Monday Morning Quarterback

Monday Morning Quarterback, Presbytery Edition

Last night, at a called meeting, the Presbytery of San Gabriel adopted a Gracious Dismissal policy. This policy lays out the process that will be followed if one of our member churches ever seeks dismissal to another Reformed denomination. It was drafted at the urging of the 218th General Assembly that presbyteries create such policies in order to demonstrate how they will exercise their constitutional responsibility to “divide, dismiss, or dissolve congregations in consultation with their members.”

A few bullet points about the policy we adopted:

  • It’s a theological document. It sees gracious witness in times of conflict as a missional imperative for congregations and presbyteries alike.
  • It dislikes litigation. The process described seeks to avoid lawsuits over church property and expresses a commitment on the part of the presbytery to not react punitively towards churches seeking dismissal from the denomination
  • It’s a process. When a church seeks dismissal, a presbytery team is assembled to meet with the leadership and the congregation and first seek reconciliation; the congregation elects a special committee to negotiate terms of dismissal with that team, attending to all relevant property issues; those negotiated terms are presented to the congregation at a called meeting for a vote; a 75% or greater vote on the part of the congregation is “validated” by a vote of the presbytery at a stated meeting.

There were several amendments proposed to the policy, all of which made it better in my view and most of which were defeated. An amendment was proposed to strike a clause citing I Corinthians 6:1-11, as in, when churches take each other to court they “violate” said scripture. It was defeated. A subsequent amendment was proposed to truncate the last three verses of that citation, leaving off references to the “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers” who won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. It was defeated. An amendment was proposed to add a paragraph guaranteeing a forum for a loyalist minority of whatever size to press its claim to the presbytery that it has the resources and vision to soldier on as a PC(USA) congregation. It was defeated.

Arguments against the policy seemed to be based on an a priori opposition to congregations leaving the PC (USA). I too oppose such situations, but my experience has been that when congregations and their leaders get up a head of steam to do that, it’s much better to have some process in place for the presbytery to respond than to have nothing at all. Whether it’s an Administrative Commission or a non-litigation policy, you’d better have something, because the orchestrations of dismissal typically plunge presbyteries into unchartered waters where the lack of a navigation plan can cause great harm.

I voted for this policy. There are things about it I don’t like, but I think that, for where we are, it’s a serviceable document. I can live with it because, for all of its aversion towards litigation, it does not restrict the right of the presbytery to seek that in a particular case if it deems it necessary.

Thanks to those who worked hard on it, and pray, God, we don’t actually have to use it.



4 thoughts on “Monday Morning Quarterback, Presbytery Edition

  1. Scott says:

    We have document like this in our Presbytery, and I have found it extremely helpful while dealing with a conflicted congregation even though I don’t agree with the idea of leaving. When we drafted and approved it, there was that fine line between actually acknowledging that these issue exists and “condoning behavior through the existence of policy.” For what it is worth, the past few years in our Presbytery have seen the policy work primarily for education/communication purposes…and I have yet to hear anyone say, “Well, if we’ve got a policy, that means we can leave.”

    I understand the hesitance. But, at the same time, not addressing something that already exists just makes those who feel strongly feel ignored and shuts the door for better communication in the future. Better to communicate expectations and plans. This is all to say: it’s hard work, but I think it will help you all in the long run.

  2. I don’t object to having a policy per se (even though I don’t see the idea of “gracious separation” or “gracious dismissal” anywhere in scripture).

    However, I have problems with how this policy was put in place here as well as some problems with the document itself (many of which you described already).

    It’s wrong for a task force of only four people to develop something this important. I particularly think that it’s wrong for the two ruling elders to be members of any one congregation as these two were, and even moreso for them to be members of a congregation that’s made it clear that they have no desire to remain within this presbytery whether they leave the PC(USA) or not.

    Our process was poor. We’ve only had it available to us for around 30 days. We had a pro forma first reading, then a pre-presbytery held in a sanctuary with horrible acoustics and limited microphones so that it was hard to hear the Q&As following the presentation itself. Then we had the meeting at which we voted on the policy — a called meeting, which almost always means a smaller-than-average turnout.

    Finally, the committee moderator shared with us that our policy as drafted was based on that of two other presbyteries. What we weren’t told is that the first of those has had significant problems since they adopted it. One church has left, resulting in charges being filed at the PJC. That presbytery is now working on the second revision of the policy since it was first voted in around one year ago. We weren’t told that our policy seems to be built on “sifting sand.”

    As I said at the meeting, I don’t know what the answer is. I just don’t think that this is it — either in the words themselves or in the way that we’ve put them into place. We merely did something deemed necessary. In doing so, we continued our system of winners-and-losers rather than figuring out how to be the church.

  3. Sonnie,

    I think your concerns about the composition of the task force are fair. It was a sort of COM sub-group that had been working on some other stuff and then found itself handling this.

    However, this policy was published by the group back in July, after a “first public reading” at the presbytery meeting that month. So for over two months people had a chance to get familiar with it and offer feedback.

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