Another unrealistic proposal for the sake of the Gospel

No StealingEphraim Radner has offered an “An Unrealistic Proposal for the Sake of the Gospel” in the Living Church. He wants the Episcopal Church and dioceses to drop all litigation against those who are attempting to take church property with them as they leave the Episcopal Church. That would allow the departing people to drop their litigation too. Then Radner suggests that all parties give the amount they would have spent on litigation to rebuilding efforts in Haiti.

I also have an unrealistic proposal: STOP TRYING TO STEAL CHURCH PROPERTY. Radner’s proposal sounds nice at first glance, until you think it through. The litigation is precipitated by one simple fact: people leaving the Episcopal Church want to take what isn’t theirs. If no one were trying to take property, the litigation wouldn’t be necessary.

Secessionists love to obscure the facts. Here they are: long before Bob Duncan had archiepiscopal aspirations, General Convention clarified, in our canons, that all real property is held by parishes in trust for the Episcopal Church and its dioceses. In most states the legal situation is identical with the canonical provisions, per Supreme Court rulings. These were the rules when many of the secessionists were ordained and promised to be loyal to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship” of the church.

Now, I have written here on 7WD that I do not agree with what I often see as an overly aggressive approach to litigation, especially as regards involvement from 815. At the same time, we should have no illusions about what is happening. People are trying to walk away with what they knew wasn’t theirs. Were it up to me, I would like to see equitable settlements reached with departing congregations so that they could stay in the buildings to which they are accustomed and the dioceses could maintain their fiduciary responsibilities. Sadly, that is rare these days. I do agree with Radner that litigation is unfortunate and often unchristian, but we differ about how to stop it.

As an aside, our friends in the Church of England often fail to grasp the dynamics of our situation here. They wail about litigation, as if ACNA and the rest of the alphabet-soup Anglicans are innocent victims. But I challenge General Synod to imagine this situation: a PCC in, say, Kent votes to leave the Church of England for one reason or another. Does anyone in General Synod have any illusion that a departing C of E congregation would or should be allowed to keep their building? Of course not! Why things should be any different here is beyond me. (I suppose it’s because the secessionists have been on their good behavior in England thus far.)

I agree with Radner: let’s stop the litigation. I’ll even go so far as to agree that it would be pleasing to see those resources redirected to Haiti relief. But let’s also be clear that there’s one surefire way to end the litigation: secessionists can just walk away.

Oh, and by the way, I think it’s a cheap shot to drag Haiti relief into attempts to garner sympathy as “victims” of 815. That’s like taking the victim card and playing the victim Joker instead.

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11 Responses

  1. Bill Carroll says:

    Here’s the comment I left at creedalchristian

    This piece looks good on the surface, but it is in fact an opportunistic attempt to reframe the property litigation–shamefully, sinfully exploiting the suffering of the people of Haiti to attempt to score political points.

    The leadership of TEC is faithfully discharging its moral, canonical, and fiduciary responsibility to defend Church property against theft. This property is held in trust for the poor. God forbid we should allow the American far right, acting through the IRD, to hijack it. I’ve consistently argued that these things should be settled out of court where possible. The barrier to this happening comes from ACNA, which does not respect the canonical framework within which the property in question is held.

  2. For the sake of clarity: At no point does Ephraim Radner blame only one side for the lawsuits. At no point does he seek to garner sympathy for those who have left the Episcopal Church.

    Instead, he challenges both sides to back away from the battle, use the money for desperately needed relief in Haiti, begin mediation, and settle their disputes. As one of the editors who happily received Ephraim’s essay and prepared it publication, I do not see anything sinister in his argument.

  3. Scott Gunn says:

    Douglas, it’s true that Radner suggests that both sides drop their lawsuits. But most people (except for those in secessionist groups) do not see this as mutual. Suppose I start publishing a magazine called The Alive Church, and for content I use whatever appears in The Living Church. No doubt the Living Church would sue me. Now then suppose I say, let’s “agree to a mutually agreed process for dealing with contested content” so that we can both just go back to publishing our magazines.

    While I maintain the appearance of neutrality, I am really trying to rewrite the situation to obscure my unethical and illegal behavior. That is, I think, what is going on here. (I do recognize that not *everyone* will see it this way.)

    By portraying departing congregations as participants in a needless legal battle, rather than as people attempting to take what is not theirs, I see Radner as trying to gain sympathy for the secessionists.

    I do agree with Radner that there is “perverse and even blasphemous” behavior going on. That’s the people tearing apart Christ’s Body, the Church. Let’s not forget one fact: no one told Martyn Minns and Bob Duncan they had to leave the church. No one kicked them out. No one said they had to start preaching about the goodness of same-sex marriage. They decided to leave, and they’re just disappointed about the failure of the Episcopal Church to give them millions of dollars in parting gifts.

    To be clear: I am saddened by this behavior, and I’ve written about all this repeatedly. I do not favor 815’s involvement in countless lawsuits. I would like to see people sit down at the negotiating table rather than suing each other. But that negotiation should be for departing congregations to *purchase* their property, not take it for free.

    Finally, I don’t see Radner’s essay as “sinister” but I do see it as an attempt at legerdemain.



    Make that a double order!

  5. I´m so uninspired by the manipulative antics of Ephraim Radner and his twisted thinking…why can´t this once imagined intellectual fellow figure out that he taints and corrupts self-searching and basic codes of honor? As he scampers off to hide from his previous misjudgements and associations (Armstrong and the money from Grace and St.Stephens/Colorado) he still demands that the Anglican WORLD respect his opinion…for me, I´ve heard no amends, no I´m ¨sorry¨ ….nothing but more plots that don´t thicken but simply dribble off his chin.

    Radner, stop with the deep thinking, start with the basics of goodwill and decency and you´ll be back on track again.

  6. Phil Snyder says:

    In a “normal” property case, the owner is determined by the title to the property. In Dallas, all congregational property is owned by the Corporation of the Diocese of Dallas. No congregation owns its own property, so a congregation that tries to leave with its property is truly committing theft. However, many of the congregations that left actually owned (had title to) their property – and always had title to it. So, you could make the case that TEC or the Diocese is the one committing theft – taking something that they do not own.

    All this litigation results in one winner – the trial lawyers. Instead of litigating, why not sit down and come up with a solution that allows a congregation to leave with its property, but that also respects the contributions of the diocese and TEC? Remember, it is not the congregations that have changed the teaching of the Church.

    Another proposal I would make is to not allow any lawyer or law firm to prosecute any law suit it recommends filing or fighting. So, if DBB believes that TEC should sue the departing congregations, then neither he nor Goodwin-Proctor would receive one dime for work on those lawsuits. Another firm would have to be paid to do that.

    Phil Snyder

  7. Thanks for the response, Scott.

    If I understand this thread correctly, the assumption is that Ephraim has sided with those who have left unless he explicitly sides with the Episcopal Church’s dioceses instead.

    Could it be that some of us actually believe both sides are failing to live up to the behavior to which the New Testament calls the followers of Christ?

    Is it within the realm of possibility that Ephraim was more concerned about the suffering people of Haiti than about scoring political points in North America’s never-ending conflicts?

    It seems to me the assumptions here are based on eisegesis of Ephraim’s text, rather than what he has written.

  8. Bryan Owen says:

    What Douglas LeBlanc said.

  9. Aelred says:

    Stop trying to steal church property?

    You mean unlike the dissolution of monasteries and all that Roman Catholic property that was taken at the time of the English Reformation?

  10. Matt Kennedy says:

    Unfortunately–Douglas, Dr. Radner, Bryan–I don’t think anyone could confuse you with people who actually take sides on this. Which is a terrible shame I think.

    I certainly agree, however, with Scott that this is a justice issue and that the issue is theft.

  11. Scott Gunn says:

    Douglas, thanks for your comment.

    Suppose I said this: “In light of grave world events, can we set aside our church differences? Let’s not have any more people leaving the Episcopal Church over perceived doctrinal problems. Let’s stay in the church together and sort this out so we can do our mission work.”

    At first glance, it appears that I am being neutral. And perhaps that is my intent. But the reality is that for those who find doctrinal positions of Episcopal Church leaders untenable, my idea is not neutral at all.

    Aelred, fair enough. That’s why it’s also rich when Anglicans start going on about “traditional marriage” given Anglican origins.


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