Wednesday, September 23, 2009

News That Has a Familiar Ring

Today I was reading about the Vietnamese government declaring that "all properties in Vietnam belong to the country and the government." Anything the Vatican previously owned that has been confiscated by the decree of the government of Vietnam ostensibly belongs to that government.

The Prime Minister is attributed as saying that "all the property claims [by the Roman Catholic Church against the government of Vietnam] have to be carried out according to the law" and "the property claims of the Vatican go against the Vietnamese constitution and the law." Thus by legal decree, the property of the churches has been unilaterally confiscated from the congregations and made the property of the state.

We in religiously free states believe that such confiscation of religious property is an outrage, a miscarrige of justice, a greedy grab by the powerful from the powerless.

But the funny thing is, this situation in Vietnam sounds so altogether familiar to Presbyterians! The declaration and the arguments sound like something we've heard within our denomination.

By a decree of the denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) claims to own all congregational properties. Each congregation--which purchased the property, built the buildings, pays for maintenance and upkeep, and pays the utility bills--did not assent to the property grab by the denomination. Each congregation did not begin any legal action to place its property in denominational control, while maintaining all the costs and liabilities locally. Like the Catholic Church in Vietnam, each congregation had this situation imposed on it by a higher authority with all the apparent power and none of the right to do so.

It ain't fair in Vietnam. And it ain't fair in our country either. Someone else cannot just declare one's property to belong to another authority altogether.

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