Lemonade … from the lemon’s perspective: churches seeking dismissal are about to feel the squeeze

squeezing lemonsThe General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) has struck a blow to presbytery “Gracious Dismissal Policies” because the grace seems to get in the way of denominational vindictiveness and unabashed greed.


At issue is the May 8 ruling of the GAPJC of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Presbytery of New York City v McGee et al. The ecclesiastical court has taken a hard line that is bad news for congregations hoping to retain their property as part of their departure from the PCUSA.


The bottom line of the court’s ruling is that a presbytery’s dismissal policy cannot follow a formula that guarantees dismissal even if all the terms of the presbytery’s own policy are met. Presbytery has the right to make the final decision on dismissal in each particular case and cannot defer to a policy or formula. This means that even if a church jumps through all the proverbial hoops of a presbytery’s protracted and burdensome dismissal policy, there can be no assurance in advance that they will be dismissed.


The GAPJC also did not like the Presbytery of New York City’s approval of a financial settlement formula to be used in all cases. Each financial settlement must be determined independent of all other settlements with other congregations and on the merits of the particular church seeking dismissal. The NYC policy had a cap on the financial settlement of $2 million. The GAPJC apparently saw that as insufficient and ruled that no cap could exist as a matter of policy.


So, if they can get more juice out of the lemon by squeezing it harder, then by all means, says the GAPJC, put the squeeze on.


The GAPJC also rejected the legitimacy of “perceived theological differences” as a basis for a congregation’s departure. Why? Because in an inclusive church, like the PCUSA, there is not the recognition of actual theological differences, only preferences and perceptions.


Finally there’s the “true church” paragraph which I predict presbyteries will use when working to drive a wedge within the membership of congregations where the elected leadership and a majority of members have discerned God’s will for them to be outside of the PCUSA. The GAPJC decision in what will likely become known as “McGee” will undoubtedly result in less peace, less purity and certainly less unity in the body of believers formerly known as the PCUSA.


The squeeze is on. The GAPJC has basically reaffirmed its position that a congregation which once freely aligned itself with the PCUSA cannot now leave unless presbytery permits them to leave and even then they must pay whatever exit fee the presbytery assesses.


As the squeeze tightens we can expect more individuals and congregations to simply walk out the door, down the street, and leave the keys to an empty building devoid of the body that once made it a church.


One pastor observes about the ruling that “For all their talk of tolerance and inclusion, the progressives quickly resort to coercion and threats. It is an enforced inclusion in which no one is free to leave, at least not with their property. They are totalitarian in nature, seeking to impose their ideology on everyone and allowing no dissent.”


For a full legal analysis, see the post by Steve Salyards at his blog, The GA Junkie.


Carmen Fowler LaBerge