Sunday, August 05, 2007

PCUSA Legal Documents Revealed: Shows that PCUSA is following same legal strategy as 815 against local churches that vote to separate

Big time tip of the tinfoil to Greg at StandFirm here. Original article is here. This is the same playbook as 815 is following against the Virginia churches. Just this past week, Mayo House, the HQ for the Diocese of Virginia, managed to put together a loyalist faction at one of the Virginia churches (now also the main office for CANA) in Herndon, VA.

Here's an excerpt

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has selectively disseminated two "privileged and confidential" documents by denominational lawyers calling on presbyteries to use draconian measures when claiming local church property.

The tone of the documents is reflected in the words they use to describe the parties: the "true church" – meaning those who submit to the government and decisions of the PCUSA – versus the "schismatics" – meaning those who believe the denomination has abandoned its Biblical and Reformed roots. One recommendation for presbytery representatives is to portray themselves as the aggrieved party embattling the ungodly – "keep the presbytery in a 'defensive' secular legal posture. (Let the schismatics seek Caesar's help.)"

That proposal is interesting in that most litigation in church property disputes is begun by presbyteries filing civil complaints and congregations having to defend themselves.

'Spiritual language'
The documents also suggest that presbyteries use "spiritual language" in staking their claims to local church property.

They call for aggressive administrative and/or legal measures designed to intimidate dissenting congregations from attempting to leave the denomination with the property paid for by their members.

The documents suggest that if the presbytery learns that a congregational majority is inclined to leave the denomination, it should look for a "loyal minority" in the congregation and declare it the "true church" with rights to the property.

If a loyal minority cannot be found, denominational lawyers suggest that the presbytery can simply declare the congregation dissolved and take the property.

Read the rest here. Mind you, this is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States. It is astonishing to see the same legal strategy being used - though how they will be able to maintain that they are also hierarchical like the Roman Catholics is beyond us, much as we still can't fathom how TEC seems to think that it is also Roman Catholic-style hierarchy (wasn't that one of the major points of the Reformation - to not create the Roman Catholic style hierarchy - this was certainly true for the church in Virginia, of which my own family has been part of since John Washington sailed over from England and married Nathaniel Pope's daughter, Anne in 1658, and, oh, but nevermind). Looks like not only do we have Ridley and Latimer spinning away, but now we have Knox and Calvin too. Wonder how the Methodists and Lutherans are doing?

There are moments when we wonder if there is something more going on, where these parishes and churches are seeking to remain grounded on the faith of their founders and not hoodwinked into capitulating to the latest cultural fad and fancy - which, when we go a bit deeper, turns out to be not so new after all, but very very old (someone get Mr. Arius on the phone). We find, for example through the Alpha Course, that these voting churches are closer kin than we are with our own denominations. Only last weekend we went to a wedding in Prince George's County, Maryland where the Baptist minister used the Book of Common Prayer marriage liturgy to perform the wedding. And it was Jesus-centered Gospel preaching wedding of "amens" and "that's right" and we felt right at home.

The same thing happens as Anglicans abroad. We find we are more "at home" in churches in Africa and Asia and Australia and in parts of the UK, then we are here in the States. What's up with that? And yet the denominational leaders, in freefall, turn to the courts and legal strategies to keep their power, their "deathly hallows."

Here's more - and doesn't this look very familiar:

Among the recommendations
Quotation marks indicate verbatim statements that are used in PCUSA arguments.
  • Lawsuits against dissenting congregations should pejoratively identify them as schismatics, even in the titles of the complaints. One document gave this suggested example of a complaint title: "Presbytery of Middle Wyoming v. The Schismatic and Purported Covenant Presbyterian Church of Landsburgh."
  • Take steps to secure local church property by filing affidavits in public court "for the purpose of warning all persons the title to the real property is in dispute." "Moreover, send a letter to all banks and other institutions that hold accounts for the particular church." That letter would claim the presbytery has jurisdiction over the church; inform bankers and other institutions about the denomination's property trust clause; and direct them to release no assets or change their title pending notice from the presbytery.
  • "Put the presbytery's and the local church's insurance companies on notice." The purpose is to prevent the dissenting congregation from using its insurance coverage to pay attorneys' fees in a property dispute.
  • When necessary, change the locks and "secure" the property.
  • Try to get the case before a judge whose religious affiliation (specifically, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist and Roman Catholic) would make him sympathetic to the property claims of hierarchical denominations. "For a judge from an Episcopal system (Catholic and Episcopalian), it is very helpful to say, 'The presbytery is the bishop.'" The recommendation warns against going before a Baptist judge.
  • Keep the original church name and corporation within the PCUSA to ensure that the local congregation's endowments and future estates will be secure.
  • "If case law is favorable to your presbytery, file a motion for summary judgment as soon as practicable. It is not helpful to allow the schismatics to develop a record."
Make sure to read the entire article. It does make for interesting - and very familiar - reading. Question: The Presbyterians are asserting that they are now hierarchical - which is absurd. Why is it we went through that whole business of the Reformation only to all want to be Roman Catholics now? No wonder the new pope looks happy. Perhaps all that Reformation business was much ado about nothing after all. Guess we'll leave it to the U.S. Courts to decide if the Reformation was real or if is memorex.


Anonymous said...

It is astonishing to see the same legal strategy being used - though how [PCUSA] will be able to maintain that they are also hierarchical like the Roman Catholics is beyond us.

You've never actually read Norfolk Presbytery v. Bollinger, have you? I keep telling you people to read past Virginia Supreme Court precedents in this current lawsuit—maybe you would know these things if you did a little research!

BabyBlue said...

Virginia has never adopted the implied trust doctrine to resolve church property disputes.

And yes, I've read Norfolk Presbytery v. Bollinger. We see why TEC has suddenly decided it is hierarchical (when it's spent most of its existence explaining that it is not Roman Catholic and in Virginia there is actually a prejudice against Roman Catholics which Bishop Lee has used in his rhetorical comments against "foreign prelates" most ironically, since he's trying to assert that he embraces prelates, just not foreign ones). What is happening is that TEC and the Diocese of Virginia are throwing caution to the wind, establishing that this is a top-down Collective with fierce bishops wielding power over their serfs and that the laity have nothing to say about it, not even democratic principles of voting can stand against the power of the Borg, I mean the Bishops to retain their power.

Do they honestly think the Episcopal Church will ever grow again? Why would any layperson in their right mind invest in such an enterprise, knowing that there is no accountability over the bishops? That is why the Primates have turned to the Episcopal House of Bishops to affirm or deny Dar Es Salaam. If the Bishops are incapable of limiting their own authority then the Episcopal Church has become what it was designed not to be.

The Virginia parishes created the diocese, not the other way around. We are not top/down - and it almost hilarious to see the Presbyterians make the same assertion (the Presbyterians!!!) in order to conform to one interpretation of the law. But if they are successful in making this stand, it spells doom for any denomination.

No lay person wants to join a cult, no matter how nice the buildings look. And that is what TEC is bent on becoming. The "Capital C" in Bishop Lee's statement said more than perhaps he ever imagined. But he wrote that not the for the clergy, some who have been his friends for over twenty years, but for the Court.

A very sad sad thing.


Jeff H said...


Just FYI, these PCUSA property docs have been out since last August. I think this is one of those "rediscoveries."