After a two-year legal battle, the congregation that makes up The Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Okla., found out Tuesday that they had lost their fight for the ownership of their church property.
A district judge ruled the property located on a hill overlooking South Tulsa is a part of the holdings of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and its Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery.
The 2,400 member-church had voted to leave the main denomination two years ago over concerns that the denomination was moving away from biblical teachings. The local church has since joined with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The leadership representing Kirk of the Hills went to court in order to keep ownership of their multimillion-dollar building.
Since then, the congregation has continued to hold worship services and use it as a base to provide many community services. Other organizations also use the building during the week.
The attorney for the church said they will appeal the decision. They argued the congregation, not the denomination, paid for the property and is entitled to keep it.
However, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., argued that all property of Presbyterian churches is held in trust by the denomination. They say that because The Kirk of the Hills congregation voted to leave, they were not entitled to the property.
1973 Decision - Hierarchical Deference Jurisdiction
The judge said the case fell under a 35-year-old decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court - which holds that in property disputes involving churches, the state defers to the church's legal system.
The attorney for the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery said the court probably felt bound to go with the state supreme court decision.
"The court affirmed the concept that individuals may leave the church, but they cannot take the church property with them," he said.
"When a local church participates in, prospers from and enjoys the benefits afforded by the parent church, as has been the case here for more than 40 years, it cannot then disclaim affiliation when it disagrees with the parent body," he explained.
Kirk of the Hills co-pastor the Rev. Tom Gray said the congregation will continue to stand firm on the teachings of the Holy Bible and look to the Lord for strength.
"We're disappointed, but certainly we're not undone by this," he said.
"We are hopeful that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will correct this injustice. All we have wanted was to keep the property we purchased and have considered our home for worship, teaching and fellowship these many decades," Gray continued.
Sources: The Christian Post, Tulsa World