This year, at the Presbyterian General Assembly, LGBTQ people & allies of the upcoming generation will claim their birthright at members of a just & inclusive church.

27 June 2008

Presbyterians Seek Alternatives to Litigation Against Departing Congregations

Presbyterians Seek Alternatives to Litigation Against Departing Congregations

SAN JOSE—The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) voted 519-157 to ask individual congregations and regional governing committees (presbyteries) to develop processes which allow congregations to depart the denomination without resorting to costly litigation.

Previous church policy has held that individual church buildings and property belong to the Presbytery in their geographic location rather than the congregation; and that a congregation wishing to dissolve their relationship with the denomination would lose their property in the process. According to speakers on the floor, 39 lawsuits have been filed by presbyteries and the national denomination against congregations seeking to leave the church body.

This issue has generated particular interest given the deliberation of the PCUSA over full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons in the life of the church, especially in recognizing same-gender marriages and ordination. Fear of congregations leaving the denomination has been a frequent concern expressed by those opposing full inclusion, and those favoring inclusion believe this is a significant reason full inclusion has not yet been affirmed by the denomination.

Speakers in favor of today’s action noted the burdensome cost of pursuing litigation and the barrier to open communication and pastoral care that often occurs with litigation. They also noted that such litigation is also “deadly to the cause of Christ,” and causes harm to relationships.
The action states, “the presbytery’s pastoral responsibility… must not be submerged beneath other responsibilities,” and that “it is our belief that Scripture and the Holy Spirit require a gracious witness from us rather than a harsh legalism.”

The Reverend Robert Austell, Presbytery of Charlotte, and Elder Archie Smith, Presbytery of San Joaquin, offered the following hope in their written rationale for the move:
“This could result in a final picture, not of two embittered enemies in court, but in mutual blessing and partnership in the midst of the sadness of parting. We envision presbytery leadership and local church leadership working together to bless and make way for a majority group and to take great care to relocate and shepherd a minority group. This could be the last great joint mission effort of two parts of Christ’s body who are focusing on different mission fields.”

Full text of the action may be found at:

Further information may be found by visiting:

New Church (R)evolution is the young adult program of That All May Freely Serve, which seeks full inclusion of all members of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).

June 27, 2008
By Le Anne Clausen

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