teacher in a position implying that I'm endorsing his teachings, I'm going to scrutinize him. He in fact asked me to scrutinized him, but as I've learned, he really doesn't accept scrutiny to say the least!

Concerning the two classes I did teach prior to being expelled see http://www.bcbsr.com/books/1jnss.html The first three links are my notes for those classes. And those following are what I had planned to continue on teaching.

After I was expelled from teaching I continued to attend the class and I continued to be disturbed at how Michael was treating the content of 1John. What I considered the major theme of 1John he trivialized, and largely skipped over the most important section of 1John - namely 1John 2:28-3:10, replacing it with teachings about the Sabbath, taxes and tithing, none of which are spoken of in that section or anywhere in 1John. I had pointed this out to him, but he disregarded it. His teachings don't seem to touch on the actual content of 1John, but rather he seems to use words in 1John as a springboard to teach whatever subject he wants. That's his choice. I prefer more of an inductive study rather than topics which avoid the actual text. But again, when it comes to the text, it bothers me that he makes statements about the text which are not validated by the text itself.

Anyhow the next incident occurred in Feb. In this case he was teaching on 1John 3:12 "Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brotherís were righteous." And again, rather than deal with what the text actually said and how John was using it in 1John, he spent the whole time in Genesis.

I sent him an email, part of which said, "You spend a whole week in a passage in Genesis rather than in 1John, where "his brother" is a phrase whose precedence is Cain - whom John explicitly states is of the devil. This is important because this indicates the phrase "his brother", which is used commonly in 1John, is simply a generic phrase and does not necessarily speak of one's salvation status. This comes in conflict with your usage of "brother", whereby you claim that you would never call a "brother" he who habitually sins, even though you call me a "brother" whom you claim habitually sins. You're going to run into a person referred to as "his brother" in 1John 5 whom it states characteristically sins and even goes on to remind the reader that those who characteristically sin are not born of God."

In my dealings with Michael over these months he's been rather duplicitous as to what his stand actually is concerning "Christians" who characteristically sin. And I've also found that such duplicity is not unique to Michael, as an elder, alone.


Below I simply provide the correspondence without much additional comment so that third parties can may come to their own conclusion based upon the evidence.

PreCursor

  As a precursor to my admonishment to Michael, there was a woman who attended my class (http://www.bcbsr.com/books/1jnss_battle.html) who got upset and complained to her husband who taught a different class. He then confronted me with some hostility, but later apologized for his attitude. I later met with him over coffee to discuss the issue and that went well. But prior to that I sent this him:

10/24/11

"One reason why I presented the various theological models present in the Evangelical community was because alot of them - the Wesleyan, the Pentecostal, the Chaferian, the Keswickian - all take a significant hit in light of 1John and as such would have to be reevaluated to allow for what 1John teaches.

By the way, concerning Bill Bright and CCC, in his book "The Gospel according to the Apostles" MacArthur notes the connection between Chaferism and CCC and the dissemination of that theology through the use of booklets and tracts.

You had mentioned about unity, many times people achieve a sense of unity by ignoring differences or acknowledging them but reckoning such differences to be trivial and agreeing to disagree. This has typically been the case at HCC where people hold such diverse viewpoints, but the problem is 1John explicitly conflicts with alot viewpoints held by those at HCC. But then again those who are too "uncomfortable" with 1John don't have to show up. They can join your class and simply sweep the 1John class under the rug."

steve
I include this because the elders later allude to it.

He responds:

10/25/11

Thank you for getting back to me. After reading your email I sense that this is an issue that needs to be discussed at a leadership level in our church. I would like your permission to forward our emails to Michael and Todd so they can enter the discussion.
And I respond

10/25/11

Re: 1John
Sure, if you like, though I'm not sure what you see as an "issue" which needs to be discussed as a leadership level. But I'll be glad to participate in a discussion over whatever it is you see as an issue along with the others. Better than people gossiping behind my back! Michael, of course, is well aware of both the content and style of my teaching, having also attended the classes of which I am merely co-teaching every 3 weeks. Todd, as well as others at HCC who are on the general email list have been provided links to the lectures and handouts, as you have as well. David Chamberlain has also been sitting in on the classes and has commended me on both both classes I've taught. And others have done so as well. And frankly no one, other than yourself who didn't even attend, has personally told there being an "issue" with my teaching so severe that it needs to be dealt with on a "leadership level". In fact I don't recall personally hearing any negative criticism of my teachinng at all. But feel free to bring up whatever is on your mind.

steve
He responded

10/25/11

Steve,

Thanks for your permission to bring this discussion under the auspices of our church leadership. I think it will be helpful to flesh out any potential issues that need to be addressed. Just to be clear, I do not have any specific issue with your teaching since I was not there. I was only intending to make you and Michael aware that some of the folks sitting in your class were uncomfortable afterwards.  I am hopeful and prayerful that this process will help us all to engage with the truth and apply it correctly to our lives.

10/29/11

Original Admonishment

Michael,

A couple of points, as to your statement concerning teaching, "itís not acceptable for us to be offensive, antagonistic, or divisive in the manner in which we communicate the Word of God.", that's rather subjective as one could make such a claim a number of times concerning Paul's writings, let alone the manner in which Jesus taught.

As I have been informed that as a Sunday School teacher I am to represent the sentiment of the elders, even though I'm not completely aware of what that sentiment is. For example if the sentiments of the elders involves incorrectly handling the Word of God, I cannot agree to go along with that.

Michael, I take issue with much of what you have been saying in all your lessons so far as to what John is talking about in his epistle of 1John. Granted that there are things which are true, but truths of which John is not talking about. So I don't necessarily take issue with you on every point as to whether what you have been teaching is Biblically correct, but rather whether those things are what John is talking about.

At least at the end of this lesson on 1John 2:7-11 you include "Two Common Interpretations", whereas so far you mostly spoken of just one interpretation, the wrong one! But even here you fail to speak on the exegetical basis of the second interpretation and what is exegetically wrong with the first.

But perhaps you feel that's your role as an elder - to mishandle the Word of God so as to accommodate the diversity of beliefs in HCC, keeping people in the dark so that they have no basis for taking a stand on one or the other, and thus any basis for disagreement concerning the interpretation of 1John you portray as being simply one's subjective opinion.

I cannot in good conscience mishandle the Word of God in that manner, and thus you may want to review whether or not I qualify to be a Sunday School teacher at HCC. In doing so I suggest you may look though my lessons on 1John at http://www.bcbsr.com/books/1jnss.html and their basis in the Literalized translation of 1John here http://www.bcbsr.com/books/1jn_trans.html

steve amato


The Underlying Issue of the Admonishment

HCC - Beware of Unitarian Influence

This illustrates the concern I had about how the Bible was being handled in the Sunday School class. Consider the following chart of different ways people handle interpretations of the Bible.


Interpretation Method
Teaching Method
Teaching Concern
Encourages Scrutinizing of all Viewpoints
Berean
Conform interpretations to the Bible through a
Comprehensive Inductive Bible Study
Teach others to develop their own personal
 convictions based upon Inductive Bible Study
Communicate the Bible's Intended Meaning
and Application regardless who it offends
Limits Scrutinizing of all Viewpoints

Conform interpretations to
a set of denominational doctrines
Indoctrinate with one's denominational dogma
Don't offend any denominational leaders
HCC
Conform interpretations to within
the diversity of beliefs of the elders
Share the elder's viewpoints without
giving weight to any one
Don't offend any elders
HCC?
Conform interpretations to within
the diversity of beliefs of the members
Share everyone's viewpoint without
giving weight to any one
Don't offend any members
Unitarian
View all interpretations as equally valid without limits
Anything goes
Don't offend anyone

In particular notice that the only difference between the view that all interpretations are equally valid within limits and a Unitarian belief is merely a matter of where the limits are set. To understand what Unitarianism is, here is the official statement at uua.org - Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations:

Beliefs and Principles in Unitarian Universalism

Welcome to Unitarian Universalism, a religion that celebrates diversity of belief and is guided by seven principles. Our congregations are places where we gather to nurture our spirits and put our faith into action through social justice work in our communities and the wider world.

I saw a danger in HCC going down that path and gave an admonishment.


After having been removed from teaching I was called to a meeting of the elders to give my perspective.  The following is the testimony I read to them word for word at that meeting.


11/17/2011

The HCC Excommunication Trial of Steve Amato


Steve Amato's Testimony


Todd had called me up and informed me that Michael had given his testimony to the elders concerning these recent events, (though I don't know what he told you), and that I was now to show up at this meeting in which the elders were prepared to listen to my viewpoint. And so it was after many sleepless nights and with much fasting and prayer I have prepared this testimony which I will now read. And as it is written that he who answers before listeningó that is his folly and his shame, I suggest you fully hear me out without interruption, and then think carefully about what I shared and consider the implications before getting back to me with a response  And I'm led to say this because despite my service to this church over the last 12 years, and in spite of your role as overseers, most of you have barely spoken to me during that time, let alone listened to my viewpoint over the years, let alone taken the time to think about how I view things. And now that you sit in judgment over me to determine my fate here at HCC you could show the least amount of courteousness by listening to my viewpoint for which you have allegedly called me here, uninterrupted.
 
As I understand it, this meeting is part of the whole excommunication process which Michael Bradford has initiated base upon the passage he referenced to me in Matthew 18:15-17 even though I think he is well aware that there is no justification for taking such extreme measures. And I will provide evidence to support that.

But before I get to my testimony defending myself concerning this incident. I will share my point of view concerning your recent decision to have had me expelled from my teaching role at HCC, as I find it relevant to this whole matter. Todd had informed me that apparently you thought it the appropriate thing to do until this matter with Michael is resolved, whatever that might mean, which was certainly not a justifiable reason in my mind for removing me. Now maybe you're just unaware or callous to the impression you have given, the message you're sending by doing that. What you have done is publicly penalize me, treat me as guilty before hearing me out. That decision you made reeks of partiality, prejudice and rush to judgment, and gives the impression to me of an attitude of contempt and hostility which you all may have towards me, however you may dress it up with fine and disingenuous words. That's the message you sent and that's the message that was received. You showed no concern for my reputation. And so I hardly think I'm going to get a fair hearing from you in this trial where you sit in judgment over me. In fact I get the vague impression that your judgment against me is a foregone conclusion and that these proceedings are mere formalities to give the outward appearance of righteousness.

Furthermore by removing me as a teacher beforehand you callously subjected the body to potential unnecessary controversy whereby this whole matter could have become a debate in the public arena before I had even given my viewpoint. Which would not have been the case had I been allowed to continue teaching. For by removing me it begs the question of others as to why I had been removed. Perhaps it was your scheme to imply to them that I had done something so seriously wrong as to warrant my expulsion even before I had given my viewpoint, otherwise known as defamation of character. Whatever fallout comes from that decision of yours will be largely your own fault.

But given your historical concern for political fallout at HCC I'm under the impression that you knew that and went ahead with the decision anyhow. My impression being that the outcome of this trial had already been a foregone conclusion and if so you knew that such fallout was inevitable, so why not attempt to mar my reputation in the public arena so as to attempt to polarize the people of HCC against me, demonize me, to stir up the crowd against me so as to minimize the number of people who would subsequently leave the church or otherwise view you in a bad light and to prepare them for what you would do to me next. For maybe you thought, "If we leave him alone like this we will lose both our place and our institution". Or to dress it up with the style of rhetoric Iain used in his last sermon, perhaps you feel the Lord has called you to purge the temple of me.

But need I point out that the actions you took prejudging me hardly put you in a positive light, as it would seem to show partiality, prejudice and rash judgment on your part. And I just can't imagine how you're going to try to justify this rash decision of yours to the assembly. That's my impression and my point of view about that. Well, enough said about that for now. And now I ask you that I be uninterrupted for a few minutes while I present to you my defense.

As for his matter with Michael, if there were something of a systemic nature wrong with me of which the elders were aware being of such a degree as to be worthy of such a trial as this, surely over the 12 years I've been serving here it would have been grossly negligent on your part to have the audacity to view yourselves as overseers and yet fail to have dealt with it. Let alone invite me to be a Sunday School teacher to begin with. Surely that is not the case. Therefore I take this trial to be about this particular incident.

But as for what I had written to Michael, he was treating two interpretations with equal weight which were not deserving of being reckoned of equal weight, and I think he knew that. And yes I speculated that perhaps he was doing so to accommodate the diversity of beliefs at HCC, and perhaps that was in accordance with the sentiments of the elders. But that is not something that I would be willing to do, that is, to mishandle the Word of God to accommodate the diversity of beliefs at HCC. In particular this is the speculation I made in part of my email to him in response to his request to scrutinize his 1John lesson. This is the blurb from the email upon which this whole trial is based.

But perhaps you feel that's your role as an elder - to mishandle the Word of God so as to accommodate the diversity of beliefs in HCC, keeping people in the dark so that they have no basis for taking a stand on one (interpretation) or the other, and thus any basis for disagreement concerning the interpretation of 1John you portray as being simply one's subjective opinion. I cannot in good conscience mishandle the Word of God in that manner, and thus you may want to review whether or not I qualify to be a Sunday School teacher at HCC.

That's what this is all about. I simply made a rhetorical remark insinuating what he may or may not have felt concerning his role as an elder. And it is that insinuation that has led the elders to unjustifiably remove me from teaching at HCC and has led to this trial as to whether the elders will expel me from HCC altogether. The fact that Michael has blown this completely out of proportion speaks for itself in my opinion.

And, by the way, in this recent class where he taught on 1John 2:15-17, which I was supposed to teach, he did much the same thing as I see it, in that he spoke of two different interpretations and fallaciously gave them equal weight. Whereas the text itself showed that not to be the case. And I perceived even Andy was trying to show him that the two interpretations were not of equal weight. But again my impression was Michael has become indecisive, wanting to please everyone, and so appears to give every interpretation equal weight as not to offend anyone who might hold some bogus interpretation, but to treat their view equally with everyone elseís. And perhaps that is the sentiment of the elders as well. This is not the Michael I once knew who used to esteem the Word of God.

Now it might be that you elders have decided that the policy of HCC with regards to handling the scriptures is to regard all interpretations of equal weight. But if that is the policy that is evolving here at HCC, just as the elder board itself is evolving, that has HUGE IMPLICATIONS concerning the future of HCC, and if this is the policy it should be made a matter of public record, so that those who abide in the Word can decided for themselves whether HCC is the kind of church they would recommend.

Interpretations are not to the be treated with equal weight if they are not deserving of equal weight. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. And perhaps that time has come to HCC where to accommodate the diversity of beliefs here, the interpretation of the Bible is marginalized, and the Bible mishandled by treating all interpretations as if they had equal weight. Ray is gone; Andy's resigning. And this is where HCC is gravitating. Will there be anyone left here who has the integrity and the fortitude to handle the Word of God accurately?

As for the style of rhetoric I chose at times, there are scriptural examples of this kind both of Jesus and Paul, though Michael informed me in our meeting together that Jesus and Paul were special and not examples to follow in this regard. And he subsequently condemned my style of rhetoric as itself being sinful. And while that may be the sentiment of the elders as well, it's not the same man I knew years ago.

Now though I've been serving here over 12 years, most of you don't know me, having barely spoken to me during that time. Though I suspect the little you know of me you get from rumor and gossip, of which Michael has also told me is going on behind my back. But what you may not realize is the history of the relationship between Michael and myself. For we used to be good friends. I've known Michael since he's come here 10 years ago. In the past with regards to our zeal for the Word we clicked much my like David and Jonathan together battling the particular giants we came across. For example, you elders are all familiar with the incident in 2008 when together we confronted you elders with regards to a Biblical matter we thought you may have been compromising on.

Michael and I had a frank, honest, open relationship. We were Bereans. We scrutinized everything in light of the Bible. And it was iron sharpen iron. We were men, and as such we didn't have to worry about offending one another's egos. I've not changed my style of rhetoric over the years. Michael had been fine with it. Let give you evidence of that.

Just about a year ago Michael was made an elder. Just prior to that while he was in the evaluation phase he had asked me to critique a sermon he gave.  And I was brutally honest as usual. And I have the email record of our conversation. In my critique then, which was about a year ago, I used the same style of rhetoric as I have recently and as I typically do among those I reckon take the Word of God as seriously as I do.

Michael himself admits he has been aware of my style. This is nothing new to him. He had always been open to a frank and honest evaluation. There were things in his sermon I took issue with, and I also included the same kind of rhetoric then as I do now. Here is an example, this was just a year ago. After criticizing his content I added this:

You have historically not been the kind of person who would gullibly follow the misconceptions, misleading and false teachings of the religious elite, but one who seriously scrutinizes such ideas in light of the Word of God to accurately represent the meaning and its application and to communicate it clearly. Has something changed? Has this opportunity to become an elder already corrupted the purity of your doctrine? If that is the case, I don't presume you're conscious of it.

Now over a year ago it didn't bother him. It didn't damage his ego. He didn't view it as an attack on his integrity and character. Because that had been our relationship. He took it well at that time. In fact he didn't even mention it in his response at that time. That's the man I knew and respected. That's the man who showed himself to be my brother. This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at the Word of God. But it appears that the man I wrote to recently was not the same man I had known. He had grow an ego. He had become conceited.

And Todd also has been familiar with my style of rhetoric over the years. I've likewise been impressed with Todd in his reactions. If this style of rhetoric was an issue why was it that both Michael and Todd came to me and asked me whether I could help teach Sunday School class. If it was a problem seems it wasn't so serious as to exclude me from teaching, let alone have me expelled from Hope Christian Church altogether, which is what this meeting is about. As you know, Michael has historically had a reputation for being hyper-critical. I didn't have a problem with that. As I see it what has happened to my old friend is that he has developed a hyper-sensitive ego, the result of which can be seen in his overblown reaction to a remark I made. A remark of which had not been atypical of how I had spoken with him over the years.

Frankly I find it rather disingenuous for Michael to have reacted in such a way as he did. As I see it what has changed is that Michael has been an elder for a year. Now the apostle Paul warns in 1Tim 3:6 not to assign a novice as an elder lest he become conceited. It is sad to see, my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. And my meeting with Michael just corroborated what I had suspected had happened to him.

There he told me that I characteristically sin and alluded to 1John, in which those who characteristically sin are said not to have been born of God. And thus he has categorically told me he does not view me as having been born of God. Which I find to be rather disingenuous considering he had requested me teach Sunday School. He has already judged me and now he's just trying to get you on board in order to eliminate me from HCC altogether. And he may very well have already succeeded in doing that. And perhaps his sentiments about me have been the sentiments of the elders all along. In fact maybe that's where he got those sentiments from to begin with.

Furthermore in our meeting he obsessed about wanting to be esteemed. Something which hadn't been characteristic of my old friend. And there are other such things in his general response that reeked of conceitedness which likewise had been uncharacteristic of him in the past. I bring this up because in my defense I want to say that the man I wrote to was apparently not the man I once knew. I find it interesting that after spending a year with you this is what Michael Bradford has become.

I have to apologize for misjudging Michael the elder in speaking to him as if he were the man I once knew. But apparently that man is gone. My old friend I held to a high standard as I do myself with regards to how the Word is to be handled. Now that I've seen  my old friend is gone I will not speak to this man as I had my old friend. And I will not hold this man to the same standard as I did my old friend. Consequently if I remain here at HCC my relationship with this Michael will reflect the same kind of shallow relationship I've had with most of you other elders for the last 12 years, which seemed to have been just fine with you. And frankly if this is what becomes of those who get close to you, I'd rather not.

I am on trial here. I, the accused, was called here to give my perspective on the situation so that you could render judgment. I have given my defense. I'll leave you to discuss these matters. I'll give you a written transcript of my defense. But given what you've done so far, concerning your judgment, or any additional charges you want to make against me, or any further dialog concerning these matters, I insist it be in written form, like email, so as to eliminate any possible miscommunication, and to eliminate the plausible deniability factor inherent in such secret meetings whereby you could make false claims about what went on here, and I would have no documentation to invalidate your claims. I've been burned like that before, and I will not stand for it now.

And if I ever hear that you have made false claims about what I said here, or otherwise hear that you have misrepresented what I have stated here by, for example, taking what I said here out of context, I will inform the relevant parties of this testimony that I have provided you this day, so that they can see for themselves what I actually said in context. I will not respond to any questions at this time. Any questions or comments you have you will send to me. You will give me time to think about them. And then I will respond.

steve amato


I received an official notice in the form of a pdf file which I reproduce below but which you can access through this link: HCC elder's response

11/18/2011

Elder's Response Censuring Me

Dear Steve,

It is deeply unfortunate that you viewed the invitation to last night's elder's meeting as an "excommunication trial" rather than one of the steps Jesus commands us to take along the road toward reconciliation, which was our intention for the meeting. It grieves our hearts that you assumed we had arrived at forgone conclusions concerning you, though, as God knows all hearts, we had not. We continue to desire a conversation with you face to face rather than in writing.

Nonetheless, in the absence of that meeting, we offer the following:

o Your demand that all further communication regarding this matter be done via email is clearly unbiblical given that Jesus commands such encounters take place in person (Matthew 18:15).

o Your assertion that Michael Bradford is unfit to be an elder cannot be heard since 1 Timothy 5:19 clearly states that such charges can only be admitted on the basis of two or three witnesses.

o Similarly, based upon the same verse, your insinuations that the whole elder team has proved to be a corrupting influence upon Michael cannot be seriously considered since you are the only person who has thus far made such a claim.

o The tone of voice and the manner in which you spoke last night raise questions regarding your adherence to the biblical exhortations in respect to relationships with overseers (1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrew 13:17).

o Your justification of your harsh and unkind "style of rhetoric" as being akin to that of Jesus and Paul ignores the clear teaching of Scripture that the Lord's servants are to "be kind to everyone" (2 Timothy 2:24), while offering reasoned responses "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:16). Kindness, gentleness, and respect do not characterize your "rhetoric."

o The spirit with which you spoke last night (and resident within the document from which you read) was the exact opposite of the spirit which should characterize all that the children of God do. Paul instructs God's people to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3).

We entered last night's discussion with an open view as to whether the temporary deferment of your teaching authority could be lifted, subject to our listening to what you had to say and presuming a subsequent dialog. In light of your remarks and your contempt and distrust for us as elders, particularly regarding our inability (according to your standards) to rightly handle the word of truth, we cannot permit you to continue to teach at HCC under our overseeing authority as elders. Furthermore we believe that your teaching role as a small group leader within HCC should be similarly withdrawn.

Steve, while it may be hard for you to receive, we continue to operate in a framework of love towards you and with an expectation that our unity in Christ may yet be maintained. It is still our hope that we would be able to enter into a discussion with you in person that would result in your being able to stay as an active member of our community. Absent that, we presume that, in light of your views of our leadership, it might prove difficult and unedifying for you to remain.

In prayerful hope that we might be able to continue in fellowship together,

The elders


After this the elders sent an email to the members of my Chinese Bible study group as follows:

11/25/11

Elder's Letter to the Chinese Bible Study Group

Friends,

It has come to our attention that you have been informed by Steve that the elders have requested that Steve not teach at HCC (including leading your small group) pending further discussions between Steve and the elders. We (Steve and the elders) have come upon an issue about which we (Steve and the elders) have not been able to reach a resolution. In light of this present impasse, we have asked Steve not to teach until we have been able to fully and completely discuss this issue. We had hoped that this would be resolved before your next Bible study, however, the timing of our next meeting has not been set and so our discussions have not been finalized. We understand how disconcerting something like this can be but it is our sincere hope that we can resolve this within a reasonably short period of time. We recommend that you continue to meet (as a small group, however without Steve leading as teacher) until final resolution has been reached on what should happen going forward, at which point we will jointly communicate with you. Again we hope that will occur within a couple of weeks.

Sincerely,

The Elders of Hope

12/5/11

A few weeks later Iain, Todd, and Michael came over my house, and I brought San along as a witness as the elders refuse to allow written record of these matters and had already demonstrated to me to be unreliable witnesses as I note below. Furthermore bringing an additional  witness would be consistent with the Matt 18 process, of which they themselves had been subjecting me to.

However while I was mislead to believe the meeting was to hear my reponse to their decree, they refused to listen insisting their response be taken out of the discussion and to try to come to some final resolution without discussing what they had written.

In any case, the following is what I had prepared and in fact I was able to work in most of the material in our dialog at that meeting.

12/5/2011

My Response to the Elder's Censuring Me

If I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?

Introduction

Below is my response to your edict censuring me from teaching at HCC. Understand where we are in the Matthew 18:15-17 process.

Phase 1: I confronted you personally for unjustly removing me without explanation from teaching Sunday School, thus subjecting me to public defamation. You responded by additionally censuring me, again without any valid explanation, from my Chinese Bible Study Group which I've been running for many years, and in addition your edict bears false witness against the deposition I gave you in writing. (Which is a verifiable fact by examining my written deposition and comparing it with your edict.)

Phase 2: I brought an additional witness, San Lin, a member of the Chinese Bible Study Group, and we confronted you concerning the unjustified actions you've taken against me and consequently against the Bible Study Group.

The burden of proof is on you to give a valid explanation to myself, the Bible Study Group and to the Sunday School Class of the actions you have taken against me. As I note below, you have returned evil for good resulting in harm to your own reputation and that of HCC, and have excluded me from the ministry God has called me to. You need to relent and repent. We await your final edict. I hope you realize the severity of the ramifications of your actions.

Review

To summarize the situation up to this point, I was co-leading the Sunday School class with my old friend Michael Bradford who had now been an elder for a year. He asked me, over email, to comment on a lesson he was preparing. I had found something that was alarming to me in his lesson, something which was an on-going issue, and which could, if unchecked, have huge ramifications for the future of HCC, such as indicating a potential trend which could lead HCC down the path towards Unitarianism. So I admonished him on that point, which he didn't take very well. In a private meeting with him afterwards he told me that my admonishment to him was sinful, and he then went to the elders who immediately removed me from teaching the Sunday School. You then called me to a secret meeting to listen to my viewpoint, and again you reacted in much the same way, censuring me entirely from teaching in any official capacity at HCC. You sent me an official document as a response to the testimony I had given you. Near the end you conclude, "we cannot permit you to continue to teach at HCC under our overseeing authority as elders. Furthermore we believe that your teaching role as a small group leader within HCC should be similarly withdrawn." And furthermore you indicated that if you are not satisfied with the outcome of these further negotiations, you say, and I quote, "Absent that, we presume that, in light of your views of our leadership, it might prove difficult and unedifying for you to remain."

I myself view this whole thing as an overblown reaction on the part of the elders to an admonishment I gave.

You made six points as the basis for your decision to censure me. In response it is my assertion that you have not provided me with a valid reason both with regards to why you initially removed me from teaching Sunday School nor why now you have banned me entirely from teaching at HCC, including my small group.

Response to Elder's Six Points

The following are my responses to the six assertions you made against me  And of course they have to be taken in the context of the testimony I had read to you.

#1 - What I had insisted on was documentation which would protect me from any false allegations on your part as to what you might claim went on with regards to a private meeting with you. Here's the actual quote in my testimony you are referring to. "I insist it be in written form, like email, so as to eliminate any possible miscommunication, and to eliminate the plausible deniability factor inherent in such secret meetings whereby you could make false claims about what went on here, and I would have no documentation to invalidate your claims. I've been burned like that before, and I will not stand for it now."

To give evidence of the necessity of such, look at your assertion #4, which you use as one of the bases of banning me.

#4 - "The tone of voice and the manner in which you spoke last night raise questions regarding your adherence to the biblical exhortations in respect to relationships with overseers"

All I did was simply read the document I had written, gave you copies, and left. And in fact I thought beforehand, having taken away from you the possibility that you could misrepresent what I said, seeing as what I said was all written down, I did indeed consider that you would possibly, grasping at straws, accuse me of something which I hadn't protected myself against, namely issues of "tone of voice" and manner. And so I was careful not to give you any cause to make any accusation along those lines. But you did. What you did in bringing my tone of voice and manners into play in this secret meeting of yours simply corroborates the content of my testimony and validates my insistence upon documentation. Now it appears that when I meet with you in secret I would have to bring a tape recorded and video equipment, along with written document which I would simply read, to protect myself against any false allegations you would bring up concerning tone of voice and manners, seeing that such is so significant to you as to warrant the censure you have placed on me.

#2 - My allusion to 1Tim 3:6 with regards to Michael and the corroborating evidence I provided was intended as part of my defense, not as itself sufficient evidence to have him remove. But to answer your point, my testimony constitutes the first witness in this regards. Therefore if anyone in the future were to bring up assertions questioning Michael's eldership, you cannot ignore my testimony, for their assertion would constitute the second witness against him in this regard.

But I would like to point out the fact that even suggesting a connection between 1Tim 3:6 and Michael's overblown reaction to what I had written him, you use as a reason for banning me from teaching. Seems this is how the Christians at HCC can expect to be treated if they critize an "elder" in person.

#3 - You say that the insinuation (and let us remember, it is not an allegation at this point) I have made concerning the elder board being a corrupting influence upon Michael Bradford cannot be seriously considered. And yet apparently you consider the insinuation to be serious enough as to use it as a basis of censuring me.

#5 and #6 - basically speak to the same issue, namely my style of rhetoric which is recorded in my written testimony. That style of rhetoric you again use as a basis for censuring me. At the time, given Michael's overblown response to criticism and the overblown response of the elder board in their rash decision to have me removed from teaching, prior to banning me altogether from teaching, I perceived there may be a spirit of conceitedness among the elders which is driving their actions. Part of the reason why I chose the style of rhetoric I did was to validate or invalidate that suspicion. In my view, given your response, it's pretty much validated to me. Though I'm only making an insinuation, a reasonable insinuation given the data, in that regards, and not an accusation, not a positive assertion.

How did Jesus speak to the conceited religious elite of his day? What was the precedent He set? (for example Mt 23) Well there you go. And even when Paul confronted Peter, Paul characterize his rebuke of Peter is this way. (Gal 2:11  When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.) And there are many other such examples. But in fact the rhetoric I used was rather tame compared to many precedents we find in scriptures in how the Lord and his servants speak to the conceited among the religious elite, both in the Old and New Testament. I don't think I have to present to you a comprehensive Bible study on the matter, you should know what I'm talking about.

In addition you made an assertion as follows which you also based your decision upon.

Mishandling the Word of God - Now you say in addition your decision was "particularly regarding our inability (according to your standards) to rightly handle the word of truth", I never said you had that inability. You misread what I said. And this is another example proving the necessity of having written documentation when dealing with you. For if I didn't have the written documentation of what I said to you, you could make any kind of slanderous claim as to what I said, and I would have no way to disprove you. But in this case it is a documented fact that you bear false witness against me. Furthermore, ironically, your mishandling of what I said would seem to weaken your own position on the matter, and further corroborate my deposition.

And this also speaks to the other assertion you made: "your contempt and distrust for us". Seems the shoe is very much on the other foot there, as can be seen in the actions you have taken against me. I simply admonished you in light of the serious concerns I had, and you use the fact I admonished you as the basis for censuring me. I continue to attend Sunday School where Michael is teaching, and attend the sermon, showing that on my part I don't censure you. For I had merely given an admonishment. Yet it is you who have taken a hostile stand in censuring me.

My assertion is this, none of the points you have made constitute a justifiable reason for censuring me in my opinion, but rather you have returned evil for the good I intended in admonishing you all. So if I told you the truth, why did you strike me? I still haven't received a valid answer from you on that point.

My admonishment among other things is that the elders have to decide which takes precedence, the diversity of beliefs among those at HCC or the accurate handling of the Word of God. And to beware a spirit of conceitedness among you elders which would close you off to scrutiny and to accepting admonishments. And you also have to decide whether you're going to treat HCC  as a business or as a family? How you've been mishandling this whole matter is shameful.

Suggested Resolution

By banning me from teaching you have made this a public matter. People have been asking me for an explanation, and I have little doubt that they have likewise been asking you. But barring a complete explanation of the matter, I have little doubt some may be coming to their own conclusions and acting on them already. Consequently very soon there must be some public resolution to this matter. At this point I would feel completely justified in making all these written materials that have accumulated and that constitute the body of evidence in this case, a matter of public record so they could judge for themselves.

But for the sake of the reputation of HCC and to preserved what reputation you'll have left when the dust settles, I suggest the best solution to preserve your reputation and that of HCC is that you relent from your decision to having me censured, reinstated me as a Sunday School teacher, continuing on to teach the epistles of John along with Michael. As well as my teaching role with regards to my small group.

Your position on the matter would be that your banning me was simply a mistake, a rash decision on your part, an overreaction, which upon further reflection and discussion you decided had not been called for, that the matter was not so serious as to warrant such an action, and so have decided to relent on that decision. This would be a more conciliatory approach to bringing this matter to some closure.

I suggest all the elders individually seriously consider this, as this whole matter will come to bear on the reputations of each individual elder along with the elder board as a whole, and to consider the damage the elder board itself is doing to HCC in their mishandling of this matter. And I say this because of the possibility that not all the elders have the same opinion or have an equal voice in the matter, or that one elder is simply making unilateral decisions on behalf of the others, though all may have their share in the consequences. I'll await your response before taking actions of a less conciliatory nature to bring some closure to this matter.

steve amato

12/5/11

It is to be understood that a resolution is not the same as a reconciliation. In our discussion what they were looking for was simply an explanation acceptable to me as to having me removed from teaching Sunday School.

At that meeting I was informed that it was contrary to HCC policy for an elder's viewpoint to be scrutinized by a Sunday School teacher. Michael was an elder. And despite the fact that he had asked me to scrutinize his viewpoint, I was not allowed to do so. When I mentioned to Iain that such restriction would conflict with my practice as a Berean, (for as a Berean I scrutinize everything in light of the Word of God), Iain sat back in his chair in my living room with his hands behind his head, looked up at the ceiling and said to himself out loud, "Can a Berean teach Sunday School at HCC?" and repeated that again, thinking to himself. In light of HCC policy (Or that which we was simply fabricating on the spot in unilateral fashion) his conclusion was, no, Bereans cannot teach Sunday School at HCC. This being the case I had no choice but to step down from teaching.

I felt almost embarrassed on behalf of the elders that I was left with that explanation as to why I'm not allowed to teach at HCC. So I asked Iain as to what explanation he would prefer me to give to others. He simply said that since Sunday School teachers must conform their teachings to the opinions and viewpoints of the elders, you should simply say that you don't know all the opinions of the elders, and as such don't qualify to be a Sunday School teacher at HCC. And much as that seemed to be even more absurd than his anti-Berean policy, that's what he left me with.


Now since the elders didn't allow a written record of this meeting, I am left with Lin San's testimony. So I wrote him to confirm whether or not he heard what I heard, and that I would have some written validation or invalidation of this event.

12/6/11

Confirmation Letter to Lin San

San,

I'm writing up a brief description of the outcome for those who are aware of the situation. Let me know what you think and ideas to add.

The elders and I have come to an acceptable resolution.

In terms of Sunday School teaching, the elders admitted they had failed to clarify to me up front what stipulations were involved in teaching Sunday School at HCC. And it turned out that indeed the stipulations ended up conflicting with my particular calling as a teacher. Namely I would be required not to belittle any interpretation an elder held. Two problems with that. First I don't know what the sentiments of the elders are with regards to interpretations in all cases. And secondly, as a Berean I require freedom to scrutinize all viewpoints and not give them equal weight if they are not deserving of equal weight based upon an inductive study of the scriptures. So basically we both agreed that Sunday School teaching at HCC was not really my calling. So I agreed to step down from that. That's fine.

It's almost like to teach Sunday School at HCC you can't really go into much depth. For going into depth you'll find some viewpoints having greater support than others, which some may interpret as disparaging some viewpoints held by the some elders over those of others. Or to say it another way, I'm not allow to belittle any view point of an elder, even if through an inductive study it turns out that the Bible in fact makes certain viewpoints to appear to be little over those of others. Consequently it seems you have to maintain a certain shallowness in teaching and preaching there as an official representative of HCC, which I just can't do in good conscience.

So I agreed best for me to go back to ministering in an unofficial capacity where I can teach, handling the Word of God accurately with a good conscience. But I appreciate the difficulty they face in tolerating a degree of diversity of opinions among the elders. They did appreciate the warning I gave them to watch out where that may lead. For if HCC becomes just about tolerating diversity over that of the accurate handling of the Word of God regardless of how it offends people, HCC could become much like a Unitarian church over time.

They allowed me to continue to lead the Chinese Bible Study Group. But haven't decided whether to keep it as an official HCC small group. But we both agreed, either way is fine. So that's back to normal.

There are unresolved issues, but we both agree not to make much of them. Namely the elders take offense at how I've handled this matter, even though I don't see a problem with it. And conversely I take offense at how they've handled this matter, even though they admit to no wrong doing on their part, and each party viewing the other as having something wrong with them systemically. But we're not going to make a serious issue of it, and just get along despite our differences in that respect.

In fact I mentioned to them, practically speaking, going back to the way things were prior to my involvement with Sunday School, there will likely be little interaction between myself and the elders in the future, just as in the past where they barely spoke to me over the last 12 years. And that's fine. But I was enlightened to the fact that apparently what they know of me they get primarily from people coming to them who have problems with me - that is, namely though gossip. And so I'm not surprised if their perspective of me was a bit jaded.

Lin San likened this outcome much along the lines of  an Acts 15 scenario in which Paul and the other apostles shook hands and parted ways. And you find Paul seldom relating with the other apostles after that, despite the fact the did respect them.

steve amato

12/6/11

San's Response

Steve,

I think that is a very precise description. However, the more I think about it, the more I am concerned about the "stipulation" they are holding. It seems to say that whoever been elected an elder, his viewpoint become somewhat protected, if not infallible, at HCC. To build a church based on that rule, is just not right.

san

As Darin McFarland had been privy to the original email that started this off I thought to write him and CC Michael and Todd, who had been present at the meeting to give them an opportunity to invalidate my testimony


12/6/11

Letter to Darin (cc. Michael & Todd)

Darin,

I'm also CC'ing this to Todd and Michael who were also privy to the original email, and I'm asking them to correct me if I'm mischaracterizing the situation as I understand it.

Concerning my conflict with the elders over my teaching Sunday School, we finally came to an acceptable resolution. The original concern I expressed in that email to Michael of which you were also privy was validated. The elders admitted they had failed to clarify to me up front what stipulations were involved in teaching Sunday School at HCC. And it turned out that indeed the stipulations ended up conflicting with my particular calling as a teacher and as such I willingly step down from teaching Sunday School.

The core issue is this. I am Berean, and as such what takes precedence to me in studying and teaching is the Bible's intended meaning and application based upon a comprehensive inductive study of the Bible. What the elder's stipulation concerning teaching Sunday School is that interpretations were to conform to the diversity of beliefs among the elders. And also that all such interpretations of the elders are to be viewed as having equal weight, that is, all to be equally valid, so as not to belittle the view of any elder over that of any other elder.

As a Berean I can't do that. For me it would be mishandling the scriptures to give precedence to the elder's viewpoints over an objective study of the Bible itself. The first thing a Berean does in studying the Bible is to put all preconceived notions and viewpoints aside and let the Bible speak for itself. As a Berean I require freedom to scrutinize all viewpoints in light of the Bible, and thus view the Bible as having precedence over existing opinions, be they the opinions of the elders or otherwise, let alone giving equal weight to the diversity of viewpoints among the elders. If I find though a comprehensive inductive study, that the Bible doesn't assign equal weight to various interpretations of the elders, I'm not going to teach that it does. It would violate my integrity and for me be a mishandling of scripture to teach that way. 

I expressed such concerns both in that email of which you were privy and in a testimony I gave to them later. It took them a while to realize what I meant, and that I was speaking from the perspective as a Berean. So there was some miscommunication for a while. But seems I had in fact correctly diagnosed the situation in my own terms. And as they now recognize it would violate my conscience to restrict my teaching to their stipulations, we both agreed that teaching Sunday School at HCC is not in line with my particular calling as a teacher.

I did warn them of the potential ramifications of their stipulations. And you may likewise imagine the implications.

This illustrates the concern I had about how the Bible was being handled in the Sunday School class. Consider the following chart of different ways people handle interpretations of the Bible.


Interpretation Method
Teaching Method
Teaching Concern
Encourages Scrutinizing of all Viewpoints
Berean
Conform interpretations to the Bible through a
Comprehensive Inductive Bible Study
Teach others to develop their own personal
 convictions based upon Inductive Bible Study
Communicate the Bible's Intended Meaning
and Application regardless who it offends
Limits Scrutinizing of all Viewpoints

Conform interpretations to
a set of denominational doctrines
Indoctrinate with one's denominational dogma
Don't offend any denominational leaders
HCC
Conform interpretations to within
the diversity of beliefs of the elders
Share the elder's viewpoints without
giving weight to any one
Don't offend any elders
HCC?
Conform interpretations to within
the diversity of beliefs of the members
Share everyone's viewpoint without
giving weight to any one
Don't offend any members
Unitarian
View all interpretations as equally valid without limits
Anything goes
Don't offend anyone

Notice that a trend could develop from HCC's present practice which could lead to Unitarianism if they aren't careful to limit how much diversity they tolerate. Already I've noticed a lot of emphasis, almost a growing obsession, over not offending anyone who attends Sunday School, which could indicate a broadening of viewpoints Sunday School teachers have to accommodate beyond that of the elders. And if that broadens even further, you end up with Unitarianism. To keep things at the status quo with regards to the elder's official stand as noted above, they're going to have to allow for the fact that some people will be offended. Once you make "not offending people" the foundation of your church, HCC would be destined to eventually fall into Unitarianism.

To understand what Unitarianism is, here is the official statement at uua.org - Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations:

Beliefs and Principles in Unitarian Universalism

Welcome to Unitarian Universalism, a religion that celebrates diversity of belief and is guided by seven principles. Our congregations are places where we gather to nurture our spirits and put our faith into action through social justice work in our communities and the wider world.

It was good to have the opportunity to have voiced this concern to the elders, and they expressed appreciation for having done so. Though practically, as I mentioned to them, I will not be interacting with the elders much more in the future in any depth, but to return to the scenario I had been operating in for most of my years here at HCC prior to the summer. I will continue to attempt to find ways to edify the church in accordance with my gifting, my conscience, and in cooperation with the elders, though no doubt if this trend continues I will increasingly be viewed as a person who characteristically offends others, as in fact the elders view me presently. As Bereans characteristically scrutinize all things in light of scripture, we inevitably offend those who are overly sensitive to criticism. And as such sensitivity has been a growing cultural trend in society and consequently in the church, the accurate handling of the Word is increasing being treated as secondary to people's feelings, and love itself being primarily measured as a function of how you make people feel, rather than in terms of doing what is right for them.

I wish you well now and in the future.

steve

12/10/11

Todd's Response

Steve,

Thanks for copying us on your email to Darin and for inviting clarification. There are a couple of things to which I would want to give voice. Our first priority in interpreting Scripture is to be faithful to Scripture, not to other elder's interpretations of Scripture. In teaching, we simply desire to be gracious to one another when our own Bible study delivers us to slightly different, yet orthodox, interpretations. We know teaching what the Bible says will be offensive to some. We are striving to be sure that what is offensive is the message and not the messenger.

For example, recently a member took issue with our stance that only males can be elders. We met with this person and explained why we hold this belief. This person then withdraw his membership because he disagreed with our interpretation of Scripture, yet he remains in our fellowship because he was not offended with the way in which we communicated the message.

Your warning that we must guard this area with diligence is well received.

Thanks brother,

Todd

12/10/11

My Response to Todd


Todd,

That leaves me with a rather ambiguous sense as to why I would be stepping down from teaching. On Monday the reason Iain presented was because interpretations had to conform uniformly to the interpretations of the elders, and as such if, for not other reason, I was unqualified insomuch as I was unfamiliar with all their interpretations. But why would a Sunday School teacher even have to be aware of their opinions if the objective is simply to accurately teach the meaning of the Bible itself.

As for the stipulations of the elders being secondary, are they in fact secondary if they override an accurate depiction of what the Bible teaches? Again, if a comprehensive inductive study of scripture were to reveal that the scriptural evidence gives greater weight to one elder's view over that of another elder's view, the stipulation you elders placed on me was that I would not be allowed to show that. That's what started this whole thing off - the very thing I pointed out to Michael in his lesson.
But I could imagine that the elders may be just now coming to terms with this policy and its implications, and not all the elders have the same view of this policy at this point. But as I made clear on Monday, and you and Iain were both there along with Lin San who witnessed this, the reason why I'm stepping down is because the way I would be required to handle scripture as an official HCC Sunday School teacher would violate my conscience. From a Berean perspective I would be required to mishandle scripture by, for example, portraying two views as having equal scriptural weight, which in fact don't have equal scriptural evidence behind them.

In my living room, after describing my conflict between my conscience as a Berean and the elder's stipulations, Iain sat back in his chair, looked up to the ceiling and repeated to himself thoughtfully, "Can a Berean teach Sunday School at HCC?" And he repeated that. The answer was "No"! And I understood why. It's the same reasons I had given.

From a Berean perspective, no, the elder's policy in this regards does not give precedence to the scriptures over that of the viewpoints of the elders. A Berean Sunday School teacher would not be allowed to scrutinized the viewpoints of the elders in light of scripture. This especially comes into play in 1John where there are two diametrically opposed view points among the elders that would end up with one having completely different view as to what 1John is talking about.

The policy is like, if the elders can't agree on an interpretation, then we are not to study the Bible any futher on the matter as teachers, thus portraying the elder's opinions as the standard by which the Bible is to be understood. And if teachers teach by example, what are they teaching students by example in this matter?

steve


12/16/11

Todd's Final Response

Steve,


Iíd like to answer your email speaking personally from my perspective as Teaching Elder.

I do not hold the expectation that SS teachers must conform their interpretations to what all the elders believe.  How is that even possible?  As you have stated, it isnít.  If that expectation is the case, then you are right, that would indeed be placing the elderís interpretation of Scripture above the meaning of Scripture where elder interpretation differed from the clear meaning of Scripture. But this is where the challenge arises, the interpretation of a verse or passage (or in this case a book) is not always unquestioningly clear.  (Though I suspect in this case you think it is.)

I believe the heart of this issue is how a teacher communicates the difference of interpretation (when the teacher has arrived at a different interpretation from that of the elders).   How does one handle the situation when two brothers, each of whom hold Scripture in highest regard and seek to accurately handle the word of God, each have their own inductive Bible study deliver them to a slightly different (yet acceptably orthodox) interpretation of a biblical passage?  It is clear they both cannot be right for God truly intended only one meaning. Yet inductive Bible study does not always yield unanimous agreement in interpretation.

Will each brother recognize the otherís desire to righty handle and rightly interpret the Bible and be gracious toward each other in the language they use to describe the reasons for the difference between them?  Or will they each say that the other is wrong and unbiblical?  It seems that unless they each consider their own inductive methods to be infallible, then they should at least consider the possibility of the truthfulness of the otherís interpretation.  They should be able to each clearly state something to the effect of, ďWe both know weíre not both correct, but here are reasons for which we each believe the way we do.Ē 

I have no expectations that would eliminate the scrutinizing of interpretations but I do have expectations about the way in which that scrutinization is expressed.  The differences should not be expressed in the terms that can be received as denigrating insinuations.  My expectations do not preclude a teacher from explaining why he finds one interpretation more weighty than another.  But I do expect that a teacher would not disparage the other brother who holds a contrary interpretation.

I certainly do not want you to teach in a way that violates your conscious or causes you to feel that you are required to mishandle Scripture.  You are exactly correct, a teacher should not be required to be aware of elders opinions when the goal is to teach what the Bible says.  The question is when a teacher is aware of difference in interpretation, can he respectfully disagree in a manner that maintains brotherly love. 

I understood you to be stepping down from teaching because you were unable in good conscience to teach as potentially equally valid any other interpretation than the one to which your own inductive Bible study has delivered you.

So, from my perspective, the two issues that prohibit you from teaching the adult SS class are first, the perceived potential for violation of your conscience with regards to handling of Scripture and second, the difficulty in communicating disagreement in a respectful and constructive way.

Todd

12/16/11

My Final Response to Todd

Todd,

Seems clear to me that not all the elders are on the same page with regards to the stipulations which Iain had stated to me concerning Sunday School teachers, though you and Michael didn't disagree with Iain when you guys came over to my house. Maybe you should have brought up an objection then. Iain himself had said that if for no other reason I was disqualified as a teacher in so much as I was unaware of all the variety of interpretations among the elders to which I was required to conform my teaching to. And you and Michael were there along with my friend Lin San. (Should I have had it recorded?) Maybe you and Iain need to work out among yourselves along with the rest of the elders what is ACTUALLY the official stipulations concerning Sunday School teaching. But know this, that when I give the reason for stepping down from Sunday School teaching, I will explain that decision based upon the stipulations which Iain had presented to me at our meeting at my house.

But as for your stipulation, realize again, as I stated at that meeting, my objective as a Berean in Sunday School teaching is not to teach a viewpoint, but rather to teach people to do inductive Bible study upon which they base their own personal interpretation. The problem is when you exegete 1John one cannot guarantee that all the interpretations of the elders will end up being viewed as equally valid. The problem I had will Michael's approach in that lesson I commented on was that he was not exegeting 1John. He was not going into depth. He was simply presenting the two main views and leaving it at that. And that's basically what you have to do as a Sunday School teacher at HCC based upon Iain's stipulations. Thus you end up teaching in a very shallow manner so as to avoid upsetting anyone.

Next you claim that a reason I'm stepping down from teaching is because, as you say, "the difficulty in communicating disagreement in a respectful and constructive way." Much as this is your accusation against me, I don't agree with it. But it is reflective of how the elders have shamefully treated me with contempt through this whole process, as I had noted. (For example how you censured me from the Chinese Bible study group which I myself had started years ago, and which none of you elders have ever actually attended, let alone oversee.) In fact Michael and Dave had no problem with the with the two lessons which I managed to teach in which in fact I did present the two main viewpoints of 1John as an introduction so that people might be aware of issues to be resolved in the interpretation of 1John. And it was only because of the stipulations which Iain imposed on me that I agreed to step down insomuch as he himself came to the logical conclusion, based upon his stipulations, that Bereans cannot teach Sunday School at HCC. And he is right, based upon those stipulations of his.

steve

Now a couple of months later, having continued to attend Michael's Sunday School class on 1John, that Michael was teaching on 1John 4. In that class he advocated the class to be Berean (and yes, he actually used the word "Berean"), and in particular that they scrutinize his teachings. OK, I thought, let's try that out. So I wrote to him and scrutinized his teachings.

2/20/12

My 2nd Scrutiny of Michael's Teaching

Michael Bradford,

When you elders came over my house Iain decided, in unilateral fashion, to censure Bereans from teaching Sunday School class at HCC. He sat back in a chair in my living room, looked at the ceiling, and twice repeated to himself, "Can a Berean teach Sunday school at HCC?" His conclusion was, NO! Thus I, as a Berean, was forced out of the Sunday school teaching program. And so I find it surprising that you are teaching that HCC people should be Berean, thus disqualifying everyone else from teaching Sunday School.

To me it's rather obvious that you guys were simply intent on getting rid of me, and so Iain made up some bogus church policy to do so. But you don't apply that church policy to anyone else. And no public explanation was ever given for my being removed. I don't know why it is you people have such contempt and hatred for me. Seems simply a characteristically hostile reaction you people have to personal criticism.

As for your teaching of 1John, there are good points and bad points. You have difficulty focusing on what John is ACTUALLY saying. You replace the study on a significant section of 1John 3 with a study on Tithing and Sabbath, of which John doesn't speak. And I pointed this out before, which you seem to have disregarded. Perhaps you're having trouble with the implications of what 1John ACTUALLY SAYS, particularly in that section. Like, for example, John indicates that those born of God don't characteristically sin. Yet you have told me that I characteristically sin. Yet you claim to believe I'm born of God.

You spend a whole week in a passage in Genesis rather than in 1John, where "his brother" is a phrase whose precedence is Cain - whom John explicitly states is of the devil. This is important because this indicates the phrase "his brother", which is used commonly in 1John, is simply a generic phrase and does not necessarily speak of one's salvation status. This comes in conflict with your usage of "brother", whereby you claim that you would never call a "brother" he who habitually sins, even though you call me a "brother" whom you claim habitually sins. You're going to run into a person referred to as "his brother" in 1John 5 whom it states characteristically sins and even goes on to remind the reader that those who characteristically sin are not born of God.


Granted it's not referring to perfect behavior, and characteristic behavior doesn't have a distinct boundary. But there comes a point where one's characteristic behavior is obvious that one can say with some confidence that one is or is not born of God. Given the hatred and contempt I've experienced from your elders, I'm challenged as to how I should reckon you guys individually, given the uncomfortable and unpopular implications of the teachings of 1John. Matter of discernment.

Stephen Amato


2/22/12

Michael's Response

Steve:

As the content of your message is not solely directed toward me personally, but also to the entire elder team ("you elders"), I've chosen to cc the other elders.

Simply stated, I disagree with your statements about me, your mischaracterization of my teaching (including our independent discussions), the elder team, and the events that have transpired over the past many months (including the motives behind them). I would like to emphasize that we don't hate you, we don't hold you in contempt, and we haven't had (past or present) any intent on "getting rid of you." I recognize that you feel this way, but this is simply not the case. On the contrary, from my perspective, we've forbeared your sins and reached out to you on several occasions in love and gentleness to (1) express our concerns, and (2) seek reconciliation.

Therefore, I'm perplexed: what was the purpose of your message? What do you hope to accomplish?

Michael


2/22/12

My Response to Michael

Michael Bradford,
 
Simply stated, your claim of "forebearing my sins" is simply your contemptuous mischaracterization of any criticism I've offered. It's a way for you to feel justified in yourself for your hatred and contempt for me and to disregard anything I say. And frankly it is much the same kind of attitude Jesus ran into with regards to his criticism of the religious elite of his day. No doubt your attitude is applauded among the other elders. "Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" Gal 4:16
 
Furthermore notice that with regards to my comments on IJohn, you offer no rational opposition, no discussion, but simply discard it out of hand. Doesn't that tell you something about yourself? You explicitly encouraged in the last Sunday School class that people scrutinize your teachings. But when they do so, this is the attitude they're met with. Face it, while claiming to be Berean and telling others to be Berean, you have an anti-Berean sentiment, which is consistent with the policy of HCC as established by Iain Whitfield who apparently has the same sentiment, and for which reason I was forced out of the Sunday School teaching program at HCC.
 
I'm simply pointing out the facts. You ask what do I hope to accomplish? By telling the truth I hope to bring you and others to the revelation of what you're doing so that you would stop being duplicitous on the matter. If HCC is anti-Berean, then let the elders proudly announce that fact so that those who attend HCC can decide whether or not this is the church for them.
 
As for what I've learned to expect from the elders at HCC, it is as best "toleration" and apathy followed by duplicity and at worst maliciousness. And while you pat yourself on the back claiming to be loving and gentle, your actions have spoken otherwise.
 
Stephen Amato

Given that had transpired up till now I decided to decree a change in the status of my Bible Study Group.

3/2/12

A Change in the Bible Study Group Status

To the elders of HCC,

Stephen Amato's Bible Study Group Status

I write to you elders to inform you concerning the status of my group, that we will no longer be officially affiliated with HCC as an organization. We had discussed this option with the elders back in December of last year when Iain, Todd and Michael came over my house, and I have decided to exercise that option given the present circumstances. The status will return to that which we had at the beginning when I first started the group, and which had been the case for a number of years. San had asked whether we would be permitted to use the HCC facilities for our meetings if this option were exercised, and we were told in the affirmative at that time. However we recognize that the elders could at any time "pull the rug out from under us" in a manner of speaking, as we have no authority with regards to the usage of the facilities ourselves.

As for the reason of this change of status, let me review the circumstances briefly. At that meeting, the official reason given me from being banned from teaching at HCC was that Bereans are not allowed to teach at HCC in an official capacity, such as Sunday School teaching. In the process you elders had banned me from teaching my own Bible study group - a group of which you never attended and as such don't actually oversee. Nonetheless you told me you "felt obligated" to do so for reasons still unclear to me. Then after the meeting, the ban was lifted for reasons unkown, despite my having ask for an explanation a number of times. Furthermore no public explanation was ever given for having ejected me from the Sunday School teaching program, nor were the restrictions, which were placed upon me, applied equally to others. These actions, as you may know, I reckon to be malicious on your part.

And furthermore, it was bad enough for the elder's anti-Berean sentiment to be restricted to teaching in an official capacity, barring me from an official teaching ministry at HCC. But as I had noted in a recent email forwarded to you all by Michael Bradford, it seems that simply as a person attending Sunday School, I am not allowed to scrutinize the teachings of the elders, even if asked to do so. For as I noted, when asked to scrutinize, I scrutinized, and rather than receive a rational Bible-based discussion I was met with hostility and no actual Biblical response to my analysis was forthcoming, but rather, having discarded my Biblical analysis out of hand, in its place was the statement that the elders are simply "forebearing my sins." This has been my experience with the elders both as a Sunday School teacher and as a Sunday School attendee.

Given the hostile environment towards Bereans and towards myself personally at HCC, I find it necessary to change the status of my group. For if not, you elders could once again arbitrarily censure me from teaching, invoking your misplaced sense of "authority" in order to exercise your hostility in Diotrephean fashion. (3John 1:9,10)

And with regards to your resolution, I assume you do understand the difference between a resolution and a reconciliation.

Continuing to patiently forebear your sins,

Stephen Amato


3/2/12

Iain's Response

Dear Steve:

On behalf of the elders I want to acknowledge receipt of this email.   At our meeting of February 23 we had an extensive discussion about the emails that you had exchanged with Michael Bradford (copied to us).  At the conclusion of that time, we determined to spend a two week period praying into these issues and what to do next in our endeavor to respond appropriately.  Part of that stems from the seriousness of the issues surrounding your assertions.  Part of it stemmed from the fact that Todd Cravens was to be away for 10 days of the 14 days between our meetings. 

We remain perplexed of heart about your insistence that we hate you when we do not and deeply troubled by your appropriation of motives behind our actions that are not true.  Furthermore you continue to raise questions about our leadership that appear to be growing in breadth and dimension and could be viewed as very serious charges indeed.  A prayerful period of discernment  seemed a godly response to all of that and we continue in this two week discernment period.  God willing, on March 9 we expect to return to collectively discern God's will for the next step of response to you. 

In the meantime, we understand from this email that you have withdrawn your Bible Study Group from any affiliation with HCC.
In Christ,

Iain


At the last minute Todd wrote me. I responded first to Tom Eyon as I had recently made him aware of the situation.

3/6/12

Steve,

As you are aware, we elders have been prayerfully considering our response to your recent emails. We will most likely arrive at a conclusion this coming Thursday evening. In light of this, I wonder if you might be available for a meeting sometime Friday evening so that we may communicate our decision to you in person? If you are available, could you let me know what time would be convenient?

Thanks,

Todd

3/6/12

Tom,

Todd wrote of an upcoming decision the elders will make on Thursday and have requested no further input from myself or anyone else, like Andy or yourself. Apparently they've decided to come to some kind of decision without any further discussion with others on the matter. Todd sent me this email:

Steve,

As you are aware, we elders have been prayerfully considering our response to your recent emails. We will most likely arrive at a conclusion this coming Thursday evening. In light of this, I wonder if you might be available for a meeting sometime Friday evening so that we may communicate our decision to you in person? If you are available, could you let me know what time would be convenient?

Thanks,

Todd

Given that a meeting with Todd on Friday would be, as he said here, simply for him to deliver the elder's decree to me, again requiring no input on my part, my decision is rather than meet with Todd on Friday in some private meeting, with its inherent plausible deniability as to what would have been said at such a meeting, to require such a decree to be sent to me in written form to minimize any miscommunication and to avoid any accusations on their part of me miscommunicating to others what the elders decreed, seeing as I'll have their written word on the matter instead.

As such, best to wait and see what they decree on Thursday and I'll forward that decree on to you and Andy, after which you can decide what to do. Though perhaps their decision may itself further discussion with myself. But might be good at that point to have others get involved anyway.

As I said, for months I've been keeping much of this largely private for their sake. But with each decision they make this matter continues to become increasingly a public matter.

steve

Then a series of emails between Todd an myself (that same day - two days prior to the elder's meeting)

3/6/12

Todd,

As the elders have decided to come to some kind of a decision apart from any further discussion with me, it seems unnecessary to set up some kind of meeting to deliver that decision to me in person. Furthermore to validate the decree to any third party I would have to at least have a witness with me and a recording device that I may transcribe the decision word for word, which is all unnecessarily inconvenient.

But feel free to email me whatever decisions and decrees you come up with. So that I may have it in written form as these matters are becoming more a matter of public record.

thanks,

stephen amato

3/6/12

No decision has yet been made. We have only been praying individually. I am interested in speaking with you personally. I was going to stop by your house yesterday evening but I didn't see your car there. Would you be willing to have a conversation with just me so you and I can try to figure this out? I would like to hear from you what you see as a possible way of reconciliation.

Todd

3/6/12

Todd,

I agree that you haven't come to a decision as to what you will decide. But prior to the email you just sent me, the elders did come to a decision -namely to come to a decision apart from any further discussion with myself. That itself is a decision. And that itself says something.

Was it the elder's decision for you, at the last minute, to try and dialog with me, so that you could claim that you tried? Or was it your personal decision apart from the elders? You had just emailed me today, yet you mentioned nothing of it until you received my email in which I pointed that out. Now if I don't meet with you, Iain will likely make sure that's part of the decree - that we tried to meet with Steve (at the last minute) but he refused. Or if I do meet with you, you could then go on to make any claim you find to be politically expedient concerning our private meeting. Need I call San and set up a tape recorder?

At this point, given all I've been subjected to, I don't trust any of you guys to do anything or say anything other than that which you find politically expedient to justify yourselves at any cost. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of disingenuous people. Is there not an honest person among you who will speak frankly and deal honestly without partiality? The elders have already set a meeting date. They had no intention of meeting with me beforehand. So let them go through with their meeting and announce their decree.

Then, for those, like perhaps yourself, who are honestly interested in reconciling, we can talk after that. But that's not something that's going be solved over night. I'm busy this week anyhow.

steve

That email becomes very significant later on, as do these below. For they expose a lie Todd attempted later on on March 15th.

3/6/12

Perhaps you might believe me if your car was not in your driveway last night (which was obviously before I sent you the email today). I was by your house around 8pm I think. Were you not at home at that time?

Todd


This is interesting because Todd alleges trying to contact me the previous day without success, but in fact I received no phone call or email from him that day.

3/6/12

Todd Cravens,

My point is that you didn't mention it until after you had sent me the notice informing me that the elders, without any further dialog with me, had decided to come to a decision about me. I take it that after receiving my email pointing out that fact that you found it politically expedient to mention you drove by my house at 8:00 when my car was not there. This a small example of the disingenuous I've had to deal with.

And as for meeting with me, you know very well that I don't trust you or any of the elders in a private meeting. I would have to be informed before hand and have a witness with me, if not some recorder, because, as I said from my experience, I really can't trust you guys to say or do anything other than that which you find politically expedient regardless of the victims you may leave behind.

We'll talk about how to go about reconciliation later. There are things which can be done.

stephen amato


3/6/12

I decided to try to talk with you one more time while I was on vacation. I did not return from vacation until last night, which on returning I drove by your house. The timing of my sending emails had nothing to do with the timing of my decision to try to speak with you. Political expediency had nothing to do with me coming by your house last evening.

Todd


Despite the fact they I continued to wait for the elders to respond to my emails I sent back in Feb and early March asking for clarification of their ambiguous statements and the fact they have yet to allow an explanation be given to the class for my not teaching, and despite the fact that I was simply busy given this late date to meet with Todd, instead of delaying for any input from me, the elders then held a meeting on 3/8/12 in which I was not invited and without any further dialog with me. And that was clearly their intention. Then they sent me this email the next day:


3/9/12

Dear Steve,

I am writing to you on behalf of the elders. We would first like to affirm our love and concern for you. In addition, we would like to encourage you to continue your participation in corporate worship and the weekly Bible study, and you are welcome to continue using HCC to host your small group, though you have withdrawn any affiliation with HCC.

With regards to our present impasse, would you be willing to invite a mutually agreeable third-party to mediate further dialogue in the hope of arriving at an agreeable conclusion?

Sincerely,

Todd Cravens

So apparently they needed to have a meeting among themselves to determine whether or not I was allowed to attend the Sunday corporate worship service and the weekly Men's Bible study. And to continue to use the facilities for my Berean Bible study group. Why would they need a meeting to determine this if these privileges were not in question. Thus this shows they had met to determine whether to expel me from HCC altogether. They decided not to do so as this time, but it shows the hostility I'm faced with at HCC.

And that is the response I received from the emails I had sent attempting to reconcile this position they had put me in. Obviously this makes matters worse. But no, worse is yet to come.

3/10/12

Elders,

Given your edict permitting me to continue to attend HCC I take it that that meeting of yours was about whether or not to expel me from HCC altogether. You guys must be pretty desperate to get rid of me to even consider doing so based upon that email which was largely in response to Michael's own request. Didn't have enough political capital to justify doing so in the public eye this time, but I'm sure you guys will be looking for the next opportunity to do so.

Barring a mutually agreed upon mediator, which you spoke of, who can speak on your behalf to me and who can speak on my behalf to you, I take it we are no longer on speaking terms.

stephen amato

Seeking a Mediator

Presently the elders require a mediator who will speak to them on my behalf and who will speak to me on their behalf. So I'll be looking for someone who understands my viewpoint and who is also acceptable to the elders to represent their viewpoint.


What Needs Resolving Presently

As noted above concerning the meeting the elders had with San and myself on 12/5/11, it was told to us that HCC has a policy such that Bereans are not allowed to teach at HCC in an official capacity. As shameful as it is for the elders to have such a policy, I reckon they have the right as institutional leaders to do so. And on that basis I stepped down from teaching.

What disturbed me was what followed that meeting.
1. They had agreed to give me the opportunity to explain to the class why I had voluntarily stepped down. But after months, no such opportunity was availed me.

2. They did not apply this same policy equally to others.

3. Just before leaving my house I asked Iain as to what public explanation he would suggest I give to others. He said just to tell them I don't know all the viewpoints of the elders and thus I am disqualified from teaching since whatever is taught must conform to the viewpoints of the elders. Yet soon after Todd wrote me saying, "I do not hold the expectation that SS teachers must conform their interpretations to what all the elders believe." This contradicts what I was told at the meeting. And he goes on, "How is that even possible? As you have stated, it isnít. If that expectation is the case, then you are right, that would indeed be placing the elderís interpretation of Scripture above the meaning of Scripture"

4. Furthermore much as at the meeting their anti-Berean policy was to be limited to official teachers, in fact they have created hostile environment for Bereans in general. Months later in hypocrisy Michael encouraged the class to be Berean and scrutinize his teachings. I was no longer a teacher, but simply was attending the class, so I thought I would be allowed to scrutinize his teachings. Afterall, he literally asked for it. So I did so.

Rather than respond with a rational dialog, he informed me that the elders decided to hold a meeting without any input from myself, to determine what they would do with me. Their decision was that I was allowed to attend the church service and the weekly men's Bible study. Apparently they needed a meeting to decide that.

As it is they have restricted me to two institutional activities, namely attending the worship service and the Wed men's Bible Study group. As such I am forbidden to attend the Sunday School, or any other institutional activity apart from these two activities.
Given these facts in the months that followed my meeting with the elders, given their refusal to make their anti-Berean policy public, and given their hypocrisy throughout these proceedings, I've come to believe that Iain's anti-Berean policy is bogus, being simply fabricated as a means to maliciously attack me personally in order to drive me out of HCC. Furthermore given the evidence and experience I've had over the months with them, their remarks I take to be insincere, mere platitudes, saying whatever they find politically expedient to say for the sake of their public image. (In other words, their actions have spoken louder than their words)

With regards to further dialogue and mediation with the elders, the first thing they would need to do is to take a PUBLIC STAND as to
1. whether they have an official anti-Berean policy at HCC

2. whether that policy is limited to official teachers representing HCC or wether to members or whether to attenders.

3. OR whether their policy is not anti-Berean per se, but rather anti-Steve Amato.
Then they are going to have to own up to what they've done. But to proceed further requires a mediator who is willing to take up the task and who will represent both sides.

Barring that it appears I will have no further dialog with these elders.


3/13/12

Todd's Request

I remain interested in hearing what in your opinion would be necessary to resolve this.

Todd


3/13/12

Steps to Reconciliation

Todd,
 
Reconcilation will have to be a process, given what's transpired. For starters is the issue of the policy imposed on me. All that the elders do reflects the policies at HCC and consequently its reputation and that of its members. The restrictions imposed upon me are a function of the policies at HCC and thus relevant not only to myself but also to HCC as a whole. The elders need to communicate those policies in a public, clear and unambiguous manner.
 
I had formerly noted in my correspondence with you elders that it appeared you were being duplicitous concerning the policy imposed on me. For example concerning my correspondence with you, Todd, from 12/10/11 to 12/16/11 You contradicted the policy decision Iain made and I pointed this out to you saying, "Seems clear to me that not all the elders are on the same page with regards to the stipulations which Iain had stated to me concerning Sunday School teachers". And yet you never answered this. Not only have you elders intentionally allowed such ambiguities to remain, but also have failed to fulfill the stipulation of the resolution to allow me to give a mutually agreed upon explanation to the class as to why I had stepped down from teaching.
 
As a necessary step to reconciliation, the elders will have to discuss with the mediators:

1. What do the elders say was the policy imposed upon me as justification for my exclusion from teaching Sunday School, as agreed upon at the resolution meeting in Dec?
 
If what the elders allege is different than what was explicity told San and myself at the resolution meeting in Dec, then we're going to have to have more discussion about that.
 
2. Was the policy applied to me without partiality?
 
3. Why did the elders fail to fulfill the stipulation of providing a public explanation of my stepping down from teaching? And why did they fail to so much as to respond concerning this point when I had written them on Feb 20th saying, "no public explanation was ever given for my being removed."? And then again on March 2nd saying, "no public explanation was ever given for having ejected me from the Sunday School teaching program, nor were the restrictions, which were placed upon me, applied equally to others. These actions, as you may know, I reckon to be malicious on your part."
 
4. In fact after writing them in Feb concerning their failure both to fulfill this stipulation and their failure to apply their policy without partiality, on what basis did they then hold a meeting without any further dialog with myself and sent me an edict welcoming me only with regards to two HCC activities, namely the "corporate worship and the weekly Bible study"?
 
Much as the elders have tried to avoid any documentation of these matters, I have a collection of the edicts and correspondence relevant to this matter which I will make available to allow the objective evidence to speak for itself to any third parties.
 
And with regards to the necessity of third parties, the elders themselves having broken off dialog with me in their lastest fiasco, refusing to answer my correspondence and rather than doing so holding a meeting to determine my status at HCC without any further discussion with myself, it is necessary for others to interact with them in my place. And given my personal experience with the elders I have noted they are characteristically duplicitous, saying what they find to be politically expedient at the time for the sake of their public image, but taking the very opposite stand at other times. And as such I don't put much stock in what they say, but in what they do.
 
Consequently as a matter of reconciliation the elders will have to decide for themselves how long they are going to carry on this disingenuous duplicity of theirs.
 
steve amato


Given the correspondences so far, note the attempted deception that follows.

3/15/12

Steve,

Let me clarify a couple of points that you have misunderstood.  First, the meeting last week was not a meeting "to decide whether or not to expel you."  It was a regularly scheduled elders meeting, which we hold every other Thursday.  The situation with you was one item on our agenda.  We had committed to spending time in prayer regarding your situation and the email exchanges between you, Michael, and me, in which you express your distrust, disrespect, towards us as elders and even appear (in your Feb 20 email to MB) to doubt whether or not all of us elders are truly regenerate.  We were prayerfully considering how to respond to you.

During the eldersí period of discernment and prayer, you chose to disaffiliate your small group Bible study from HCC stating that you feared we would "pull the rug out from under you."  In stating that we were welcoming you to continue attending worship (in our mind this included Sunday school) and weekly Bible study, we were intending to communicate to you that we would not pull the rug out from under you and that you were welcome to continue using the HCC facilities and attending all HCC community events, including Sunday school and weekly Bible studies.  You are not banned from attending Sunday school or any other weekly HCC event.  We were attempting to affirm our desire to remain in fellowship with you yet you mistook our welcome as further banning you from activities.  This is not the case.  Let me be clear.  You are welcome to attend all HCC community events happening on a Sunday morning (including SS) and any Bible studies or other events that occur throughout the week which you choose to attend.  Furthermore, you are welcome to continue using HCC facilities to host your Bible study, though it appears you have chosen not to use HCC facilities for this Bible study.  

Secondly, as I stated previously, we are open to having further dialogue with you.  Clearly, we have not broken off dialogue with you, as evidenced by my attempts to speak with you last week, this and prior emails.  I stated this to you days prior to our normally scheduled elders meeting last week, yet you refused to dialogue with me.  The reason we resorted to inviting a third party to mediate is because you stated that you did not trust us to speak with us unless a tape recorder and a witness were present.  I would speak with you today about this but you will not speak to me.  We have not broken off dialogue with you, you have refused any dialogue with us.  Therefore, a third party mediator is necessary in order to comply with your demands, given your distrust of us if this is to reach resolution.  And by a third party mediator, we mean someone (or a panel of three men) who will sit with us all present in one meeting in one room together and help us work through this.  We all see ourselves individually on speaking terms with you.

Hopefully,

Todd


3/16/12

Todd,

I'm really getting tired of the duplicity of you elders. Much as you attempt to mislead the simple, a lot of us are not so naive. The edict that came out of your "meeting" stated, "we would like to encourage you to continue your participation in corporate worship and the weekly Bible study". These alone and no mention of any other official HCC function. Message Received!

But now while the edict given by concensus of the elders clearly states "THE" weekly Bible study, (of which I take to mean the men's Wednesday Bible study I've been attending), you, Todd, in unilateral fashion are changing it to say "ANY" weekly Bible studies. And even so much as adding to it saying, "or other events that occur throughout the week". That's a completely different edict than what was sent me by consensus of the elders. Furthermore now you're stating by "corporate worship" you include Sunday School. You know very  well that's not the general usage of the term as understood by those attending HCC. For regardless of what arbitrary definition you may assign the term, or how you think of it "in your mind", you didn't write this edict to yourself. You wrote it to me. And if you had not intended to be ambiguous you would have stated so explicitly in no uncertain terms. (In previous emails to you elders I had pointed out ambiguities you had made which I wanted resolved, but you have refused to do so. And you know that very well. This is yet another example of your attempt to mislead.)

No, there's no miscommunication here, only the attempt to deceive on your part. If you were honest you would have used terms that we both understood. You would have been clear and unambiguous. The phrase "corporate worship" is clearly understood by the general consensus of those attending HCC to mean the corporate worship service with starts at 10:45. And I've been attending for over 12 years. You could ask almost anyone attending HCC as to what time the corporate worship service starts. What time do you think they'll give you? (Why is that not clear "in your own mind"?) Your Sunday Bulletin, put out by the elders themselves, uses the phrase "Service of Worship" and outlines the events starting at 10:45. Likewise the HCC website states, "Services: Sunday School for all ages: 9:30 AM Worship Service: Sundays at 10:45 AM" So you may have some trouble convincing others that your statement here is anything more than an attempt to deceive. And as I had noted throughout this process this is typical of what you guys try to pull. And besides, even if it were true, it demonstrates at best the elders inability to communicate ideas clearly and unambiguously, thus calling into question their qualifications for such a role, and at worse, if not so, what does it all say about you guys? Given that your job, Todd,  is teaching, I don't take it that you're that incompetent. You knew exactly what you were communicating.

And now you say I'm invited to everything. If that's what you wanted to communicate in your edict, why didn't you say so. You didn't say so because that's not what you guys intended. Your intention, indeed your very edict itself, limits my activities to the Sunday worship and the weekly Bible study as any can read for themselves and see. Those are the only two activities in which I'm welcomed to participate.

Secondly you claimed that prior to your "meeting" I refused to dialog with you. Once again that's misleading insomuch as I told you I was busy at the time given that it was a last minute discussion and given that the elders had already planned to meet apart from any further dialog with me, despite the fact I continued to try to email them again and again without any response to the actual subject matter of my email, I told you that after the meeting we could then speak about reconciliation. The dialog we had over email in that regard is a matter of record as is this dialog. Both of which I'll make available to third-parties who can discern for themselves what has transpired.

I noted all the way back on March 2nd the following of which was I assume partly the basis for this "meeting" of yours.
"As for the reason of this change of status, let me review the circumstances briefly. At that meeting, the official reason given me from being banned from teaching at HCC was that Bereans are not allowed to teach at HCC in an official capacity, such as Sunday School teaching. In the process you elders had banned me from teaching my own Bible study group - a group of which you never attended and as such don't actually oversee. Nonetheless you told me you "felt obligated" to do so for reasons still unclear to me. Then after the meeting, the ban was lifted for reasons unknown, despite my having ask for an explanation a number of times. Furthermore no public explanation was ever given for having ejected me from the Sunday School teaching program, nor were the restrictions, which were placed upon me, applied equally to others. These actions, as you may know, I reckon to be malicious on your part.

And furthermore, it was bad enough for the elder's anti-Berean sentiment to be restricted to teaching in an official capacity, barring me from an official teaching ministry at HCC. But as I had noted in a recent email forwarded to you all by Michael Bradford, it seems that simply as a person attending Sunday School, I am not allowed to scrutinize the teachings of the elders, even if asked to do so. For as I noted, when asked to scrutinize, I scrutinized, and rather than receive a rational Bible-based discussion I was met with hostility and no actual Biblical response to my analysis was forthcoming, but rather, having discarded my Biblical analysis out of hand, in its place was the statement that the elders are simply "forebearing my sins." This has been my experience with the elders both as a Sunday School teacher and as a Sunday School attendee."
Yet no substantive response to all the points I had made here was given me. Not before the meeting and not after the meeting. In its place I received an edict welcoming me to the corporate worship and the weekly Bible study. And you have the audacity to claim that I refuse to dialog with you!!! And this is the worst, it is a blatant lie on your part to claim, and I quote, "you have refused any dialogue with us." I have done nothing but try to dialog with you guys yet in the place of any response to the actual content of my queries, you impose further restrictions upon me and upon my dialog with you. And as for the decree I received from the elders and the dialog from you that followed, if this is the kind "dialog" you intend, then I can foresee that matters will only get worse from this point on. Why have you guys been so evasive? Why do you continue to add to the restrictions put on me in response to my queries? Why must I jump through all these hoops you put in front of me for months just to get an answer to my questions? And what does that say about you as elders? What is the matter with you people?

Furthermore given the discrepancies and ambiguities between statements you, Todd, have made and those Iain has made, of which is part of the subject I keep emailing you guys about of which you have continually evaded,  I can't take your word as necessarily representing the position of the elders as a whole, nor your personal interpretation of the edicts that come out of your meetings as representative of the meaning that the elders as a whole intended of such edicts.

As such I am also cc'ing the other elders to say that if they concur with Todd's edict welcoming me "to attend all HCC community events happening on a Sunday morning (including SS) and any Bible studies or other events that occur throughout the week which you choose to attend.", that they get back to me and tell me so in no uncertain terms, otherwise I take it that the only two HCC functions the elders, as a consensus, have welcomed me to is as you have written 1. The corporate worship (of which I take to mean the worship service starting at 10:45) and 2. the weekly Bible study (which I take to mean the weekly men's Bible study I've been attending) and consequently banned from all other HCC activities.

stephen amato

Later I got word that the other elders concurred with this new edict, freeing up the restrictions place upon me, at least all but the ban they've placed upon me regard me teaching.

So far, based upon the available correspondence one could say at best these guys lack the capacity to communicate with me and I with them. Though as I noted I perceive it goes much deeper than that. But in either case it demonstrates to necessity of mediators who don't simply relay messages, but grasp each party's intended meaning. As such I hope not to add much more to this record of personal correspondence with them and rather let third parties deal with this.


3/20/12

The Elders Ultimatum

The elders have given me their final ultimatum. This is a blurb from the pdf they sent me on 3/20/12. "We, therefore, with deep sadness and heavy hearts, absent any appropriate repentance on your part, rescind the invitation to continue efforts towards reconciliation with you, directly or with the assistance of a mediation panel. There are only two possible outcomes, either (1) you meet with us in person and repent, or (2) you completely remove yourself from the HCC community and seek a church with elders under whose authority you are able to sit comfortably." The end of the pdf was signed, not simply "the elders" as they had in the past, but explicitly "Michael Bradford, David Chamberlain, Todd Cravens, Douglas Simpson, Iain Whitfield"

The link to their whole document is here HCC Elders Ultimatum

The rashness of their decision was a knee-jerk reaction to discovering a web page containing my private notes early on which I had accidentally uploaded to the wrong directory - a public one rather than a private one. I removed that page immediately from the public directory once the elders had made me aware of it and I apologized for the mistake as I mention in a correspondence with them below on 3/21/21, along with noting that they themselves included the notes in their pdf as justification for their rash decision and thus they had planned to make it public knowledge anyhow. And in fact the content of those notes is largely contained throughout these correspondence and I don't mind the content be made public. In fact there are private views in those notes I would have liked to make public, and the elders have accommodated me in attaching such to their pdf edict as you can access from the above link.

I don't completely agree with their viewpoint as to the events which have transpired as they have recorded in that document, nor their characterization of myself. Furthermore regarding their pdf, the elders withhold a significant amount of information whereby people could make an informed decision regarding this matter, which itself says something.

But on this web page I've provided most of the correspondence I've had with the elders for third parties to judge for themselves. And I trust many will discern the same things that I've discerned over these many months.

One thing I find interesting with regards to this final ultimatum is that I was in the very process of trying to comply with their requirement to develop a panel of mediators to continue this reconciliation process, as can be seen from the correspondence I've had with them above, when I received this ultimatum of theirs whereby they have rescinded the invitation to reconcile with me.


My Apology

3/21/12

Elders,

You mention of the necessity of me "repenting", though it's vague as to what you're referring to. But I do apologize for accidentally uploading the XNOTES page to a public directly rather than the intended private directory. And as you know I had immediately removed it when you mentioned it. Though you yourself apparently don't have a problem with making it public as you incorporate it into your pdf which you're making public knowledge.

Accidently uploading it to the wrong directory turned out to be fortuitous in that your reaction provides additional evidence corroborating my view of events.

I've provided a much more comprehensive source than you have of the correspondence we've been having, along with your edicts, including the present one in question with the pdf file, at

http://www.bcbsr.com/hcc
user name: hcc
password: censured

Much as you would suppress the facts in this case, third parties who have access can discern for themselves the matter based upon a rather comprehensive study of the facts, which includes both your view of events and mine. Oh, and thanks for publicizing and indeed corroborating my article on "The Shortcomings of Institutionalized Christianity", which you accessed on my site and which you included in your recent pdf edict. Funny how that article had been public for many years along with similar materials on my site, and yet you took no notice of it previously, despite alleging an "overseer" role over me. Someone hadn't been doing their homework.

stephen amato
The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources
http://www.bcbsr.com


Steve,

In our view you would need to repent of the following:

  • of accusing the elders of intentionally mishandling Scripture
  • of failing to submit to our overseeing authority as a Sunday Schol teacher
  • of accusing Michael Bradford of being an incompetent elder
  • of accusing the entire elder board of incompetence in ordaining Michael Bradford as elder
  • of failing to recognize your own pride (evidenced in your view of yourself in a special class, namely, a person who submits to no overseeing authority)
  • of consistently failing to treat us in a respectful manner evidenced by the language and remarks made about us particularly that we are conceited, hateful, corrupt, disingenuous, duplicitous, and untrustworthy (and removing such derogatory comments from your website)
  • of imputing motives upon our actions that border on libel and making that known to other church members
  • of consistently using rhetoric that is destructive rather than edifying

Furthermore, we would expect you to then communicate your repentance to all whom you had previously spoken with about this matter.

We need to hear from you regarding your decision by no later than 7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, March 22, 2012) in order to avert us forwarding the PDF document, which we delivered to you yesterday, to those whom we are aware are knowledgable about this.

On behalf of the elders,

Todd Cravens

Much of that is misleading and much of what these allude to are not accusations but observations. But in any case notice that these eight accusations made against me are their basis for expelling me from HCC altogether. San makes a good point to the elders about this which you can read somewhere below. What they're saying regards of, for example, whether or not the facts show an elder to be incompetent, the very insinuation itself, regardless of the facts, is a basis for expelling one from their church.

In other words, these litany of accusations made against me just simply alludes to the idea that the elders are not to be scrutinized, and that if someone dares scrutinize them, they will be excommunicated. Or another way to say this is that practicing Bereans are not welcomed at HCC. Given the policy of the present elder board, HCC is officially an anti-Berean church.

But given what has transpire, it's not just about the policy, this whole thing calls into question the character of the elders.


3/22/12

The Elders Semi-Final Edict

Dear Steve,

In light of the fact that we have not heard from you by the appointed time, we conclude that you have not repented as requested by our letter of March 20 and our email of March 21. We therefore understand that you have decided to leave the HCC community. As noted, we will be sending out a notification tonight to all those that we understand have some knowledge of this matter (see list below). We will also be removing your name from the church intranet and directory, amending other internal documentation that mentions any role that you play within the HCC body, and advising Kock Seng and Joan Chee of our release of you from serving as their prayer champion. We will also need you to return your church key to the office.

We had hoped that you might recognize your sin and repent. Accordingly, it is with great sadness that we do these things.
 
In Christ

The elders

Michael Bradford, David Chamberlain, Todd Cravens, Doug Simpson, Iain Whitfield


(I've cut the name list the elders included composed of 12 men they plan to contact as they allude to in this email)


3/22/12

My Request for Clarification

Dear HCC Elders,

You write: "We therefore understand that you have decided to leave the HCC community."

Where did I say that? I haven't "decided to leave" at this point. Are you telling people I decided to leave at this point? That's false. I was in the middle of putting together a mediator team in hope of reconciliation when you elders informed me in the pdf file your sent me on 3/20/12 that YOU decided to "rescind the invitation to continue efforts towards reconciliation with me, directly or with the assistance of a mediation panel." And added the only possible outcome in the present case is that I "completely remove myself from the HCC community".

But now it seems you speak of it being my own decision as to whether I will leave or not leave. Is that right? I was under the impression that if I didn't meet your demands you would insist on me "completely removing myself from the HCC community".

If I hear back from you that you insist that I leave, I would still need clarification as what "completely removing myself from the HCC community" actually entails from your standpoint. Take my relationship with Ruben, for example. Ruben is part of the HCC community, is he not? Are you saying that to meet your demands, I cannot go out for coffee with Ruben? Are HCC people restricted from attending my Bible study group - which as you know is not affiliated with HCC? Would there be penalties imposed and threats of excommunication for those in the HCC community who continued to fellowship with me?

Hope to hear back from you, otherwise I assume you are not insisting I leave.

steve


3/22/12

San's Requests of the Elders

Dear elders,

When two sides has some dispute. It does not seem to be fair that one sides simply give the other side an ultimatum, either you repent or else... For how are you so sure you are on the right side? What if you are the ones that need to repent? After all, it is God whom we are all going to answer to. And God is very serious about how we treat each other.

"In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." 1Jn 3:10

I would love to go to the meeting to talk about this on Saturday. And I think it is only fair that Steve Amato is also allowed to attend.

In fear of God,

san

3/22/12

THE ELDERS FINAL EDICT

*** EXPELLED ***

Steve,

Pursuant to our letter sent to you on March 20, in which we indicated a March 22 deadline and in our email sent to you last night (clarifying what you needed to repent of) we stated that we needed to hear your decision (either to repent or remove yourself) by 7:30 p.m. tonight. We did not hear from you, so we concluded that you had chosen to remove yourself from HCC. Whether you have chosen to leave or not, regrettably, we are now requesting you to leave HCC. We also clearly advised you that we would communicate your response to those whom we knew were aware of the situation.

Removing yourself from HCC means no longer attending HCC or any of its events or Bible studies. Meeting with HCC members would be a decision between you and the other person. Anyone is at liberty to attend your Bible study provided that it does not take place in HCC facilities.

I hope this clarifies any questions. If you have any further questions, please feel free to phone me on my cell.

On behalf of the elders,

Todd Cravens

Note:

Apparently by "you completely remove yourself from the HCC community" what they meant was HCC programs and facilities, but not the people. (typical!)


The elders also denied San's request for me to attend their 10:30 meeting. As for this division they have cause even up to this point cutting me off from fellowship at HCC, I would give this instruction:
"I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple." Rom 16:17,18

Upcoming Episode: THE FALLOUT

Since being expelled from HCC, some friends have been questioning the elders to some degree and consequently I have found out that the elders have been maligning me, misleading people as to the circumstances. This I take to be an effort on their part to put themselves in a good light in order to save their reputation.. The following email I sent them sheds light on these matters.

Elders, and other interested parties,

On March 20th I received this ultimatum from you elders,

"We, therefore, with deep sadness and heavy hearts, absent any appropriate repentance on your part, rescind the invitation to continue efforts towards reconciliation with you, directly or with the assistance of a mediation panel. There are only two possible outcomes, either (1) you meet with us in person and repent, or (2) you completely remove yourself from the HCC community and seek a church with elders under whose authority you are able to sit comfortably. Absent repentance from you, on Thursday, March 22 we intend to inform the other members of HCC of this decision."

I was in the middle of developing a team of mediators in compliance to your requirements when YOU elders walked away, rescinding any such efforts to reconcile with me. You have never since written me telling me otherwise. Yet I have been informed that you have been telling other people behind my back that you are open to reconciliation. I take that as yet another example of maliciousness on your part, attempting to mislead people for the sake of your own public image, as if you had never rescinded the invitation to continue efforts towards reconciliation.

Secondly I have heard that when the Roy and Madeline asked you elders - Michael Bradford in particular - as to the reason I was expelled, you lied to them. For they were told that the reason I was expelled was because I had intentionally published documents which should have been kept private onto a public directory on my site. But in fact prior to being expelled I had sent you elders the following on 3/21/12

I do apologize for accidentally uploading the XNOTES page to a public directly rather than the intended private directory. And as you know I had immediately removed it when you mentioned it. Though you yourself apparently don't have a problem with making it public as you incorporate it into your pdf which you're making public knowledge.

That I assumed was water under the bridge. In fact, prior to being expelled when I later asked you elders as to what accusations you have against me from which I need repent, that incident was not even mentioned. In fact one of the accusations you made of which you require me to repent is the fact that I removed such material from the public directory.

This action by Michael Bradford, who was speaking on behalf of the elders, was malicious. And I would think you elders need to apologize to the Yihs and to others you may have been misleading. Likewise you misinformed my friends with regards to Iain's "Cleanse the Temple" Sermon. Doug Chase has been working on clearing that up as you know.

I'm writing now because Roy asked Michael as to what would be necessary for me to attend HCC. Michael (you elders) responded with an ultimatum that on June 7th I must go to the elders meeting and there repent of everything that you claim I need to repent of. Again I remind you that you elders had as of March 20th rescinded the invitation to reconcile with me. If now you're rescinding that edict, one question I have is, what changed between then and now such that you are ALLEGEDLY open to reconciliation?

I assume that the accusations against me haven't change. For previously when I asked as to what were the specific things of which you require me to repent, I was sent eight accusations. Since you had sent me an ultimatum and we're unwilling to discuss the validity of such accusations, I had not sent a response to those. And indeed this latest ploy of yours to put on a public face that you desire to reconcile with me seems in fact to be just another ultimatum rather than a dialog as to the validity of your accusations. Nonetheless I will share with you what I think of the eight accusations you hold against me, the basis of which you expelled me from the church.

These are the eight accusations you elders sent me on March 21st  of you required me to repent or else be expelled. I comment on each one.

#1 I was expelled from HCC because the elders allege me "of accusing the elders of intentionally mishandling Scripture"
Wrong! Up to that point I never said you elders intentionally mishandled Scripture. There are cases where I believe you elders have mishandled scripture. I believe the record shows that. And I have speculated on your intention for doing so from time to time based on supporting evidence. And indeed the evidence has continue to grow over the months corroborating my original inference as to your motives such that at this point I feel the burden of proof is upon you to prove your intentions not being malicious.
#2 I was expelled from HCC because the elders allege me "of failing to submit to our overseeing authority as a Sunday School teacher "
Wrong! I submitted to you elders within your limited realm of authority, which is limited to institutional matters. When you told me that it was contrary to their policy to allow Bereans to teach Sunday School at HCC, I stepped down and acknowledge you had the authority to not allow me to teach. When you censured me, I complied, and when you expelled me from HCC, I complied. What you don't have authority over is to tell me that I have to teach that which is contrary to my conscience and convictions. Nor do you have authority to not allow me to scrutinize what you teach. (See Acts 17:11)
#3 I was expelled from HCC because the elders allege me "of accusing Michael Bradford of being an incompetent elder"
Really? You mean to tell me that it's HCC policy to expel anyone who suggests an elder is doing an incompetent job as an elder? Don't feel I need to comment much on this. But I will say that at first I was only making an insinuation of Michael's competence, but at this point considering what has gone on over the months which followed, I would now say, not as merely an insinuation, but as a matter of fact based upon experience and observation, that all you elders have demonstrated incompetence over these past months as the record shows.
#4 I was expelled from HCC because the elders allege me "of accusing the entire elder board of incompetence in ordaining Michael Bradford as elder"
(See #3)
#5 I was expelled from HCC because the elders allege me "of failing to recognize your own pride (evidenced in your view of yourself in a special class, namely, a person who submits to no overseeing authority)"
I think the shoe is very much on the other foot there. But let's consider this policy. According to HCC policy, you elders will expel anyone who they allege fails to recognize their own pride. Really? Think about this. You claim proof of such in that you falsely allege I view myself in "a special class, namely, a person who submits to no overseeing authority" In fact if anyone is guilty of such at HCC it's you elders. For you view yourselves in a "special class" not subject to any overseeing authority. Thus if you were to judge yourselves by the same standards by which you judge others, you would find it necessary to expel yourselves from HCC.
#6 I was expelled from HCC because the elders allege me "of consistently failing to treat us in a respectful manner evidenced by the language and remarks made about us particularly that we are conceited, hateful, corrupt, disingenuous, duplicitous, and untrustworthy (and removing such derogatory comments from your website)"
While again you confuse insinuation with accusation, at this point yes in my view the record reveals you elders as being conceited, hateful, corrupt, disingenuous, duplicitous, and untrustworthy and I would add harsh and ungracious. The correspondence bears this out, as do your actions, not to mention this atrocity of expelling me for simply criticizing you, and the circumstances under which you also shortly thereafter expelled another person. A person who had actually sinned, but who had repented!
As for the website, it is false that I removed derogatory comments. All the comments I made, derogatory or otherwise are born out in the correspondence available online in the private directory of which you elders and other appropriate parties have had access to. The document I had accidentally uploaded to the public directory I merely moved to the private directory as you know.
#7 I was expelled from HCC because the elders allege me "of imputing motives upon our actions that border on libel and making that known to other church members"
While I made insinuations about your motives, I did so based upon evidence. As for the charge of "libel", once again I feel the shoe is very much on the other foot, but what I have said is corroborated in the record. As for "making that known to other church members", first of all much of what you did to me, like banning me from teaching and censuring me from my own Bible study group, was in the public realm to begin with. Secondly you required I find three mediators before you were willing to consider reconciling with me. How can I find mediators if I didn't inform them of the situation? Rather, seeing as I had myself brought you elders through all three steps of the Matt 18:15-17 process, it has been time for the church to be informed. Even so I've tried to keep the correspondence to a limited number of relevant people.
#8 I was expelled from HCC because the elders allege me "of consistently using rhetoric that is destructive rather than edifying"
That seems to me to be a matter of opinion. In fact my rhetoric was toned down quite a bit compared to that of Jesus and Paul with regards to dealing with the kind of people you represent. Furthermore many at HCC who actually have known me (prior to this incident you elders barely even spoke to me over the last 12 years), respect me as a teacher and can testify of being edified by my rhetoric. As I see it you view my rhetoric as destructive much as the elders, pharisees and lawyers of Jesus day characterized his rhetoric as destructive insomuch as it offends your sense of personal pride. If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?
Now having responded to these eight accusations I find nothing to repent of. Quite the contrary it would seem that your ultimatum requires me to sin in order to "reconcile" with you in that I would have to lie. I would have to call good evil and evil good.  ("Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil" Is 5:20a  and "Whoever rewards evil for good, Evil will not depart from his house." Pr 17:13) And that once again corroborates my opinion of you elders. I have acted in good conscience and sincere faith and I think consistent with the scriptures and I feel that my role in this matter is one I would recommend in dealing with such people. Now if you elders want to reconcile with me, get back to me and we can discuss what apologies you need to make and what you need to repent of if you want to be reconciled with me.

steve amato

To this day none of the elders responded. None have any interest in reconciling with me.


Strange thing - Ruben reports to me that he mentioned to Iain that he's been attending a couple of Bible studies I've been leading since my expulsion from HCC, and surprisingly Iain commends me as a teacher even though he doesn't so much as allow me to attend his church!



Heard that the HCC Wed Men's Bible study may shut down due to lack of attendance.



5/9/13
It's been over a year. No response from the elders, neither from HCC nor Countryside, as to what sin I committed to be treated in such a manner. Not only the elders, but the vast majority of members at HCC have shunned me for no good reason, which is again evidence of influence of the elders. Seems HCC people have been trained not the follow the Bible, but to follow the elders. At this point I would have to conclude that both HCC people and HCC elders are hostile to Bereans.

Having given HCC sufficient time to repent, I'm making this document accessible to the whole Christian community so that they may beware of HCC.



Dave Furlani (my tenant) tells me he met with an elder who told him that they rescinded the invitation suddenly because I didn't meet their time line. But in fact I was not given a time line. Nor was that explanation for the sudden and unexpected rescinding of the invitation to reconcile with me given to me.



Steve Crowell says he talked with Doug Simpson (one of the elders) who told him the reason I was expelled was because I failed to submit to their overseeing authority, but failed to mention in what way I failed to submit to their overseeing authority. I am not aware of failing to submit to the elders authority (within their limited realm of authority).