Episcopal Church (USA) loses legal battle

From the Washingont Post , the Diocese of Virginia lost their battle to retain the property of 11 breakaway congregations. (I have to admit, I was aware of all of this but had no idea it was that many congregations.) The key seems to be a VA law that has been around since the Civil War.

The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia argued that the state law is unconstitutional, that the government should not be involved in deciding when a religious organization has legally "divided" and that internal church laws and practices should govern such a spat.

But Judge Randy Bellows ruled in favor of the breakaway congregations, saying the state law is constitutional. The diocese could have used routine civil documents to protect its property, but did not, he said. The law has been around for 141 years and "did not parachute into this dispute from a clear blue sky," Bellows wrote.

This situation is somewhat unique to VA and each Diocese and state where there are churches breaking away from the mainline will have to fight this out themselves. This will only set precedent for VA churches. Needless to say, the diocese is not pleased.

Episcopal Church officials have said they would appeal if they lost, and a statement from the diocese yesterday said officials are exploring their options.

"The Diocese remains steadfast in its commitment to current and future generations of loyal Episcopalians and will continue to pursue every legal option available to ensure that they will be able to worship in the churches their Episcopal ancestors built," the statement said.

Of course most would argue that those breaking away from ECUSA are remaining more loyal to the Episcopal faith and traditions than those leading the modern church. (Unless of course one wants to use the argument that the Episcopal tradition at its heart is to change with the times.)

My opinion is that niether side should fight or care about the property. If they have the strength of their convictions then they should say that they are willing to "suffer" for their committment to the Gospel of Christ. The property shouldn’t matter. Of course it never works out that way (and what would happen if everyone just walked away? Perhaps the Baptists would come in, fumigate the place, and set up worship there). Didn’t someone somwhere say that Christians should not take one another to court?

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