Breakaway Calif. Megachurch Wins in PCUSA Court Ruling

A Presbyterian Church (USA) court has ruled in favor of a breakaway California congregation in a case over whether or not it had to monetarily compensate its former presbytery.

Community Presbyterian Church of Danville, which decided to leave PC(USA) in 2010, will not have to pay the San Francisco Presbytery for the property it took with it when it voted to leave the denomination over theological differences.

The Synod of the Pacific Permanent Judicial Commission decided on Monday to uphold the "Gracious Dismissal" policy in the case of Community Presbyterian.

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"[T]he November 9, 2010 action of the Presbytery to dismiss the CPC Danville pursuant to the Terms of Dismissal is upheld," reads the decision.

Last week Permanent Judicial Commission heard the arguments by three members of the San Francisco Presbytery who claimed that Community Presbyterian Church did not properly leave Presbyterian Church (USA).

They argued that Community Presbyterian should have had to monetarily compensate its former presbytery for the property it took with it when the church voted to leave PC(USA). Community Presbyterian and the San Francisco Presbytery argued over whether the policy of "gracious dismissal" was applicable in this case.

In its nine page decision, the PJC frequently stated that the complainants "did not meet their burden of proof." The PJC did, however, note that the "Gracious Dismissal Policy" Community Presbyterian used was presently "suspended" and that "efforts are underway to revise the policy and this Commission encourages the completion of that work."

An important note for future cases pertaining to disputes over church property ownership and compensation is that the PJC's decision would not be used as a precedent.

"This Commission further notes that any succeeding case will be decided on its own facts and the decisions of the SPJC are not binding precedent," reads the PJC's decision.

With an estimated 2,000 regular attendance, Community Presbyterian is one of many Presbyterian congregations that have decided to leave PC (USA) over the past couple of years due to the denomination's growing acceptance of homosexuality among its clergy and leaders.

In 2010, the 219th General Assembly of Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to allow its presbyteries to approve non-celibate homosexuals for clergy and lay leader positions. Earlier this month PC(USA)'s Board of Pensions decided to expand domestic benefits to same-sex couples.

Many of the breakaway congregations have joined more conservative Presbyterian groups like the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which Community Presbyterian decided to join.

Neither Community Presbyterian Church nor the San Francisco Presbytery responded by press time.

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