A congregation in Georgia that voted overwhelmingly to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) is being prevented from disaffiliating from the Mainline Protestant denomination, according to one church leader.
Central Presbyterian Church in Athens voted Sunday to leave the PCUSA for a more conservative denomination with the final tally being 159 in favor and 36 opposed.
The PCUSA's Northeast Georgia Presbytery, which Central Presbyterian Church belonged to, does not recognize the validity of the congregational vote, however.
Jeffrey Dorfman, treasurer for Central Presbyterian Church, told The Christian Post that presbytery officials not only "don't care about our vote" but also "did everything in their power (and things far beyond their power) to try to block the vote."
"They are now trying to remove our pastor for allowing a vote on dismissal with property while moderating the congregational meeting we held this past Sunday," asserted Dorfman.
"Thus, I do not expect an easy road in getting presbytery to approve dismissal with our property. We certainly hope to avoid legal action and believe Christians should settle our differences outside of the legal system."
A particular issue regarding Central Presbyterian Church's effort to disaffiliate from PCUSA is the denomination's "trust clause" on church property.
Found in the PCUSA Book of Order G-4.0203, the "trust clause" states: "All property held by or for a particular church … is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)."
The provision notes that this property includes not only for "a particular church" but also "a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) …"
The "trust clause" is connected to a dismissal process often labeled "gracious dismissal," in which a departing congregation must pay a certain sum to its former presbytery to keep its property.
Amounts vary between congregations, due to estimated market value of the church property and percentage of members of said congregation who voted against dismissal.
"By our reading of the PCUSA gracious dismissal policy and guidelines, they should negotiate with us over dismissal with our property," said Dorfman.
"But they are so far insistent that a 'true church' exists in the 36 people who voted to stay and that we will not be allowed to be dismissed with our property."
As part of the vote, a majority of Central Presbyterian Church's congregation sought affiliation with the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a conservative church formed in 2012.
Dorfman told CP that they seek affiliation with ECO because they agree with "a number of features of that denomination."
"First, they ordain women. Second, they essentially have the same theology that PCUSA had 15 to 20 years ago, so we can continue to believe and worship as we have always done. Under ECO, we own our property with no trust clause," explained Dorfman.
"We like that ECO actually defines the essential tenets of our faith, that they are squarely in the mainstream of traditional reformed theology, and that they still believe in studying and following the Bible (as opposed to doing whatever you think is politically correct or might get you a few more members)."
The Christian Post reached out to officials with the Northeast Georgia Presbytery, but they did not return comment by press time.