Sunday, December 03, 2006

Note to Church Dissidents: You Can't Seize the Building

First Presbyterian Church of Torrance, California, has been caught in an ugly property dispute, which was finally (I hope) resolved this week. One faction wanted to call a new minister who was under charges in his old presbytery. The loyalists pointed out, reasonably, that the church would be violating church law to call him under those circumstances. Alas, the dissidents wanted to call him anyway. Push came to shove – even during worship – and the two sides locked one another out.

This was the sign that the dissidents had gone over the edge:

The dissident faction proceeded to call the pastor — who during the dispute had renounced the jurisdiction of the PC(USA) — seized the Torrance building and filed suit against the presbyteries and synod to acquire ownership of the property.


This week a civil court ruled that they could not do that. You don't get the property by seizing it – not under civil law, and certainly not under church law.

On the other hand, dissents sometimes get what they want if they make a reasonable offer. Sometimes they don't, of course. And the law is on the side of the loyalists. Still, loyalists, of all people, don't want to divide the church with an ugly fight. Former Moderator Syngman Rhee went to Torrance himself to try to mediate this dispute, and he convinced the loyalist group to let the dissidents hold services in the sanctuary, while the loyalists retired to the fellowship hall, until the matter was settled. Loyalist will normally try to be accommodating.

10 comments:

Quotidian Grace said...

This is a particularly ugly dispute, isn't it? Not that any of them are pretty.

Gruntled said...

Yes -- they seem to have been pushing and shoving in the sanctuary.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm....in the world history classes I teach, we've reached the point where all I have to say is: 1054.

Gruntled said...

A cautionary tale to us all -- a split that shows few signs of mending, though the Pope did try to argue on the Metropolitan's behalf in Turkey last week.

Anonymous said...

In 1776 the Loyalists seemed to hold all the cards. They were not open to reasonable offers by the dissidents. Good thing for all of us that they decided to "sieze the property" anyway.

Gruntled said...

That analogy doesn't work. The church is a voluntary organization; dissidents are always free to go across the street and form another one. States, on the other hand, are involuntary associations, which are either sovereign or non-existent. They can't go across the street and start a competing government that shares sovereignty. That is why they made a war.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that many people are very quick to say to those who are unhappy with the situation in the PCUSA "just leave then...go across the street to church", with little regard for the gut-wrenching pain this would cause for most folks who have built connections over many years in their local church. In some cases these are the folks who actually built the church building!

westonky said...

So, they should make an offer.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I thought Gannett meant two years before Hastings...

I guess that I'm too much of an Anglophile!

Pope to Metropolitan: "Now that we've made up, kiss the ring!" :)

Anonymous said...

I meant 12 before Hastings...1066.

(But maybe the Norman invasion works for the analogy too?)