Scary stuff. The charge was filed by Paul Rolf Jensen, an attorney who works for the Bush Administration by day, but also represents a fundamentalist Christian coalition. According to the Rev, it was timed in way which did irreperable harm to Martin and his family. The story is he had been hired to be the senior pastor at PA Presbyterian, had sold his home, sent his eldest child off to college, and was getting ready to move out of North Carolina in time for his younger children to start the school year in California.
The church rules say a pastor under a heresy charge cannot start at a new congregation until the charges are cleared. Long story short, this took 5 months.
What amazed me about the whole thing is it was a chapter right out of the Spanish Inquisition or the Salem witch hunt. Someone who had never seen or heard him had laid a charge, for which he had to go on trial with lawyers and a panel of judges, and the prosecutors interviewed every congregant he had preached to in three different churches. Worse than that, the charge was based on tenets which the church had never adopted. Martin blames a lot of this on his opening his church to people of all sexual orientations, which Jensen's organization was out to get.
Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition...
Though the charges made no sense, the church court would not vindicate him. Instead they dismissed the charges, read him a list of statements he had made which they said he should be aware were "inflammatory" and not in strict keeping with church canon. Martin said there was no grounds for them to do that, it was all politically motivated.
Answering questions from the 20 or so atheists gathered, Martin said he did not think God was testing him, he figures God has better things to do. He also said it not only didn't break his faith, it strengthened it. Go figure. He pointed to the fact that his father was also a Presbyterian minister, as if that justified his remaining faithful. Childhoot mythologies are hard to break.
Martin is articulate, soft-spoken, and I would say he was one of the more intelligent people in the room. Which brings me to the evening's disappointment. Out of the 20 or so people there, only five were people I would be happy to associate with. And one of them had never been at a meeting before. I was astounded at the ignorance behind some of the questions. A couple of people thought a heretic was the same thing as an atheist. A couple didn't get the difference between believing in the physical resurrection and a spiritual one. One guy didn't know what the Trinity was.
I may be jaded because I arrived at atheism from having a solid religious education. But these folks are mostly older than me, and have lived in the Western world all their lives. You would have thought they had picked up on most of this Christ stuff by now.