Presbyterian Church Fights for Its $6M Property in Legal Battle With PCUSA After Split Over Homosexuality

(Photo: courtesy Bonhomme Presbyterian)Bonhomme Presbyterian Church of Chesterfield, Missouri.

A Missouri church that recently voted to leave Presbyterian Church (USA) over the mainline Protestant denomination's stance on homosexuality is facing a legal battle to keep its property, which is estimated to be worth over $6 million.

Bonhomme Presbyterian Church of Chesterfield decided to disaffiliate from its PCUSA regional body, the Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy, last October.

Tom Pfizenmaier, senior pastor of Bonhomme Presbyterian Church, told The Christian Post that the decision was made due to "longstanding theological differences with the denomination."

"The denominational drift away from our biblical, confessional and reformed understanding of Christ's person and work, coupled with the PCUSA's eroding commitment to the inspired authority of Scripture, were the primary reasons for our decision," Pfizenmaier said.

"We see these issues manifested in the moral confusion and compromise the church is making in its teaching on such issues as marriage and the sanctity of life."

Last October, the congregation of Bonhomme voted 722 to 71 in favor of disaffiliating from PCUSA, following a discernment process that lasted over two years.

Since leaving the largest Presbyterian denomination, however, Bonhomme has been the subject of legal action over its church property.

"The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy sued us for all or our property, both real and personal, as well as the Bonhomme Foundation," Pfizenmaier continued.

"[The suit was filed] on Nov. 6, three weeks after the congregational meeting. We are currently in litigation."

At stake is a church property that, according to the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, is valued at approximately $6.05 million, and underwent a $12 million renovation five years ago.

PCUSA argues that they rightfully own the Bonhomme property due to a provision in the denomination's Book of Order known as the "Trust Clause."

According to the PCUSA Book of Order G-4.0203, the trust clause states that "All property held by or for a particular church … is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (USA)."

The trust clause notes that property includes not only for "a particular church" but also "a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (USA) …"

"According to the lawsuit, Bonhomme's bylaws for years were consistent with the denomination's constitution,"  the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch reported. "But in March 2014, Bonhomme amended its bylaws so that the congregation, rather than the presbytery, benefits from the property."

Upon leaving PCUSA, Bonhomme Presbyterian Church opted to join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a small conservative Presbyterian denomination that has grown rapidly since its founding in 2012.