Wednesday, July 8, 2009


When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? (1 Corinthians 6:1)

These words of St. Paul have, I would guess, been cited more often in the past few years than in most decades - or even centuries - since they were written. They are often cited by those who condemn as a betrayal of the Gospel civil litigation to resolve property disputes between Episcopal dioceses and congregations that have left the Episcopal Church. I do not think that resorting to the courts is, in fact, a betrayal of the Gospel for three reasons.
  1. I respect the rights of those on both sides to seek to protect what they believe are their property. It is for them, I believe, a matter of faithful stewardship of the resources that have been entrusted to them. Although I think that those who have left the Episcopal Church do not have a right to Episcopal Church property, I recognize that those who disagree with me have every right to defend their position in court.
  2. Unlike the Corinthians to whom St. Paul wrote, we can not take these disputes "before the saints," as there is no body within the Anglican Communion with the authority to settle these disputes. We can wish that there was, but there isn't, so we are left with the civil courts when negotiation fails.
  3. The citing of Paul's admonition sounds hollow when done by those who have already in so many ways accepted the authority of the government in other matters of their organizational life. Unless I am mistaken, those who appeal to St. Paul belong to congregations and dioceses that are incorporated in their states and which have accepted gladly the tax-exempt status granted by the IRS.

I would rather have seen all the property questions settled without recourse to the courts, but I believe that they must be settled, in court or elsewhere. The properties in question were given to the Episcopal Church for the furthering of its ministry and its sharing in the missio Dei. Settling which parties have a legal right to these properties is important.

No comments: