II. The Assemblies of the Church
A. General Provisions
JUDICIAL CODE OF RIGHTS AND PROCEDURES
Preamble to the Judicial Code
Synod 1977 adopted the first edition of the Judicial Code of Rights and Procedures. It did so to “encourage greater uniformity of procedure throughout our denomination when charges must be adjudicated.” The belief is that this Code “will help to insure just treatment of those who are involved in the judgment and decisions of the church” and that providing “impartial judgments among God’s people” is required by Scripture (Deut. 1: 16-17; Deut. 16: 18-20; Lev. 19: 15; 1 Tim. 5: 19-21). “Procedural guidelines” are needed to deal with substantive issues in an appropriate and “ecclesiastical manner” (Church Order, Article 28), and, according to synod, the Judicial Code provides this “procedural pattern within which the law of love may be fulfilled” (James 2: 1, 8-9).
However, the Judicial Code should not be considered as providing a means of broad applicability for resolving disputes. Rather, the Judicial Code is intended to be a dispute-resolution mechanism of last resort because judicial hearings and subsequent decisions of assemblies will likely never fully satisfy the parties involved. Thus, complete reconciliation may not be achieved. Rather, the focus of Judicial Code hearings and of the resultant decisions made by the assemblies is not primarily on reconciliation but on some kind of final resolution. While the Judicial Code does provide rights for all parties and a fair process toward resolution, it does not purport to restore the mutual trust that may have been lost as any given dispute may have raged and festered.
Before invoking the rights afforded under the Judicial Code, brothers and sisters in Christ should make every effort to resolve issues between them amicably, according to the teachings of Scripture. If they require external assistance to reach agreement, they should, where appropriate, seek trained facilitators or mediators to help them reach agreement. A process of mediation led by neutral parties may facilitate a more satisfactory resolution.
One of the ways in which issues can be resolved more amicably is to use restorative justice practices. Synod 2005 encouraged “the active participation of churches and church members in restorative justice efforts in order to restore and reconcile victims and offenders where possible, and to effect, as far as possible, the establishment of justice for all members of our societies.” It also urged “congregations, schools, denominational offices, other Christian institutions, and homes to employ restorative justice practices” (Acts of Synod 2005, pp. 761-62). These practices bring with them greater potential for true reconciliation.
On the other hand, mediation or restorative justice practices are not necessarily appropriate for charges involving physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Such charges should be dealt with in the first instance by way of the Advisory Panel Process approved by synod and associated with the denomination’s Safe Church Ministry (see Acts of Synod 2010, p. 866; Agenda for Synod 2010, pp. 497-502).
Thus, even if written charges have been led and a formal hearing has been requested, the assembly must still make a determination as to whether or not sufficient means for resolution, formal or informal, have or have not been exhausted. If such means have not been exhausted, the assembly should seriously consider postponing the judicial hearing while further efforts are undertaken. Only after the assembly determines that sufficient means have been exhausted or that such means do not resolve the matter, should the assembly proceed to conduct a judicial hearing as set forth below.
Section 1: Scope of the Judicial Code
a. Disputes arising from allegations of offenses against the Word of God, doctrinal standards, or Church Order are subject to resolution under the Judicial Code. In particular, the Judicial Code governs the procedure for filing written charges and conducting judicial hearings before a council, classis, or synod, and appeals from judicial hearing.
b. Matters of admonition and discipline do not prompt a judicial hearing unless there are written charges that either party or the assembly determines require a judicial hearing. The Judicial Code recognizes the fundamental and primary role of pastoral means in all matters of admonition and discipline; it assumes that these matters are best handled by counseling and entreaty; and if sanctions are required, it leaves the determination of them to the church under the Church Order.
c. The Judicial Code deals with the following matters:
i) Disputes involving members and/or assemblies of the church and, in some limited instances, nonmembers (see Section 3-a).
ii) Disputes involving agencies, boards, or committees on one side and members or assemblies of the church on the other side, excluding challenges to termination of employment (see Sections 3-a, 5-d, 5-e).
d. With respect to such matters, the provisions of the Judicial Code apply only
i) when written charges are filed; written charges may be filed by an employee, an assembly, or an individual who is directly affected either materially or personally; and
ii) when either party to the dispute requests a judicial hearing or when the assembly rst hearing the charges determines to constitute a formal hearing.
Section 2: Judicial Rights
a. Both the complainant and the respondent shall have the right to be represented or counseled by a member of the CRC in any judicial hearing. The requirement of church membership may be waived at the discretion of the assembly that is hearing the case.
b. Except when the assembly withdraws to decide the issues raised in the judicial hearing, the complainant and the respondent shall have the right to be present at the judicial hearing and at the judicial hearing considering an appeal from a judicial hearing.
c. Both the complainant and the respondent shall have the right to have witnesses examined in their presence.
d. Both the complainant and the respondent may appeal by right the decision of the assembly to the assembly next in order.
e. The provisions of the Judicial Code shall apply to all appeals from decisions resulting from the judicial hearing on a complaint.
f. No member or group of the CRC, nor any person connected with the matter, shall circulate, or cause to be circulated, any written or printed arguments or briefs upon any complaints before the final disposition of same, including appeals, if any.
g. Assuring due process shall be the guiding principle in the interpretation and application of the Judicial Code.
h. All judicial hearings shall be conducted in a considerate and Christian manner.
Section 3: Procedures for Filing Written Charges
a. Written charges may be filed by
i) a member of the CRC against another member or against an assembly;
ii) an assembly against another assembly or against a member;
iii) a person who is not a member of the CRC against a member or assembly of the CRC, provided such person has been directly affected as an individual by the charged offense;
iv) a member of the CRC against an agency, board, or committee;
v) an assembly against an agency, board, or committee;
vi) an employee of an agency, board, or committee against an agency, board, or committee, excluding challenges to termination of employment.
i) If the allegation is abuse on the part of a church leader as de ned by the CRC’s Safe Church Ministry’s Advisory Panel Process, the complainant shall first have exhausted that process in accordance with the procedures and standards of confidentiality outlined therein and in lieu of the procedures under Sections 2-5 of this Code, to the point of obtaining a decision by the council of the church leader. Both parties have the right of appeal to classis as provided in Sections 6-7.
ii) No written charges against an agency, board, or committee may be filed until the complainant shall first have exhausted all reasonable and direct efforts according to procedures prescribed by such agency, board, or committee to resolve the appellant’s complaint or grievance internally.
c. Time limits:
i) There is no time limit for filing a written charge of sexual abuse. Allegations of sexual abuse against a church leader shall first be made in accord with the Advisory Panel Process associated with the CRC’s Safe Church Ministry.
ii) An allegation of non-sexual abuse of a minor may be filed at any time before the complainant reaches age twenty-five (25). However, allegations of non-sexual abuse of a minor shall first be made in accord with the Advisory Panel Process associated with the CRC’s Safe Church Ministry.
iii) All other written charges must be filed within three (3) years of the date on which the offense is alleged to have occurred.
d. A person or an assembly filing a written charge shall be called the complainant, and the person or assembly against whom the written charge is led shall be called the respondent.
e. A written charge must be filed with an assembly, must set forth the alleged offense, must specify the facts relied upon to support the written charge, including, as far as possible, the time and place of the offense, and must state whether a judicial hearing is requested.
f. A written charge shall not allege more than one offense. Several written charges against the same respondent may be presented and decided jointly, but a decision on each written charge must be made separately.
g. The complainant shall mail or otherwise deliver a copy of the written charge to the respondent at the same time as it is filed with the assembly.
h. Within sixty (60) days after the written charge is filed, the respondent shall file an answer with the assembly and shall mail or otherwise deliver a copy to the complainant. If the complainant did not request a judicial hearing, the respondent shall indicate in the answer whether a judicial hearing is requested.
i. Jurisdiction of assemblies
i) A written charge against a member of the CRC shall be filed by the complainant with the council of the local church of which the respondent is a member.
ii) A written charge against an assembly shall be filed by the complainant with the assembly next in order (the order being council, classis, and synod).
iii) A written charge against an agency, board, or committee, including its agent or employees, shall be filed by the complainant with the assembly to which the agency, board, or committee is responsible.
iv) If a council or an agency, board, or committee of classis is the respondent, the judicial hearing shall be before the classis and in accordance with the hearing procedures set forth in Sections 2-5.
v) If a classis or an agency, board, or committee of synod is the respondent, the judicial hearing shall be before the Judicial Code Committee in accordance with the procedures set forth in Sections 2-5.
Section 4: Pre-hearing Procedures
a. Except for good cause, the judicial hearing shall commence within six (6) months of the filing of written charges.
b. After consulting with the complainant and the respondent, the assembly shall set the time and place for the judicial hearing on the written charge. At least forty-five (45) days before the judicial hearing, the date must be fixed and the parties notified.
c. No later than thirty (30) days before the judicial hearing, the parties shall cause to be delivered to the other party and the assembly a list of witnesses to be called to testify and a copy of the exhibits to be offered at the judicial hearing. At the judicial hearing, each party shall be limited to the witnesses and the exhibits disclosed, unless the party can establish that the witness or exhibit was not discovered until after the deadline.
d. The assembly may, in its discretion, require further advance disclosures by the parties concerning the witnesses, documents, evidence, and arguments that they intend to present at the hearing.
e. When a written charge is led with a council or classis, that council or classis shall serve as the judicial body, which shall include all members of the assembly except those who have a con ict of interest. Any members having a conflict of interest shall recuse themselves.
f. Either the complainant or the respondent may challenge the impartiality of a member on grounds of self-interest or that member’s relationship with or responsibility to a participant in the judicial hearing. If the assembly decides by majority vote that the challenge has merit, the member shall be recused from the judicial hearing.
g. Before the hearing, the assembly shall determine whether the written charges are substantial enough to warrant a hearing. This may be done by the assembly on the basis of the written charge, the answer, the proposed exhibits, and, if the assembly so desires, an informal conference with the parties and their representatives. The assembly may delegate the review of information and the informal conference to a committee, but after receiving a report from the committee, the assembly must make the determination. This determination shall be conducted in a con dential manner to protect the reputations of the people involved and to protect the impartiality of the judicial assembly if the charge moves forward. A decision by a council or a classis that a charge is not substantial may be appealed.
h. If requested by either the complainant or the respondent, or in the discretion of the assembly, the assembly may direct that the proceeding shall not be published by any participant. All participants shall be noti ed on the record of the no-publication directive.
Section 5: Judicial Hearing Procedures
a. A judicial hearing, if ordered, shall proceed as follows:
i) Each party may make an opening statement summarizing what that party expects to prove.
ii) The complainant shall proceed first with proofs, including witnesses and exhibits, and may be permitted by the assembly in its discretion to present rebuttal proofs.
iii) The respondent shall then proceed with proofs, including witnesses and exhibits.
iv) The receipt of evidence shall not be controlled by formal rules of evidence. The administration of oaths shall not be required.
v) At the request of either party, the presiding of cer may exclude any evidence if the presiding of cer determines that admitting such evidence would be irrelevant, untrustworthy, or fundamentally unfair.
vi) Both parties are permitted to question witnesses that testify at a judicial hearing unless the parties agree in writing at least fifteen (15) days before the hearing to admit a written statement of a witness.
vii) After all evidence has been presented to the assembly, the complainant and the respondent shall summarize their cases either orally or in writing. The complainant may be afforded the opportunity for rebuttal.
viii) If either party objects to irregularity in the proceedings, the objection must be entered into the record. The presiding officer may sustain or disallow the objection. If the chair’s ruling is challenged, the assembly must vote on the question of sustaining the chair.
b. The testimony shall be recorded verbatim.
c. The complainant has the burden to prove the written charge. Written charges must be proven with a high degree of probability.
d. If a complainant other than an employee or an assembly has filed written charges against an agency, board, or committee, he or she must allege — and the burden remains on him or her to show in any hearing — that the decision, act, or course of conduct being challenged substantially affects him or her directly, either materially or personally, and as an individual apart from other members of the church.
e. If a complainant is an employee who has filed written charges against an agency, board, or committee, he or she must allege — and the burden remains on him or her to show in any hearing — that the decision, act, or course of conduct being challenged substantially affects him or her directly, either materially or personally, in his or her capacity as an employee.
f. If a respondent fails to appear and the assembly determines that the respondent has been notified of the time and place of the judicial hearing and has had sufficient time to appear, the assembly may proceed in the respondent’s absence.
g. During the hearing, the presiding officer shall not comment on the merits of the case. This restriction does not apply when the assembly enters its final deliberations.
h. The final decision on any case shall be by majority vote of the assembly of the members hearing the case. Any member that has not attended all the sessions or heard the case in its entirety may not vote unless that member reads or listens to the record before a vote is taken.
i. The record of all proceedings including the testimony, the exhibits, papers, evidence, and findings in the case shall be certified by the presiding officer and shall be the basis of any appeal. The parties may have reasonable access to the record.
Section 6: Appeals
a. Appeals shall be filed with the assembly next in order.
b. The grounds for an appeal include irregularities in the proceedings of the lower assembly; decisions on the admission or exclusion of evidence; bias or prejudice in the case; manifest injustice in the judgment; or incorrect interpretation or application of the Word of God, doctrinal standards, or Church Order; and shall be based on the record of the judicial hearing.
c. No decision resulting from a judicial hearing shall be amended or overturned except on a showing that the procedures were manifestly unfair; that the evidence obviously did not support the decision; or that an incorrect interpretation or application of the Word of God, doctrinal standards, or Church Order was made.
d. The reviewing assembly shall not reassess the credibility of the witnesses that testified at the hearing.
e. Appeals to synod from decisions of assemblies of the CRC acting in their judicial capacity and appeals from a board, agency, or committee of synod when the Judicial Code has been invoked shall be referred to the Judicial Code Committee.
f. Persons that have voted on a matter in an assembly shall recuse themselves from participating in the appeal.
g. A losing party that failed to appear at the judicial hearing either personally or by a representative shall not be permitted to file a claim of appeal.
Section 7: Appeal Procedures before a Classis following a Judicial Hearing before a Council
a. Within ninety (90) days of the certification of the record, the losing party from a decision of a council following a judicial hearing, including a decision in a Safe Church proceeding, may file a written claim of appeal that states the grounds for the appeal with the stated clerk of classis. A copy of the claim of appeal shall also be delivered to the opposing party, the opposing party’s representative, if any, and the clerk of the council that decided the case. Upon receipt of the claim of appeal, the clerk of council shall forthwith transfer the certified record to classis. If the appeal is from a Safe Church proceeding, the record referenced in step 12 of the Advisory Panel Process shall be the record on appeal.
b. The appeal hearing in classis shall be limited to the grounds set forth in the claim of appeal.
c. With the claim of appeal, the losing party may file a written submission in support of the claim of appeal. Portions of certified record and any other authority that supports the grounds of appeal must be clearly cited. A copy of the submission shall also be delivered to the opposing party. Except if permission is granted by classis, the written submission shall not exceed thirty (30) pages double spaced.
d. Within sixty (60) days, the opposing party may file a written response to the claim of appeal with the stated clerk of classis and also a written submission that cites from the record and any authority that supports the response. Copies of the response and submission shall also be delivered to the losing party. Except if permission is granted by classis, the written submission shall not exceed thirty (30) pages double spaced.
e. In the event of the appellant’s death, the assembly may proceed with and decide the appeal if it is deemed significant for the denomination, or if the appellant’s representative provides proof of reasonable necessity for deciding the appeal.
f. Classis shall schedule an appellate hearing no sooner than ninety (90) days and no later than one hundred and eighty (180) days after the date the appeal was filed and send notice of the time and date of the hearing to the parties.
g. At the appellate hearing, each party shall have the opportunity to address classis to explain their position and to answer questions of classis. The losing party shall proceed first and may reserve time to respond after the prevailing party addresses classis. Unless permission is granted, the oral presentation for each party shall be limited to thirty (30) minutes.
h. After the parties’ presentations are concluded, classis shall go into strict executive session and shall immediately consider and decide the issues of the case. The final decision on any appeal shall be by majority vote of the classis as constituted.
i. Classis may affirm or reverse in whole or in part the decision of the council, or it may return the case to the council with instructions for a new partial or complete rehearing. A decision of classis that amends or overturns the decision of the council shall be written, shall state the grounds for amending or overturning, and shall be delivered to the parties. Written decisions should be sent to the parties no later than forty-five (45) days after the appellate hearing.
j. Within ninety (90) days of the issuance of the written decision, claims of appeal from a decision of classis may be filed with synod according to procedures for filing claims of appeal with classis.
Section 8: The Judicial Code Committee of Synod
a. Original hearings and appellate hearings before synod shall be referred to a Judicial Code Committee appointed by synod. This committee meets between synods as frequently as its business requires and presents its recommendations to synod in writing. Although there are some separate regulations regarding this committee in the Rules for Synodical Procedure, the committee largely functions as a normal advisory committee of synod.
b. The Judicial Code Committee shall be composed of twelve (12) members and shall reflect the diversity of the denomination. Each year four (4) persons shall be elected for terms of three (3) years. At least one (1) of these four (4) persons shall be a minister of the Word or a commissioned pastor; at least one (1) shall be a person trained in the law; at least one (1) shall not be a minister of the Word or a commissioned pastor nor one trained in the law. Synod shall elect members from nominations presented by the Board of Trustees of the CRC. The Judicial Code Committee may recommend nominees to the Board of Trustees of the CRC. The terms of members shall commence July 1 following their election by synod. In the event of a vacancy on the committee because of resignation or death, the Board of Trustees of the CRC shall appoint a person to fill the balance of that term. Members may be reelected but shall not serve more than six consecutive years. A former member who has been off the committee for two or more years shall be eligible for election to the committee as a new member. The Judicial Code Committee shall select a chairperson and reporter from among its membership. In addition, the executive director serves as a procedural adviser to the Judicial Code Committee chairperson. Any member of the Judicial Code Committee advising a given synod may be, but need not be, a delegate to that synod.
Section 9: Hearing and Appeal Procedures before the Synod Acting in Its Judicial Capacity
a. Written charges filed with synod shall be referred to the Judicial Code Committee by the executive director of the CRC to conduct an original hearing according to the procedures of the Judicial Code.
b. Claims of appeal from decisions of classis following a judicial hearing shall also be referred to the Judicial Code Committee by the executive director of the CRC to conduct an appeal hearing according to the procedures of the Judicial Code.
c. Written charges brought against an agency, board, or committee of synod and any other matters requiring formal adjudication that synod undertakes shall also be referred by the executive director of the CRC to the Judicial Code Committee for conducting a judicial hearing according to the procedures of the Judicial Code.
d. Claims of appeal filed with synod following an appeal hearing before classis shall also be referred to the Judicial Code Committee by the executive director of the CRC. The Judicial Code Committee shall review the claim of appeal and make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees whether the application has suf cient merit to warrant further review. No further appeal proceedings shall be conducted unless the Board of Trustees approves. If approved, the Judicial Code Committee shall conduct an appeal hearing according to the procedures of the Judicial Code.
e. The Judicial Code Committee shall present its findings of fact and recommendations, along with grounds for its recommendations to synod in writing, and they shall be openly discussed in a plenary session of synod. These written findings of fact and recommendations shall omit any disclosure of names in cases where such disclosure is judged to be potentially damaging to their reputation.
f. Either party to the dispute may request the opportunity to address synod. Such request shall be made through the Judicial Code Committee, which shall make recommendation concerning the request to synod.
g. The Judicial Code Committee may provide the of cers of synod appropriate written advice on Judicial Code matters.
h. Synod may dispose of a judicial matter in one of the following ways:
i) by deciding the matter;
ii) by deferring it to one of its committees for settlement or reconciliation;
iii) by remanding it with advice to the appropriate classis or council; or
iv) by conducting its own original judicial or appeal hearing.
i. If synod conducts its own judicial or appeal hearing, it shall follow Judicial Code procedures set forth herein.
(Acts of Synod 1977, pp. 48-54)
(Amended Acts of Synod 1993, p. 499)
(Amended Acts of Synod 1996, pp. 484-88)
(Amended Acts of Synod 2003, pp. 688-91)
(Amended Acts of Synod 2013, p. 549)
(Amended Acts of Synod 2014, p. 569)
(Amended Acts of Synod 2015, p. 627)