FAQs: Frequently asked questions
Is our former ‘southern’ church property safe?
The Layman, April 7, 2011
“We’re a former ‘southern’ (PCUS) church that within eight years following reunion voted for the exception in the Book of Order’s Section G-8.0701 that exempts a former PCUS church from the denomination’s church property restrictions (G-8.0500). Did that action protect us from the ‘trust’ that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has imposed on local church property (G-8.0200)?”
Denominational lawyers answer that question with a firm and unequivocal “no.”
They argue that the Book of Order’s trust clause (G-8.0200) applies to all local church property, both real and personal, no matter how it is titled. They say that when former southern churches filed for the exception (G-8.0701), they only freed themselves from the requirement that local churches obtain written permission from the presbytery before they buy, sell or mortgage local church property. This freedom, say denominational lawyers, does not exempt local church property from the denomination’s asserted trust.
The Carrollton Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, La. challenged that interpretation in trial court and won. When granting a preliminary injunction favoring Carrollton, the trial court said, “[T]he unfettered right to dispose of all of one’s property is mutually exclusive of any right by a third party to dictate the disposition of that same property … Carrollton’s timely, properly noticed decision to avail itself of Section 6-8 precludes enforcement of the asserted trust under any reasonable interpretation of the denomination’s own governing documents.”
Carrollton later won a Permanent Injunction and Declaratory Judgment. The Presbytery of South Louisiana has said that it will appeal the trial court’s ruling.
It should be noted that property law is state law and that various states have shown that they are not of one mind regarding the validity of the “trust” that the PCUSA has imposed on its local churches or, if the trust is deemed valid, the legal effect that adopting the exception (G-8.0701) may have on the trust.
For a full exposition of issues related to this subject see A Guide to Church Property Law: Theological, Constitutional and Practical Considerations, Second Edition, Reformation Press, 2010. Paperback $24.95, Hardback $29.95, Check Amazon.com for e-book price.