The Trial of Paul Petry – Part 4 (and why it was unjust)

No hearsay

Paul Petry was not allowed to have any witnesses at his trial to rebut hearsay evidence. The use of hearsay was used to find him guilty of at least one charge. Who knows what other charges were presented with hearsay evidence alone.

Hearsay in not allowed in a trial for several reasons:

  1. It is one-sided testimony presented by someone other than the witness.
  2. It does not allow for cross-examination of the witness, where additional facts, context, and accuracy may change the impact of what is being said.
  3. It allows the bearer of the hearsay to undermine the witness without cross-examination, and can tarnish the reputation of the witness’s future testimony.

One of the most fundamental elements of charging a person with wrongdoing, reiterated in Scripture when the charges are against an elder, is that there needs to be witnesses to the wrongdoing.

This principal is emphasized in both Old Testament law and in New Testament teaching.

I Tim 5:19 “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.”

Paul Petry was charged with the sharing of sensitive documents with a church member. I was alleged to be that member.  The document that was alleged to have been shared with me was the proposed new bylaws that were voted in on October 2007

Dave Kraft, who himself filed charges against Mark Driscoll in 2013, apparently without witnesses and now leads (in some capacity) the band of 20 men who are currently attempting to seek reconciliation with Mark Driscoll, was on the Elder Investigation Taskforce (EIT) that investigatedf the charges against Paul Petry and Bent Meyer. He served in the EIT along with with elders Steve Tompkins, Gary Shavey and the leader, Scott Thomas.

Before the trial of Paul Petry I appealed to Dave Kraft, who was my executive coach at the time, that if the elders were going to charge Paul with the serious offence of sharing the proposed bylaws with a member, and seeing that I was the alleged member to whom Paul apparently shared the document, then they needed to call me in as a witness. I said I was available and willing. I also stressed numerous times that it was not be fair if Paul Petry, now having to defend himself against this offense should not be given the right to call any witness that he needed in his defense.

Once I realized that despite my appeal to Dave Kraft failed, and that Scott Thomas was planning to use my comments as hearsay at the trial, I appealed to all the elders that they needed to allow witnesses, and that failure to allow witnesses or the use of hearsay would result in an unfair trial and therefore a verdict that would not be respected. http://joyfulexiles.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/mars-hill-rob-smith-email-to-elders-10-14-2007.pdf

While this may be obvious and clear to the average person, it was not clear to the 24 elders who tried Paul Petry. These men, who had presented themselves as men above reproach with the ability to teach the flock, were so determined to nail Paul Petry at his trial that they not only ignored a basic biblical teaching about the need for witnesses when charging a person with wrongdoing, especially an elder, but the ignored a principle that is so obvious that even the secular world makes this a priority at any trial.

Hearsay is untrustworthy and therefore inadmissible.

Furthermore, the Bible says that one man’s story sound really convincing, until the second witness shows up. Proverbs 18:17 “The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him.”

Why is this relevant in the trial of Paul Petry?

When Scott Thomas, while determining whether there was enough credible evidence to charge Paul with disqualifying sins against the church, discovered that I as a member was aware of the proposed changes to the bylaws. He called me and asked me if Paul Petry had discussed the proposed changes with me. I confirmed that he had.

Scott Thomas seemed delighted. It was as if he had found what he needed to justify the firing and removal of Paul as an elder.

Because of the way he responded, I reached out to various elders offering my testimony at the trial. I appealed to Dave Kraft, Tim Quiring, James Harleman and others in person. I also appealed to all the elders as mentioned above.

I was ignored and basically told not to intrude.

Why, you may ask, was my direct testimony that important? Well, let me explain.

The hearsay testimony of Scott Thomas was inaccurate and incomplete. It painted a false picture. Despite this it was used to extract a guilty verdict.

While it was true that Paul had discussed the new bylaws with me, he reached out to me to discuss a particular section of the bylaws with me. It was the section, ironically, that had to do with the rights of a member under discipline. Little did Paul know that less than a month later he would be facing church discipline without any rights.

Paul knew that I had strongly objected to elder Phil Schmit and James Noriega in earlier weeks when they were using the bylaws to warn a member that they could remove him as a member. They said that any two consenting elders could simply decide such a fate.  In one of the most abusive conversations I have ever experienced, elders Schmit and Noriega argued with me over this terrible bylaw. (For the record, James Noriega has subsequently confessed and asked forgiveness for the way he treated me, and I have forgiven him). When I challenged them that this was unbiblical, they pulled out a copy of the bylaws and had me read the bylaw.

I was stunned at the fact that a Mars Hill Church member has no rights whatsoever, and could be thrown out the church by two consenting elders. (Also for the record, Phil Schmit has asked the member in this instance for forgiveness for the abuse).  The fact that after 6 years both elders have asked forgiveness for their anger and abuse demonstrates the folly of the bylaw in the first place… but I digress.

As a result of knowing that I strongly objected to the existing bylaws which gave the members no ability to defend themselves against such action, and knowing that several times in my five year history as an older trusted member of Mars Hill Church I had come alongside members who seemed to be mistreated as a result of this policy, Paul met with me to ask me what kind of rights I thought a member should have. He included my suggestions in his discussion with Jamie Munson.

http://joyfulexiles.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/elders-by-laws-revised-draft-by-pastor-paul-petry-9-25-2007.pdf See page 13

The hearsay, which implied that I was privy to the new bylaws as a result of Paul’s actions, was simply wrong. I had seen the new bylaws in Phil Schmit’s office prior to discussing them with Paul.

As a result of the time I had with Phil Schmit and James Noriaga, I had been exposed to the new bylaws. Had hearsay not been used, and Paul been able to question me as a witness, the truth would have come out.

I had two meetings with these men. The first was when I heard about the bylaws that allowed any two elders to kick out a member of the church if they jointly agreed (which is still in the current bylaws) and the second was when Noriega called me back to “aggressively chew me out” for arguing with them about the bylaws in the first meeting.

Noriega was late for the meeting. Perhaps he and Schmit needed to confer before they dressed me down at the second meeting. But nonetheless, I waited for 15 minutes for the two elders to meet with me.

Well, guess what was on the chair next to where I was sitting? A copy of the proposed new bylaws. I did not realize at first that they were new, but as I read them that fact became clear. I did not get as far in my reading to get to the section reflecting that members have no rights, but I did see enough to know that the ecclesiology of Mars Hill Church would be forever changed.

So, while it was true that Paul Petry discussed the new bylaws with me, had I been called in as a witness, the jury would have heard that I first saw the new bylaws in Phil Schmit’s office, and that I had discussed the ecclesiology change with not only Paul Petry, but also elders Tim Quiring, Dave Kraft, James Harleman,  James Noriega and Phil Schmit.

Sadly, because I was not allowed to be a witness, hearsay was presented that led the jury to believe a one-sided version of the truth, and Paul was found guilty.

Interestingly, after the trial, but before the vote to change the bylaws, I also discussed the bylaw change with Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson. I am not sure why it was so offensive for Paul Petry to discuss this confidential document with a man who was a deacon and chosen to enter the elder process, when it was fine for all these other elders to do so. Unless of course it was a witch hunt intended to nail Paul Petry. In fact, wouldn’t it be sensible to discuss bylaw changes with the members of the church?

Hearsay allows the bearer of the hearsay to undermine the witness without cross-examination, and can tarnish the reputation of the witness’s future testimony.

What the hearsay also did was allow those making their case to characterize the absent witness. Even though I was deemed qualified to be a deacon, and had been approved (based upon my character presumably) to start the elder process, Mark Driscoll presented me as “the biggest trouble maker in Mars Hill Church’s history.

So this poor writer went from being a qualified deacon and placed on the elder “track” (thus Dave Kraft becoming my coach) to becoming the worst trouble maker in Mars Hill Church’s history in one fell swoop. At the trial my name was slandered and my ministry attacked through the use of hearsay. Had any fair and godly elder been present, they would have objected to this slander that was used to collaborate the hearsay. Had I been a witness, I would have gladly born testimony to all the facts that actually occurred, and I would have had an opportunity to object to the slander.

Paul Petry’s trail was unfair because of the use of hearsay. He should be exonerated.

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