Thursday, January 11, 2007

KJS on property issues

From the Arkansas-Democrat interview with the Presiding Bishop posted at Bible Belt Blogger:
ADG: Let’s talk about some of the struggles in the church right now, what’s happening in the church in Virginia [where members of several congregations have recently voted to leave the denomination]. I’m especially curious to know what you think about property issues. That’s going to be different based on individual laws in different states.

KJS: Actually, not so much. The reality is that this is a very tiny percentage of the Episcopal Church. This is a handful of congregations out of 1,700. They’re getting a lot of press; they’re quite noisy. The reality is that there have always been people who decide that they have to follow another path. That they can’t find what they’re looking for or believe they need within a faith tradition. And our attitude has to be to bless their going, to pray that they find the source that they’re looking for in another community. But the reality also is that congregations and dioceses are structures of the institutional church known as the Episcopal Church. They can’t leave. Individuals can leave. We’ve also been very clear that property in this church, all kinds of property, real property, legacy, memorials in a congregation, are held in trust, because they come from generations before us and they are for generations that come after us. That can’t be alienated. The issue you raised about law – the federal Constitution is clear about the separation of church and state, that the church has the right to make decisions, if it’s a hierarchical church, and that the courts will only interfere in very specific circumstances. The property issues have been decided in favor of the denomination in almost every case.

ADG: What about in Georgia, where there’s a church where it’s not so much people wanting to leave as having cut off their funding to the national church.

KJS: That’s nothing new. There are congregations and even dioceses in this church that, because they’re peeved with particular decisions — and they’re decisions across the map; all sides are going to withhold funding from the national church. It’s a sad commentary on an understanding on both denominational polity and a sense of stewardship.
While there have always been those who see it as a tax, there is a finer distinction to be made. What of those who cut of funding to the national church as a way of protest, indeed, as a matter of conscience?

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