Washington Times: In Virginia Episcopalians want law voided, property back

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A Civil War-era law being used to allow a group of conservative Episcopalians to desert the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia with millions of dollars worth of property is on trial today at the Fairfax County courthouse.

Attorneys for the diocese and the national Episcopal Church, along with representatives of other mainline denominations, will argue that Virginia's 1867 "division statute" is unconstitutional.

The statute was enacted to allow congregations that dissented with their denominations over slavery and secession to leave with their property. It is being contested by the diocese and the national Episcopal Church. Protestant denominations such as Methodist, Lutheran, African Methodist Episcopal, Worldwide Church of God, Presbyterian and Church of the Brethren have filed friend-of-the-court briefs.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC ConflictsTEC Conflicts: Virginia* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal Issues

Posted May 28, 2008 at 9:33 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Knapsack wrote:

This is the Washington *Times*?  “Civil War-era” “conservative” and “deserted” all had me thinking this was the Washington Post—that’ll teach me to assume . . .

May 28, 10:15 pm | [comment link]
2. palagious wrote:

Religious beat-writers are like the proverbial “box of chocolates”...

May 28, 10:43 pm | [comment link]
3. GSP98 wrote:

Knapsack-my thoughts as well.

May 28, 10:44 pm | [comment link]
4. David Fischler wrote:

Julia Duin is an excellent religion reporter who has done a very good job on the Virginia Anglicans case. The terms highlighted in #1 all strike me as accurate (the law was passed in the 1860s, the Episcopalians in question are conservatives, and they are seeking to desert a sinking ship). What exactly is the problem.

May 28, 10:50 pm | [comment link]
5. David Fischler wrote:

That last sentence should be “What exactly is the problem?”

May 28, 10:50 pm | [comment link]
6. Irenaeus wrote:

“Julia Duin is an excellent religion reporter who has done a very good job on the Virginia Anglicans case”


May 28, 11:14 pm | [comment link]
7. Knapsack wrote:

Agreed, Julia Duin is an excellent journo—but it just sounds snarky.

Purely subjective, but there it is.  And her stuff never sounds snarkified, which was my point.  Your point may be—i’m wrong!

Which has happened before . . .

May 28, 11:20 pm | [comment link]
8. w.w. wrote:

I agree with both David #4 and partly with Knapsack #1!

When I first read the story in the Times this morning, I smiled and almost called Julia to see if some editor had rewritten her lead. It would have been more accurate to say “to bail out” instead of “to desert.”  Desert suggests abandoning someone who needs you and is counting on you. (Which might have been true from Bp Lee’s perspective re. $$$—but not re. theology and evangelism….)

Otherwise, no problem journalistically or otherwise with the report. Julia, as many here know, holds a master’s degree from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. She knows whereof she reports!


May 28, 11:46 pm | [comment link]
9. GSP98 wrote:

“A Civil War-era law being used to allow a group of conservative Episcopalians to desert the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia with millions of dollars worth of property is on trial today at the Fairfax County courthouse.”
Its the way it was written. At first blush, it gives the impression that ‘a group of conservatives’ [oh-THEM] is almost absconding with property that rightfully belongs to the Diocese, craftily using an old, probably obscure law to do so.
Whether it was meant that way may be an entirely different story, but that’s how it comes off sounding-at least to some of us.

May 29, 1:12 am | [comment link]
10. azusa wrote:

Laws of inheritance enacted in the nasty, ignorant Middle Ages allow people to pass on their property to named heirs, instead of to people with real needs, like me.
I want those laws voided NOW!

May 29, 5:50 am | [comment link]
11. azusa wrote:

I’m reminded of the kind of journalistic proaganda that informed us that laws against abortion in Germany or Italy were ‘enacted by the Nazis/Fascists’, as if it had never been illegal before…
Can some logician out there tell us the name of the fallacy here? ‘poisoning the well’ or some such?

May 29, 5:53 am | [comment link]
12. William P. Sulik wrote:

If I have a complaint, it’s with the idea of “Civil War-era.”  Actually, the statute is a Reconstruction-era statute (1867) - it is a man named Lee who lives in a white plantation in Richmond who wants to return to a “Civil War-era” way of thinking.

May 29, 8:55 am | [comment link]
13. Steven in Falls Church wrote:

The Washington Times has an article today (May 29) on the hearing, which can be found here.  It doesn’t tell much, other than the judge will take at least a month to render his decision.

May 29, 9:18 am | [comment link]
14. Doug Martin wrote:

The State of Virginia may not recognize the Canons of the Episcopal Church, but those who have seceded did take vows to do so “I do so solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church”.  So they are allowing secular law to trump holy vows.  The Dennis Canon does not say “except for properties predating the adoption of this Canon”.  So keep this one in mind as the discussion of “selective enforcement” continues.

May 29, 9:22 am | [comment link]
15. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

Article I, Section 16 of the Virginia constitution (Bill of Rights) reads:

That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. And the General Assembly shall not prescribe any religious test whatever, or confer any peculiar privileges or advantages on any sect or denomination, or pass any law requiring or authorizing any religious society, or the people of any district within this Commonwealth, to levy on themselves or others, any tax for the erection or repair of any house of public worship, or for the support of any church or ministry; but it shall be left free to every person to select his religious instructor, and to make for his support such private contract as he shall please.    (emph. added)

Presumably TEC are not so foolish as to appeal on federal constitutional grounds, though I guess I wouldn’t put it past them to try, so their action would have to be based on the above passage.

As I read it, their only hope for voiding the division statute is “particular advantage,” yet even that phrase could easily be interpreted to find that voiding the division statute would confer a “particular advantage” to hierarchical churches.

Since the existence of a “division” is now a finding of fact (very rarely ever reversed on appeal), it would appear that TEC don’t have a lot to work with. Thus I hope the court severely slaps TEC for its egregious lack of “Christian forbearance, love, and charity.”

May 29, 9:24 am | [comment link]
16. David Keller wrote:

#14 Doug—I belong to a club here in my home town.  There is a duly elected and representative board of directors.  If they passed a by-law that said “if you try to leave the club, we get to keep your house”, would it be legal?

May 29, 10:04 am | [comment link]
17. Cole wrote:

It is so nice to here such legal arguments relating to a so called Christian church.  Kind of reminds me of the logic of the bullies in the grade school playground.  “We can steal your lunch money because our little clique created a Dennis Canon.”

May 29, 10:49 am | [comment link]
18. CanaAnglican wrote:

14. Doug, You are right they did take vows to the Episcopal Church when it was a Christian Church.  Then that august body morphed itself out of being a Christian Church into something entirely different.*  When the nature of the body to which the vows have been taken changes so much as to be the reverse of its former self all bets are off.  At that point it is time not to walk but to run for the nearest exit.


* The new TEC:

* Christ is not Christ
* God will not judge sin
* The Bible is not our guide
* We are not to judge sin in the church
* heresy is better than schism
* We are in charge here
* Sue the Christians
* All paths lead to heaven
* Feed the starving, but be sure to not corrupt them with the gospel

May 29, 11:02 am | [comment link]
19. Cole wrote:

#18: Yes, that is really the point.  Mankind (and clergy) have their first loyalty to God.  Too bad we have so many imposters walking around wearing cleric collars that don’t believe what I just stated.  Strong statement .... You bet!  If the shoe fits, wear it.

May 29, 11:12 am | [comment link]
20. Philip Snyder wrote:

Doug (#14)
That vow is in response to the question “Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? (bold mine)”
The “has recevied” is important.  It indicates that the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ” has been received.  We don’t get to make it up, we receive it.  What happens when the leadership of the Church is no longer “loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them?”  When the discipline of the Church violates the doctrine of the Church, then the doctrine must take place and we are asking for a lack of any discipline - except power and what can be inforced.  This is what is happening today.

Phil Snyder

May 29, 11:45 am | [comment link]
21. Doug Martin wrote:

Phil (#20)
With great respect for the opinion of Phil Snyder, whom I have always found to be one of the more logical and thoughtful contributors to this blog, I beg to differ.  The phrase you used is indeed present in the Ordination of a Priest.  I do not find it in the BCP in the Ordination of a Bishop (pg 513).  Without quoting the Declaration in its entirety the BCP notes that “the PB requires the following promise from the Bishop-elect” and having been given “the PB signs the Declaration in sight of all present” and it is witnessed.  Pretty clear and binding stuff.

Even if it were present, the issue still remains as to “who decides”.

In the Examination, the PB notes “You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the church…” as an obligation of a Bishop and the response is “I am so persuaded”.

Clearly “The Episcopal Church” determines the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church”.  Bishops, priests, and laymen are free to make their own determination with respect to whether or not “the Church” is “loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them” as they interpret it.  If they can’t agree, they can renounce their vows and orders, or if laymen just leave.  But don’t confuse that independence with taking the buildings and furniture when you go.

May 29, 2:31 pm | [comment link]
22. Cennydd wrote:

When a priest is ordained and consecrated bishop, he doesn’t forsake his ordination vows as a priest.  And I agree completely with Phil Snyder.  The problem as I see it is that TEC has actually changed the meaning of the phrase “as this Church has received it”  to read “as this Church has DUMPED it,” with all that this implies?

May 29, 3:35 pm | [comment link]
23. libraryjim wrote:

no, sorry, you are wrong. The TEc has changed it to “as this church as re-interpreted it”.

Anyone remember the clergy-led group First Promise?

The ordination of those presbyters was to be done according to the Ordinal of the Church of England (1662) and the following things were therefore promised: Holy Scripture was to be their source “to instruct the people;” nothing contrary was to be taught “as necessary to eternal salvation;” they were solemnly charged “to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word;” they were to lay “aside the study of the world and the flesh (and) be diligent in Prayers, and in reading the Holy Scriptures;” and they were to frame their lives “according to the Doctrine of Christ.” These were their solemn vows before God and the Church {BCP (1928) pg. 542}. Every priest ordained in the American Church, until 1979, promised these things.

In 1801 the Articles of Religion of the English Church were “established by the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Convention” {BCP (1979) pg. 867}, and they have been printed in every Book of Common Prayer to the present day. These articles remain part of the doctrine of the Church of England (Canons A2 & A5), which our American foundational documents explicitly commit us to uphold {BCP (1979) Preface pg. 11}.

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America has consistently made the historical and theological claim to be the legitimate inheritor of the faith of Jesus Christ, given through his chosen apostles, as that faith first came to England and subsequently to this land. That is our heritage. “It is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith,” (Romans 1:16) and with the Apostle we declare that we are “not ashamed of the gospel.”

When, in 1979, the then newly revised Book of Common Prayer required of every deacon and priest, AS THEIR FIRST PROMISE, to “be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them,” it was appealing to that gospel heritage {BCP (1979) pgs 526, 538}.

When it further required of all the baptized to renounce evil, commit to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and to promise to “continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship…,” it was appealing to that gospel heritage {BCP (1979) pg. 304}.

We the undersigned, presbyters and deacons of this Church, hereby signify that we believe these promises bind us, and all others who have freely taken them, to a most sacred trust. That trust is “the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world.” We believe this trust is “incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men, ” {Chicago Quadrilateral, 1886. BCP (1979) pg. 877}.

Jim Elliott <><

May 29, 3:58 pm | [comment link]
24. LTN wrote:

#16 David Keller…most wouldn’t think that would be reasonable or legal. A similar argument was filed in an amicus brief before the California Supreme Court two weeks ago (pp. 21-23): See CEC Amicus Brief

If all denominations had to do was pass a trust clause by majority vote imposing forfeiture of the members’ properties upon leaving—be they local corporations or individuals, without first obtaining their corporate and/or individual express and written consent, any religious denomination could claim ownership of all properties belonging to individual members by mere affiliation. The arguments would be similar to what TEC is currently arguing—that the corporation/individual provided implied consent to be bound by all the rules of the organization (past, present and future) upon becoming a member. Such ridiculous argument, when properly opposed (as it is presently at the California Supreme Court) would be reasonably dismissed in my opinion.

With confidence, the California Supreme Court will affirm that neutral principles of law is the best approach when dealing with civil issues in a secular forum (civil court system). While the California Supreme Court’s marriage decision was seen as tragic to many orthodox believers, the Court’s secular neutrality and supposed equal application of law will likely bode well for orthodox parishes operating as independent California religious corporations. I would be very surprised to see California Supreme Court justices cede state property and corporate law issues to some third party religious person who has no standing or civil authority to make decisions for an independent California non-profit corporation.

Good or bad, the decision of the California Supreme Court will be vitally important as persuasive precedent to a number of other states, including Virginia—which is still at the initial trial level.

May 30, 1:06 am | [comment link]
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