Two lawsuits have now been filed against the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) A Corporation – the denomination’s corporate entity – alleging defamation stemming from an ethics inquiry connected to the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program, with one suit filed by Roger Dermody and the other by Eric Hoey, both in state court in Kentucky. Dermody has served as the PC(USA)’s deputy director for mission and Hoey as the denomination’s director of Evangelism and Church Growth.
In response to that, the leadership of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board on June 25 issued a pastoral letter, which states in part that no per capita money (the per member fee collected from congregations) is being used to pay those legal fees.
Marilyn Gamm, the board’s chair, had said during a news conference June 1 that, as of then, the PC(USA) had spent about $850,000 in legal fees to pay for the investigation – and that doesn’t include all the legal costs. Gamm said at the time that the money for the fees was being taken from Presbyterian Mission Program Fund, the PC(USA)’s unrestricted reserve fund.
The June 25 pastoral letter, from Gamm and board vice-chair Jo Stewart, states that “no per capita dollars are being spent for attorney fees or anything related to this case, including the independent investigation. Subject to deductible, the defense of these two suits is being paid by our insurance.”
In late 2014, the board hired a law firm, Alston & Bird, to conduct an independent investigation of the matter. The law firm reported its findings to the board in closed session in April, but the report has not been publicly released.
In response to emailed questions from the Outlook, Gamm wrote that “the investigation in its entirety was paid for in its entirety by PMPF – unrestricted funds,” and that per capita funds don’t go into those reserves. She also wrote that “the suits are covered by our insurance. After satisfying our insurance deductible, 100 percent of the costs of defending ourselves in these defamation suits is covered by our insurance. Meeting the deductible will be paid from PMPF.”
Gamm also wrote that she did not have current figures for how much had been spent so far on legal fees, or how much insurance would pay for and what the deductible would be.
Here is the full text of the pastoral letter:
[God] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. —1 Kings 19:11–12
To the members, congregations, mid councils, and agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
When you called us through the voice of the General Assembly to serve as members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, you charged us to inspire, equip, and connect the PC(USA) in its many expressions to serve Christ in the world through new and existing communities of faith, hope, love, and witness.
In our call is an implicit, mutual understanding that we will be faithful and accountable in carrying out Christ’s mission, including execution of the day-to-day ecclesiastical foundations that support our faith.
We open this letter with the scriptural witness of Elijah’s encounter with God at Horeb to remind ourselves—and to assure you—that silence does not mean inactivity.
Even in the “sound of sheer silence,” God is still at work. As are we.
Although we wish that we could share with you the many ways we are at work in the service of Christ Jesus on behalf of the church in our present circumstances of defending ourselves in two separate defamation suits, we are unable to release any further information at this time except for this one assurance: no per capita dollars are being spent for attorney fees or anything related to this case, including the independent investigation. Subject to deductible, the defense of these two suits is being paid by our insurance.
The service to which this Board has been called is not only a blessing but also a serious responsibility, one that we engage faithfully, honestly, respectfully, and carefully. Often, embracing our calling entails difficult decisions, which we reach prayerfully and through due diligence. With the humility of recognizing our human fallibility, we stand behind our actions, with prayers for God’s grace, and for yours.
We humbly invite your forbearance and your prayers both now and in the coming days, as God’s purpose for the transformation of the world is worked out amid even these challenging times in the life of our beloved church, and as we—through God’s empowering grace—work with and for the One who is with us always, even to the end of the age.
Shalom in Christ Jesus,
Teaching Elder Rev. Marilyn S. Gamm, Chair
Presbyterian Mission Agency Board
Ruling Elder Jo Stewart, Vice Chair
Presbyterian Mission Agency Board