Wednesday, March 12, 2014

You don't get to take the silverware when you leave

The ownership of church buildings is an interesting (and apparently contentious) thing.

Starting about a decade ago, various Anglican congregations in the United States and Canada began unilaterally declaring themselves no longer members of the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada as the case may be. Instead they claimed that they were now affiliated with an assortment of conservative Global South Anglican Provinces whose Primates agreed with them about homosexuality. These departing congregations attempted to retain the property they had held as constituent parishes of the two de jure Anglican Provinces. Coverage of the decision can be found here, here and here.

There may be some of the resultant court cases working their way through the system in either Canada or the United States, but this week saw one of the biggest cases draw to what was always its inevitable conclusion. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear any appeal of a Virginia Supreme Court ruling that the Episcopal Church congregation was the rightful owner of the Falls Church in Virginia, and that the so-called Falls Church Anglican congregation had to return all the property and all the money.

This is a complete repudiation of the declared strategy of schism advanced by certain ecclesiastical politicians and financed in no small part by right wing extremist groups in the US.

I'm a bit of a geographical fundamentalist. I don't think central California is in the southern part of South America. I don't think any part of Virginia is in Nigeria. I am absolutely convinced that no part of Chicago is to be found in Rwanda. The phony-baloney "protection" argument offered up by certain Global South Primates is rooted in the same peculiar heresy that undergirds the absurd Flying Bishops in England: that each and every Anglican is absolutely entitled to a bishop who agrees with them. Odd that neither Mr. Keble nor Mr. Neale, nor even Mr. Pusey were aware of this entitlement.

But more to the point, Anglican polity is not and has never been congregational. The idea that a congregation may separate from an Anglican Church utterly contradicts any authentic Anglican ecclesiology. That may be perfectly fine among Baptists or Methodists. But had the courts ruled any other way, it would have been an undeniable attack on religious liberty, with the state attempting to force an heirarchical religious body to conform to a congregational polity.

The strategy did not achieve its initial objective of wresting massive amounts of property from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. This precluded it achieving its secondary objective of using the shift in property as a pretext to "replace" the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as the Anglican Communion "franchise holders" in North America - which in turn was to be the pretext to sue for all the remaining TEC / ACoC property.

But the plan did achieve its overarching goal of weakening the Episcopal Church (the Canadian Church was less a target than a guilty but cash poor bystander, really). Massive amounts of money, time and energy were expended defending the two legitimate churches from these attacks.

This week's news is good, but the past decade of expensive and ultimately pointless litigation is a tragedy for which someone will eventually have to answer - at the very least in their hearts if not at the Throne of Grace.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, SMP. Here in the states, the irony is that those who have left - either physically or spiritually/psychologically - are the same ones who keep screaming to know, to the penny, how much the litigation has cost. Whether or not they have the facts before them, they still 'tut-tut' and gasp about the amounts they imagine it has cost TEC. The irony, of course, is that THEY are the reason for the legal costs - because they wanted to take not only the silverware, but the very property with them when they "left for Africa" (as I've heard some of the good folks in VA say). It's all a disgrace, which history will record. In the meantime, we shoulder on, going about the business of being the Anglican Communion. Thanks again for this very good post.

Paul Bagshaw said...

Although it was always said of the C19 Puseyites that they had a very high regard for bishops so long as the bishop agreed with them.

Which, on reflection, could well be the source of the pick-your-own bishop in Anglicanism.

Malcolm+ said...

I'd heard it expressed that they had a high view of episcopacy ... but they didn't think much of bishops.