Last weekend (May 3-4) the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) heard a remedial case brought against the Presbytery of New York City (PNYC) concerning details and process related to their Gracious Dismissal Policy (GDP). The complainants filed the case against the Presbytery concerning irregularities in the Gracious Dismissal Policy shortly after it was adopted. The Synod PJC agreed with the complainants and the Presbytery appealed it to the GAPJC.
The Executive Summary is that the GAPJC sustained none of the specifications of error in the SPJC’s decision, the GDP has been rendered null and void, and this decision has given other presbyteries something to think about. The first specification of error dealt with the claim that the PNYC GDP “conferred a unilateral right on a congregation to depart from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” The second was that the GDP “does not give effect to the Trust Clause.” Specifically, PNYC had specified a formula in their GDP for compensation for property and the GAPJC reaffirmed that this must be determined on a case-by-case basis. The third specification of error related to dismissal simply because there were theological differences. The GAPJC said:
It is the nature and weight of theological difference that is critical in a justification for dismissal. The mere presence of theological differences does not preclude coexistence within the PC(U.S.A.).
The fourth specification may be, from my experience, the one with the most implications. It was in regard to a congregation in schism and the GAPJC responded that “It is clear what a presbytery must do when confronted with a property issue… a presbytery is obligated to serve the interests and guard the rights of the ‘true church within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” The final error related to PNYC allowing churches to retain their records.
OK, now let’s drill down into the detail.