Category Archives: Anglican

Top Ten Presbyterian News Topics Of 2015

Once again, as I think back on the year and review what has happened I decided to make a list of the different themes that stood out to me from different Presbyterian branches. Here, in no particular order, is my list. Your list may vary.

Racial Reconciliation

One of the more dramatic moments in a Presbyterian General Assembly this year occurred at the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. A good narration of the action comes from Travis Hutchinson’s blog. He begins his post with this description of the personal resolution offered from the floor of the Assembly:

Mississippi Teaching Elders, Drs Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan entered a personal resolution at the beginning of the Assembly which acknowledged the involvement of our denomination (and our predecessor denomination) in promoting racism and failing to act to support the goals of the Civil Rights movement. It encouraged us to seek repentance and carry this message to our local churches. The resolution was referred to our Overtures Committee for a recommendation.

The Overtures Committee recommended referring it to the next GA to allow for it to be perfected but when it returned to the floor it was clear that many commissioners felt making the statement at the current Assembly was a more important action than waiting for refinement. But in that parallel universe that is Standing Rules and Parliamentary Procedure the choice before the Assembly was not to adopt the original motion but to refer it back to the Overtures Committee or refer it to the next GA. After much debate, a couple of votes and not a small amount of prayer the Assembly voted to send it to the next Assembly. Then a protest was filed “expressing [personal] confession of sin and hope for repentance.” Over 200 of the commissioners signed onto the protest according to the official news item. Another detailed description of the Assembly action on this item can be found on TE Timothy R. LeCroy’s blog.

Other news in this topic includes the continued work of the Reformed African American Network, the formation of the African American Presbyterian Fellowship within the PCA’s Mission to North America ministries, and the PC(USA) has launched an anti-racism campaign.

In the PC(USA) the presbyteries approved the addition of the Confession of Belhar to the Book of Confessions leaving only the final approval of the 222nd General Assembly in 2016.

Finally, in Canada, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been working with the indigenous peoples and at the release of their final report the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada made a statement that acknowledged the pain of the past while expressing hope for the future.


Mass Shootings and Gun Violence

With several high-profile mass shootings in the U.S. this year it may be impossible to chronicle every Presbyterian connection. But two in particular caught my attention. The first was the shootings at Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church in June. Among many connections, the church has had a long and close connection to Second Presbyterian next door. I chronicled some of the many connections in a headlines piece at the time. The other tragedy was the recent San Bernardino shootings close to where I live and several friends were mentioned in local news stories about responses and pastoral care. The PC(USA) issued both a pastoral letter as well as an initial and then a follow-up news article.

In addition, the Vice-Moderator of the General Assembly, Larissa Kwong Abazia, issued her own personal statement about the situation and asking the denomination to seek ways to respond to gun violence in general. In addition, in light of all the shootings it was a year in which the PC(USA) film about gun violence, “Trigger“, was highlighted.

As I said above, there were multiple incidents world-wide and that same June Headlines piece also contained links to several stories about a terrorist attack in Tunisia that killed adherents from the Church of Scotland.


Presbyterian denominations and same-gender relationships

This was an issue across many Presbyterian branches this year with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada beginning a study process to consider making their standards more inclusive and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland debating and sending to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act the proposed changes to their governing documents. For the Canadian church the study documents have been released. In the case of the Kirk the indication is the changes to the Acts and Proceedings have been approved by a majority of the presbyteries but the results will not be certified until next year.

In the American Presbyterian church, the PC(USA) presbyteries approved a change in the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship in the Book of Order. That change went into effect at the end of June and in early September the chapel at the PC(USA) national offices hosted its first same-gender wedding ceremony.


Reaction within the Presbyterian family to same-sex marriage decisions

The reaction to these decisions is worthy of its own item in the list with the reaction to the PC(USA) decision being swift and wide-spread. Within two weeks of the vote total being reached the National Black Church Initiative cut ties with the PC(USA) over the vote. A couple of months later the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPIB) and the Evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed Church of Peru (IEPRP) ended mission partnerships on the national level. The PC(USA) has issued a news article acknowledging these breaks but also saying that other mission partners have decided to continue the partnerships.

Elsewhere, the decision by the Church of Scotland was a concern in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland which initially expressed “deep sorrow” at the decision and during their General Assembly decided that they would not send a representative to the Kirk’s 2016 General Assembly. Outside the Presbyterian family the Russian Orthodox Church has broken off ecumenical discussions with the Church of Scotland over this.


Shifting between Reformed branches

The movement of churches between different Presbyterian and Reformed branches continues unabated. ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians announced that their membership had grown to over 240 churches, most are congregations that have departed the PC(USA). In Scotland the Free Church continues to see a few congregations and ministers wishing to move from the Church of Scotland. In addition, a few churches completed the process of transferring from the Reformed Church in America to the PCA.



With shifts in Reformed branches comes the question of taking or leaving property. Those moving from the Church of Scotland to the Free Church typically do not get to take it. University Reformed Church was assessed about $300,000 to take their campus to the PCA.

But bigger and more plentiful property disputes came from churches departing the PC(USA) including congregations that walked away, were graciously dismissed with a payment, kept their property in civil suits, lost their property in civil suits, and one of the more unusual cases where the court awarded the property to the PC(USA) faction of the congregation but not on behalf of the presbytery.

Other interesting property cases include a very convoluted property case in California with the KAPC and a case in Malawi where the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) “sued itself” over property.


Presbyterian branches working together

Particularly in light of very recent developments this might qualify as the most interesting topic of the year.

Let me begin with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America whose Unification Task Force is on track to bring a proposed set of bylaws to the 2016 General Assembly. This would put the two denominations on track to make final approvals in 2017 and unite in a single general assembly in 2018.

While not a move with unification in sight, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church held their General Synods jointly in a move to strengthen the ties between these two streams of American Presbyterianism. For those not aware, each of these branches traces their heritage back to Scotland separately and apart from the mainstream branch of American Presbyterianism.

Finally, in a move that is not between two Presbyterian branches but between two national churches, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England just formally announced their intent to be more intentional in their joint work in what they are calling the Columba Declaration. This was followed by the Church of England’s Anglican partner in Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, issuing something of a “what about us” statement.



In putting this list together it seemed at times that I could have filled it with humanitarian crises. But if there is one that that Presbyterians world-wide seemed not just outspoken about but responsive to it would be the Middle East refugee crisis.

Regarding statements, these came from all quarters including the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Free Church of Scotland, the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the PC(USA), and many others.

In terms of action, there are accounts of relief and resettlement efforts all over the news. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is partnering with the Hungarian Reformed Church. Presbyterian churches are among those across Canada ready to help resettle refugees. Similar things can be said for the U.S. where, among many towns and churches, Trinity Presbyterian in Atlanta is ready to sponsor two families. And in Princeton, NJ, Nassau Presbyterian Church and the Seminary are working together to help resettle a family.

And we also have the account of a PC(USA) group traveling to Turkey and seeing relief efforts first hand as they worked in a local soup kitchen and food pantry to help feed Syrian refugees.

In another refugee story, the final Central American individual who found sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson was able to go home after 15 months under a confidential agreement. However, with an announced round of deportations coming up the church, with others, has responded that they are ready to offer sanctuary to more refugees who fear for their lives if they are deported.


Membership trends continue

Not much new to say here. As with all the mainstream churches in the U.S., the PC(USA) membership decline continues with a loss of 2.1% in the number of congregations and a 5.3% decline in the total membership. What is interesting, at least to me, is that when normalized and compared the membership decline in the PC(USA) over the last decade is very similar to the decline in the Church of Scotland.


Publications and Media

Not sure what it was this year but publications and media, particularly those recognized with awards and honors, seemed to catch my attention more than most years.

Let me begin with the Learn resources from the Church of Scotland, particularly the Learn Eldership book that I reviewed last spring. It has been joined by two additional pieces – hard to call the relatively short How Will Our Children Have Faith? a book – that I might get time to review in the future.

But the series in general, and the Learn Eldership in particular, have been recognized by different organizations. In addition to being a best seller, Eldership was a finalist in the Publications category of the Scottish Creative Awards. It was also recognized in the Innovation category as being among the crème-de-la crème of Scottish magazines in the Scottish Magazine Awards.

From Westminster John Knox Press we have a winner of the 2015 Christianity Today Book Awards in the Theology/Ethics category. It is Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. (Yes, technically announced in 2014 but awarded in 2015)

I would also include in this topic the just-released book by Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, For A Continuing Church: The roots of the Presbyterian Church in America. It is described as the “first full scholarly account of the theological and social forces that brought about [the PCA’s] creation.”

Finally, two films directed by PC(USA) Presbyterian Disaster Assistance agency photojournalist David Barnhart have been invited to the Beaufort International Film Festival in February. The films are “Kepulihan: When the Waters Recede” about the aftermath of the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami and “Locked in a Box” about immigration detention facilities.


So there you have my list of what caught my attention.

Some of you may be wondering where all the issues that were happening in Louisville are? In my list above I tried to capture more broad themes and those are more denomination specific. But, to add them here the news out of Louisville included: an outside audit of cost overruns at the last Presbyterian Youth Triennium; continued investigation, dismissals and lawsuits related to the New Church Initiative fiscal management; the departure of Linda Valentine and hiring of Tony de la Rosa in the Executive Director position; the search for a new Stated Clerk and Gradye Parsons announcing he would not apply again; and the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s own budget crisis.

For more information specific to the PC(USA) you can check out the Presbyterian Outlook’s list of top stories. For that matter, the Free Church of Scotland has their own year in review, and the Church of Scotland Mission and Discipleship agency has one as well.

And so I hope that 2015 was a good year for you and my prayers for all of you for a good 2016. My year will start out on a very high note, so stay tuned for that. Until then

Happy New Year and a Joyful Hogmanay

The Columba Declaration: A Statement Of Recognition and Cooperation Between The Church Of Scotland And The Church Of England

Late yesterday a joint announcement was made by the Church of Scotland and the Church of England that a Joint Study Group had refined an agreement, named the Columba Declaration, for mutual recognition and cooperation. This morning we have additional details and the full text of the document as the Church of Scotland and the Church of England have released a common statement.

A couple of background items for context. First, in case you wondered the declaration is named for Saint Columba, a 6th century monk from Ireland who founded the Iona monastery and did much to evangelize Scotland. The other item that people have joked about is that the British Monarch is way ahead of the churches in that while she or he is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England they are also an adherent of the Church of Scotland when they are up north.

The press release from the Church of Scotland says that the joint study group has been meeting for 15 years and the statement has been a working document for five. It also points out that the two churches have already been working on common projects such as the Church Mutual Credit Union as well as having a common interest in Fresh Expressions.

The importance of the report is highlighted in this excerpt

“Our hope is that joint affirmation by our two churches of The Columba Declaration would:

  • Affirm and strengthen our relationship at a time when it is likely to be particularly critical in the life of the United Kingdom;
  • Provide an effective framework for coordinating present partnership activities and for fostering new initiatives;
  • Enable us to speak and act together more effectively in the face of the missionary challenges of our generation.”

This was today’s front-page news in Scotland with stories by the BBC News, Herald Scotland, The Daily Mail, and The Telegraph. The story from the Telegraph contains some historical background including this paragraph:

Although virtually unimaginable now in a more secular age, the divide between Anglicanism and Presbyterianism was once one of the most deadly fault-lines in British history. The two groups emerged from the same tensions, around the interpretation of the Bible and issues of church and state, which ultimately fuelled the civil war across the British Isles in the 1640s.

It also has this quote from a former Moderator of the General Assembly that does a good job of providing context:

The Very Rev Dr Sheilagh Kesting, the Church of Scotland’s ecumenical officer, and a former Moderator, said: “This isn’t about union but about working across borders.

“This is putting a marker down saying our relationships are good; these are the things that are happening; this is why it is happening and why it should continue.

“We are accepting each other as we are in our diversity … there is still a wish on both sides that we could find a way, given that diversity, to recognise each other’s ministry fully.”

This agreement was also praised on the editorial page of the Herald with a piece that begins:

News that the Church of Scotland and Church of England have made a formal agreement to become ecumenical partners and to work jointly together on a variety of initiatives in future is little short of a religious revolution, the sort Calvin and Knox would have recognised as seismic. As befits our times, however, this historic step, outlined in a document called the Columba Declaration, has been taken not with great fanfare, but with quiet determination. The result of decades of deliberation and consultation, it has been distinguished by the thoughtfulness and lack of stridency for which the ecumenical movement is renowned.

For American Presbyterians, I would note that this agreement has some similarities to the various Full Communion agreements that the PC(USA) has but is is only a beginning and is not as extensive or complete of cooperation. In particular, ministers may serve in churches in the other branch recognizing each branches’ discipline, but that does not include stream-lined transfer of membership.

The Declaration will need the concurrence of the highest governing body of each denomination – the General Synod of the Church of England in February and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May. Each meeting will include an address by the presiding officer of the other church. We await the release of the full four-chapter report that will go to the councils.

The Columba Declaration is relatively short so here it is in its entirety:


In the light of our common mission and context (chapter 1), our agreement in faith (chapter 2) and our significant opportunities for growing in partnership in mission (chapter 3), we recommend that our churches make the following Declaration.

We, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, make the following acknowledgements and commitments, which are interrelated.

a) Acknowledgements

(i) We acknowledge one another’s churches as churches belonging to the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and truly participating in the apostolic ministry and mission of the whole people of God.

(ii) We acknowledge that in both our churches the word of God is truly preached, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion are rightly administered.

(iii) We acknowledge that both our churches share in the common confession of the apostolic faith.

(iv) We acknowledge that one another’s ordained ministries of word and sacraments are given by God as instruments of grace and we look forward to a time when growth in communion can be expressed in fuller unity that makes possible the interchangeability of ministers.

(v) We acknowledge that personal, collegial and communal oversight (episkope) is embodied and exercised in our churches in a variety of forms, as a visible sign expressing and serving the Church’s unity and continuity in apostolic life, mission and ministry.

b) Commitments

We commit ourselves to grow together in communion and to strengthen our partnership in mission. Through this commitment, we hope to enrich our continuing relationships with other churches in the United Kingdom and around the world. We will welcome opportunities to draw other churches into the activities and initiatives that we share.

As part of that commitment, we will continue to:

(i) pray for and with one another;

(ii) welcome one another’s members to each other’s worship as guests and receive one another’s members into the congregational life of each other’s churches where that is their desire;

(iii) explore opportunities for congregational partnership, formal as well as informal, in those cases where there are churches in close geographical proximity;

(iv) enable ordained ministers from one of our churches to exercise ministry in the other church, in accordance with the discipline of each church;

(vi) identify theological issues that arise from growth towards fuller communion and be prepared to allocate resources to addressing them;

(vii) work together on social, political and ethical issues that arise from our participation in public life and be prepared to allocate resources to joint initiatives for addressing them.

In order to assist our churches in living out the acknowledgements and commitments of the Columba Declaration, we will appoint Co-Chairs and members of a Church of Scotland – Church of England Contact Group, whose purpose will be to coordinate the different activities that make up our rich relationship and develop new initiatives where these may be needed. The Contact Group will meet at least annually and will report annually to the Council for Christian Unity in the Church of England and the Committee on Ecumenical Relations in the Church of Scotland.

Brief Updates On Church Property Cases In Texas, Pennsylvania and Kansas

As I have often commented in this space, I really don’t want to go chasing church property cases in the civil courts as they can vary so widely by jurisdiction. I am going to take this opportunity to update one situation I have previously covered in detail and use it as an opportunity to consolidate reporting on a couple more and in the process demonstrate the variety that there is, the moving target that it can be and the legal technicalities involved.

Let me begin with the legal landscape in Texas which I have written on to some extent before. In particular, I covered a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court back in August 2013 that set forth neutral principles as the standard of decision for the state. However, that decision, at least in my reading, left a little opening for a hierarchical church to make a claim under the trust clause.

Well, two decisions in the last couple of weeks don’t see it that way and the local judicatories won summary judgements over higher governing bodies in the trial courts on pure property ownership and Texas trust law arguments.

The first was a summary judgement in the case of First Presbyterian Church of Houston v. Presbytery of New Covenant issued back on February 16. (Thanks to the presbytery for posting the decision.) Being a summary judgement there is not a lot of analysis by the court. The critical point to be made is:

… the Court grants the motion finding that there is no genuinely disputed issue of material fact, and that Plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The Court further finds that there is no enforceable trust or property interest created by any version of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order or the Presbyterian Church of the United States Book of Church Order under the neutral principle factors set forth by the Texas Supreme Court in Masterson v Diocese of Nw Texas.

The presbytery’s Pending Litigation web page indicates they will pursue the appeal. The lawyer for the church has a press release on their victory and indicates he will continue to represent the church pro bono.

The second court decision issued on March 2nd similarly gives the Diocese of Fort Worth under Bishop Jack Leo Iker control of the property of the diocese in a partial summary judgement which did exempt one church property dispute from the order. This was a rehearing of the case where the original decision in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court decision previously mentioned. The Episcopal Diocese has indicated it will appeal.

We will see how these trial court decisions hold up in the appeals process.

On the other end of the spectrum we had a final decision this past December in the case of Peters Creek Church in Venetia, Pennsylvania. This was a case between a majority of the church that voted to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and a minority that voted to stay with Washington Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA). After seven years of legal wrangling and two previous decisions that favored the majority, a decision by the Commonwealth Court last April awarded the control of the property to the minority as the True Church. With the denial of review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in October it was sent back to the local court to issue the final decision ordering the change of ownership and a negotiated solution. The two groups have been sharing the property.

The Commonwealth Court decision is a long but at points an interesting read as it determines the outcome based strictly on neutral principles and does affirm that a denomination can not create a unilateral trust in Pennsylvania unlike court decisions in New York, Georgia and California. However, the court did find that in their Bylaws of June 3, 2001, Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church did create a trust with the PC(USA) when it included the language:

…“nothing in these bylaws shall prevail over the [PC(USA)] Constitution,” and that the bylaws “shall be considered to include the mandatory provisions and requirements on local churches set forth in the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whether or not incorporated by specific reference.”

Among other finding of error by the trial court the Commonwealth Court declared that a formal trust document need not be created for the trust to be in force and recognized. They further find that the vote of the congregation on November 4, 2007, to leave the PC(USA) was invalid.

Woven into the rational of the decision are the histories of the PC(USA) and UPCUSA governing documents as well as the history of Pennsylvania trust law. In the end they make the case that using only neutral principles and consideration of the timeline of the history of the church the congregation can not unilaterally leave the PC(USA).

The trial court relied on the holdings in Beaver-Butler and Calhoun as examples of other Pennsylvania cases that have upheld the ability of a local church to disaffiliate from a national denomination (March 31, 2010, Trial Ct. Op. at 15). Those cases, however, do not support the trial court’s conclusions because their facts make clear that, at the time the local churches disaffiliated from the UPCUSA, the predecessor of the PCUSA, the UPCUSA governing documents did not prevent local churches from unilaterally disaffiliating. Here, in contrast, the PCUSA Constitution, which Peters Creek Church recognized as obligatory on its members, provided that the relationship between the PCUSA and an individual church can be severed only by the Presbytery.

So at least in Pennsylvania, timing and what you have in your bylaws and articles of incorporation is important.

And while this case is interesting, the legal nuances are a good example of why I don’t go chasing every one of these church property decision.

And now to Kansas…

Back in October a majority of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley, in Overland Park, Kansas, voted to disaffiliate from the PC(USA) and joint the EPC. There was a significant minority with 21% opposed. Control of the property is headed to court so there is not much to talk about there at this time.

However, there seems to be a pretty good back story on this one. A year ago there was an article quoting the church’s pastor as saying that the church was not looking to leave the larger denomination. But that article pointed out that this is the church home of Craig McPherson, a member of the Kansas legislature, who serves as an ordained officer in the church – a deacon. In last year’s legislative session he was a primary supporter of a Kansas House bill that was substituted for State Senate Bill 18 to clarify that Kansas judged church property disputes under neutral principles. The text, as amended by the House with McPherson’s input is included in an article in The Layman. Rep. McPherson published his testimony in support of a 2013 version of the bill. Last year the bill failed on the House floor but the Committee on the Judiciary, of which Rep. McPherson is a member, has reintroduced the bill in the 2015 session. According to the tracking page it is still awaiting committee action.

So there you have a selection of the church property cases recently in play across the country that have PC(USA) connections. If you want another interesting read consider the South Carolina decision giving control of a diocese, its property and its symbols (trademarks) to the group which has separated from The Episcopal Church. A unique case that probably has no impact on Presbyterian interests but one that gives the Episcopal equivalent of the Trust Clause, known as the Dennis Canon, very little weight.

So, enjoy that legal reading if you are so inclined. I might have a bit more to say on property from a PC(USA) polity standpoint in the near future.

Church And State In Scotland And England — The Reformation Still Means Something

Suppose that you are the future head of the Church of England but you want to get married in a different church, in this case one belonging to the Church of Scotland — Big Problem.  Yes, believe it or not the Reformation still means something.

In case you have not been following the British royal gossip, and I hadn’t until it broke into the realm of Reformed theology, the rumor is going around that Prince William, second in line to the British throne, is close to having an announced engagement to girlfriend Kate Middleton.  If true, congratulations to both of them.  The problem that has arisen is that according to The Daily Express

A source told the Sunday Express: “Officials at Buckingham Palace have been under huge pressure from Kate to try to persuade the Queen to agree to a Scottish wedding.

“Scotland will always have a special place in Kate’s heart because that is where she met William and where they spent so many happy years together at St Andrews University.”

Romantic weddings are nice…  However when marrying a future king and head of the state church there is a part of the constitution that requires you to be married in the church you will someday be the head of. Unfortunately for romance 450 years ago the Church of Scotland decided that the church did not need the monarch as part of its structure and declared that Jesus Christ was the Head of the Church.  The British royals have a respected place but not religious position in this National Church.  Word is that they are back to church shopping now that St. Giles has been ruled out.  (There would be something ironic about getting married next to the grave and in the shadow of a statue of a reformer who was not afraid to take the monarch to task.)

There is another interesting twist to this church and state thing, the decision for the Queen to meet the Pope in Edinburgh on his visit in September rather than in London.  Church spokespersons deny any church/state reason for this (from the Scotsman):

The church yesterday also denied conspiracy theories that His Holiness was meeting Her Majesty in Scotland to avoid embarrassing questions over his call for Anglicans to rejoin the Catholic Church.

While the Queen is head of the Church of England, she is only a member of the Church of Scotland, because of the constitutional settlement around the Act of Union.

The practical reason for the location is that the monarch will already be in the neighborhood for her summer holidays.  But it does seem a handy device that since they won’t be in England this will avoid the head of one break-away church having to greet the current head of the church they broke away from and is now open to churches transferring back.

Finally, the fact that the Church of Scotland is also a break-away church as well is not lost on the pontiff, and he recognizes the difference between Presbyterians and Anglo-Catholics.  Back at the beginning of February the Pope met with the Scottish Bishops and had this to say about the Reformation:

The Church in your country, like many in Northern Europe, has suffered the tragedy of division. It is sobering to recall the great rupture with Scotland’s Catholic past that occurred 450 years ago. I give thanks to God for the progress that has been made in healing the wounds that were the legacy of that period, especially the sectarianism that has continued to rear its head even in recent times. Through your participation in Action of Churches Together in Scotland,see that the work of rebuilding unity among the followers of Christ is carried forward with constancy and commitment. While resisting any pressure to dilute the Christian message, set your sights on the goal of full, visible unity, for nothing less can respond to the will of Christ.

It would seem that the Anglican division is seen as less substantial than the Reformed differences — the “great rupture.”  And what is meant by “resisting any pressure to dilute the Christian message” being used in an ecumenical reference is left as an exercise for the reader.

Follow-up To The Oakfield Sale — The Going Price Of An Historic Church Building In Upstate NY

Just a very quick note as a follow-up to my previous post “An Interesting Tale of Stewardship, Property, and the PC(USA) Trust Clause.”

In that post I described the sale of an historic church building at auction back to a new congregation made up of many members of the old congregation, First Presbyterian Church of Oakfield, NY.  In that sale Genesee Valley Presbytery got $50,000 which seems to about cover their legal fees in this whole incident.  The various reports placed the value of the building at greater than $200,000, and probably closer to $400,000.  An anomaly?

It turns out it is not.  VitureOnline reported yesterday, and I don’t think it is a hoax appropriate to the day, that a vacant historic church building in Binghamton, NY, acquired by the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York through trust clause litigation when the congregation that was there departed the Episcopal Church for the Anglican Communion in North America, was sold back in February to the local Islamic Awareness Center for $50,000.  Again, the assessed value of the property was $386,400.  The Diocese saw about the same return on the property as the Presbytery — cash payment of roughly 1/8th the value and no longer having to worry about and care for a vacant building.

For reference, sale of church property below assessment is not unusual.  The Episcopal Diocese of Rochester in June 2007 sold off the All Saints church building, now assessed on the tax rolls at just over a million dollars, for $475,000.  So that sale was at roughly half the value of the property.

So, $50,000 seems to be the going rate for a $350,000 – $400,000 valued unoccupied church building in Central/Western New York.  The macro-economic supply and demand implications are left as an exercise for the reader.

Exit Strategy? Parallels In Institutional Realignment And Consequences

The parallels are very interesting, if not striking…

For the past week the big news in religion circles has been the Roman church establishing a structure to bring into full communion Anglicans that are now at theological odds with their own denomination and are looking for a more conservative church.

But consider this Anglican-Roman possibility compared to the PC(USA)-EPC situation.

At the top level there is the structural similarity.  In each case the receiving church has created a specific auxiliary structure within the church to accommodate the beliefs, polity and practices of the immigrants.  While Rome is still ironing out the details, it has been announced that the post-Anglican branch will have a “personal ordinariate” (read bishop or other episcopal type person)(update: a good note on personal ordinareates from Called to Communion) for that branch.  The EPC has of course set up the New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery.

Now, yes, I am fully aware of a couple of points where these two cases are reversed.  First in size, the larger Roman church is offering to receive from the smaller Anglican church while it is the other way around for the PC(USA)/EPC relationship.  But there is a historical relationship in each of these cases with the smaller denomination braking away from the larger at some point in the past.  One other important difference in this situation is the speed that each developed.  While the founding of the New Wineskins Presbytery was not immediate, it did happen relatively quickly by church history standards.  The reunification of the Roman and Anglican branches has probably been a goal of Rome for, oh, say 500 years, and this most recent move should be viewed as something specific that has been in the works for a while, maybe a couple of decades.

But beyond the structural parallels there are at least two dynamics in this where we may see parallel activity as well.

The first is the effect on the receiving institution.  Interestingly, in both cases the receiving institution will have to make accommodation for women serving in ordained positions.  While the EPC had this as a local option, we have seen some question about how former PC(USA) churches would be integrated into EPC presbyteries that do not currently have women ordained to church office.  For the Roman church, it will have to accommodate not only women serving as priests but the reality of married clergy.  And while Rome has previously accepted married clergy that have realigned to them from the Anglican church, this will require a whole new level of accommodation.

But what this really does is raise the possibility of questions from the established side.  “If they can be part of us and have women clergy, why don’t we?”  “If they can be part of us and the priests can be married, why can’t we?”  I have previously spoken of the PC(USA)-ization of the EPC, it will be interesting to see what the ramifications are for the Anglican-ization of the Roman church.  How much interest will there be in members and clergy drifting from the established side to the new branch?

(Correction:  After multiple contacts about my line above about women priests (see the comment below) I did some more looking and 1) can not now locate my original source for that and 2) located a lot of commentary that implies no women priests.  Accordingly, I have struck that comment.  If I can locate my original source I will reinstate the above line and cite a reference.  Until then it is not an issue. Sorry about that.)

The second parallel is the one of pragmatism and practicality — The idea looks good on paper, but will they come?  Put another way — How much will this be viewed as the better of two imperfect options?

Within the PC(USA) the situation is still developing.  The church has, for the moment, retained the ordination standards but the majority view seems to be that when in all likelihood the PC(USA) presbyteries vote on it again a year from now there is the distinct possibility that G-6.0106b will be modified or removed.  At the present time not all of the churches who are part of the New Wineskins Association of Churches have moved to the EPC New Wineskins Presbytery — many see their calling to remain with the PC(USA) for the moment.  And Presbyterians for Renewal has proposed a non-geographic synod for churches to be able to remain in the PC(USA) while holding differing views on ordination standards.  While the EPC option is available it appears that so far a minority has viewed it as the appropriate way forward.

There is a similar situation in the Anglican Communion even without the offer from Rome.  In the U.S. there is both the Anglican Church in North America that broke away from the Episcopal Church as well as some dioceses that are looking at staying, but just barely.  The Diocese of South Carolina has a special convention this weekend where it will consider five resolutions that would keep them in the church but withdraw from many of its functions.  Similarly, within the Church of England there are groups within the church that are eying the announcement from Rome, but seem to be leaning towards the loyal opposition route.  And then there is the Global South where the “liberal trajectory” in parts of the Communion is an issue, but not for them at home.

One area which does not seem to be a parallel is the politics of the exit strategy.  In the PC(USA) the EPC option seems to really be viewed as just that, an option.  Despite charges of recruiting PC(USA) churches, and the effort by the PC(USA) to hold onto property, it has seemed to be something that churches consider for the sake of their ministry.

Now maybe I am reading too much into some of these stories (or the media is writing too much into these stories), but over the last week I have gotten the impression that many of the conservatives in the Anglican Communion see the offer from Rome in political terms and a development to be used as a bargaining chip.  Maybe it is just me, but from the comments welcoming the new option (e.g. ACNA) it almost seems like some members of the Communion are using the Roman Church as a “white knight.” They are not so much interested in joining Rome as to use its offer to put pressure on the Anglican Communion to reinforce conservative views.  But maybe this is just me reading some conspiracy theory into all this.

If you are interested in more of the practical realities of this offer to the Anglicans from Rome I would suggest a piece by Diana Butler Bass on Beliefnet and Peter Smith at the Louisville Courier-Journal.  And of course, one of my favorite reads, GetReligion, has five different articles analyzing the coverage of the announcement.  (One, two, three, four and five)

Now, if you are regular readers of my blog you probably realize that I have an analytical interest in church realignments.  It will be interesting to see how this develops.  I think that my first Ph.D. degree is probably enough so I won’t be doing the comprehensive research and analysis, but there are probably a couple of good dissertations about church structure and realignment that will come out of this and I look forward to that research.

In addition, it will be interesting to see what develops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over the same issues after this past summer’s Churchwide Assembly.  So far about ten ELCA churches have had a first vote on realigning with the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.  But I need to start closely following another denominational branch like I need…

Anyway, it is interesting to see how both the structures and practicalities of these realignments are developing.  We will see what the actual outcome of all this will be.

A Great Summary Of Church Property Law

If you follow the news and analysis of church property cases floating around right now you probably already read the Anglican Curmudgeon.  Mr. Haley’s legal knowledge, analysis and insights are very helpful in tracking and understanding the developing and sometimes confusing court cases that are out there.  And while he primarily tracks the twists and turns of the Anglican/Episcopal legal disputes, property and otherwise, as I have regularly observed there are implications for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) cases as well.

Well, in a recent post Mr. Haley noted and included the recent (Sept. 18) decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court case of All Saints v. Campbell.  For those who view the law to say that church property belongs to the local congregation this is one of the rare higher court decisions in their favor.  But I bring this decision, and Mr. Haley’s blog post, to your attention because it is also a very clearly written decision with a very good discussion of the current case law regarding hierarchical denominations.  As the Curmudgeon says:

The opinion is so clear and well-written, in fact, that there is
scarcely any need to translate the greater part of it for a lay person.

So, if you want a nice introduction to the legal background in these cases I can do no better than to refer you to either the decision, or his mildly annotated presentation, and suggest you begin at the section that is headed “Law/Analysis.”  Towards the end it does get specific to South Carolina when it reviews and elaborates on a previous ruling in that state court which presented the rule to apply for neutral principles cases in that jurisdiction.  But it is really only at that point that the legal jargon really starts to be used.

You will notice that although this is a state court decision, it does a nice job of explaining the U.S. Supreme Court decisions and their application to previous state cases.  In addition, you will also see how many of these cases involve disputes at Presbyterian churches, probably more than any other denomination, going back over 100 years to the original U.S. Supreme Court decision in Watson v. Jones in 1871.

As with many of these cases the decision involves details specific to this church and South Carolina (e.g. Colonial English Law still in effect) which the Curmudgeon points out is not applicable elsewhere.  If you are interested in these matters it does make for interesting reading, but for the general national perspective you can stop at the end of the Law/Analysis section.

Very interesting reading.  Thanks for the pointer and the commentary Mr. Haley.

Episcopal Polity Statement From The Anglican Communion Institute — The Rest Of The Story?

I had a professor in graduate school who commented how much he really liked the articles in the magazine Scientific American.  Except, he said, for articles in his discipline and then he found that they had errors or were incomplete.  The implication is that we can analyze and critique what we know but in other areas we may miss the full story.

This is how I feel after reading the new Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of the Episcopal Church issued by the Anglican Communion Institute.  Reading through it I found the Statement interesting and I learned a lot.  In fact, in many of the sections I was drawing the parallels to the polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  But then I hit the short section on PC(USA) polity and I found it superficial and incomplete causing me to call into question the document as a whole.  They are not very good at the area I know and I can’t properly critique the rest where I am not experienced.

The purpose of the Statement is to argue that The Episcopal Church (TEC) is not a hierarchical church — that the dioceses and their bishops are autonomous and that the General Conference is a voluntary association of dioceses. This is argued with a number of lines of reasoning, some of which make a lot of sense to me and a couple that don’t seem to support the point.

Now I know a lot about Presbyterian polity but very little about the fine points of Anglican or Episcopal polity so I am not going to do a point-by-point analysis.  But as I read through the document there were clear parallels to American Presbyterianism.

1. They discuss “ordinary power”

“Ordinary” is a term of art in Anglican and Roman Catholic ecclesiology and canon law that refers to the power inherent in the office given by the Lord to Peter and the Apostles. (p. 3)

There is clearly no direct Presbyterian parallel to the office of the bishop as an individual with apostolic power, but the Presbyterian concept of “permissive powers of the congregation” appears similar to the “ordinary power” discussed here.  (That would be G-7.0304a(5) in the PC(USA) Book of Order and check out my discussion at the end of my post on congregational power for more on the various thoughts about permissive powers.)]

2. Historically dioceses were organized earlier and later associated into a national structure similar to presbyteries being the first higher governing body in American Presbyterianism predating synods and the general assembly.

3. In the Episcopal General Convention each diocese has an equal vote while in the PC(USA) it is apportioned by membership.  But maybe more important, in the PC(USA) each presbytery has an equal vote when it comes to agreeing to confessional or constitutional changes.

4. The Principle of Subsidiarity — there is a difference in the nuances here, but the parallel with the PC(USA) is still striking.  This document says (p. 11):

“Subsidiarity expresses a preference for governance at the most local level consistent with achieving government’s stated purposes.”

This is reflected in two ways in the PC(USA) Book of Order.  From G-9.0402b

b. The administration of mission should be performed by the governing body that can most effectively and efficiently accomplish it at the level of jurisdiction nearest the congregation.

And from G-9.0103

All governing bodies of the church are united by the nature of the church and share with one another responsibilities, rights, and powers as provided in this Constitution. The governing bodies are separate and independent, but have such mutual relations that the act of one of them is the act of the whole church performed by it through the appropriate governing body. The jurisdiction of each governing body is limited by the express provisions of the Constitution, with powers not mentioned being reserved to the presbyteries, and with the acts of each subject to review by the next higher governing body. [emphasis added]

So far all well and good.  There are these points that I see as strong parallels between TEC and PC(USA) polity.  And then…

I hit the section where they compare TEC to other churches.  The discussion makes sense to me when they talk about clearly hierarchical churches, like the Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox Churches.  But in the Protestant branches they include the PC(USA).  It is not the inclusion of the PC(USA) that irked me but the way they did.  Here is the complete discussion of the church:

Likewise, the constitution of the Presbyterian Church USA indicates unequivocally the hierarchical relationship of its bodies:

The General Assembly is the highest governing body of this church and is representative of the unity of the synods, presbyteries, sessions, and congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). [G-13.0101]

The General Assembly is also given the explicit power “to provide authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order which shall be binding on the governing bodies of the church….” [G-13.0103]

Where do I begin…

What may be the most surprising to you is that if I had to provide a Book of Order citation to “prove” the PC(USA) was hierarchical I would have used something out of G-4.0300, the Principles of Presbyterian Government.  For example:

f. A higher governing body shall have the right of review and control over a lower one and shall have power to determine matters of controversy upon reference, complaint, or appeal; [G-4.0301f]

So what are the problems with the citations they use?  First, as I have mentioned above, while the General Assembly may be the “highest governing body,” it bears many similarities to the General Convention which they argue is not a hierarchical power.  These similarities include the presbytery/diocesan representation to the body and the fact that the higher body can not unilaterally change the confessions or constitution.  They are correct that the General Assembly is given the power to interpret the constitution but as Presbyterians know there are subtleties here, especially over the last few years with alternate and superseding interpretations by the Assembly itself and the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission related to ordination standards.  It also should be noted that constitutional changes are not only ratified by the presbyteries but nearly all begin as overtures from the presbyteries.  Finally, in Presbyterianism the term “higher governing body” is a term of art and is understood not to be an entity unto itself but a part of our connectionalism, a sign of unity of the church since it is comprised of commissioners from the lower governing bodies.

In analyzing the arguments in this Statement I thought back on the oral arguments before the California Supreme Court on the Episcopal Church Cases regarding church property and the trust clause.  I tried to review the arguments to give a direct quote but the video appears to have been removed from the web.  But, as I reported at the time, when the lawyer for the churches was answering justices’ questions about the principle of government theory and the hierarchical church he said that break-away churches would prevail under that legal theory because even though they have left TEC they are still part of the Worldwide Anglican Communion
.  They are still part of a global hierarchy.

Now, I am not arguing that under their arguments and logic the PC(USA) is not a “hierarchical church.”  One of their marks of a hierarchical church is review of lower bodies by higher bodies which is a hallmark of Presbyterianism.  But from a legal point of view for civil litigation I don’t know if that is either necessary or sufficient to pronounce a body a hierarchical church.  Similarly, while I understand and appreciate the arguments made in the Bishops’ Statement at least a few state supreme courts have not seen it the same way.  (Although California sort of dodged the issue by using neutral principles to side with the denomination in the majority decision.)  And if scrupling is upheld we may see how hierarchical the PC(USA) is if a presbytery is forced to accept an officer ordained in another presbytery after declaring an exception.

It is an interesting article and I enjoyed reading it, especially the sections related to the shaping of the church in the late 1700’s.  Historically their argument seemed to hold up.  But after finishing the document I had to ask myself “what is the rest of the story?”  I know what it was for American Presbyterianism.  What else is left out regarding the Episcopalians?

And You Think Presbyterian Polity Is Confusing…

It has been a while since I commented on the Anglican Communion, but those who closely watch the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issues know that there is a very close and parallel situation in The Episcopal Church (TEC) at the moment.  Close enough that we write amicus briefs on each others court cases and we have churches realigning in the same places that Episcopal dioceses are realigning, such as the San Joaquin valley of California.

There are two different, but related, tracks of controversy developing in the Anglican world at the moment.  The first involves the Episcopal Church and an effort by conservatives to demonstrate that it is not a “hierarchical church.”  This is of course important because one of the legal theories for a national church retaining control of the local church property, the “principle of government,” is the trust clause for a hierarchical church.  If the church is not hierarchical the trust clause is harder to argue.

This news was broken earlier this week by the Rev. Mark Harris in his blog Preludium.  He said:

the next few days a position paper signed by a number of bishops
connected to the “Communion Partners” bishops group will be published,
in all likelihood by the Anglican Communion Institute. It will
challenge the notion that dioceses of TEC are part of TEC
in any other way except by voluntary association, and that therefore
they are free to independently subscribe to the Anglican Covenant and
maintain pastoral visitation and oversight independent of any agreement
with TEC or its leadership. At least that is the conclusion to be reached from a thread of emails send to Preludium today (April 21).

And the Rev. Harris says later

second point of reference is the belief that Episcopal Church polity
legitimately arises out of the autonomy of dioceses who gather in
voluntary association at The Episcopal Church in General Convention. In
this view it is the diocese and not The Episcopal Church that is the
“basic unit” of The Episcopal Church. In this argument TEC is not a metropolitical entity, but rather a free association of dioceses.

Note here the parallel to the PC(USA) principle that the presbytery is the “central governmental unit.”  (I wrote a bit about that earlier in the week.)

Well, there was a bit of an uproar on both sides about the information leakage.  The Rev. Harris mentions it yesterday as does the Rev. Susan Russell.  But the Anglican Communion Institute has released the statement signed by fifteen bishops.  At the present time there does not appear to be an official statement from the national office, but there is a press release with unofficial critical quotes.  I should also point out that Mr. Haley, the Anglican Curmudgeon, has a two part post (Part 1, Part 2) about why the Episcopal Church is not hierarchical.

But looking at this debate there is more than one implication if the Episcopal Church is not hierarchical.  The property is one thing but realigning a diocese with the Worldwide Anglican Communion is another part of it.  And related to that the Worldwide Anglican Communion is now writing a new Anglican Covenant that is conservative in its tone.  I won’t go into all the nuances of this, but for the purposes of the preceding news, if a diocese is the core unit of the church than it would be free to associate by itself with the covenant without being associated through the national church.

This is important because based on the current draft of the Covenant the leadership of the Episcopal Church has indicated that it might not sign on.  An article from Episcopal Life, the official Episcopal News Service, says

Should the ACC [Anglican Consultative Council] accept the draft during the Jamaica meeting, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has said
that she would “strongly discourage” any effort to bring such a request
to the 76th General Convention in July 2009. The Episcopal Church’s
Executive Council agreed in
January, saying that such a decision would need the full three years
between meetings of General Convention to “prayerfully engage the
faithful of all the dioceses of the Episcopal Church as to their
discernment in respect to the covenant” and listen to other provinces
“as they discuss and wrestle with the generalities and particularities
of an Anglican covenant.”

Ruth Gledhill of The Times points out that the Church of England may not be able to legally sign the covenant either because it “might subvert the authority of the Queen as Supreme Governor.”

So, if you think you have now reached the complexity of this polity think again.  Ms. Gledhill also reports on the likely implementation of this covenant:

The covenant, by virtue of a quasi disciplinary process, is likely
create a multi-layered communion, with the ‘conservative’ provinces in
the inner circle, with full voting rights at all the communion bodies,
and the pro-gay liberals on the outer circle and presumably some rights
removed, if they insist on consecrating more gay bishops or sanctioning
gay marriage and refuse to sign up to the covenant in all its biblical

And for a more elaborate exposition (and I gather he is being a bit tongue-in-cheek) there is Damian Thomas over at the Telegraph picking up where Ruth left off:

What I didn’t know is that the proposals are tied to an intricate scale
of “degrees of communion” – full, impaired, partial and broken – that
will ascribed to different provinces by a Lambeth Communion Review
Commission, which will itself be multi-layered, supervising Review
Sub-Committees based on the Indaba model that will ascribe State of
Communion Assessments to individual dioceses, non-territorial episcopal
oversight areas and parishes. It would, of course, be inappropriate for
the same Review Sub-Committees to cross the boundary between inner and
outer circles of the Anglican Communion, and so – in a radical proposal
drafted by Dr Rowan Williams himself – the Lambeth Communion Review
Commission will divide into inner and outer circle Areas of Special
Responsibility that will shadow each other’s assessments.

Got that?  He keeps going so if you want the whole thing check it out.  It sort of reminds me of my favorite Monty Python game show parody where the rules are so complicated there is not time for the contest itself.  An earlier version is available on line.

So is this an Anglican version of the PUP report?  Is this modeled on Dante’s circles of Hell?  What will the Anglican Communion look like in a few years?  The PC(USA) and the Episcopal situations are so close and somewhat linked so it will be interesting to see where they go from here.

Property Cases Argued Before The California Supreme Court Today

[Update:  Thanks to Episcopal Café and the comment from Jeff in VA below, they provided the link to the archived Supreme Court session and I was able to watch it again.  Jeff is right, the first time I missed a significant grilling of the denomination’s lawyer on Neutral Principles.  I have added one marked update based on my second viewing and adjusted a couple of my other comments.]

I am probably way too much of a polity wonk for my own good.  (That noise you heard was my wife saying “Amen!”)

I arranged my morning around the webcast of the oral arguments before the California Supreme Court of the consolidated Episcopal Church Cases about churches taking property when they leave a denomination.  While this case may be about three churches leaving the Episcopal Church, the decision will clarify California state law and PC(USA) governing bodies have filed amicus briefs in this case.  As a polity wonk I found the hour of arguments fascinating.

Some general impressions:  All of the lawyers were well prepared as were the justices.  They were quoting cases and statutes back and forth at each other by case name and number and frequently left me in the dust.  However, much of the time the discussion was in terms that I could understand and it was an interesting argument.  And while the lawyers may have had presentations ready to give, they were quickly interrupted by the justices who wanted to question them about the detailed legal points.

One of the most interesting points was that both sets of lawyers argued that under either legal principle, those being principle of government which would favor a hierarchical denomination and neutral principles which would favor the individual church, their side should prevail.  I must admit that between the legal argument and the interruptions (I could not completely shut the world out) I had trouble following why the denomination should win under neutral principles.  It may also have something to do with the weakness of the argument because it was clear that at least a couple of justices had trouble buying it.  What was more interesting, and has a certain degree of logic, was the individual church’s argument that they still win under principle of government.  The argument was that the actual church government was not the Episcopal Church but the Worldwide Anglican Communion which they have not left but are still under its governance.  This clearly is not an argument that can be used by a church trying to leave with contested property from the PC(USA).

A point where the denomination’s lawyers did better than the congregations’ lawyer was regarding the law in other states.  When the justices asked what the status is in other states (I think this was a “never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to”) the congregations’ lawyer answered “mixed.”  The denomination’s lawyers answered that other states have favored principle of government.  (It is my understanding that there are few similar cases which have made it all the way to the state supreme courts in this current round but that the government principle has been favored so far.)

The congregations’ lawyer took a real beating over the fact that one church (St. James) was originally an Episcopal mission church and when if became chartered it agreed to be “forever bound” by the Episcopal Church canons and attached those documents to the state incorporation papers.  His argument was that the canons are ecclesiastical law and property is not governed there but under state law.  One of the justices flatly stated that she was in favor of neutral principles but she can’t see how they could be applied here when the church agreed to be “forever bound” by the canons.  The counter argument from the lawyer was that “forever bound” was a spiritual promise like “death do us part” and that property is not a spiritual matter.  That and the canons don’t apply to property, or at least did not until the trust clause was added which was after chartering and incorporation.  The denomination’s lawyer argued that even if the current language of the trust clause was added more recently, language that covered the property was in the canons even at the time of incorporation.  Under questioning the lawyer also acknowledged that an independent church that joined the Episcopal could not, under canon law, leave with their property at a later time.

I wish I could tell you what the denomination’s lawyers got hammered on but I unfortunately had to deal with another item at work and missed  a segment of their arguments.  As I mentioned above there was some sharp questioning about their contention that the denomination should still win under neutral principles.

Update:  On viewing the archived video it is clear that the denomination’s lawyers did take a grilling on neutral principles.  The justices pointed out that the principle of government was an old, Civil War era decision and that neutral principles was the “modern” decision.  The denomination’s lawyer was quick with the response that as recently as a few years ago the body she was arguing in front of, the California Supreme Court, had reaffirmed principle of government for the state.  In addition, she made the “interesting” argument that principle of government was really just a religion specific sub-case of neutral principles because by deferring to the church government a court avoids the entanglement in religion of neutral principles.

While the trust clause issues are familiar on the national level, since that goes back to a U.S. Supreme Court case. The local twist is corporate law and much of the argument, especially with the congregations’ lawyer, was regarding the state donation statute and how, under that statute as I followed the argument, the aspect of property in trust must be explicit not implied like the canons are.

In spite of that last issue, which I had trouble judging, the general impression I got was that the justices seemed more sympathetic to the denomination’s arguments so I would not be surprised to see this decision come out in their favor, not withstanding the justice who sided with neutral principles but was pointing out the “forever bound.”

I must admit that in listening to the arguments I was bothered by the way the argument was made that the property was somehow separate from the ecclesiastical law.  I do realize that this was an argument from a legal perspective, but it just hit me wrong that somehow the property was separated as different in the mission to follow and serve Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

As I mentioned, if I had to bet on this one hour alone I would expect the denomination to win.  However, there are a lot of other parts to this case and it was clear that different justices were focusing on different aspects.  When the decision finally comes down it will be interesting to see what of today’s proceedings is found in it.

Update:  The Episcopal Café article in the comments also has part of an article from a subscription site on California Law where a legal counsel that saw the arguments discusses the session and feels that the court is favoring the denomination, or “over arching church,” in this case.

(As a side note, I had the webcast on a few minutes longer and the following case had some hilarious moments in the arguments.  It was something about parolees needing to inform their parole officer 24 hours in advance if there is a change in status with their pet, any pet.  The most obvious justification was for the officer’s safety if the individual got a
dog, but there were comments about “silent” animals like turtles alerting the parolee to the officer’s arrival and questions how you would notify the officer 24 hours in advance of the death of a goldfish.  On the latter the state conceded that there would need to be “reasonable enforcement.”  But at times I thought a Monty Python sketch was about to break out.)