29 February 2008


Frederick the Great’s motto, "L'audace, L'audace, Toujour L'audace" (Audacity, Audacity, Always Audacity), has been replaced in the PC(USA) by a new strategy of delay and intimidation. In the hope that congregations will surrender to bureaucratic indifference and the cost of scorched earth legal tactics, a national game plan is slowly being revealed. And under pressure from Louisville, the leadership of the church is collapsing to its earthly master’s will.

The most recent evidence of such a strategy is found in a “Property Policy” proposed for adoption by the Presbytery of South Louisiana (“PSL”). The strategy is based on the determination by an Administrative Review Committee of the Synod of the Sun that the only connectional element still left in the PC(USA) is the coercive tie of property.

In late 2006, PSL had entered into stipulated judgment in the case of a declaratory judgment action styled The First Presbyterian Church of the City of Baton Rouge v. Presbytery of South Louisiana. That stipulated judgment acknowledged that the property of the church “is held and owned for the sole and exclusive benefit of the First Presbyterian Church of the City of Baton Rouge.” The record reflects that prior to executing the stipulated judgment, PSL was represented by counsel who, presumably, had reviewed all of the relevant documents and were well-versed in the property law of the State of Louisiana.

Nonetheless, in January 2007, the Administrative Review Committee reported that by following the advice of counsel and stipulating to a judgment, thus avoiding a costly and unnecessary trial, PSL had “negate[d] the connectional covenant of our Presbyterian (sic) polity.” In spite of the obvious error in that statement, a chastened and submissive PSL has now proposed to adopt the strategy preferred by Louisville in its future response to requests for dismissal from the PC(USA). The key to that strategy is delay, Delay, DELAY!

The Book of Order is silent with respect to procedures applicable to requests from congregations for dismissal from the PC(USA). In fact, the only direction in the Book of Order with respect to dismissal is found in § G-11.0103:

"The Presbytery is responsible for the mission and government of the church throughout its geographic district. It therefore has the responsibility and power

* * * * *
i. To divide, dismiss, or dissolve churches in consultation with their members; . . .."

Nonetheless, with the blessing of Louisville, a number of presbyteries have begun to establish dismissal procedures that are , on their respective faces, unconstitutional because they mandate prerequisites that are counter to explicit provisions of the Book of Order.

The salient features of these procedures are:

1. A multi-part process. For instance, some “procedures” require that the session call a first congregational meeting for the purpose only of discussing the dismissal question. The Presbytery is allowed to appoint a special committee to meet with the congregation at that meeting, the special committee having the privilege of the floor with the right to speak. No type of vote may be taken at that first congregational meeting.

2. Thereafter, the Session may call a special congregational meeting for consideration of dismissal, but the meeting cannot be held sooner than three to six months after the date of the original congregational meeting held for discussion of possible dismissal. Once again, the presence of the Presbytery Committee at the meeting is required and the committee is given privileges of the floor with the right to speak. The presbytery usually sets a mandatory minimum quorum and affirmative vote before it will even consider the request. The most frequent minimums are a quorum of two-thirds to three fourths of active members and similar required super majority of those present and voting.

3. At least one recently proposed procedure, that of the PSL, requires that if the congregation desires to retain its property, the session must notify the presbytery of the results of such a meeting and request a meeting to discuss property. The presbytery then has 120 days to schedule the meeting. The participants on both sides of the meeting are prescribed: for the church, the Clerk of Session and two ruling elders and for the presbytery, the Stated Clerk, the Moderator of Council, and the chair of the COM.

Thereafter, the presbytery representatives will submit a report for consideration at the next meeting of the Council. Council then forwards the request “or a separate recommendation” to presbytery for consideration and action at the next meeting of the presbytery.

From this, it is evident that the presbyteries want look for every opportunity to delay the will of the congregation.

First, the procedures set unconstitutional quora and super-majorities for the congregational meeting. The Book of Order provides a quorum for a congregational meeting of 10 percent of the active members, unless the congregation asks for a lesser percentage, or the congregation adopts a greater quorum. Decisions are made by majority rule (50 percent plus 1). See, §§ G-7.0305 and .0308. But in the procedures forced on congregations by their presbyteries, the presbytery unilaterally and unconstitutionally amends the Book of Order in rder to protect its own interests.

Second, the presbytery interposes delays by requiring multiple meetings and then interposes the Council in a decision-making role.

Third, although the PC(USA)’s own legal manual clearly recognizes that property law is a matter of state law, the PSL procedure makes it highly likely that the negotiations will be kept free of legal arguments, giving the theological bureaucrats the freedom to misstate the import and applicability of Chapter VIII of the Book of Order to block the congregation’s will.

The apparent purpose in all of this is to frustrate the members of the congregation in the hope that they will just throw up their hands in desperation and leave. Additionally, all of this delay gives the presbytery plenty of time to appoint an Administrative Commission, remove the pastor, depose the session, and take over the congregation.

One final unconstitutional practice on the part of some presbyteries, such as Peace River Presbytery in southwest Florida, is to automatically consider the number of members who did not attend a congregational meeting as votes against separation. Thus, when Covenant Presbyterian Church voted overwhelmingly (787-237 or 77%) in favor of dismissal, the general presbyter, Rev. Graham Hart, argued that dismissal would be inappropriate. "While 787 members at Covenant's congregational meeting on Feb. 3, 2008, voted for dismissal, 554 members, by either not voting (317) or voting against dismissal (237), did not express that desire." (Emphasis added.)

The Book of Order does not allow absentee balloting or proxies. Yet, in this one instance, the presbytery assumes that those who had notice of the meeting and elected not to participate must be counted as voting against dismissal. That sounds like a de facto absentee ballot to me.

So, churches who desire to leave the PC(USA) can expect to have the deck stacked against them. Delay and other trickery is the plan of the day.

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