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THURSDAY, MAY 22, 2008Printer-Friendly
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Virginia Churches Win First Stage of Big Court Battle
AUDIO BROADCAST: Virginia Churches Win First Stage of Big Court Battle
Let the Bible Speak Radio
Dr. Alan Cairns

As the result of such actions as the consecration of the openly homosexual Bishop of New Hampshire, eleven Anglican churches in Virginia seceded from the Episcopal Church and its Virginia diocese. Very often, in the event of a congregation's secession, big denominations lay claim to their property, which in many cases may be valued at millions of dollars. The threat of losing all they have built and paid for is often enough to keep disaffected congregations within the denominational fold. However, the eleven Virginia churches decided that they would fight to keep their property and try to stop the denomination from which they were seceding from filching it from them. The churches formed what they called "the Anglican District of Virginia" (ADV), a coalition that includes the historic 2,000-member Falls Church in the city of Falls Church, and the 1,300-member Truro Church in Fairfax - formerly two of the Episcopal Church's largest and wealthiest congregations. On seceding from the American Episcopal Church, the ADV congregations voted to align themselves with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), which is sponsored by the Church of Nigeria.

So the Episcopal Church and its Virginia diocese sued the churches, their clergy and vestries to recover their assets and property. In the first stage of what is set to be a multi-stage trial, the breakaway churches prevailed in court. An 1867 Virginia statute says that a congregation is entitled to retain its property if the majority of its members vote to leave the parent denomination. The Episcopal Church and the diocese had argued that a legal division had not occurred, and that the statute was therefore non-applicable. Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge, Randy Fellows, disagreed and said that evidence of a division at all three levels "is not only compelling, but overwhelming."  He thus found in favor of the breakaway churches.

However, the denomination is going to fight on. The constitutionality of the Statute will be decided at a hearing May 28 and the court has yet to rule on the property issues. But the first stage victory for the seceding churches is huge. The Episcopal Church is determined to fight this out to the bitter end. It gripes that those who have left it will "continue to occupy Episcopal Church property while loyal Episcopalians [will be] forced to worship elsewhere." A more blatant exhibition of hypocrisy would be difficult to find. The Episcopalians who support the national denomination have betrayed some of the most fundamental beliefs of historic Episcopalianism. In fact, it is impossible to be a "loyal Episcopalian" and remain in fellowship with a church that has so deeply apostatized as the American Episcopal Church.

Each side in this dispute has spent some $2m in legal costs. At stake are assets valued at over $40m, assets accrued by the churches, not by the diocese or the denomination. The Episcopal Church wants to get its hands on those assets, not just for the sake of the assets themselves but as a way of warning other would-be seceders that they will have to pay a heavy price to follow their conscience. That's usually the case, but I hope that more and more Episcopalians will awaken to the dire state of their denomination and separate from its apostasy, even if it should cost them all they possess. God is no man's debtor.

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