In the last month, our Region has become aware of congregations who called non-Disciples pastors who have unfortunately taken steps to lead the long time Disciples congregation out of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). This is not a new phenomenon. It happens in many of our Regions and not just with Disciples of Christ congregations. To help us be aware and to help Regions navigate these moments, Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer published Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion, Brooklyn, NY: Ig Publishing, 2007. This book outlines the history of steeplejacking, eye-opening examples of takeovers. Two of the most common ways this happens come from (a) families who have been long time members of the congregation who become a part of a conspiracy to destroy their church or (b) by calling a non-Disciples minister.
This is not a time for anyone to panic. However, it is time for all of our 136 Disciples congregations in Oklahoma to do some housekeeping to insure your congregation is as protected from a takeover as it can be.
The most important strategy for congregations and clergy is to be informed and aware of the dynamics steeplejacking movement. Because your Regional staff cannot come to every congregation, we are encouraging you to purchase the book and do a book study with the leadership of the congregation.
A second important strategy is to spend some time reviewing our Disciples Identity and the Design. What does it mean to be Disciples of Christ, how can we renew our Covenant together, and how can we strengthen our connection to our sibling congregations?
A third important strategy is to review the Constitution and Bylaws and the Deed to the church property. Does the Constitution and/or Bylaws have a “reversionary clause”? Does the Deed to the church property have a “reversionary clause”? A Reversionary Clause includes these words: If or when the congregation ceases to be a Disciples of Christ worshiping community, the property and all assets will revert to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Oklahoma. While these are not fail safe protective measures, it does eliminate some vulnerability and will help the congregational leadership and the Region better protect the congregation if and/or when this issue appears in your congregation.
Steeplejacking or takeovers of congregations are painful and hurtful to the soul of the faith community. If we can take some simple steps as outlined above, we will continue to be disciples of Christ together continuing to bring the love of Jesus Christ and the healing and wholeness of Jesus Christ to our communities.