"Episcopalians along the South Carolina Coast," says the Journal, "are battling in court to determine which of two factions owns an estimated $500 million in church buildings, grounds and cemeteries, following an acrimonious split last year over social issues."
Two-thirds of Episcopalians in the venerable Diocese of South Carolina (whose cathedral is at Charleston) have chosen reluctantly to stand apart from a national church structure they see as warping the Christian Gospel into a legal brief for political and social goals. There might have been room for discussion of various matters that fall under such a heading but for the longtime talent of the Catholic Church's legislative body (in which I serve as a lay deputy) for stifling objections to the new vision.
For South Carolina, in the Journal's account, the parting of the ways came last November over the national church's "blessing of same-sex unions, ordination of gay clergy and its liberal approach to other social and theological issues. The breakaway faction then filed a state lawsuit to assert ownership of 35 parishes," saying "it shouldn't have to turn property over to a church that it believes has drifted from Biblical principles."
National headquarters loaded its legal cannons and fired back, as in previous instances (Fort Worth, Northern Virginia, etc.) when conservative parishes and dioceses asserted their right to leave the national structure, taking property with them.
The legal points at issue -- what does a church own, and how? -- have about them the odor of ripe cheese gone bad. To this the Christian Gospel has come? - to sheaves of densely printed legal documents, to bench conferences and may-it-please-the courts? St. Paul's admonition against Christians brawling in the courtroom with fellow Christians has rarely looked more pertinent.
Irony asserts itself. The spiritual heirs of conservative Episcopal churchmen who 50 years ago put up, tolerantly, with the exploratory notions of theological liberals find themselves the targets of law suits aiming at, in effect, the imposition of liberalism on the whole church.
What an awful time for it, I repeat. A page or two over, the Journal reports on the gun control shoot-out commencing in Congress, centering on the question, shall we control crime and guns or not?