Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Millions for Lawsuits, Not One Penny for Jesus

The recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church did many things. Bottled water is now officially a Bad Thing, for example. One of the more important things it did was eliminate, completely, evangelism from the national budget. Now it's quite possible to argue that was a good thing, given the current nature of Episcopal theology. But, were I a member of the Episcopal Church I would be worried. Evangelism is how churches grow. The money, effort and staffing spent evangelising is an investment in the future.

Certainly, individual dioceses and parishes will spend money on evangelism. Some of them even have officially designated evangelists on staff. But where an organization spends money is clear sign of what its priorities are. What are the Episcopal Church's priorities? Well the only items to see increases in funds were those included under the heading of Presiding Bishop's office. This includes $3 million for litigation and $1 million for disciplining bishops (and possibly other clergy). That's a staggering sum.

Currently, the official position of the Episcopal Church is that only individuals may leave. Diocese, parishes and such may not leave. Also, all property belongs to the national church. The national church has resolutely resisted any attempts by churches to exit with their property.

The problem is, that even if you happen to agree with 815, what argument can be made against allowing a church to buy its own property? In the vast majority of cases of a congregational split, the remnant congregation has been folded. Selling vacant churches is almost always problematic. I'm told St James, Newport is on the waterfront, which makes it extremely valuable, but most of the dissident churches have not been so blessed.

The litigation has been justified as a 'stewardship issue'. I'm just not buying it. Then again neither are the churches in question. A good and wise steward would seek to extract the maximum value for the property. Disregarding any prohibitions against litigation and being totally worldly, the good steward would assess each case on its facts, and litigate when the cast of the suit was well below the value of the property. He would also negotiate whenever possible to get the greatest value for property.

Outside of Central Florida, we haven't seen this. And again, I have to ask: Why?

What, exactly are the priorities of the Episcopal Church?

All signs point to an organization that is trying to stay on an even keel while the ship sinks. The officers and crew seem to just want to stay afloat until they retire. Any thoughts of repairing the damage have been officially cast aside.


Anonymous said...

GC's decision to eliminate evangelism from the budget may be the most telling them to emerge from this GC. The litigation policy is maddening - even if I were a loyal revisionist I would be horrified at the waste of money, energy and spirit - and the good will of the larger community. How does it look to see a church constantly in the news because it's filed another lawsuit? What message does that send? I think the church has fallen into the hands of "leaders" whose religious education is less than skin deep, who have perhaps had more pop psychology and left-wing politics instilled in them than they have of Jesus' redeeming love. Cutting down on the use of bottles and print will not save us.

My diocese sends out footers on all its emails reminding you to think again before daring to print the message. I'm sure it's making the world a better place.

Andrew said...

TEC is busy rearranging deck chairs while the officers are telling everyone that the iceberg off the starboard bow will help save the ship. they are also still insisting that the ship cannot possibly sink.

TEC is big on repentance and forgiveness. But they apparently have forgotten the part about "Go forth and sin no more."

Jeff H said...

There were a couple of other negotiations before the gates slammed shut--I'm thinking of Christ Church, Overland Park (KS) and St. Clement's, El Paso (TX)--but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

I keep seeing church property litigation write-ups in legal trade publications, and all I can do is hang my head.