Reasons for the Hemphill Court Decision Committee Report

Fathers and Brothers,

The committee before you has been tasked with writing the reasons for the way in which the court voted on the  Hemphill appeal, as required in The Book of Discipline: “The decision of the higher court must be based solely on the records of the lower court. The higher court may confirm, or reverse, in whole or in part, the decision of the lower court. If the appeal is sustained, the judgment of the lower court is reversed. If an appeal is not sustained, the judgment of the lower court is affirmed. If the lower court has not followed the prescribed order in the conduct of the case, the higher court may, at its discretion, return the whole case to the lower for a new trial. If the decision of the lower court appears unjust and unwarranted, the higher court may itself try the case. A full record shall be kept of all the proceedings with the reasons for each decision.”[1]

Understanding that the committee before you has not the ability to judge the hearts of each presbyter or to assume that each presbyter voted for the same or similar reasons, this committee therefore provides the following analysis of the Hemphill decision: 

History of the Proceedings: Mr. Hemphill appealed conviction of two charges and a censure of suspension in 2016. Synod was unable to successfully adjudicate this appeal in 2017; a delay of justice for which the Synod has repented, requested forgiveness, and received it from both parties. This year, Synod has shown love to all parties involved by following our procedures for appeal according to The Book of Discipline.

Spirit of the Proceedings: The court proceedings were entered into with sobriety and prayerfulness. The respect and love for Mr. Hemphill was apparent  and noted in the court with comments such as, “We respect Dr. Hemphill’s decades of service to the RPCNA.” All affirmed the difficulty and devastating nature of this case, and at the same time the court affirmed that Mr. Hemphill is a believer and remains a communicant member of the RPCNA. Connected to that were both comments on the Hemphill appeal not being “about women elders” but instead about the appeal;  as well as the fact that discipline is a mark of the church.

Grounds for Appeal : The Book of Disciplinesets out the grounds by which an appeal can be made[2]:

  1. Irregularities in the proceedings
  2. Injustice or undue severity in the censure
  3. Manifest prejudice or unfairness
  4. Admission of improper testimony or refusal to hear testimony
  5. Undue haste in reaching a decision before all testimony is heard.

Counsel for the Hemphill appeal confirmed the Hemphill appeal was sought on the grounds of the first three and did not argue on the basis of 4 and 5.

Fifteen Specifications to the Appeal: Mr. Hemphill had fifteen specifications of his appeal. The first specification was a brief history of the case, and it was not voted on for that reason. The remaining 14 specifications dealt with matters such as the nature of exceptions, the moral law, the RPCNA’s System of Doctrine, Query 4 of the Vows of Ordination, changes to historic doctrines of the RPCNA, the tone of his paper, the question of contempt of court, and severity in discipline.

Sense of Justice and Specifications: The court voted on each of the fourteen specifications and the varying ways in which the court voted on each specification are demonstrative of the care with which justice was sought in this case.[3]There is no way to discern which arguments on the floor persuaded or dissuaded presbyters to vote the way in which they did.

Concerning Specifications 2-10 and 12-15, Mr. Hemphill and his counsel failed to persuade the majority of the court that there were “irregularities in the proceedings,” “injustice or undue severity in the censure,” or  “manifest prejudice or unfairness” in the trial. Therefore these specifications of error were not sustained in the appeal.

The majority of the court were persuaded of number 11 which argued against the charge of contempt because Mr. Hemphill “willingly participated in the regular presbytery meetings since the judicial process began…” and “was respectful and kind in all his actions.”

Justice Upheld and Judgment Reversed: 
The court upheld the first charge of the Presbytery of the Alleghenies because Mr. Hemphill and his counsel were unable to prove their case: “Mr. Hemphill is charged with believing and accepting a stance on women in the eldership, which is contrary to Query Four of his official vows of ordination and a violation of the moral law as understood in the RPCNA Book of Discipline.”  The court voted to reverse the second charge, due to the Presbytery of the Alleghenies being unable to prove their case: “Not having abandoned his belief and acceptance that women ought to be able to hold the office of elder, Mr. Hemphill is charged with having contempt for this court in refusing to respect the authority and discipline of the church.”

Conclusion: As the hearts of presbyters are unable to be fully discerned; and acknowledging that there are various reasons for which presbyters may or may not vote, this court determines that a portion of the appeal was upheld because Mr. Hemphill and his counsel proved their case and another aspect was denied because the reasons for which an appeal can be made were not proven.


Approved by the RPCNA Synod, June 29, 2019.


[1]Book of Discipline, 2.4.15

[2]Book of Discipline, 2.4.10

[3]Specifications (Sustained-Not Sustained):  2: 46-110; 3: 29-126; 4: 59-94; 5: 54-94; 6: 37-115; 7: 47-102; 8: 32-118; 9: 49-99; 10: 35-118; 11: 85-57; 12: 62-88; 13: 62-87; 14: 60-95; 15: 29-119.

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