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In what is becoming a pattern across the country the Presbyterian Church (USA)–acting in and through its presbyteries, often pressured by Synod officials–is increasingly opting to hold congregations hostage rather than permit them to even consider affiliating with another denomination.

The latest instance of this is in Athens, GA where Central Presbyterian Church was informed by its presbytery that despite offering a substantial financial settlement, that governing body would not permit it to even consider departure.

As a result, the congregation was forced–as so many others have been–to defend its rights in the civil courts. Again, from first hand experience, I can tell you that there is not a sane person in the world who wants to litigate. It is always that the avenue of last resort. And it is only done when the alternatives have been exhausted.

The real question is: what is driving these actions by the Presbyterian Church USA? Why would a voluntary association wish to compel churches to remain that no longer wish to associate with it? The question is even more perplexing in the face of a proposed settlement (as in the instant case) that is more than generous to the denomination.

The answer, in many cases, falls somewhere between radical incompetence and belligerent ignorance. 

My observation is that when it acts through its courts, especially in these sorts of disputes, the Presbyterian Church USA has ceased to be a discernibly Christian body.

Personal grudges surface.

Insecurity percolates beneath the public shows of confidence.

The decisions of presbyteries and synods are, in my experience, reactionary, rooted in expediency, and designed to rally the troops around a failing institution.

In short, its Chicago politics–nasty and brutish.

The glory has departed.