Thursday, August 10, 2006

In Their Own Words

Almost one year ago, denominational officials and attorneys wrote up a “game plan” to deal with churches, sessions, and pastors who might consider leaving the denomination. One would hope that the denomination’s plan would include concern for why any congregation might consider this.

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 (, 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.


Anonymous said...

Dear Tom,

I’m not sure why I feel compelled to respond to your blog. I don’t have time for this, and I have no stakes in the outcome.

Did you notice that ‘the Layman’ said they got this document from an anonymous source and have no independent verification as to its origins and validity? They put you on notice that it is gossip! They spun you up but they covered their tracks so that if it turns out to be false, a bad first draft, or even just a contingency somebody thought about then threw in the trash, they have already warned you that they assume no responsibility for its veracity. Even if they are unethical, they are not stupid. Dan Rather was sacked for reporting on exactly that kind of literature. I for example, would be summarily fired from my job if I got caught using or even so much as reading a document with proprietary markings from a competitor. If an employee released such information, it is grounds for immediate dismissal regardless of content. There are federal laws that prohibit commercial espionage.

Regarding the practices of keeping church properties under the trust of a presbytery, consider the following scenario. Suppose there is an old dying church sitting on a property bought and paid for 50 years ago. Why not have the congregation secede from the denomination, sell the property, and split the proceeds among the members? Should that be legal? Say there were 100 members left, and the property was in downtown LA, or Chicago, and was worth say 20 million dollars. Couple hundred thousand dollars a head might be pretty tempting. Maybe there are members that have been around for 40 years and members who joined last month. Do they get the same cut?

Have you really thought this property thing through? I worry that ‘the Layman’ is not looking out for your best interest. What would be the long term consequences of being able to just split on a whim? Maybe you should get out in front of it and declare that if you choose to leave, you will not try to take any property with you. That will free you to focus on the theology of your movement rather than on the mammon of it. If you get the content right, land and buildings will not be a problem. Jesus left specific instructions on that matter.

Just a thought,


Ray Schroeder said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ray Schroeder said...

In reading about the "Louisville Papers," including a document entitled "Church Property Disputes," I found it hard to get too incensed. I was reminded of Romans 2:1: "Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things."

The Layman advertizes on its own website a booklet about dealing with church property laws: "This book offers an indispensable guide to navigating the troubled waters surrounding potential court disputes over local church property ownership and use."

Everyone's way too concerned about bricks and mortar. We all need to be reminded that the church is the people. If a church desires to leave the denomination and the presbytery wants their property then give it to them--maybe even throw in a little extra ("and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;").

Both sides could take a lesson from someone who once said, "learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart."

Anonymous said...

Dear Jodie - the Layman may have said that they got the documents anonymously, but should you like to confirm that they are indeed PCUSA endorsed documents log onto and look at the Advisory Opinion on Church property...Note 11. They (PCUSA) advise you that the document is so long that it is provided in a downloadable Adobe pdf format. So the content is there for you to confirm in all it's glory.

As for your other scenerios if the "denomination" is anything like the PCUSA is currently ...I say let the folks sell the property, I'm sure they'll put the money to better use than "it" will.

Sincerely - Nancy

Anonymous said...

Jodie wrote, "Dan Rather was sacked for reporting on exactly that kind of literature." A couple of corrections. First, Dan Rather was not sacked. Some of the producton staff who worked on the story were sacked, but Rather was allowed to stay on. He chose to resign.

Second, the issue was not reporting on confidential or first draft documents. The issue was reporting on bogus, counterfeit documents. The reporters failed in their professional duties not becuase they made confidential documents public, but that they treated false documents as if genuine. They should have checked to be sure the documents were the real thing, not clever fakes.

A lot of modern reporting is based on information (documents or comments) leaked by people who know things other people don't want told. Every time you read or hear phrases like "a source close to" or "confidential documents we obtained," you're hearing things like what the Layman's reporting here. We the reading public must trust that the reporters for the Times or CNN have done their work to intependently verify the authenticity and accuracy of the documents or information obtained.

Several times over the past decades, at the request of PCUSA leaders, the Layman has submitted its journalistic practices to investigation by outside bodies like the Evangelical Press Association. Each time, their journalistic practices have passed the test. Are they perfect? Is anyone? Have they ever had to retract a story? Certainly, but then so does the mainstream press from time to time. People died in riots provoked by a Newsweek story on abuse in Guantanamo Bay -- a story Newsweek later had to retract.

The concusion of this matter is don't criticize the messenger for reporting on these documents. Rather, ask if these documents represent the kind of spirit you want to see in your church leaders.


Renee Guth said...

Nancy, the document you referenced, Advisory Opinion 11 on church property, is only 8 pages long.

Presbyterian Parson said...

Are you arguing for a selective use of the Book of Order - it applies on ordination to ministry, but not on the power of presbytery to own its constituent church property, install and remove pastors, in rare cases disband sessions and install its own appointed leadership? Sounds like you want "local option" on property. Hmmm?

Presbyterian Parson

Jon Thomasson said...

Tom, something that many folks miss is that when the denominational leaders have tossed out the Scriptures, then the less-important books (e.g., Book of Order) become hugely less significant. The imporant thing is Scripture, which is God's Word. The Book of Order is, frankly, man's word. Which shall we follow? Let us first follow the Bible. Then we can talk about following the Book of Order.

Phillip J. Owings said...

Tom, I am not a forever Presbyterian. In fact I became a Presbyterian several years after I became a Christian.

The entire fight seems unreal in terms of the scripture, except for guarding against false prophets and the supreme liar, the devil himself.

Gather good counsel about the leaders of the Kirk and you. Move forward in haste to spread the Good News of Our Lord and Savior. May Godspeed your mission. Call if I can help.

Your brother in Christ,

Phillip J. Owings

to_fulfill said...

I think there is something that is glaringly obvious here.

The one thing that the PCUSA is least concerned with is God and His Word (which do not change). They're much more concerned about their precious "constitution" (which they change to suit their philosophical leanings), holding on to their property (also spelled $$$), and trying to keep as many members of their clergy and their congregants "in check" by threatening to take away their property (and do other things) if they dare to gather to discuss their displeasure with the denomination's constitutional actions, or even mention separating the from the denomination.

To me, the denominational leadership sounds a lot like the Pharisees that so loved Jesus in his time. They make extra-Biblical rules to suit their own views of the way society should be and to try to exert control over "their people" (clergy and congregants, in this case). It is almost as if this constitution, their property, their clergy (who want to leave), their congregants (who want to leave), and many, many other things come before God's Word, and hence God himself.

To me, this clearly demonstrates their loyalties. They obviously are not where they should be, and haven't been for a long time.

One more thing . . .

The continued hesitancy to make any bold moves (other than talk) against the denomination is only hurting those of you who believe in an orthodox interpretation of the Bible.

It is hurting your credibility.
It is hurting your parishoners.
It is hurting those congregations who aren't in a strong enough position financially to even speak out against the PCUSA, because you're wasting daylight. The faster you move, the sooner they will have the option to follow suit.
It is hurting potential congregants. Too many have waited too long for the orthodox congregations to come out of the shadows.

Non-random Thoughts said...

Well, I must say I am underwhelmed with the poor advice most seem to be giving here. Jesus did not command us to "turn the other cheek" in response to evil. We are called to "resist Satan and he will flee."

In the Book of Revelation, God's command is for His people to come out of Babylon, not to embrace her. We are commanded early in the very same book to take a stand, not to be nauseatingly tepid. This is not the time for milquetoast pseudochristianity.

Jesus also said that wise kings count the cost before engaging in battle. This should be a time of planning and strategizing with other likeminded congregations.

We are called to be salt and light -- these are disinfective and preservative media.

God is trustworthy. He did not abandon His Holy One to decay. His church is founded on that Rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail.

Anonymous said...

My prayers are with you Tom, Wayne and the congregation. Phil. 1:3.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom,

Praise God for your courage and faithfulness to the authority of Scripture. We will be praying for you and the people of Kirk of the Hills as you face the pending attack. If only more of the conservative PCUSA churches could exhibit your level of integrity.