MICHAEL GRYBOSKI of The Christian Post reports:
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is continuing its legal battle against a Pennsylvania megachurch that voted overwhelmingly to leave the Mainline denomination over theological differences.
Last month, First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem voted to leave PC(USA) for the more conservative Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.
FPC Bethlehem held the vote amidst legal action between it and the PC(USA) Presbytery of Lehigh over the congregation’s alleged refusal to respect the proper process for seeking dismissal from the denomination.
Jackson Eaton, an Allentown-based attorney representing Lehigh Presbytery, told The Christian Post on Monday that they do not recognize the vote as valid.
“The position of the Lehigh Presbytery is that the actions taken to separate First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem from the PC(USA) and to affiliate with ECO are invalid and ineffective,” said Eaton.
“The validity of the actions taken in the name of First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem will be determined by the court in a trial scheduled for this October.”
I am no fan of the prevailing theology of the PC(USA) and have recently made the decision to disaffiliate from the denomination. So, I’m very sympathetic to the churches that have decided to leave. I understand fully the connection to property that many of these departing churches have, and in the past have found myself outraged that the denomination will not simply sign over their property, wish them well, and send them on their way. But if that is not the case, and there is a “monetary” separation where large amounts of money must being paid to the presbyteries, then why not just walk out and leave the physical structures? Give them the empty buildings, and start over with your monetary storehouse in tact. Will God forsake such radical obedience? Definitely not, but He may not provide the same types of structures, or infrastructure that was left.
Eric – what do you mean by “start over with your monetary storehouse in tact (sic)” – are you advocating the faction who wants to move to ECO take money from the PCUSA congregation and go start an ECO congregation at a new site? Or are you just saying leave the PCUSA congregation without taking the building and assets and just start an ECO congregation from scratch. Big difference between these two – the first on is theft…
It is invalid in regard to the process for churches in a schism – the fundamental issue here is can a congregation just hold a “vote” and leave the denomination. The answer according to both the BOO and most likely the Presbytery dismissal policy is NO. The council that constitutes and dismisses/closes congregation is the Presbytery. In regard to property trust law in this state, we will see what happens. Sad fact is the leaders of the congregation choose a combative stance in this congregation that is clearly in schism, there is enough support to maintain a PCUSA congregation here and the Presbytery would like to do that.
I am advocating that the 76% who voted to leave be able to take their share of the resources and walk…whatever those resources are. Or, if they are unable to take a portion of what they have contributed over the years, then just walk away. That many people shouldn’t have too difficult of a time raising some operating funds. If it’s worth a break for conscience sake, then it’s worth just walking away – even empty handed. Too much fighting about material possessions.
You said: “The answer according to both the BOO and most likely the Presbytery dismissal policy is NO.”
You’re right on the first, but wrong on the second. Most dismissal policies, and this one does too, require a congregational vote on whether to leave.
In this case, the presbytery used a ‘straw poll’ to determine that there wasn’t the 75% vote required to leave the PC(USA). However, that poll violated their own policy, the Book of Order, and Robert’s Rules of Order.
The policy states that there will be a congregational VOTE, a straw poll does not count according to RRO.
The Book of Order states what membership is, and only active members can VOTE. You really can’t verify who you’re talking to on the phone, nor can they be verified against the actual church register, since it was not used by the third-party polling company, nor was it verified by the Clerk of Session for accuracy.
Robert’s Rules of Order states that any vote must be done in person, and normally such a vote (which would include amending the local church’s bylaws, and state corporation filings) requires verification of active membership.
Considering that the Presbytery contributed nothing to the building, or the assets of the congregation, there is no theft except the extortion of ransom by the Presbytery.
Your post, P Jenkins, calls to my mind the slavery laws of the antebellum South. Most southern states passed laws back in the 1800s about how, when and where slaves could be freed by their masters. These laws, rules and regulations were written by the masters, of course, and were designed to be so difficult to implement that few slaves were ever able to achieve their freedom by recourse to them. These laws were designed from the get-go to prevent their emancipation, not to facilitate it.
In the same way, the PCUSA has passed laws, rules and regulations that serve the very same purpose in regard to particular congregations. So much so that, just as many slaves “stole themselves from their masters” and headed north back before the Civil War, local churches today (especially those who have been unable to “buy themselves from their masters” as Frederic Douglass did) are stealing themselves from their ecclesiastical masters as the only viable option available to them. It is a simple question of human freedom, and of those who make up rules that enable them to bind and enslave others against their will.
You are on the side of the slave owners, P Jenkins, and you need to rethink your position.
It appears that there are PCUSA service(s) and ECO services being held in this same location. Does anyone know how those two categories compare in terms of attendance and in terms of giving? Seems that would be indicative of what the level of commitment and functional viability is for each side.
Eric and RC –> The Congregation is the Presbytery and the Presbytery is the congregations – fact is you want a congregationalist form of government for local property and a Connectional/Presbyterian form for all other matters. This is typical watered down form of gov the ECO/EPC. Not very committed and always ready to leave and take your toys when others disagree with your pet political views..
Wow – you are struggling here – The “rules” were adopted in a valid Presbyterian manner and all parties agreed to play by the rules (many left under Article 13 who chose not to). If you want to leave now, that is fine – but if the Presbytery wants to support a congregation staying PCUSA in a schism, stop your crying and move on…
RC – as you know the Presbytery here invoked G-4.0207 and the Presbytery can use any means it wants to determine if there is a faction in the congregation who can support maintaining a PCUSA congregation. They can use a straw poll and did, dismissal policies never supersede G-4.0207, because its too easy for manipulation and coercion by leaders to take place in these types of schisms or splits. Sorry you think your vote is the law here, but its not. Presbytery has a obligation to maintain the congregation if they determine a valid presence can be maintained.
We would hope that the overarching theme would be grace and not adherence to the letter of the ‘law’ or rules. Grace would be the basis for eventual reconciliation. The less grace displayed by all the more likely acrimony and resentment will last for a long long time.
Much of this discussion is truly speculative. I asked above what is attendance and giving like for the two factions. In actual practice what is the breadth and depth of the support for the two positions? I’m not sure anyone posting here has any idea. I know little about FPC Bethlehem but it appears to be a substantial property which requires substantial resources to maintain and support. A small group may struggle to do so.
P Jenkins, “valid Presbyterian manner” is like saying “life giving abortion”. Cry me a river. No such thing as a good deal with bad people.
P Jenkins – you nailed the PCUSA perfectly! You summed up their entire existence with your last sentence! Read it, and re-read it. Then read it again! Thank you for pointing out the fact that people want to leave the PCUSA because they disagree with the politics! I want to let you in on a little secret. The PCUSA is shrinking, and the PCUSA will die. The reason being because of politics. Not because of political views, P Jenkins…but because of the infiltration of worldly politics. People want to hear about Jesus, not Obama, not wall street, not immigration, not abortion, not black lives matter, not gun control, not collective bargaining, not anti-Israel or boycotting companies. P Jenkins, they want to hear about Jesus. You hear what I’m saying? Better yet, can we hear what HE is saying whenever people cry about how people want to leave because they disagree with politics. Your obsession with the PCUSA political machine also includes a front row ticket to its demise.