- It’s in the Book of Order—“we wrote a trust clause and that means we own the property.”
- The money from the property is needed to continue the mission of the church (or the property is needed by the “true church” if they are large enough to support it).
- Previous generations of Presbyterians gave sacrificially, not to a congregation, but to the denomination.
First, the trust clause.
The trust clause appears only late in the PCUSA’s history. The denomination had assumed it owned the property, but congregations were able to leave with it. This necessitated an insertion into the Book of Order that came about with the new, reunified denomination in 1983.
Local denominational officials are almost gleeful to point out that I was at the meeting where this was approved. Technically, they are right. However, the clause was buried in a completely new constitution which we had to vote into force as a unit. We had no right to amend, protest, or vote against any single part of the constitution. This constitution had been assembled by a committee and approved by a General Assembly where the (then) 80+ churches in Eastern Oklahoma had only 4 representatives (none of them from the Kirk).
Even with the trust clause, there is the reality of state law. The Supreme Court of the United States directed that property cases for churches be decided by neutral law principles. Prior to this, they used the “deference” principle, meaning that they stayed completely out of church business. After this, the court stated that they had no business in the beliefs of a church, but had business in property matters.
For Oklahoma in particular, this means, as I understand it, that we can revoke any trust that we did not make ourselves. It makes sense. What if your mortgage company inserted a clause, years after you initiated the mortgage, claiming rights that had not been explicit before?
Second, the mission of the church.
Without the Kirk, the presbytery will be short $43,000 per year, which is the total amount we have been giving for the last few years. Around half of that went to pay GA per capita, so the presbytery is out part, the GA part.
There are several arguments about the “mission” that we at the Kirk have considered. The most important is whether or not we morally can support the mission of the PCUSA. This is the reason why the amount has lingered at the level it has been for the last years. In previous years we gave much more. With the PCUSA drifting away from not our cherished views, but Scripture itself, we wrestled for years with any kind of financial support. This doesn’t go away with our disaffiliation. Can we, in good faith, pass on millions of dollars to a denomination we didn’t trust with more than $43,000 per year?
Third, the previous generations.
The rationale behind this is that the local church is larger than its current congregation. I fully agree with this. Even the Kirk, as young as it is, has benefited much from saints who are now in Glory. There are two questions here of those previous generations: 1) is it true that they thought they were giving to the PCUSA and not the Kirk? Is that how any of you feel about your donations today? 2) Would those generations past feel right about giving to the PCUSA today, given the changes that have occurred?
My answer to both is a confident “no.” While people are a part of a denomination, they truly give to and support the local expression of it. Even denominationally-oriented folk find the national denomination to be somewhat alien from the local church.
Next, would people born 100 years ago approve of what the PCUSA stands for today? Would they approve of its stand on sexual morality? Would they approve of its bent toward politics? I don’t think so. In fact, if the generations of 75 years ago or more were in charge, none of the problems we are facing would even be here.
I have one last consideration on the “generations” issue. The Kirk is young enough to have some of our charter members still active. I haven’t talked to all of them, but for those I’ve spoken to, there is total support for our stand. One of the things that has surprised me most in the last three years is how the greatest opposition to staying in the denomination came from people I had previously thought would demand to stay in it, no matter what.
I’ll let you know what happens in court on Monday. It could be anything from a decision (unlikely), to consideration, to postponement.
Keep praying—keep the faith,