April 04, 2008

That's Not My Church - "The More You Tighten Your Grip, The More Systems Will Slip Through Your Fingers" Division

Wow. Looks like the Rebel Alliance has scored an early victory against the Episcopal Diocese of Virginny:

A Fairfax circuit judge has awarded a favorable judgment to a group of 11 Anglican churches that were taken to court last fall after breaking away from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in late 2006.

In an 83-page opinion released late last night, Judge Randy Bellows ruled that Virginia's Civil War-era “division statute” granting property to departing congregations applies to the Northern Virginia congregations, which are now part of the Nigerian-administered Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

“The court finds that a division has occurred in the diocese,” the judge wrote. “Over 7 percent of the churches in the diocese, 11 percent of its baptized membership and 18 percent of the diocesan average attendance of 32,000 [per Sunday] have left in the past two years.”

The lawsuit, which is the largest property case to date in the history of the Episcopal Church, involves millions of dollars of real estate and assets. With the finding that a division has occurred, the congregations get to keep the property under Virginia law.

Because the diocese and the national Episcopal Church are expected to challenge the constitutionality of Virginia's division statute, the judge has already scheduled arguments for that trial for May 28.

I hesitated about whether to post this at all, given a) that I'm no longer involved and b) that tempers tend to flare 'round here when I post about TEC. In the end I decided to run with it because this is nooz and, if you're interested in this sort of thing, pretty weighty nooz at that.

Curiously, I really don't feel much - what? - passion about the matter anymore. Fifteen months ago, when I was still serving on my church's vestry, I got hauled up and castigated in executive session for daring to speak my thoughts on the Diocese's handling of the breakaway parishes. That was probably the low point of my entire relationship with TEC. But since then, as has been documented ad nausium here, other factors both longstanding and immediate intervened, the result being that I find myself watching this business from an almost academic point of view now. (I use the Star Wars metaphors above simply out of habit.)

Of course, objectively speaking, I still think the Diocese's handling of this matter has been appalling. However, from what I understand, poor old Bishop Lee is receiving his marching orders directly from 815 Central Command in Manhattan and doesn't have much real choice. I sincerely hope that at some point the Episcopalians and Anglicans within Virginia can patch up their grievances with each other and work together for the Greater Good.

Yips! to BabyBlue, who has lots more.

AHEM YIPS from Steve-O:

Frankly, I'm tired of this, and instead of responding by pointing out TARCC's (what, offensive sounding acronyms are only for other people's churches?) record in its, ahem, litigation over the past decade, I'm just going to kiss you both and walk away.

Posted by Robert at April 4, 2008 08:41 AM | TrackBack

I'm following the deposition of Bp. Schofield and the attempts to depose Bp. Duncan and Iker over at Standfirminfaith, myself. It raises all manner of fascinating questions of theology and ecclesiology. Honestly, I feel bad for TEC, because it feels like an episode of CSI where everything is learned only via autopsy, ballistics reports, and DNA analaysis. Interesting if watched from home, not so fun for the guy on the table.

Posted by: The Abbot at April 4, 2008 03:12 PM


There is a difference, which I am sure you see. The Catholic scandal of the bishops in covering up sex abuse did not extend to matters of ecclesiology or theology. It was a simple scandal of moral corruption. No bishop left the church claiming that sex abuse was acceptable from the point of view of Catholic theology or moral teaching. It injured the church, to be sure, but no one was advancing pederasty as an acceptable moral lifestyle; no one was preaching it from the pulpit.

And I do not defend the bishops involved; I myself would see their heads on pikes.

TEC has at its heart a problem of theology -- is Scripture the word of God, or isn't it? Can the clear moral teaching of two thousand years be set aside? Can men marry men and women marry women? These are questions that are causing the communion of the church to shatter.

I am not throwing stones. I truly wish the Anglican church would stick to the theology it defended for the last 450 years, instead of casting it aside. I take no joy in watching it destroy itself, honestly, but that's what it is doing.

And I do not imagine that you take joy in seeing the Catholic church weakened by scandal either, Steve-O. I take no offense when you criticize Rome, because Rome is attacked by everyone, anyway. Stand in line. Rome can take it. :-)

Posted by: The Abbot at April 5, 2008 07:44 AM

As a theologically conservative Anglican (I belong to an REC parish), I'm happy for these churches.

As a matter of litigation strategy, TEC could walk away from this defeat and correctly explain it as a function of Virginia's distinctive statute, meaning that it is not precedential for the property disputes elsewhere. Unhappily, my guess is that 815 will spend yet more of its dwindling resources to continue the fight.

Posted by: ScurvyOaks at April 8, 2008 11:23 AM