TE Steve Richardson, formerly a pastor in the Canadian Presbytery of the ARP, has been greatly persecuted for his principled stance against the lockdowns in Canada as a response to Covid-19. Richardson and his former congregation, Faith Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Tillsonburg, Ontario, continued to meet for worship services in numbers larger than the state mandated maximum allowable (10 total persons). In fact, there were regularly well over 100 people in attendance at his services.
Richardson informed his former presbytery in 2020 of his convictions and his intentions to continue to worship openly. Presbytery strongly instructed him to submit to the government mandates and told him that to do otherwise would be wrong. Of course, Richardson, like some other Canadian and American pastors, believes “we must obey God rather than men.” In December of 2020, a government official showed up at an ARP church in Canada and asked if that church was following the Covid-19 mandates. The pastor assured them that his congregation was doing so, but told them where they could find an ARP pastor who was not following the health mandates. Thus began a chain of events that resulted in Richardson being fined $200,000 Canadian and threatened with two-years imprisonment in January of 2021. Those figures have been increased recently to $600,000 Canadian and six-years imprisonment because his church continued to meet for services after the first fines were levied. Of course, Richardson has hired an attorney to represent his case and I personally believe that he and the other Canadian pastors facing similar fines will eventually win their cases.
In one sense, Richardson has not faced the dire consequences of some of his fellow pastors in Canada who have also taken his principled stance. Three of them—particularly James Coates, Artur Pawlowski, and Tim Stephens—have been jailed for their opposition to the public health guidelines. Guidelines are not Constitutional law. There is a good possibility that those fines and threats of imprisonment will be overturned when the appeals reach Canada’s highest judicatory, the Supreme Court of Canada. Also, all the jailed pastors were in Calgary. Richardson is in Ontario and was never jailed.
In another sense, Richardson’s situation is worse than all the other Canadian pastors. Steve did not have the support of his presbytery. There were thinly veiled threats of disciplining him for conducting worship services during the Covid-19 lockdown. As the pressure from his presbytery continued, Richardson realized that he would most likely be censured by the court at some point. He tried to lead his congregation out of the ARP, but the vote on June 18, 2021 fell a few votes short of the 2/3 majority required to do so. At that point, he resigned from the pastorate of his congregation and announced his resignation on June 20, 2021. The congregation voted to receive his resignation this past Lord’s Day, June 27, 2021.
Following the vote of the congregation, the Canadian Presbytery met for a called meeting by zoom with Richardson on June 28, 2021. In that meeting, there was a motion to censure Richardson for violating his ordination vows in not following the right procedure for leaving the ARP. The motions have all been sent to the stated clerk of Vanguard Presbytery. There are no specific violations of their BCO that are cited. That court only made general and unproven allegations with no specific citations of any violations. It is important to note that a person cannot be censured in the ARP for errors of procedure. To do so would be tantamount to sentencing someone to a prison term for jaywalking. Yet, the court was apparently intent on censuring Richardson, particularly the pastor who had turned him into the Canadian officials for conducting worship services. At one point that pastor said, “We can censure him right now. He is giving it to us on a platter.” Discipline is never to be so cavalier as that. We discipline with tears in our eyes—not with vengeance in our hearts.
Interestingly, the Canadian Presbytery already knew that Steve had transferred into Vanguard Presbytery before their meeting. Yet, they censured him for using the wrong procedure in leaving. A court cannot censure someone who is no longer under their jurisdiction. Later, they censured him by removing him from the rolls which they referred to as excommunication. Moreover, motions to censure and to excommunicate are judicial actions that cannot be taken unless the court has conducted a trial. And a trial cannot be conducted unless someone brings charges or the court itself institutes charges after an investigation brings a strong presumption of guilt. In such a case, Richardson would have had the opportunity to defend his good name; to present his case; and, to cross-examine the witnesses. Censure or excommunication cannot happen in a single called meeting without due process unless the accused voluntarily confesses. Richardson did not confess to anything. This rush to judgment, therefore, was a violation of his rights of due process by the court.
Thus, Richardson, unlike the other Canadian pastors who were jailed for their stance, has lost his church and has to start over. He has been oppressed by government officials and renounced by those members of his former presbytery whom he still esteems as brothers in the Lord. That makes his situation worse than the other courageous Canadian pastors. He was not jailed, but he was persecuted by his presbytery. He did not spend time in a jail cell, but he did lose his livelihood. He has a family to support. He needs our financial support. I am asking you to send him any financial help you can afford to his PayPal account:email@example.com
PCA General Assembly
I have not kept up with the PCA General Assembly this week, except as people have emailed or texted to me various matters. I was told by two people that the new stated clerk, Bryan Chappell, wrongly reported that only four churches have left the PCA to join Vanguard Presbytery. His figures are way short of the truth, but it is interesting that he even felt the need to mention Vanguard. Also, he apparently reported that the PCA had a net growth of 13 churches over the past year through new mission churches and churches transferring into the denomination. Well, Vanguard Presbytery started at the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown and increased from zero to 17 churches and mission churches in 2020 and even more churches and mission churches in 2021.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery (www.vanguardpresbytery.com)
Please send any donations to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540