Notes on American Heresy Cases Post-1900

The most extensive treatment on cases of heresy in America is George Shriver’s Dictionary of American Heresy Trials, from which most of the following cases are taken. Shriver’s arrangement is alphabetical, but I have found it more useful to group cases by denomination. Note that Shriver’s writers do not always sound very objective; which is not to say that they are not truthful. Shriver covers 50 cases, of which about half are in the 20th century. A large proportion have to do with struggles for control of what will be taught in seminary; perhaps there is inevitably a conflict between the ideals of academic freedom, and the demand that a seminary which is the primary training ground for a group’s future ministers should teach in accord with the beliefs of the group.

Reformed Church

John Dietrich — was educated at the Eastern Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church and graduated in 1905; he then became minister of St. Mark’s Memorial Church in Pittsburgh. His ministry appears to have been controversial in several ways. The Allegheny Classis investigated his teaching and determined that Dietrich did not believe in the infallibility of the Bible, nor in the virgin birth and deity of Jesus, nor in the traditional understanding of the atonement. The recommendation of the committee was that Dietrich be indicted for heresy, hoping that he would resign before the actual trial was held. The trial was set for July 10, 1911; Dietrich refused to defend himself and was "defrocked", in spite of the continuous support of his board of trustees and the members, generally, at St. Mark's. After his last Sunday as minister, St. Mark's was closed and the next service was not held until a year later.

Dietrich became a Unitarian minister and gradually moved from a position of liberal theistic Unitarianism to religious non-theistic humanism. For more details see The Circle of Earth: The Story of John H. Dietrich by Carleton Winston, a pseudonym for his second wife, Margaret Dietrich (New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1942). See also an extended article about him at the Harvard Square Library web site.


Note that two of these cases are actually instances of discipline for being too conservative.

Charles Augustus Briggs — Born 1841, studied at Union Theological Seminary in NY; later appointed Davenport professor of Hebrew and Cognate language. Co-edited (with A A Hodge of Princeton) the Presbyterian Review. The heresy trial of W. Robertson Smith in Scotland, on the issue of biblical criticism, provoked a debate in the Review on verbal inspiration and inerrancy (the Princeton position) versus modern criticism (the Union position). This led to proposals by the General Assembly to revise the Confession of Faith; the proposals were supported by Union and opposed by Princeton. In November of 1890, Briggs was appointed to the Edward Robinson Chair of Biblical Theology. His inaugural address on 20 Jan 1891, entitled “The Authority of Holy Scripture”, proposed three “great fountains of divine authority” – the Bible, the Church and Reason; and asserted that six barriers had restricted a human approach to the scriptures: superstition, verbal inspiration, authenticity, inerrancy, violation of the laws of nature, and minute prediction. In May the Presbytery of New York issued a report specifying three areas of the talk which ran counter to the Confession of Faith: in equating the Bible, the Church and Reason; in its rejection of inerrancy; and in proposing a belief in progressive sanctification after death as a biblical and church doctrine.

In October, Briggs was tried on heresy related to the second and third of these points. After a heated discussion, a vote to dismiss the charges passed 94 to 39; the prosecution appealed and the case was remanded to the New York Presbytery for trial. Union Theological Seminary then terminated its commitment to the Compact of 1870 (effectively withdrawing from the Presbytery). At the trial, the prosecuting committee submitted eight charges; two were dismissed and Briggs plead not guilty to the other six. Briggs gave a detailed argument in his defense, including the claim that questions not addressed by the Confession of Faith allowed a believer to hold a private opinion so long as that opinion could be supported by Scripture or human experience. He was acquitted on all counts; the prosecution then appealed to the General Assembly.

The third trial began on 29 May 1893; Briggs was convicted by a vote of 383 to 116 and was suspended. The Assembly also disavowed all responsibility for the faculty of UTS and declined to receive further reports from the seminary until satisfactory relations were re-established. Briggs was received into the priesthood of the Episcopalian Church in 1899 and continued to teach at Union, focusing particularly on Christian Unity. He died in 1913. Shriver notes: “The heresy trials had done more in two years to spread Briggs’ views on higher criticism than he could have accomplished in a lifetime. Undoubtedly, much of the ecumenical concern that has remained the hallmark of Union Seminary can be traced to his influence.” Among Briggs' many books are A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms (2 vol., 1906) and Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (with Francis Brown and S. R. Driver, completed 1906). See his Inaugural Address and Defense (first printed in 1891 and 1893, repr. 1972); C. E. Hatch, The Charles A. Briggs Heresy Trial (1969).

A C McGiffert (1861-1933) — Part of the struggles between Union and Princeton over Presbyterian theology. In 1892 he testified for the defense of Henry Preserved Smith, then being tried for heresy at Lane Seminary (Smith was found guilty and suspended) and he had supported Briggs in his trial. His inaugural address at Union was described as “most excellent Quaker teaching, but... a direct onslaught on the very basis of Reformed and, indeed, of the whole Protestant theology.” His 1897 book A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age aroused much hostility. He worked on the basic assumption that historical change makes all religious teaching relative and there is no continuing ‘essence’ of Christian history: “There is no such thing as Christianity in general – though there are many particular Christianities.” He was accused on four counts: (a) doubting whether Jesus intended to institute the Lord’s Supper as a perpetual rite (b) implying that Christ was mistaken in some of his view (c) denying that early Christians held substitutionary theories of atonement and (d) impugning the authority of scripture. The Assembly strongly disapproved of the book, issued a warning to McGiffert and counseled him to reform his views or peaceably withdraw from the Presbytery. McGiffert refused to do either and the next Assembly referred the matter to the New York Presbytery, which disapproved of specific views but voted against another heresy trial. However, one member then filed formal heresy charges which were again brought to the General Assembly in 1900; McGiffert decided to withdraw ‘to save the Presbyterian Church which he loved dearly, from a great heresy trial.” He joined the Congregational Church and was president of Union from 1917 to 1926.

J Gresham Machen (1881-1937) — Expelled from the PCUSA for his opposition to modernism. In his 1923 book Christianity and Liberalism he stated that liberalism/ modernism was not a perversion of Christianity but a completely different religion, because it was not based on the narration of a historical event. His opposition to modernism led the General Assembly of 1923 to reiterate its adherence to the Five Fundamentals of 1910. In 1932 he published an attack on the report “Rethinking Missions’, which had advocated tolerance and acceptance of other religions; he set up an independent mission board in opposition to the General Assembly. The New Brunswick Presbytery then pressed charges against Machen for violation of ordination vows, rebellious defiance, and disobeying the lawful authority of the Church. They refused to hear substantive justifications of Machen’s position and focused only on the question of obedience, making questions of the rightness of the Church’s position irrelevant to the case. He was found guilty and suspended; press coverage generally condemned the Church for being highhanded and unjust. Machen formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church but died of pneumonia in 1937.

The case is important for its emphasis on ecclesiology over doctrine. Also, many people probably agreed with Machen’s position but because they did not form a rebellious splinter group, no action was taken against them. “The independent fundamentalists could broach no doctrinal variations; the denominational liberals could suffer no ecclesiastical countermovements.”

Walter Kenyon (1948- ) — Barred from ordination by the United Presbyterian Church in 1974 because of his stance against the ordination of women. Kenyon was educated under the conservative John Gerstner, and believed that an inerrant view of the Bible required subordination of women. The merger of the conservative United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPNA) and the Presbyterian Church (USA) into the new United Presbyterian Church (USA) was based on a compromise that women could be ordained but no congregation would be compelled to accept a woman minister. Kenyon was serving as a part-time minister of a small Presbyterian Church while finishing his theological studies. At his final interview with the Committee on Candidates and Credentials, he was asked if he would ordain women; Kenyon made clear that he would not block women and would work with women elders and ministers, but would not participate in their ordination service. The Committee did not recommend him for ordination. The Presbytery, however, authorized his ordination by a vote of 144 to 133.

A case was then filed stating that the Presbytery had violated Presbyterian constitutional law in agreeing to ordain Kenyon. A court of 11 members of the Synod’s Permanent Judicial Commission upheld the complaint by a vote of 6 to 4, stating that Kenyon was ‘in irreconcilable conflict with Presbyterian polity, government and discipline.” The Presbytery appealed to the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, which agreed with the Synod PJC, stating that a candidate for ordination must endorse Presbyterian polity, i.e. as a matter of government. The decision had implications for all new ordinands, and resolutions to change the constitution were submitted to later General Assemblies, but failed; several pastors and churches moved to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) which opposed the ordination of women. Kenyon pursued a career in academia. The case is unusual in that it focused on Kenyon’s actions (he was free to think as he liked, but not free to refuse to ordain women) and in its focus on the actions of the Presbytery rather than of Kenyon himself (similar to the Hick case and later cases involving the ordination of homosexuals).

John Hick (1922- ) — Presbyterian minister has twice been the subject of heresy proceedings:

a. In 1961 or 1962, when he was teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary, he sought, as a Presbyterian minister, to join the local Presbytery of New Brunswick. He was asked whether he took exception to anything in the Westminster Confession of 1647 and answered that several were open to question; for example, he was agnostic on the historical truth of the Virgin Birth and did not regard it as an essential item of Christian faith. Because of this, some of the local ministers appealed against his reception into the Presbytery. Their appeal was sustained by the Synod. A year later, a counter-appeal was sustained by the Judicial Committee of the General Assembly, and Hick became a member of the Presbytery. He has published an account of this in chapter 1 ("Three Controversies") in his book Problems of Religious Pluralism (London: Macmillan 1985).

b. In the mid-1980s, when teaching at the Claremont Graduate School in California, Hick sought to join the local Presbytery of San Gabriel. His application was strongly opposed by certain local ministers. After long discussion, the relevant committee told him that his application would be extremely divisive and invited him to withdraw it, which he did.

Dr Terry Gray — an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of northern California, was convicted of heresy in 1996 for "stating that Adam had primate ancestors, contrary to the Word of God (Genesis 2:7, 1:26, 27) and the doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (WCF IV 2, WLC 17)". He was indefinitely suspended from the office of ruling elder although he remains a member of the church in good standing. A collection of articles relevant to the case is found at his web site.

Southern Baptists

George B Foster (1858-1910) — Ordained as a Baptist minister, taught systematic theology and later philosophy of religion at the Divinity School of the U of Chicago. By 1895 he had abandoned orthodox Christian theology; by the early 1900’s he believed that Christianity was no longer a live option; God became ‘the ideal-achieving aspects of the cosmic evolutionary process.” The Baptists Ministers’ Conference condemned his 1906 book The Finality of the Christian Religion, voting 48 to 22 that its views were ‘contrary to scripture and ...subversive of the vital and essential truths of the Christian faith.’ The 1909 book ‘The function of religion in man’s struggle for existence’ aroused even more controversy; Foster declared publicly that he was still a true historic Baptist because “Baptists hold to the right of private interpretation of Scripture, freedom of thought and speech, and the privilege of every man to hold communion with God without the mediation of a priest.” The Minister’s Conference voted on 26 June to expel him; however, he never surrendered his papers of ordination and he continued to teach at U of C. The case served to clarify and widen the split between conservatives and liberals, particularly among the Baptists.

Mercer University (1939) — 13 University students filed charges against 4 professors, again primarily around issues of modern biblical criticism (Mercer is Baptist) and around the issue of evolution. Resignations (under pressure) due to doctrinal irregularity had occurred in 1894, 1905, 1906 and 1924. A 10-hour trial was held on 20 March. The faculty were accused of denying the existence of demons, the blood Atonement of Christ, conversion from sin, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the body, hell, the Genesis account of creation, and the molding of Eve from the rib of Adam; and of saying that the Bible contained contradictions. The trustee investigative committee however refused to condemn them and simply issued a caution; the majority of students also supported the professors.

Frank Staff (1911- ) — Professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; investigated in 1956, apparently due to his writings on racial justice. Letters were solicited commenting on his views, which reveal six issues:

Stagg was called before the Trustees to respond, and then acquitted. He stayed at NOBTS until 1964, went to Southern Baptist and remained there until his retirement in 1982.

Robert Briggs (1915- ) — Briggs taught at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1960 an investigation was begun into the teaching of Briggs, William Strickland and Harold Oliver for “the application of radical Existentialism and so-called Bultmanianism.” Over the next three years an extended struggle took place to resolve the questions of the academic freedom of the faculty versus adherence to the Abstract of Principles which all faculty members had signed on appointment; no formal charge of heretical teaching was ever made. In 1964 Briggs resigned; shortly thereafter he took a post at Vanderbilt University, and then moved on to the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. Oliver resigned and went to Boston University; Strickland resigned in 1966 to go to Appalachian State University. Briggs’ opinion of the situation was that his colleagues accepted the claims of historical-critical research but were unwilling to deal with its implications for understanding religious authority and truth. He later wrote Interpreting the Gospels, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1969.

Louisville 13 (1958- ) — Forced resignation of 13 faculty members from Southern Seminary for unorthodoxy.

Theodore R Clark (1912- ) — Clark taught at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; he was dismissed in 1960 primarily as a result of the publication of his book Saved by His Life (Macmillan, 1959). The trustees did not make clear the nature of their complaint but said that “His recently published book is one of several instances in which the board had been confronted with questions as to limitations in the area of communication with students and hearers as well as content of lecture materials.” Clark himself seemed genuinely surprised, puzzled and grieved over the controversy.

The book was a meditation on salvation, including a long prayer and several hymns written by Clark. The book aimed to put more emphasis on Christ’s life as a vehicle of salvation, rather than his death; and objected to the theology of some popular hymns about Christ’s death. Clark also emphasized the personal, existential self-giving of God over God’s transmission of propositional truth, and made other comments about the dangers of “Jesusolatry”.

The process appears to have been obscure; it is not clear that the Board ever met with Clark or that the faculty were aware that an investigation was underway. The Dean, J Hardee Kennedy, had written an approving review of Clark’s book and does not appear to have participated in the dismissal. Clark took an appointment at Pan American College in Edinburg, Texas.

Ralph Elliott (1925- ) — dismissed from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1962 over conflict about contemporary biblical criticism. In the 1950’s Southern Seminary had 13 simultaneous forced resignations over the issue (the ‘Louisville 13’); Elliott had been at Southern but moved to Midwestern shortly before the ‘massacre’. He was described at the time as ‘quite conservative in the larger world of biblical scholarship, a moderate in SBC religious ranks, and quite liberal in comparison to... most SBC pulpits'. He was tried twice: in 1960 after publishing The Message of Genesis: A theological interpretation, he was examined by the board of trustees who supported him, 14 to 7. The conservatives were unhappy with this result and passed a motion at the 1962 Southern Baptist Convention rejecting theological views which “undermine faith in the historical accuracy and doctrinal integrity of the Bible” and requesting trustees of all SBC institutions to address situations where such views were being taught; simultaneously, elections at the convention changed the balance of trustees at Midwestern. The new board met for a second trial; they agreed with Elliott on 9 out of 10 points, but they failed to agree on republication of the book – the trustees didn’t want to take responsibility for banning it, and Elliott refused to ‘volunteer’ not to seek its republication. The board then dismissed him by a vote of 22 to 7. Elliott moved to the American Baptist church and continued his career. Shriver notes that the second trial did not involve a disagreement over content, but a disagreement about whether the board could control publication of views in order to protect the position of the seminary; one explicitly said that “as long as it is a matter between a professor and his student what he says, that is one thing. But when he puts his beliefs in writing where everybody can read them – as in The Message of Genesis – that’s another thing.”

Dale Moody (1915-1992) — Taught at Southern Baptist Seminary. Aroused controversy as to whether he supported the Baptist principle of ‘perseverance of the saints’ (drawn from Hebrews 6:4-6). He was accused in 1961 of teaching that it was possible for a person ‘once saved to be lost’ but was acquitted. In 1979, Moody proposed revision of the Abstract of Principles on this point; the University then said it did not wish to inhibit faculty freedom but would not extend his teaching contract past normal retirement age unless his teaching on this point was more traditional. Moody argued that his reading of the principle was in line with the original Biblical texts and the argument continued for roughly 3 years. On 17 November 1983, Moody gave a talk on the topic “Can a saved person ever be lost?”; whereupon the Arkansas Baptist State Convention asked the university to terminate him (he was already at retirement age). The University employed him until 1984 but refused to give him a further contract.

Paul Simmons (1936- ) — Professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Seminary, 1970 – 1992. He was attacked not for theological beliefs but for ethical positions, particularly in the areas of abortion, elective death and homosexuality, even though these were ‘solidly grounded in thorough research and careful biblical exegesis.” This occurred in a general atmosphere of “fear, indoctrination and intimidation” led by the rising fundamentalist wing. In 1987 the Trustees reviewed Simmons’ positions, said there were no grounds for dismissing him but asked that he ‘moderate his public involvement’ in the debate on abortion. In 1989 he was accused of saying that Jesus was sexually active but this was proved false. Pressure to remove Simmons for his position on abortion continued and in 1992 the President attempted to offer him a financial package to leave, which Simmons refused. Following a further controversy about a film used by Simmons in a lecture, the Trustees proposed sanctions which Simmons was unwilling to accept, and he resigned.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary 1985-94 — Investigated for allowing teaching contrary to Biblical inerrancy. In 1987 the Trustees announced a hiring policy that would include only orthodox inerrantists; whereupon the President resigned. The school has declined; the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has declared it deficient, AAUP has censured it, multiple resignations were submitted in 1991 and the school has been placed on probation (i.e. just short of loss of accreditation). Between 1985 and 1994, 27 of the 34 faculty and 13 of the 16 administrators resigned.

Molly Marshall (1949- ) — Resigned from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1994; now at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (American Baptist, not Southern). A heresy trial was in the offing at the time of her resignation with the outcome largely predetermined; Shriver describes it as tied in with the ‘takeover’ of the SBC by the fundamentalists in the 1979-1990 period. The Seminary statement at the time of her resignation says that the U. president had determined that her views were ‘significantly outside the parameters of the Abstract of Principles’ although it did not specify; sources involved in the affair supposed it related to (a) the atonement (b) salvation only in Christ (c) ‘whether those once saved will persevere to the end’ (d) whether feminine language and concepts can be applied to God (e) the authority of Scripture. It is also possible that her status as a woman pastor and other gender issues played a role.


Algernon Sidney Crapsey (1847-1927) — Episcopalian; unusual in that his trial focused on faithfulness to the historic creeds rather than biblical literalism. He was ordained in 1873 and became “a beloved pastor, popular speaker, retreat leader and writer.” Clashes began around 1895 resulting from his preference for moral and social issues, and church unity, over doctrine. In 1905, as part of a series of lectures on the relationship between the Church and the State, Crapsey stated: “the Founder of Christianity no longer stands apart from the common destiny of man in life and death, but He is in all things physical like as we are, born as we are born, dying as we die.” This was understood to challenge the doctrines of the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection and the divinity of Jesus. A committee of five appointed to review his case declined to recommend a trial, but condemned his teaching. Considerable controversy was raised, and the Bishop initiated a presentment in 1906 on two counts of heresy: that he had taught doctrines contrary to those of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in denying the deity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection and the Trinity; and that his public utterances and conduct violated his ordination vows. The court was appointed by the bishop who had made the presentment, and the defense was given a week to prepare.

“The defense... planned to call a number of prominent clergy and professors as expert witnesses and introduce scholarly publications as evidence to demonstrate that Crapsey’s views were within the bounds of accepted belief in the Episcopal Church. The prosecution objected that individuals, regardless of academic or ecclesiastical credentials, had no right to testify on the creeds of the church. Since creeds were uninterpretable, there was no need for expert witnesses to interpret them. The court agreed and prohibited the witnesses from testifying.” Crapsey was convicted by a vote of 4 to 1. On appeal the conviction was upheld. Crapsey resigned and wrote a widely circulated letter to the Bishop (published in his autobiography, Last of the Heretics, 1924). He wrote several books, lectured and never took another church position. Shriver notes that Crapsey’s views were not unusual, but that he may have aggravated his case by being defiant, imprecise in the expression of his views, and confrontive; the crucial issue in his trial was whether clergy were free to choose to believe the creeds in a spiritual rather than a literal way, and whether the hierarchy had the authority to enforce a particular reading. Later in life he described himself as a Pantheistic Humanist.

Hinckley Gilbert Thomas Mitchell (1846-1920) — Methodist Episcopal; taught at Wesleyan, Boston U and Tufts. Tried in 1905 for ‘misteaching’ related to modern biblical criticism, acceptance of evolutionary theory, etc. He had been arousing controversy for the past 10 years and was investigated in 1895 and 1899 for tendencies towards naturalism and Unitarianism, in the context of the general struggle between traditional teaching and ‘higher criticism’. His 1901 book The World Before Abraham opened a further investigation leading to refusal by the Board of Bishops to appoint him to another 5-year term at Boston. Mitchell requested a trial but this was refused and the Conference passed a vote censuring his teachings. He continued to write and was later appointed to Tufts. See his autobiography, For the Benefit of My Creditors, 1922.

Bishop William Montgomery Brown — Episopal Church, Arkansas. Bishop Brown was, according to his obituary, "the first Bishop of his communion to be tried for heresy since the Reformation, and the first of any creed in America to be disposed for heretical teachings." He was tried for heresy in 1924-25, largely because of his outspoken support for Communism, and later wrote an autobiography entitled My Heresy. Further details and sample pamphlets by Brown are available at the anglocatholic socialism website.

James Pike (1913-1969) — Raised as a Catholic and initially studied for the priesthood, but then became a lawyer and joined the Protestant Episcopal church. In 1944 he became a deacon and began studying theology, eventually ending up as dean of the Cathedral of St John the Divine; he was progressive, controversial and very high profile. From 1959 to 1965 he was Bishop of California. In 1960 Pike published an article expressing reservations about the doctrines of the Trinity, the virgin birth and Christ as the only means of salvation; God alone is final, while doctrine is tentative. He was close to and much influenced by John Robinson and Tillich. Pike's radical theology rejected dogmatic interpretations of the Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, questioned the basis of theological concepts such as Original Sin and the Trinity, and challenged the infallibility of scripture. His call to "demythologize" the church was an expression of his view that the church was burdened by "theological baggage." He called for "more belief, fewer beliefs." (Meanwhile there were many personal problems related to his alcoholism, infidelity, divorce, the suicide of his children and his attempts to contact his dead son and Paul Tillich through mediums.)

His critics charged him with heresy in 1961, 1965 and 1966. The first time, Pike defended his views as orthodox, and counterattacked that racial segregation was a worse heresy than anything he had written. The second time he was accused of both unorthodox views and of plans to ordain women; he defended himself and was cleared by the House of Bishops, but the Bishops ruled that women could not be ordained. In 1966 charges were again raised; in an attempt to avoid a trial, a committee was appointed which produced a report declaring his teaching irresponsible, “cheap vulgarizations of great expressions of faith.” Without discussing the substance of the doctrine of the Trinity, they noted that “a triune apprehension of the mystery of God’s being and action is woven into the whole fabric of the creeds”. The final debate was controlled so as to avoid discussion of doctrine because of ‘silent awareness that there were other Bishops who held essentially the same theological position as did Pike.” The report was accepted, 103 to 36; Pike then demanded a formal trial, claiming that the Bishops had refused to address the theological issues. In an attempt to avoid a trial, Pike was appointed to a Committee on Theological Freedom along with other figures such as JAT Robinson; Pike agreed to withdraw demands for a trial if the Committee’s report was accepted, which it was. The committee report noted that “While we affirm the right of every man to choose what he will believe without any kind of coercion whatever, we also assert the right of the church to maintain its distinctive identity and continuity as a community of faith centered around the historic revelation of God in Christ….Although the church may feel that it must maintain a last-resort power to deal juridically with bishops or priests who publicly engage in persistent and flagrant contradiction of its essential witness, we strongly recommend that initiation of this process be made extremely difficult.” Shriver notes several points about this episode: that the Church strongly wished to avoid a heresy trial and to avoid discussion about Pike’s theological views, probably because they were not more radical than those of other Bishops. There probably would have been no action against him had he been a professor rather than a Bishop. The church then made formal moves to allow more room for doctrinal diversity and to make heresy charges much harder to bring.

For more information see a brief bio at the Grace Cathedral website. An article by Phil Turner on Episcopal Oversight and Ecclesiastical Discipline has a more extended discussion of the reasoning behind the censure and its implications. See also Pike's two books, A Time for Christian Candour and If This Be Heresy. See also The Bishop Pike Affair, by William Stringfellow and Anthony Towne, New York: Harper and Row, 1967.

Walter Righter (1923- ) — In the fall of 1990, Barry Stopfel was ordained a deacon in the Diocese of Newark. Stopfel is gay and, at the time of his ordination, was living "in a sexual partnership" with another man. The assistant bishop of Newark, the Rt. Revd Walter Righter, then faced a church court over his decision to ordain the gay man. On May 15, 1996, an Episcopal Church court dismissed charges against Righter. The Court held that neither the doctrine nor the discipline of the Church currently prohibit the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual person living in a committed relationship. For further information:

Shiver notes: “The Righter case illustrates the difficulty of achieving consensus about issues that represent change or theological development in a tradition that has deemphasized confessional or dogmatic definitions of community... The Episcopal Church, which has always sheltered a range of theological and liturgical patterns, has been able to cope with that diversity within the context of a consensus about the centrality of worship, common prayer, and the importance of the episcopate, the unifying symbol of leadership and apostolicity.” The central issue in the trial was whether the resolution passed in 1979 saying that “pending further study” no practicing homosexuals would be ordained, was a matter of doctrine or discipline; the court ruled that it was not a matter of doctrine, thus taking a minimalist view of canon law (without actually endorsing Righter’s action).

Shriver again: “This denomination is in the midst of a struggle concerning its identity and mission... The markers of community that differentiate this group from other kinds of human associations are boundaries that lack the objective power that the language and the patterns of traditional religious discourse have imputed to religious categories. While avoiding divisions about scripture and creeds, the Episcopal Church has tended to take other ‘markers’ of community for granted, not markers that are easily objectified but markers nonetheless imbedded in a consensus about common prayer, ministry, the essential reasonableness and accessibility of its theology, and its capacity to change and evolve as new truths are grasped and incorporated in human experience.” Heresy will only arise when an action extends otherwise wide boundaries of diversity beyond what people consider acceptable.

Missouri Synod Lutheran

John Tietjen (1928-) — President of Concordia Seminary. Tried to get the Missouri Synod Lutherans to take a more moderate, ecumenical approach, became entangled in struggles by the Missouri Synod President to control the teaching at Concordia. In 1973 the Convention declared the faculty heretical (e.g. for denying the historicity of Adam and Eve); in 1974 the Board suspended him as President, whereupon the students and faculty declared a moratorium, then created the Seminex (seminary in exile). The board terminated them. In 1977 Tietjen was formally expelled from the clergy; in fact he had already joined the American Evangelical Lutherans. Shriver describes the overthrow of Concordia as a victory for democratic process but not for Christian truth.

Postscript by Shriver: “The tradition of the heretics offers one of the finest opportunities of renewal that the churches have….Dissenting heretics should be welcomed and heard—even though some of them will never make a unique contribution. Truly, their best contributions may simply be to prod other persons to contribute more creative contributions than they were able to give.

“The far greater threat to free inquiry is illustrated in the cocksureness of the orthodox position rather than that of the dissenter. The New Professors notes correctly that ‘diehard adherence to a heresy is in general less menacing to free inquiry than matter-of-course adherence to orthodoxy; because the heretic, being constantly challenged, is deprived of the illusion that his rut is the whole road."...

“Christianity must recover the heresy of Jesus Christ if it is to speak and minister effectively to the contemporary world. Part of this recovery is not only allowing but also nurturing its amateur or incidental as well as its professional heretics. A new kind of ‘heresy hunt’ is needed – one that actively engages and enlists the heretic for service. Christianity, especially since the sixteenth century, has had a great deal to say about the priesthood of every believer. This priesthood most definitely involves the principle of nonconformity to idolatry in whatever form, institutional or otherwise. In a vital way, then, all of the poor priests of God are called to be obedient heretics at some time or another in their pilgrimage of life. If only one lesson is taught by these entries concerning American Christian heretics, let it be this one above all others.”

Subsequent to Shriver's book, a few additional cases have arisen:

Rev Don Stroud — a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, was accused of heresy in September 2001 because he is openly gay. TAMFS (That All May Freely Serve) provides information on the Stroud case.

The Rev David Moyer — President of Forward in Faith of North America, has been deposed by his bishop for refusing episcopal visits and for generally violating canonical discipline. Although canonical discipline is cited as the immediate cause for this affair, the underlying cause is doctrinal; Moyer objects to the ordination of women and to his bishop's liberal position on this and other issues. The Forward in Faith website includes a substantial archive of articles and letters on the Moyer affair.

Bishop C. Joseph Sprague — who directs the United Methodists' Northern Illinois Conference, has been the target of ongoing complaints since 1998, and was accused of heresy in June 2000 and again in early 2003. The charges were dismissed by Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President of the North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops; in response to complaints about the dismissal of the charges, Bishop Ough issued the followed clarification:

'John Wesley gave great importance to his Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith. They form the foundation of our “Methodist” theology. But above all else, he advocated a “heart relation.” Wesley came to understand that we are saved by grace, not by doctrine. That is why we have historically lived with the tension of trying to balance doctrine (belief) and faith (as informed and shared by Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason). This is not to excuse pastors or bishops from upholding the standard doctrines. But it does explain why The United Methodist Church maintains that our theological task includes “testing, renewal, elaboration and application of our doctrinal perspective in carrying out our calling to “spread scriptural holiness over the lands’.” (The Book of Discipline (2000), Page 75) Any serious attempt to live into this theological task will from time to time lead to statements that seem “to be at variance with established doctrines of the Church. However, such tension does not imply that the basic and historic expressions of the doctrines are being denied or overturned.'
For more information, see: