SEATTLE, WA – First Presbyterian Church of Seattle’s trustees have been the subject of repeated false, misleading and defamatory statements made by the Seattle Presbytery and its leader, according to a countersuit filed today by the church.
“The presbytery has tried to dress this up as a dispute about the operation of First Presbyterian Church of Seattle and has made many false statements about the church and its decision to leave the Presbytery,” said Brian DeFoe, attorney for First Presbyterian Church of Seattle. “But at its heart, this dispute is really about money. First Presbyterian Church of Seattle has property worth more than $20 million that the Seattle Presbytery wants to seize. The presbytery paid nothing for the property that the church’s congregation purchased in 1905 and has owned free and clear since then.”
The countersuit is part of an answer to litigation instigated by the Seattle Presbytery seeking to block the church from leaving the denomination. The two-part answer to the presbytery’s lawsuit tells the story of a deteriorating relationship and the presbytery’s ongoing and repeated interference in the affairs of First Presbyterian Church of Seattle.
This interference by the Seattle Presbytery was the primary reason that, last November 15, the First Presbyterian Church of Seattle congregation voted more than 90 percent in favor of leaving the presbytery and the national denomination, Presbyterian Church (USA), and seeking affiliation with another national Presbyterian denomination.
“The congregation overwhelmingly voted that First Presbyterian Church of Seattle is no longer affiliated with the Seattle Presbytery or the Presbyterian Church (USA),” DeFoe said. “They tried many times to reconcile with the Seattle Presbytery and restore that relationship, but the presbytery repeatedly refused. The Seattle Presbytery started this legal fight by filing a lawsuit against the church and they’ve been forced to respond to the false allegations and claims it makes.”
The overwhelming vote by the church’s congregation, which is allowed and protected by both the Washington and United States constitutions, resulted in the Seattle Presbytery instigating the legal action to which the church responded today. The presbytery’s litigation includes demonstrably false and defamatory claims about financial and other improprieties seeking to discredit the pastors and leaders of First Presbyterian Church of Seattle. It also attempts to justify the presbytery’s demand that the church turn over all of its more than $20 million in assets and property to the Presbytery, and the appointment of an interim pastor and new leadership to take over the running of the church. These claims have endangered the church’s relationship with a developer which had entered into a joint venture agreement to develop the church property into a mission-focused campus with public benefits including a smaller church, facilities from which the church could continue helping people in need and a public gathering space.
The Presbytery also launched an alternate website using the trademarked name of Seattle First Presbyterian, falsely claimed it owned the church property and has been purporting to be Seattle First Presbyterian in conducting business as First Presbyterian Church of Seattle in violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
“This is nothing more than an attempt by the Seattle Presbytery to take valuable property it had no part in in paying for and to which it has no legitimate claim,” DeFoe said. “It is using tactics dictated by the national denomination to try to block First Presbyterian Church of Seattle from disaffiliating and to claim the church’s property and assets.”
First Presbyterian Church of Seattle strenuously objected in 1981 to the national denomination’s efforts to insert a symbolic trust clause into the denomination’s constitution, under which clause the denomination now claims that its property and assets belong to the Seattle Presbytery and Presbyterian Church (USA). It never consented to giving the Seattle Presbytery or Presbyterian Church (USA) such an interest in its property, and blocked a more recent attempt by the presbytery to insert similar language into documents related to the joint venture development agreement for the property.
“The presbytery is attempting to cloud the real issues with smoke screens about religious doctrine, complex arguments about trust provisions to which First Presbyterian never agreed and archaic language about church governance,” DeFoe said. “The real issue is their desire to claim more than $20 million worth of property that doesn’t belong to them and take over a church that they mistreated so badly that its congregation voted overwhelmingly to leave the regional presbytery and the national denomination.”
This is a lawsuit going nowhere. Seriously, violating the consumer protection act. What kind of crazy is going on here? You have two pastors defying their ordination vows and running a criminal operation.
The old saying of American Trial Lawyers is that everybody has a case, and all should have their day in court. In the process of disclosure all will become apparent. Just ask the PCUSA/PMA fighting tooth and nail to suppress evidence in the Hoey defamation case.
Those who feel strongly on either side of the issue are free to donate and send money either to pastors in question or the Presbytery. I am sure they could use it. It will be a long case.
The congregation is right. The church was built and rebuilt, largely by a grant from Mrs. Boeing, without any money from PCUSA or its predecessors. It has objected to the “trust clause” from its institution. This is another instance of the utter lack of grace in “gracious dismissal.” It also is a demonstration of the GREED of the Louisville hierarchy and Seattle Presbytery. For once the PCUSA should get this right and let the congregation leave with its property. PCUSA is losing both credibility and witness.
Criminal operation? Seiously? How do you figure that? I’m a long-term member of this church, since 2001 or ’02. There is nothing criminal about what Pastors Jeff & Ellen are doing. According to PC(USA) Book of Order, they are definitely renouncing their ordination in the denomination, but that hardly constitutes a criminal act.
This is a no-win case for the group trying to leave. They are welcome to leave, but they will do so without the property, which (as in many denominations) is held in trust for the regional body. You want to talk about defamation? I’ll tell you about defamation. Defamation is the leaders of this website (especially our “friend” Carmen), who have two goals: to destroy the Presbyterian Church (USA), and to degrade and insult LGBT Christians. Those are the goals. I sincerely hope and pray that the Presbytery prevails, and an inclusive and welcoming PC(USA) congregation rises from the ashes.
Traditionally the courts observe what is called “judicial deference” to the decisions of presbyteries and synods. The church is pouring its money down a legal rat hole. Wait until the members of the congregation find out that their pastors have led them astray on this one.
Is that church and its pastors to obey God first or Seattle Presbytery and it’s anti-Word agenda first? The PCUSA is so apostate pastors and churches MUST answer Jesus’ challenge “Who do you say I am?” God bless First Pres. and their lawyers as they seek to confront the BEAST. May more God fearing Churches do the same!
The tactics used by the Presbytery are exactly the same tactics used by the Episcopal Church against the Diocese of South Carolina.
Usurpation of the name, false claims of being the sole entity, etc, etc.
This violates trademark law, and state corporate law.
TEC lost in South Carolina based on standard principles of law. The congregation has a fairly good case.
The trust clause first showed up in the late 50’s and early 60’s after the merger of the old PCUSA with the UPCNA. The UPCNA had a line in its affiliation contract that said something about the congregation having all its assets kept for the UPCNA, but the old PCUSA did not.
It appeared in the Book of Order after a Supreme Court ruling on a church property case. One of the justices wrote a concurring opinion that stated that denominations who wish to infer such a ‘trust’ clause should put one in place.
Problem is the justice expected that the way to do it was the way most properties have a ‘trust’ put on them. Legally, with the trust recorded as part of the deed on the property, not with a statement in a denominational book of regulations that have no legal authority outside the denomination.
Your general statement that ‘Traditionally the courts observe what is called “judicial deference” to the decisions of presbyteries and synods.’ is not exactly true.
Many states use the neutral principles of law to determine property disputes. So, depending on where you are, the local congregation is the sole owner of the property unless there is an explicit trust declared on the property deed, or in the Articles of Incorporation.
Based on the fact that at the merger in 1981, this congregation totally opposed the implied trust clause of the BOO, I doubt that there’s any explicit trust declaration anywhere in its deed, or corporation filings.
I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Matthew D. Ray, but there is no such thing as an GLBT Christian. There are Christians who struggle with sexual temptations of one sort or another to be sure, and there are Christians who wrestle with gender identity issues, absolutely, but the Christian faith has consistently taught that God makes each one of us either male or female (and nothing else), and that he blesses the expression of our sexuality in monogamous, life-long unions of one man and one woman (and in nothing else). Any ideology that denies these essential biblical teachings denies Christianity itself.
It is possible to affirm the Christian faith, and it is possible to affirm GLBT ideology (or heterosexual Playboy ideology, or Nazi racial superiority ideology, etc.), but it is not possible for a person to simultaneously affirm both the Christian faith and one of these other ideologies. To affirm any one of them is necessarily to reject the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Not sure where you have been the last few months (years?), but your post would make one think that you have been in a vacuum and know absolutely nothing about all this…. also, you ar wrong about Carmen and her ‘goals’….your oh-so-inclusive allies need no help…. sadly they have done perfectly fine destroying the denomination on their own.
The legal issue will be whether the State of WA defers to hierarchical denominational policy or whether they follow neutral principles and look to the specific language in the deeds for the identity of the owner of the property.
Ashes are an apt analogy as employed by Brother D-Ray. Though to blame Carmen or the PLC for the collective angst of the PCUSA is like a driver who plows his car into the ditch and blames it on the passenger who told him to slow down.
And there are groups of folks who fit his definition of inclusive and welcoming. They are called Quakers or Unitarians. Both about 300K nationally. PCUSA is well on that path.
The leadership of the PCUSA does not care about people. But, it does care about money (if, for no other reason, the denomination is running out of funds). This is a classic example. If you think $20,000,000 in property assets isn’t the root cause of Seattle Presbytery’s actions against this church – you’re naïve. The presbyter’s foremost priority should be making every effort to help this congregation remain in tact – even if it is choosing to join another denomination. Alas, $20,000,000 is more important than helping to preserve a church.
@Matthew D Ray: I don’t think the layman has destroyed the PCUSA. Those merit scholars have done a pretty good job without the Layman. The LGBTFQZ crowd is like a jilted lover – if you want to leave they stock you, destroy your stuff and key your car. Total temper tantrum. It is like you can’t take yourselves seriously unless a national organization affirms your BS. The church is the golden prize isn’t it? what happens when there are no longer any churches to affirm you because they have gone out of business? who will make you feel good about yourself then?
Mathew D. Ray. Trusts are legal instruments created by state law, not votes of denominational bodies. Trusts are also voluntary and not imposed unilaterally and require the consent of both parties in a case like this. For a trust to exist in this case, there must be produced a recorded vote ofthe trustee of the church to put its property into trust and an amended deed reflecting that at the county court house. Good luck finding any of that in this case.
What I want to know is how long the courts are going to allow the PCUSA to pull this bogus trust clause con job. At some point some church needs to ask for their legal costs plus punitive and exemplary damages against presbyter to serve as an example to the larger PCUSA.