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.