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Hallo again to all.

This week the Sydney Morning Herald, a large and widely-read Australian newspaper, published an article about a church in the Diocese of Sydney that had expelled one of its members because of his heretical beliefs. Normally when something like this happens, there are numerous news stories mentioning it, numerous rants in blogs everywhere, and lots of under-informed speculation and rumour-mongering on the various electronic channels.

This one is different. As Anglicans Online goes to press, we are unable to find any mention of this incident in publications that take a favourable view of the Diocese of Sydney (which the Herald is not). We are unable to find any mention of it in any official diocesan or parish announcement or statement. A small number of blogs have quoted part of that news story, and a mostly-anonymous commenter on two of those blogs has told a disparaging story about the parish priest when he was in college. We have only one side of the story, and in this sort of vacuum it is tempting to believe we have most of the story.

So we are left to speculate. Were we to speculate in the style popular in so many blogs, we would make strong assertions about one of the players here, and back them up with supporting quotes from people identified as 'chiselman49' or 'apotheohalitosis'.

We don't want to speculate or predict about this situation, so colourfully referred to in the Australian newspaper as an 'unholy Anglican stoush*'. We will watch as these events unfold, and if we learn something from so watching, we will tell you.

John the Baptist, by We will instead ponder the context within which a priest (or minister, as they're called in Sydney) would expel someone from a parish.

We all know the role played by tax collectors in the Bible. Jesus turned heads because he was willing to associate with tax collectors and sinners. His world expected him to expel them from his presence, but Jesus surprised everyone by welcoming the otherwise unwelcome. The description in Acts 10 of Peter's visit to Cornelius' house reminds us that 'God does not show favouritism'.

Alas, this is somewhat idealistic. It is pragmatically necessary to expel from a church a person who presents an immediate danger (what the American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes called a 'clear and present danger') to the people or to the premises. A person with a weapon. A person with a firebomb, or any sort of bomb. A person whose behaviour disrupts or prevents worship.

We can imagine that if someone came into the back of our church and began shouting, over and over again, 'I do not believe in the virgin birth', it would be a good idea to have him removed. Not because of what he was shouting, but simply because he was shouting. Shouting disrupts corporate worship.

But if a man comes into the back of the church, sits down, and grimaces during a reading of the Apostles' Creed, silently reminding himself he thinks 'born of the virgin Mary' is hogwash, we don't think very many priests or ministers would waste time and energy in expelling him nor would most dioceses want to have him be a bishop.

Ah, but there are two corner cases. Suppose that there is a man who sporadically comes into the church and starts shouting, and each time is ejected. Suppose further that one day after a bit of an absence, the aforementioned man comes in and sits silently in the back row. Is he to be ejected? Or, more insidiously, suppose that there is a man who comes to church faithfully, sits in a different spot every week, and who during the passing of the peace spends 20 seconds trying to convince one person of the hogwashitude of the virgin birth. Little by little, week after week, he tries to proselytize his unorthodox views. Should that man be ejected or banished?

Every congregation we have ever visited has expressed an interest in reaching out to unbelievers. Saving the unsaved. And yet, when those unbelievers reach back, it scares people. Do we want a scared congregation? Certainly they were the norm back when Christians were fed to lions when caught.

Let's all wait for actual facts to come in before we start making up our minds about this stoush in Sydney. But in the meantime, we'd love it if you could tell us the circumstances under which you think it is appropriate, or perhaps even necessary, for a church to expel a member.

See you next week. Although we've made some run away unhappy, we've never expelled a reader.

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Last updated: 14 February 2010

*A web search for uses of the word 'stoush' leads us to believe that in the 21st century it is used primarily by Australian headline writers.

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