"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It Ain't Over

A while back, The Episcopal Church put out a memo to anyone concerned telling them that they could not rent or sell buildings to any former Episcopal current Anglican churches out there. The silence in the blogosphere was almost deafening; was I the only one who saw that this was a blatant case of religious discrimination? People were upset; we all knew this was reprehensible, but nobody used the magic words: Unconstitutional and Religious Discrimination. Admittedly, I didn't really say anything either, so maybe everyone saw it bright and clear but kept their mouths closed. Discretion and valor and all.

But if they had refused to rent or sell to a group because they were Jewish or Muslim, Black or Asian, or anything else you want to pick, someone would cry foul. Heck, someone would sue.

At the time I remember thinking, this just goes to show how much they hate us. They aren't willing to unload an empty building, take our sale price, and call it a day. They actively want us to be homeless. They would rather their churches became mosques (I believe one) and bars, than for them to become homes for Anglican worship as they were intended to be.

Today, I read that a church in my diocese has been offered such a "settlement." TEC tells them they can buy the building that is by all logical rights already theirs IF they disaffiliate with the Anglican Church in North America and any churches they plant have to be non-Anglican Churches. To his credit, Archbishop Duncan used the magic words: "It is our sincere hope that The Episcopal Church will stop these abusive and unconstitutional practices so that St. Philip’s can move forward with its mission and ministry."

Abusive is right. To tell a congregation of faithful people that they have to buy the church they built with their own funds and hands is abusive. To drag them into court for settlement fees, which are surely substantial, is abusive. To attempt to manipulate their affiliations after they have left your jurisdiction is abusive. And to impose your own restrictions on their free exercise of religion is absolutely abusive AND unconstitutional. They can't expect a court of law to uphold this for them, so unless the parties involved freely agree to be abused, the idea would have no teeth.

And unfortunately it could be seen as a precedent. If the church in question agrees to be thus abused and manipulated, it will appear that the rest of us consider this an acceptable option. If the courts approve such a blatantly unconstitutional settlement, it will be clear that the courts consider this an acceptable option. And frankly this is far from acceptable. So let me just say now, on behalf of me and my house (which means zilch since my house isn't up for grabs and my jurisdiction doesn't extend beyond my back yard... but someone has to put the words out there):

Dear TEC: We are not willing to roll over and be abused. We follow a Lord who was crucified and buried, but not before his time. You can come after us all you want, but we refuse to simply hand over what is not yours, which we hold in stewardship for our Lord and his faithful people. If you think you have a case against us, we ask that you obey the laws of this land and not impose on our affiliations, free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, and liberty of private property ownership on behalf of congregating church bodies. We ask that you keep your blatant loathing of our governing bodies from clouding your eyes to basic fairness and decency. It is clear that you are becoming consumed in your hatred; we vow to love you as Christ commands but admit we are having trouble living out that calling if you insist on treating us with abuse, contempt, and inappropriate attempts to claim what is not yours. We will not negotiate with modern litigious terrorism. We are willing to risk all for what is simply right. Our Lord did no less and much more. If necessary, we will just have to wish you luck heating empty buildings. It gets cold here in the winter and most of them leak heat like a seive.
This needs to be over; we walked away two years ago. Since then, local Episcopalians and Anglicans have been working to to repair our friendships and joint ministries. We're doing pretty well with that. Your lawsuits just open old wounds, which seems to give you pleasure. None of my friends, on either side, is interested in the suffering you insist upon. Just leave us in peace and we'll do the same for you.

6 comments:

  1. I blogged this out yesterday but didn't feel it appropriate to post at that time. Current update is that St. Philips has agreed to this travesty. My friend David has posted the article here: http://anglicanyinzer.blogspot.com/2011/02/st-philips-settles-with-tec.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. Let me say this as gently and quietly as possible: If previous acts by TEC haven't done it, this behavior surely absolves them from considering themselves a Christian organization.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Tara,

    I'm opposed to the so-called "disaffiliation" requirement. But I think in fairness it should be said that this was not an "offer" that St.Philip's then "accepted," but an agreement that St. Philip's and the Episcopal Diocese developed together through negotiation over the course of the past year. The big news here, in my view, is not that people (actually, on both sides) are unhappy with the results of this negotiation, but simply that the people of St. Philip's and the Episcopal Diocese have reached an accord that works for them, and that leaves the people of St. Philip's in their buildings and with their resources for the wonderful ministry that they have in the Moon Twp. community. This procedure of negotiation between the parish and the Episcopal Diocese actually followed the provisions of Paragraph 2 of the 2005 "Stipulation" and agreement that settled the lawsuit Calvary Church brought against the Diocese, and I think it suggests that the vision of people being escorted out of their churches by the sheriff need not come to pass. Messy, imperfect, distasteful. But the thing is, for both sides, "it could have been worse." And, sadly, that may be the best we can hope for . . . .

    Blessings,

    BruceR

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bruce, it may indeed be the best we can hope for, but the temptation to proclaim "a pox on both their houses" is pretty overwhelming. Folks in ACNA/Pittsburgh are feeling pretty betrayed/abandoned/plain-ole-cast-off. That TEC would be unwilling to sell/rent to anyone who is part of the ACNA is blatant religious discrimination and inappropriate. That St. Philip's is willing to abandon communion to save its stuff is equally difficult to take. Yes they've agreed to it freely; can't fault that, but the wisdom of doing so is highly questionable. And in TEC's position, the ethics of doing so are equally questionable.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I understand, Tara, and don't disagree.

    I believe it continues to be the case that the position of the Presiding Bishop is that dioceses should not, under any circumstances, allow the sale of any properties under the control of the Episcopal Church to congregations affiliated with "competing judicatories." I could speculate about her motives. I do believe that she sincerely believes that she is doing her duty--though I believe also that she is wrong. But: something like MacDonald's announcing that they will never sell their properties to someone who wants to set up a Burger King. (As I understand it, such "non-compete" provisions between private parties are generally held to be legal.)

    The reduction from "no, not ever," to "not for five years" in the St. Philip's settlement is, I believe, on principle opposed by the Presiding Bishop, but it appears to be a sufficient buffer to protect our TEC diocesan trustees from canonical actions (for violation of their fiduciary responsibilities under the "Dennis canon").

    In my view, anyway, during the five year interval there is no reason why many informal and indirect connections shouldn't continue. Individuals desiring to be confirmed by Archbishop Duncan could do so at neighboring churches or at the Cathedral's Easter Vigil. Financial support of the Anglican diocese could continue by asking parishioners as individual households to reduce their parish pledges by the appropriate percentage and then to "redirect" that percentage. Friendships, informal missions partnerships, etc., spiritual companionship, pastoral care and oversight could continue in a voluntary and unofficial way. There doesn't need to be a paper trail, after all. There would be no monitoring of who visited whom in the hospital. No tapping of phones.

    Admittedly, imperfect. But in the space of time of the average new car loan the term of the non-compete provision would come to an end, and the congregation would be free to reconnect or not, as they desire.

    Moreover, our TEC diocese Chancellor has indicated that this settlement doesn't need to be a "template" for all other negotiations. It may be that in other conversations other formulas will be found to meet the needs and concerns of the parties.

    My personal desire is that as soon as reasonably possible we get things settled. Remove the questions. Which is, I suspect, what motivated Eric and the St. Philip's congregation. And then that we would have the opportunity to rebuild and restore relationships and find a common life and ministry that we would share in service of our Lord Jesus.

    Blessings, and in friendship--and with respect and love for you personally and for the good and faithful ministry you and your colleagues in the Anglican diocese continue, even in these difficult times--

    BruceR

    ReplyDelete
  6. Bruce,
    Even though we view the settlement with very different eyes and opinions, there's not a word above with which I would disagree. But then, that's what Pittsburgh has always been about... the two sides are in court, but I think the local individuals on both side still understand that there are faithful on both sides, fallen on both sides, and friends on both sides. And sometimes a true friend is on with whom you are secure enough to loudly disagree and still go out for a beer after.

    ReplyDelete