Friday, October 20, 2006

A Review

With just a few days to our first court appearance regarding the Kirk’s property I’ve reviewed mentally the reasons for leaving the denomination and seeking to retain our property. The denomination makes three arguments for its ownership of the property.
  1. It’s in the Book of Order—“we wrote a trust clause and that means we own the property.”
  2. 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).
  3. Previous generations of Presbyterians gave sacrificially, not to a congregation, but to the denomination.
Let me, once again, consider these three things.

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,
Tom

14 comments:

Ford Brett said...

On 'generations' issue. For what it's worth... I am just one person. I started attending the Kirk as a child of almost 7 (my parents were charter members). I am now almost 50. In that time I assumed that 100% of the money I've given to the Kirk was to be used at the direction of the Session - many of the Elders I've known personally. The ccontributions have come inspite of my deep concerns about the direction of the PCUSA - not because of the PCUSA.

I support trying to maintain our building - because I believe the Kirk can make the best use of the structure for the Lord's work. But I'm sure the Kirk does not need that building. We've built the building before and we can build it again - if the Lord so directs us.

While the building is 'nice' for the Kirk, I am positive that the Lord does not need it what so ever to advance his purposes. All things work together for good for those who love God and are called to his purposes. No matter what happens with the building, good will come out of this if we follow the Lord. All we can do is be faithful.

Richard Wilson said...

Tom,

I hope it is understood that while I wish you and The Kirk well, I get very concerned when I read something that I know to be inaccurate and potentially harmful to my church, EOP, and my denomination.

In regard to the trust clause, you indicate that it came about only with reunion in 1983. My research indicates that expressed trust clauses were in both UPC and PCUS Books of Order before reunion.

Regarding the mission of the church, you indicate that under your leadership The Kirk didn't trust PCUSA with more than $43,000 per year. You indicated that around half of that went to pay GA per capita when surely you know that only about $14,500 went to pay per capita for The Kirk. That means that of the $44,000 you paid last year, about $29,500 went to support EOP from your congregation of 2665 members whose giving amounted to $3,152,380. I was curious about how that number compared to our other "tall steeple church" and in checking their statistics, I found that their 2738 member congregation had total contributions of $2,491,479 from which they paid $189,661 to EOP. I realize that The Kirk has maintained other mission giving on your own and I applaud that, but I consider it appalling that you contributed so little in support of your presbytery. Don't misunderstand me, I appreciate what you have done and know from my participation in presbytery that your giving will be missed and will result in the presbytery being able to do less unless your giving is offset by other sources.

Concerning the previous generations, you indicate that you know that those who are dead ("saints who are now in Glory") did not intend for their contributions to go to support the mission of their denomination. How can anyone know this to be the case? I know you speak for The Kirk, but I know from personal conversations that those who preceded me gave not just to benefit their local church but also for the greater benefit--their denomination.

Everything I continue to read from The Kirk, The Layman as well as PCUSA convinces me that we have differing opinions and beliefs, while what I read from my Bible convinces me we will not know whose interpretation is correct until we stand before God.

Finally, you may recall that I have stated that because of The Kirk I have changed my opinion regarding the trust clause provision. I now believe that this building stands where our presbytery wanted one of it's churches to be--nothing has changed that denies the PCUSA that right. Since you have chosen to leave the denomination, I wish it were possible for the building to be moved, but the location was chosen by the presbytery and needs to remain with the PCUSA.

TomGray said...

Richard,
I thought that it was clear that we gave so little because of a lack of trust. It was hard to convince our missions committee to give anything to the EOP or PCUSA.

The argument on the location of the church being owned by the PCUSA is original, if not a little bizarre. Considering this, why did the EOP sell 2nd Presbyterian church's buildings without moving them, since they selected the location?
Tom

Anonymous said...

Another “on generation’s issue”…..I too am just one person, not a charter member, but a Kirk member for at least 42 plus years. At one time my family was a four generational family of Kirk members, as are several Kirk families. My two children were baptized at the Kirk; all my five grandchildren have been baptized at the Kirk. Don't tell me I am not a "true" member of the Kirk!!

Now our family is down to three generations. The memorial service for my mother was celebrated at the Kirk. My husband’s memorial service was celebrated at the Kirk. Kind friends from the Kirk and outside the Kirk graciously donated funds to the Kirk (not PCUSA) Memorial Fund.

Through the years many Kirk members, to the glory of God, have acknowledged God’s blessings in our lives by returning his gifts to us. The Kirk’s programs and missions have been supported locally, statewide, nationwide, and internationally---not only with monetary gifts, but with time and love for God’s kingdom. Much of the monetary gifts were undoubtedly made by checks written to the Kirk of the Hills, not PCUSA.

I strongly support the Kirk congregation’s determination to uphold the Bible as the Word of God and our belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. I cannot support a denomination that changes Bibical teachings to fit man’s social and political views.

The Kirk (not the PCUSA) has been and will continue to be a second home, not only to me, but to the entire Kirk family. The TRUTH taught here and the friendships made here are ETERNAL---thanks to God’s gift of His Son. Thanks be to God for his unfailing love.

In His Service, Jean Saylor

NetProphet said...

Way to go Jean! You go girl.

NetProphet said...

Richard,

Since you know so much about the denomination, can you tell me what group the denomination sold 2nd Pres.buildings to? What has happened to that congregation?

KM 5433 Blog said...

Tom, Wayne, and all those in leadership at the Kirk:

Godspeed Monday.

I am praying and fasting for you, assured and comforted that God's purposes cannot be thwarted. Whatever he has so wisely ordained as his perfect will from long ages past shall come to pass.

Do not be concerned that you are strangers in court -- God contends for the alien.

Do not hesitate to be bold in your profession. He who reconciled us while we were yet sinners will not leave us without heritage.

Sleep soundly. The battle is the Lord's.

Richard Wilson said...

Tom,

While I have other comments I would like to offer, I have been trying to respect the period of special prayer you have scheduled.
I dislike delaying a response when someone has asked a direct question of me so I will offer the following to you and to netprophet.

Tom, I did understand what you said about not trusting the denomination but I have been disappointed that we (The Kirk and EOP) haven't felt like we could work together for the common good in some way that you could have felt your money was being used for something you could support.

Both you and netprophet raised questions about Second Pres so I will try to answer as best I can although I may not be the best source. If I recall correctly from visiting Second Pres you may have a member who can answer in greater detail than I can. Wasn't the choir director at Second Pres a member of The Kirk? From reports at presbytery meetings I know that Second Pres was no longer a viable congregation--I don't recall their numbers but I know they had dwindled to only a few. I do know that those few dedicated people wanted to continue but there did not seem to be anything reasonable that could be done other than to disband the congregation. I recall that presbytery was concerned for the few remaining members, and tried to help them find a new church home. As to the property, as I recall it was sold to another Christian congregation and the proceeds were used wisely for mission, with a significant amount going to Crosstown to help in purchasing a facility suited to continuing their ministry. I can imagine that was something that was greatly appreciated by the former members of Second Pres who had been so supportive of Crosstown.

I hope that what I remember has been of some help.

Richard Wilson

Katie said...

any news on the court date?
~katie

Richard Wilson said...

Tom,

I don't know Jean Saylor but it seems to me that she is a person I would like to know. I found much to agree with in her posting to "A Review".

It's important to be able to speak openly and frankly about one's beliefs. I'll confess that my first reaction to your decision to disaffiliate was "Good Riddance!" but my opinion soon changed to "They've made a mistake to the detriment of us all!" In what follows, I hope to explain why my opinion has changed.

I found Jean's testimony to be very touching and I very much appreciate her sharing it. In other parts of her post, I find expression of some things that I earnestly believe.

It is right and good that we give--"not only with monetary gifts but with time and love for God's kingdom". It is right and good "to uphold the Bible as the Word of God and our belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior." "The TRUTH taught here and the friendships made here are ETERNAL---thanks to God's gift of His Son. Thanks be to God for his unfailing love." I believe this too! Where we seem to differ is that I believe Jean's words accurately describe my church and many, many hundreds of other congregations in my denomination. The impression that I get is that The Kirk and the others who have left and/or seek to leave our denomination believe that only those who believe precisely as they do can claim the truth of Jean's words!

There are now and I believe, always will be individuals and congregations in the PCUSA who believe exactly as The Kirk just as there are many more who have differing interpretations and beliefs. The truth that I believe is that the absolute "TRUTH" will only become perfect and known to us when we all stand in judgement by God!

I believe that the PCUSA is not perfect just as I believe no denomination or for that matter no organization created by and administrated by man can be perfect (no matter how inspired by God we may believe it to be)! There is much that cries out for change and correction everywhere we may look.

That brings me to where I can say that I believe that those who leave the PCUSA make a mistake! I believe that it's good that we don't all believe precisely alike--what better way can we have to examine and perhaps have the opportunity to correct our own mistakes than if we are in open communication with one another? I came to understand (and where I believe you misunderstand and misinterpret) the "Peace, Unity, and Purity" report. The task force that put forth this report was made up of the total spectrum of beliefs in our denomination and through the process of getting to know one another through study, discernment and communication, they proposed a way that we should be able to at least "coexist" while we try to sort through our beliefs in search of truth.

By arriving at the conclusion "That's it--we're leaving!" you deny those of us who are left behind (I do not refer to the popular fiction writing based on Christian beliefs) the opportunity to consider and examine your beliefs in our search for truth.

Please do not misunderstand me--I am not calling on you to change your decision (only you can decide what is best for you) but I am calling on you to be more open to considering differing viewpoints.

Richard Wilson

Annan Ymous said...

The "generations" argument is an emotional one, and I hope that any rational court will not allow that argument to be heard. Unfortunately, as I have discovered, not all Tulsa County Courts are rational so you have that on your side. Hope you got one of them thar 'activist judges'.

The one thing I hope is that when the decision doesnt go your way (and it wont if the law is strictly interpreted), that no one in the current congregation will do something irrational. Just make sure everyone remembers Romans 13:1-7.

joe in norman said...

like Ford, i grew up in the Kirk, and remember him and his parents fondly. i wonder where they are in this debate.

i remember that the Presbytery assisted with the purchase of the land and initial costs. i also remember hearing over and over again in congregational meetings that we held the property in trust for the presbytery and it's mission. we heard it also in confirmation class. the pastor in those days had a strong sense of being part of the larger church. the trust and the relationship was clear.

has that not been part of the Kirk's understanding of church in recent years?

it grieves me to see the Kirk act as if it owed the Presbytery nothing. the Kirk needs to compensate the Presbytery for its inverstment. i doubt that the presbytery wants the property, but for the Kirk to think it can do what it wants with the gift given and entrusted by others (including earlier Kirk members) is immoral.

Phillip J. Owings said...

that guy in norman seems to forget that there are many of us that gave our tithes and offerings to the Lord not the presbytery. in other words we gave it to our local church not some unseen entity like the prebytery or the denomination. we trusted our elders and other leaders to deal with those interfaces. we continue to trust them in this time of needed change.

anan ymous and richard wilson need to find better things to occupy their time. messing in our business is a waste of their time.

Kevin said...

What I have to say, I say out of a spirit of Christian love. I have read the posts provided by Richard and others that return to one common thread. That is that no one can be certain as to what the truth is and that all viewpoints have some merit. But I don't think that God makes things that complicated for us. Indeed, all viewpoints may have merit in a relativistic philosophical argument. I have read the Peace, Unity and Purity report in brief, and will read it again to try and understand its intent and strategy for bringing about peace, unity and purity in the PC(USA). But my first impression of it is that it is an arcane document which does not clearly state the problem or offer any solutions. It only admits that there is strong disagreement in the denomination and that its members must simply find a way to attend to the essential matters of faith while agreeing to disagree (my terminology) as to those matters that are "non-essential". But, if one asks what those non-essential matters are, I suspect one would find grounds for disagreement as to what should and should not be up for grabs. As to other viewpoints, I also read the PC(USA) literature on the "Seven Theological Viewpoints" concerning the ordination of homosexuals. The literature, I am disappointed to say, did not appear objective and spent a great deal of space in explaining away what many of us see as scriptural injunctions against homosexuality. And so, it seemed, that this was merely a tool of persuasion to be used to sway the "student" to yet another relativistic point of view. So there seem to be two camps. Those who think that a protracted, convoluted discussion about the matter and those who simply read the scripture and believe. The former is fine in terms of political and philosophical debate, but the latter, in addition to prayer and supplication,is the way in which I choose to make decisions as to what type of conduct is right and wrong in the sight of God. I don't think that those of us who take this viewpoint are in any way bigoted, hateful or given to mistreating those whom we think are outside the will of God in any way. We are to love the sinner and hate the sin. If deep theological and historical understanding were needed, not many people would have the time or inclination to be Christians. We are called to love one another. We are called to forgive and accept forgiveness. And we are called to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. So please understand, for those of us voted to leave the PCUSA, there is no need for debate. We simply do not wish to remain in a denomination that has increasingly adopted a stance of moral relativism and proposed a new age view of the Holy Trinity. We pray for you as you pray for us. But we have made our decisions willingly and with the full knowledge that it is what God wants us to do. We do not have to wait for judgement day to know that.