UCC Fights Back Against Conservative ‘Steeplejacking’

Okay, no, this stuff doesn’t really make me happy:

The Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ has sued a Milwaukee congregation, challenging its vote to leave the denomination and demanding that its building and property be turned over to the conference if that vote is upheld.

The lawsuit, filed in March against Faith Church at 4240 N. 78th St., is the culmination of a three-year battle over the future of a small and aging city congregation.

Many blame the new pastor, saying he altered Faith’s bylaws; stacked its church council with supporters; and alienated or ejected, sometimes physically, dozens of longtime members.

Full disclosure: I just stepped down from the Administrative Team of the Southeast Association of the Wisconsin Conference, United Church of Christ. We’re not the state group suing the city congregation, but the middle judicatory, i.e., the layer of church bureaucracy between state and local levels. I’ve met the pastor of the congregation being sued, and served on the board with a couple of the parishioners he dismissed from membership.

I’m of the opinion that it’s a loss at best when church matters have to be dragged into civil courts. It would be much better if such things could be handled internally. But it is an unfortunate reality that churches sometimes do need the courts, and somebody needs to stick up for church members unfairly evicted from their own congregation.

So this is the part that makes me happy: instead of taking this departure lying down, the Wisconsin Conference is fighting back. There’s a long history of conservative groups trying to “steeplejack” mainline congregations. I don’t know if Faith Church’s departure was related to that movement or not; what I do know is that pastors who lead their congregations out of their denominations wind up doing tremendous damage. I am happy that somebody is trying to put a stop to it.