Monday, January 19, 2009

When Conservative Churches Leave Liberal Denominations, What About the Property?

We are seeing a time of unprecedented fracturing of denominational churches. Here I am speaking of the mainline denominations-- you know, churches like the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), The United Church of Christ, The Lutheran Church (ELCA), and so on). The common denominator is that these churches are liberal, or maybe it is better to say, have a liberal leadership.

David Kerr, former moderator of a large presbytery in California described the situation this way: Presbyterian conservatives have sat back and "let the denomination be hijacked." There may be some truth to this claim.

Currently, the "hot-button item" is gay marriage and gay ordination. This is certainly right in the case of the Episcopal Church. Back that up? Well, several churches and four dioceses have decided to exit the church. One would think this might be a cause for concern for denominations already in decline to the tune of millions of members.

Kerr estimates that about 20% of Presbyterians favor gay ordination. He goes on to delineate the problem. That 20% occupies the positions of greatest influence and decision making in the denomination. Something seems off kilter.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will agree that the position taken here is left of center. I would hope that gays and straights might dialog and reach some rapprochement. But, the point is (liberal soul though I am), it does appear as if there are some clever shenanigans being pulled. Agencies and ecclesial structures within churches should be representative of the membership.

Which brings us to property. Many denominations, such as the Episcopal Church have vowed (and are actually doing it) to set up legal teams and fight the battle for the church property. To me, this seems to be a poorly conceived strategy of dealing with the problem. The theory is that the money to build denominational churches was given in good faith by folks, some now gone to their reward, that intended to be paying for a church of that denomination.

If that 20% figure is anywhere right for mainliners in general, the "givers of funds" may not have thought they were giving to the denominations as the 20%, more or less, in control envision it. It seems wrong to sue for local church property, and it seems wrong to hold churches hostage to denominational affiliation by threat of property loss. There must be a better way. I don't think that mainline churches can afford much more "bad press"-- just to be practical.

It is a shame that churches are not accepting of folks where they are. But, it may be a bigger shame to find a small group of power brokers hiding behind ecclesiastical trappings.

To read the story of my abandonment of fundamentalism and why I find it intellectually and morally bankrupt, visit my book web site: and read a sample chapter of my book.

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