Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The EOP Rides Again

I just received information from Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery regarding the Kirk. It is a letter from the General Presbyter, basically summarizing what has happened up to this point. I have no disagreement with most of the letter, but there are a couple of things I’d like to comment on.
“It should be mentioned that the Presbytery is paying for all of its legal expenses. There is no PCUSA money available to help. The expenses are being paid out of our unrestricted reserves, which have been strong in the past but are not unlimited. The presbytery’s mission budget will also be affected next year, but we do not know yet by how much.”
This is a tough financial situation for EOP and the Kirk. It could come to an end immediately if the presbytery decided to recognize that the property legally and morally belongs to us. It could also come to an end if we simply walked away from the property, which we will not do. It could end if the EOP would agree to negotiate. I’m a bit surprised that the PCUSA is not helping out. They have reserve funds set aside for just this purpose.

The PCUSA is stretching out the process. We received news today that the denomination has filed for an extension to the case, which should be approved by the judge. Perhaps they are just biding time for the presbytery’s Administrative Commission to finish its work, whatever that is. A clue of its purpose is found in the letter:
“The Presbytery, on September 5, appointed an Administrative Commission to look into the nature and depth of division within the Kirk and between the Kirk and the Presbytery, to seek reconciliation where it is possible, to offer pastoral care, and to investigate the validity of reported irregularities. The Commission, as part of its pastoral concern for all members of the Kirk, has been holding Sunday evening worship services at Southminster Presbyterian Church, led by a number of our pastors and attended by both members of the Kirk and members of other congregations in our Presbytery. The Commission is preparing a letter to all members of the Kirk, which will be mailed once membership records are received. After that, the Commission will hold a series of meetings in which they will listen to the concerns and questions of all involved.”
Let me respond to key points in the above paragraph.

“…to look into the nature and depth of division within the Kirk…”
I am not aware of division at all. I realize that this may be hard for the EOP to believe, but it is true. We just completed a marathon phone survey of the congregation. We did find that some people had moved their membership because they disagreed with our disaffiliation. The number is consistent with what we had at the congregational meeting: about 30-40 people. This is a very small number for a large church. That doesn’t make these people unimportant, but it does demonstrate that the Kirk is not a divided church.

“…investigate the validity of reported irregularities.”
All the EOP needs to do is read my blog (I think they may have already done so). In the blogs I give detailed accounts of what we did, and when we did it. While our move is decidedly controversial, we have not hidden or covered up what we’ve done.

“...the commission[‘s]…pastoral concern…”
The time for pastoral concern is long past. During the years the EOP was aware of our struggle with the PCUSA there was never a word of concern or support spoken. The few conversations about our concerns were, I felt, tinged with tension and disapproval. The same General Presbyter who wrote the letter once commented to me that "he wished that the extremists in the church were not dominating the conversation." That statement included me as an "extremist." There are many opportunities where a presbytery can act pastorally. Those didn't happen. We never even had the required tri-annual visits from the Committee on Ministry, as required by the PCUSA constitution.

“…the Commission…has been holding Sunday evening worship services.”
This was, for a short time, a source of confusion for some of our members. The way in which the presbytery worded notice of the services seemed, to some, to indicate it was a worship service of the Kirk, not the Commission. Since we are actively planning to start a new church, some thought this was what the announcement was about.

The confusion has been clarified, although the EOP claims to “own” the name of our church. I have a member who has been attending some of the services just to observe. According to him, services in November were attracting about 15 people, none of whom were Kirk members.

“The Commission is preparing a letter to all members of the Kirk...”
The EOP has already written our congregation, with very limited results. One more letter will not change anything. As in the past, when the EOP has contacted Kirk members, I’ve said that people are free to respond or not respond, as they wished. If the congregation were divided, the presbytery would have a sizeable response. It hasn’t happened and won’t this time, either. These contacts have, though, increased the congregation's level of irritability toward the EOP.

“After that, the Commission will hold a series of meetings in which they will listen to the concerns and questions of all involved”
I think that they may end up talking to themselves. Those who deeply disagreed with our disaffiliation have already moved to other churches, most notably First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa. We didn't know, at first, how many moved there because First Presbyterian failed to notify us that they had received our former members.

Our telephone marathon revealed that other members moved out of Tulsa without telling us. A few joined other local churches in the last year—not because of disaffiliation, but for other reasons. In each phone call we asked people directly how they felt about us leaving the PCUSA and the responses were highly encouraging to us.

The EOP is desperately trying to identify a "true church" from within the Kirk congregation. I cannot say that they'll find no one sympathetic to their cause, but I'd be surprised if there were any significant response.

There is one more thing in the letter that I feel compelled to comment on.
"This is a difficult matter and one which is best worked out among brothers and sisters in Christ rather than on a public stage."
At one level I agree with that statement. If we had had any confidence that the EOP and PCUSA would deal with us fairly, we'd have worked quietly with them. But the filing of the affidavit, combined with the release of the hardball legal gameplan (which the EOP is following) destroyed any confidence we might have had. Conversations I've had with churches throughout the country who have tried to work with presbyteries have almost universally found that the denomination doesn't just want to keep dirty laundry out of the public eye--they've gagged pastors and sessions so that the process outlined by the Louisville "game plan," worked out in the dark, would not be examined by the light of Truth. The Bible speaks to this:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)
The reason for writing this blog is to keep the light shining, especially on the processes employed by the PCUSA against dissenting churches. I wish the denomination and the presbytery no evil, but I will not cooperate in something that could be evil.

Keep praying--keep the faith,
Tom

17 comments:

Stushie said...

Tom, First presbyterian Church in Torrance, CA has just lost its property dispute. The court has decided in favor of the Presbytery and some original members of the cognregation. This may have some serious implications in your own property dispute.

katie said...

"The Commission, as part of its pastoral concern for all members of the Kirk...led by a number of our pastors and attended by both members of the Kirk and members of other congregations in our Presbytery."

i know someone who has been going to the "kirk" services @ southminster & it has been mostly presbytery people. maybe 1 or 2 pople who he didn't know from presbytery events.

~katie

Cameron Mott said...

Wow. Tom, there just seems to me to be so much wrong with your reasoning and method I don't know where to begin.

Well first, you tell me, are you suggesting that your former Presbytery is evil in their response to Kirk's action against them and PCUSA? Or what are you saying about evil and the EOP?

TomGray said...

Cameron,
The evil is not in the EOP but the PCUSAs double standard: approve homosexual ordination, punish congregations that leave because of that.
Tom

Cameron Mott said...

No Tom you said you didn't have confidence in the EOP and PCUSA because of their actions and dirty laundry they want to keep in the dark away from the light of Truth and then your scripture which speaks to it is about men who do evil in the dark away from the light of truth. You tar everyone with your extremely wide brush.

Another point in your reply, the PCUSA as a denomination does not approve ordination of non-chaste homosexuals and they don't approve of ministers and elders and trustees who break their vows and violate church property polity either.

Back to your blog, your characterization of the so-called Louisville Papers aside, the Kirk's legal team doesn't have a game plan? I've read the PCUSA's papers and I'm no lawyer but in my opinion their draconian reputation is a figment of the Layman's imagination.

John West said...

The socalled "dirty laundry" Tom has addressed over the past few months in this blog seems self evident for this denomination. I'm not sure Tom used that term, maybe he did, but it is certainly appropo. Lest we all forget what this is here's a concise list--allowing same sex marriage within the Church withoutany word of retribution, allowing local groups at several apparent levels to determine what is critical in beliefs and morals for ordination--going against what on the surface appears to be a vast majority of members in adopting the PUP report last summer--publishing the slanderous book by Griffin accusing the President of setting up the 9-11 event--publishing a long and wordy study on sexuality, which reaches absolutely no scripturally based conclusions--publising a long diatribe supporting reparations to blacks for slavery. There are probably some other items that could be pointed out but these are most of the ones I know about and this has been going on for some 15 years building up to last summer. So, pastors who have come to recognize this are not the ones violating their vowels, it is the denomination that has moved away from scripture that is in violation. Its somewhat like the fact that today's Democratic party is not the one I grew up with of FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and even Carter. Unfortunately the other party is not the party of Eisenhower, Reagan and the first Bush either. In any event, things change, Pastors, congregations and local leaders should have the right to lead in a scriptural fashion in this a free society. This should remain free from the threat of being homeless from the standpoint of long cherished meeting places. John West, Hillsdale Ks.

Larry said...

Cameron Mott apparently does not read news regarding the PCUSA. He states: "the PCUSA as a denomination does not approve ordination of non-chaste homosexuals".

One example disproving his statement is Hudson River Presbytery ordaining Ray Bagnoulo.

liberty4u said...

This is a legal question.

Why does the EOP get to decide what the "true church" is? The EOP is a denomonication. The Kirk is a congregational church not under the jurisdiction of the EOP. So why can't the Kirk do a review of what constitutes the "true church" and submit their findings to the court? It seems that both findings should be given equal weight by the legal system.

The idea that you are two separate legal entities is a difficult concept to maintain consistently. The Civil War/War Between the States is an example where the politicians held both views at one time or another. States had to be admitted back into the Union -- this acknowledges that they were outside the Union, but "Civil War" means that it was an internal conflict in a single country.

Notice that Cameron Mott acknowledges your exit from the PCUSA and EOP ("your former Presbytery"). But I have not heard anyone talk about PCUSA/Kirk relations as ecumenical -- which is what they now are.

Cameron Mott said...

The denomination of PCUSA does not approve of violations of chastity and fidelity, nor same sex marriage, nor violation of vows and polity, nor the human sexuality resource, the Trinity papers and the 9-11 crackpot's theories are not PCUSA policy. Re. reparations: I prefer we keep politics out of the denomination but I read it and as far as I can tell we adopted a study recommending we study reparations.

Because a tiny errant minority might violate PCUSA polity or even manage to escape the PCUSA's corrective actions does not mean PCUSA approves of the errant behavior. Because a few are willing to violate our policy doesn't mean we have a policy of violation. Correct me where I'm wrong, please.

DrMom said...

When the people in charge don't take a stand, that is giving tacit approval to the actions of those violating the denominational policies.

Since the people in charge have not only ignored these issues, but contributed to them, it is more than appropriate for the rest of us to make noise about it. If they're not going to hold people to the basic tenants and standards of the denomination, then we effectively don't have basic tenants and standards.

TomGray said...

Cameron,
You asked if we had a "game plan." We had no plan until we started working it out after the news of the affidavit and then the Louisville game plan.

Unlike the latter, our plan has no recommendation to misrepresent ourselves, or use intimidation as a means of negotiation.

Tom

Cameron Mott said...

dr mom,

The PCUSA does not ignore violations do we? We challenge and correct violations of denominational policy all the time as far as I can tell. Any PCUSA Presbyterian can challenge anything can't they, we don't soley depend on leaders to prosecute offenders?

Tom,

I don't believe the PCUSA had a game plan either until congregations decided to violate the Constitution over property.

When you say "misrepresentation", are you referring to the well explained civil concept of the definition of our particular form of hierarchical government as hierarchical [as opposed to congregational]?

What are you calling “intimidation”?

What evidence did you have that the affidavit filed by the EOP was not what they said it was: a clarification for the protection of all congregations in its jurisdiction from third party claims against title? Was there no previous civil action between EOP and such third party[ies]?

TomGray said...

Cameron,
Let me quote from the PCUSA website what the author of the gameplan said,

"Tammen responded to questions concerning a document on presbytery processes which has been posted on some organizational websites, but has not been officially disseminated by the Office on Constitutional Services. The document suggests overriding principles to guide presbyteries and processes to employ when a congregation is at risk for 'schism.'"
"Critics have called the document 'hard-line.'"
"'The document was developed in response to a whole string of governing body requests,' Tammen said. 'It’s been available for a number of years, although we don’t post documents like this on the website, since they are advisory opinions for specific situations.'"

As for misrepresentation, the paper (YOU NEED TO READ IT BEFORE COMMENTING AGAIN) says, "of course, we are not a hierarchichal denomination..." and then goes on to recommend using that term, since it will help their case.

In terms of intimidation, ask those sessions that went to presbyteries, using the system, only to be removed, lose their pastor, and have to pay again for the use of their church building. In one recent case, the presbytery, after winning a case, charged the church rent for the usage of the building during the time of litigation.

Some presbyteries are taking preemptive action against congregations that they think might be schismatic. That sounds pretty intimidating to me.

As to the affidavit:
1. It was filed in secret, without one EOP trustee (a Kirk member) being informed.
2. There was no prior litigation.
3. It was done immediately after a meeting with the PCUSA attorney on the subject of potentially schismatic churches.

Please--do your homework before writing again.
Tom

Cameron Mott said...

“’Critics have called the document 'hard-line.’
" ‘The document was developed in response to a whole string of governing body requests,' Tammen said. 'It’s been available for a number of years, although we don’t post documents like this on the website, since they are advisory opinions for specific situations.' “
Wasn’t it a number of years ago when congregations began to challenge the Constitution over church property?

“As for misrepresentation, the paper (YOU NEED TO READ IT BEFORE COMMENTING AGAIN) says, "of course, we are not a hierarchichal denomination..." and then goes on to recommend using that term, since it will help their case.”
As I said, I did read it, it says: “Certainly the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) does not refer to itself as a hierarchical church. When speaking to a civil court it is important to use the language the court uses. The court distinguishes between independent or congregational churches on the one hand and hierarchical churches on the other.”

The “connectional” shell-game label we apply to our hierarchical form of PCUSA government does not play in civil court. Just as it has already been explained by others on this blog I believe, and it says in this paper, in civil court language we are a hierarchical denomination. The Layman making out like this paper says something it doesn’t and holding people accountable to what it doesn’t say isn’t helpful or right in my opinion.

“In terms of intimidation, ask those sessions that went to presbyteries, using the system, only to be removed, lose their pastor, and have to pay again for the use of their church building. In one recent case, the presbytery, after winning a case, charged the church rent for the usage of the building during the time of litigation.
Some presbyteries are taking preemptive action against congregations that they think might be schismatic. That sounds pretty intimidating to me.”

You or someone will have to help me out with names of congregations on this. Going back through even the Layman’s editorializations on property they all seem to be churches who had already declared they were leaving or renounced their membership or had some disciplinary problem. Maybe I missed something or misunderstood.

“As to the affidavit:
1. It was filed in secret, without one EOP trustee (a Kirk member) being informed.”

I think you’ll find this was discussed and approved at a regular Trustee meeting which had been published and publicized well in advance, even I look them up on the EOP’s website, in fact they seem to permanent dates. Your Trustee was apparently unable to attend? How is that evidence it was secret or not meant to protect congregations from third parties?

“2. There was no prior litigation.”

Maybe I only presumed litigation. Was there no problem, as far as you know, involving the EOP and tribal party[ies] and denomination property?

“3. It was done immediately after a meeting with the PCUSA attorney on the subject of potentially schismatic churches.”

But Tom, how is that evidence that the affidavit was against the Kirk rather than the alleged third party[ies]?

TomGray said...

Cameron,
Congregations have challenged the property clause from its inception. Does the fact that people have done so negate the underhanded nature of the PCUSA document?

The courts recognize three systems (because of earlier, accurate representations of Presbyterian polity—remember, the PCUSA is not the only Presbyterian denomination). The most recent court decisions on this subject (in New York) castigate the PCUSA for representing itself as hierarchical.

“Going back through even the Layman’s editorializations on property they all seem to be churches who had already declared they were leaving or renounced their membership or had some disciplinary problem. Maybe I missed something or misunderstood.”

I have friends around the country who have been visited by COMs just because they are conservative. Some presbyteries have initiated commissions just to seek out who might be likely to leave. Some presbyteries have refused to sink to this level.

The only church leaving under a disciplinary problem, of which I am aware, is the Korean church in Torrance, California. Most churches leaving, like ours, simply believe we can no longer honor our consciences in the PCUSA.

“As to the affidavit:…It was filed in secret, without one EOP trustee (a Kirk member) being informed.”

When our member asked for minutes, we were told that there were none. At least one other on the board were unaware of the affidavits. Whether or not this was a stated meeting begs the question here. I have heard that “minutes” have now surfaced and that people “remember” it being reported at a meeting. There were no such recollections last April when we first raised the issue.
Tom

Cameron Mott said...

“Congregations have challenged the property clause from its inception. Does the fact that people have done so negate the underhanded nature of the PCUSA document?”

First, I disagree with your characterization of the papers as underhanded. I’m not a lawyer [as I keep saying] but both papers seem to me to give straight forward and well explained advice to presbyteries for a measured response to congregations in dissent or defiance, including sections on “how we allow dissent” and how “Presbyteries may release congregations”.

The on-going challenges do explain why the denomination was asked to draft resources and advice for responses to dissenting or defiant congregations.


“The courts recognize three systems (because of earlier, accurate representations of Presbyterian polity—remember, the PCUSA is not the only Presbyterian denomination). The most recent court decisions on this subject (in New York) castigate the PCUSA for representing itself as hierarchical.

I don’t see where it “castigated” anybody. I see where the court recognizes Presbyterian as a “hierarchical church” [Schenectady v. United] and also recognizes a differences in property trust due to different systems of governments of Presbyterians and Episcopalism.


I have friends around the country who have been visited by COMs just because they are conservative. Some presbyteries have initiated commissions just to seek out who might be likely to leave.

Can you share names of some of these congregations and presbyteries?


When our member asked for minutes, we were told that there were none. At least one other on the board were unaware of the affidavits. Whether or not this was a stated meeting begs the question here. I have heard that “minutes” have now surfaced and that people “remember” it being reported at a meeting. There were no such recollections last April when we first raised the issue.

More dialogue between the parties might have been helpful. To me this indicates that you all did not trust the individuals from your brother congregations serving as Trustees. This action applied to their congregations too. I’m wondering what was the source of your suspicion of these individuals?

POC said...

Tom,

You can always tell when someone gets a little too rational, or close to the truth for you. You just go silent. A little more silence might do you good. Don't you have a church to pastor?

POC