The denomination’s plan is hardball as demonstrated in the excerpts below. Any church even considering leaving the denomination is in immediate danger of having its session removed and replaced by Presbytery appointees who would then run the church. Any pastor who speaks out, writes letters (blogs?) to the congregation, or even calls a meeting to discuss leaving is in immediate danger of the presbytery declaring that such pastor has “renounced jurisdiction,” therefore immediately ceasing to be pastor of the church.
Let me quote to you verbatim statements from two papers that denominational attorneys presented last January to presbytery executives, presumably to bring them on board. Note: the term “schismatic” refers to any pastor, session, or congregation who have even talked about separating from the PCUSA. Ironically, schismatic is used to describe churches that are trying to adhere to traditional Presbyterian beliefs—not those people who seek to change the denomination.
- “Secure the property (both real and personal) of the local church. File an affidavit of property trust on the real estate. The affidavit is filed on the public records for the purpose of warning all persons the title to the real property is in dispute. The affidavit is for the purpose of preserving the rights of the presbytery and true church pending the dispute. Moreover, send a letter to all banks and institutions that hold accounts for the particular church.”
- “The Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly has some funds available to assist presbyteries when a church is in schism or its property is being used contrary to the Constitution.”
- “If you initiate the lawsuit, name the defendants as schismatics in the complaint and the caption. This will regularly remind the court of what the central issue is before it (the presbytery’s authority to determine the true church) and the fact that the court must defer to the ecclesiastical decisions of the church governing body. Example: ‘Presbytery of Middle Wyoming v. the Schismatic and Purported Covenant Church of Landsburgh.’”
- “If the case law is favorable to the presbytery in your state, file a motion for summary judgment as soon as practicable. It is not helpful to allow the schismatics to develop a record when the presbytery has already taken its actions and, under the polity, the result is known. Where the law of your state is firm for the presbytery, move forward with a motion for summary judgment. Knowing they cannot interfere in ecclesiastical disputes, many judges will look favorable upon a motion for summary judgment to dispose of such cases.”
- “Determine the religious background of your judge….if the judge is from an independent or congregational background (Baptist), then it may be more of a challenge to educate the judge on the wide range of authority a presbytery has over a particular church, especially in regards to property matters.”
- “Certainly, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) does not refer to itself as a hierarchical church. When speaking to a civil court, however, it is important to use the language the court uses….Firmly present the PCUSA to the court as a hierarchical church.”
- “We have advised that the presbytery should be clear that the commission may assume jurisdiction of the session upon some triggering event or action of the session. This usually has a dramatic effect on the behavior of all the interested parties.”
- “If the whole, or a majority, of the session is involved in schismatic activity, the presbytery may need to appoint an administrative commission to act in the place of, or beside, the session.”
I found out about these documents in an article in The Layman (www.layman.org), which points out that the documents also instruct presbyteries to “look for a ‘loyal minority’ in the congregation and declare it the ‘true church’ with rights to the property.” They also report that presbyteries are instructed to “[w]hen necessary, change the locks and ‘secure’ the property.”
It is clear that the PCUSA is prepared to litigate and to stifle any discussion of transferring to another Presbyterian denomination. It is, in fact, ready to interfere with a congregation, actively seeking out a separate group (their “true church”) to divide it off from those who desire to hold onto traditional values. Is this not schismatic?
Two things disturb me most in all this. First is the secrecy, coupled with the timing. The PCUSA officials did not respond to congregations taking any action—they prepared way in advance to stifle even any conversation. They well knew that this last GA would create divisive conflict. Instead of fostering open discussion, they studiously developed a plan that, in the best light, stifles the free speech of Presbyterians.
Second, the denomination is very selective about what it takes a stand on. If congregations are legitimately disturbed by unPresbyterian and unbiblical decisions they are set up for attack simply for discussing their alternatives. On the other hand, the national denomination has refused to take any action or stand against congregations that have openly ordained GLBTs or participated in same-sex marriages, even though this clearly goes against the Consititution.
I’ll keep you posted on things as they develop. Keep us all in your prayers.