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Friday, September 12, 2008

can i get a witness?

I read the report of the court case over Kirk of the Hills church with great sadness. In some ways, the expulsion of this congregation of over 2000 from the building and property saddens and discourages me more than the years of wrangling over ordination issues. When Christian sue Christians there can be no good outcome... only a lose-lose. When the local church wins the property, it's just embarrassing and a black eye on Presbyterians and Christians in general. But in this first prominent case of a presbytery winning the property from such a vital congregation... it is, in my opinion, disastrous.

Who in that community would want to come to the soon-vacant building? Who will buy the property? What will that money be used for? Even if a strict PCUSA understanding of property trust was upheld, something far greater was lost. The witness to Jesus Christ in that community and area, not only for PCUSA Christians, but for all Christians and churches, has been tainted. Does anyone doubt me? I'd pray that I'll be proven wrong. But go into a coffeeshop and ask someone who has read the article in the paper what they think of the Church... of Christians... and then count the cost.

Is there any way out of this? If I could plead with the Presbytery of Eastern Oklahoma, I'd say, "Okay, you've proven the polity case... now, won't you sell them the church back for $1?" That would be a miracle, of course, but I think it will take a greater miracle than that to pull the name of "Christian" back out of the mud for the next generation in Eastern Oklahoma.

For all the rest of the presbyteries watching... there is a better way! And by presbyteries, I mean the pastors and elders that constitute a presbytery. Please, please, whatever right you may claim to property, there are more important things at stake! If you have not considered a pastoral response to churches seeking dismissal, now is the time to wrestle with that gracious alternative to litigation.

11 comments:

Viola said...

Robert,
I agree with you. This is so very sad. I don't really know anything else to say.

Dave Moody said...

Amen brother!

Pastor Bob said...

The great irony here is that if Kirk of the Hills ultimately leaves the property the presbytery will probably sell the property to a more conservative or Pentecostal church! So the presbytery will get the money but a more conservative church will inhabit the property.

Pinky said...

This definitely affects new church development. Who wants to pledge money to build new churches if the presbytery "owns" what is built?

Dr. J said...

I agree, and yet I hear reports from colleagues all around the denomination of exclamations to the tune of, "they can leave, but we get the property!" When we stand before God, will he care one whit about the property? Will he not rather ask us what kind of fruit our ministries bore?

What is preventing us from (as a colleague of mine once suggested) treating the property like a ship that is being transferred from one navy to another? We could send them off with love, grace and blessing and trust that God is still being served. Why are we so bent on a win/lose approach?

May God have mercy on us!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
robert austell said...

I have removed a post by "anonymous" both for not giving a name and for character attack against Tom Gray.

One point raised is worth responding to - that many of the lawsuits between churches and presbyteries have been initiated by churches.

I don't doubt that the lawsuits have been initiated by the churches, given the posture of the denomination and the litigious nature of the guidance given to presbyteries. That's part of the point of 04-28... calling on presbyteries to establish a clear and defined process so that congregations won't think a pre-emptive lawsuit the only option.

I believe that where presbyteries have and are establishing a process, churches are more willing to engage in dialogue and non-litigious solutions.

robert austell said...

Having never received comments that needed moderating, I'm new to this... but it's my blog, so I'm choosing not to publish posts really at my own discretion.

I rejected one that attacked Tom Gray's character and am similarly rejecting one that attributes evil motives to the presbytery. While one can make judgments based on "fruit" - I am concerned with (horrified at!?) the public witness of the whole debacle so especially don't want to add to it by posting name-calling back and forth. (perhaps preaching 2 Timothy 2:24-26 this week is making me particularly sensitive to this).

So - the rejected post highlighted that the presbytery is now asking (offering?) for KOTH to purchase the property and buildings back if they want them. I think that action speaks loudly enough for itself.

jim_l said...

OK, I confess I expressed my feelings and opinions strongly on my rejected post (no bad words used). I apologize for stepping out of bounds and I fully respect your decision.

The point is that the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery is telling Kirk of the Hills that we must either purchase the property and drop the appeal or move out if we want to continue the appeal. I had hoped that we would be able to continue to occupy the property until the appeal was decided by the Oklahoma Supreme Court (1 - 2 yr process?).

robert austell said...

Not a problem, Jim... and I understand the feelings... I tried to include your concern, but I appreciate your clarification of it.

Toby Brown said...

In my mind, the Trust Clause as it is presently interpreted and applied by PCUSA functionaries and bureaucrats is not only unbiblical but it is also destructive, cruel and petty.

I continue to assert that the Trust Clause is the worst polity mistake ever made in our history--for by it God is not glorified and the world looks at us in scorn.

We need a new way to be presbyterian. Badly.

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