The Supremes meet today, some news expected

The Living Church reminds us that the Supreme Court will go into session today and they may announce whether or not they will take up the case of St. James Anglican Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles. However it goes the need for reconciliation and renewal continues in several church communities in the Diocese.

We can also see the fine hand of Christopher Wells, the new head of TLC, in an editorial on the whole matter of Christians suing Christians. The editorial points out an interesting reality, "... the Dennis Canon accurately describes the relationship between a congregation and a diocese, at least within a church that strives, however imperfectly, for catholic order. Conservatives cannot afford to play a semantic game that salutes catholic order as a concept (as in the Anglican Communion’s nascent covenant) but rejects it in daily practice because expensive property is at stake."

There is much good to be said for the tone and thoughtfulness of this editorial. Read it.

I too believe that court adjudication is not the best we as Christians can do. Sometimes it appears it is all we can do. Once Church courts no longer carry civil consequences (and that went out with the rise of the modern State), the only recourse at times is to civil courts. I believe that Paul's comment about Christians suing Christians (1 Cor 6:7-8) was likely about the unseemly matter of taking the faith community's own problems out of the community. Sometimes Paul sounds like a rabbi giving moral judgment and instruction for remedy very much as a religious judge would. We don't have those any more and so away we go to civil court.

I wish it were otherwise.

One possible screen for determining whether or not to get involved in a suit concerning property might be to be clear about the missionary purpose, vision and cost of such an undertaking. I don't mean the dollar cost, but the cost to missionary life. If there was a way for negotiation to take place it would be possible for all parties to look at the issues of mission.

The trouble is, of course, that when people leave The Episcopal Church and take the keys and determine that they, and not those who stayed, call the shots on use of property and its ownership, they have preempted any such conversation. Provided those leaving and those staying are up for working it out as opposed to declaring the matter over by coup, there are possibilities for other solutions.

So, we wait for the Supreme Court, for reconciliation and renewal, and pray for mission to continue and grow.


  1. Saw the headline, 'the supremes meet today,' and I gotta admit that 'stop in the name of love' was the first thing I thought of. Hmmm. Might be a desirable alternative....

  2. Fact is both sides involved in the court cases can be criticised for failing to resolve the issues and if that was not possible, not walking away from the property rather than going to court....it is a terrible witness to see these court cases

  3. The Court declined certiari so the verdict below stands and the diocese wins the case. That makes the ruling in that case which favors TEC's position part of the relevant law. I suspect that will help TEC in its efforts to over turn the silly verdicts in S.C. and Virginia.


  4. SCOTUS denied Cert. The State court ruling stands.


  5. The United States Supreme Court has denied the Writ of Certiori filed by the California Newport Beach "Anglican" church and will not take up the issue, it has been reported today.

    The U. S. Supreme Court's action effectively affirms the January 2009 decision of the California Supreme Court.

  6. Hi Mark--The Writ of Certiorari was denied. dr.primrose posted a link over at Jake's.

  7. Would that the followers of the Gentle Shepherd could follow his example! I read today that the mega church Coral Ridge Ministries here in Ft. Lauderdale just split in two after the death of its minister, Dr. James Kennedy. The Presbyterian church lost members over the new minister's "less political, less traditional" focus, according to the article. Guess he wasn't nearly homophobic enough for some. Sad.

    And the Supreme Court also declined to hear the California case. Sad also that it came to this. I'm sorry that the conservatives have reached this point where they simply will not and cannot coexist with any who disagree with them. It's all part and parcel of the same movement to write a conservative bible translation over at Conservapedia.

    At some point, in the near future, conservative Christians will have isolated themselves to the point of irrelevance and I find that tragic. Peace to all! (Even though the Conservapedia people want to remove all the liberal references to "peace" in the bible. . . .)

  8. Ultimately somebody has a lot of fessing up to do about the half-truth that TEC is a hierarchical Church. The Dennis Canon teeters on that reality.

    Witness and then ignore the following evidence that we aren't hierarchical:
    -Bishops (apparently now) get to decide to redefine marriage according to their own diocesan context and to rewrite the Marriage Service according to their context. All against the BCP definition of marriage.
    -Grace Church, S.F., et al write new forms of the Great Thanksgiving (not in BCP), and promote Communion of the unbaptized (against the current canon).
    - and on and on.
    It seems as though there are many such inconsistent winkings regarding the current canons of this Church which practically speaking has each diocese "doing its own thing" with a wide range of "discretion".
    So, if you can beat up or just flat ignore these kinds of canons, how do you get to claim the ones that you want when you want them?

  9. On the issue of Christians suing Christians.... Although the US court system is far from perfect, in the final analysis, all reasonable efforts failing to reach an agreement, I am more than glad that we enjoy this relatively neutral playing field to settle our differences. In the US we default to the civil authority which we hope is as unbiased as possible. The civil procedure allows for a truly fair discovery process. That means that all relevant documents be disclosed. Depositions allow for fair questioning. And these procedures, though cumbersome, level the playing field for all parties.

    When the so-called orthodox decry the use of the courts to settle differences, my experience is that in the overwhelming number of cases, they are in possession of the property and only such civil action will oust them. Examples, Truro-Falls Church, and Good Shepherd Binghamton New York. By contrast, if on appeal, they think they have a good chance of winning, they are more than willing to participate in the process, viz., St. James. For such to argue to the primates, as Bishop Duncan did at Dar-es-Salaam, that Christians suing each other is just plain wrong, and then to read Mr. Duncan's Secret Memo to the Global South, the Westfield Response document and the rest of the documents filed in the Calvary litigation is an eye-opener. Without the Calvary litigation, we would not have knowledge of what was planned, or the scheme for implementing the plans. In the face of these documents, Mr. Duncan's pleas to the GS appear, at best, self-serving, at worst down right manipulative and dishonest. In the case of many of these primates, their country's civil courts are corrupt. I believe Duncan was relying on this presupposition in pushing his agenda in Tanzania. That is not the case in the US and Duncan knew it. --- He also knew that in a “neutral” US Court he might well lose.

    It takes two to litigate. --- whether that be Good Shepherd Binghamton and the Diocese of Albany or St. James Newport and Dio. Los Angleles. Mr. Kennedy at Good Shepherd, when sued, could simply have shaken off the dust and walked away. He was in possession of the property. He chose not to leave but to fight. For the “orthodox” to claim that they are being persecuted by TEC in the civil arena is just plain hooey. Is civil action the way we want to do things? No! And as Church that's a big NO! But, when Christians disagree, in our context, we do have the integrity of our courts, a recourse that many countries do not enjoy. Had Paul known of our peculiar venue, he might have been the first one to say: “Take 'em to court” EmilyH

  10. Two big victories!

    The Supremes have refused to hear the St. James case, and Bob Duncan lost in Pittsburgh, an even bigger victory.


  11. @Jim

    That makes the ruling in that case which favors TEC's position part of the relevant law. I suspect that will help TEC in its efforts to over turn the silly verdicts in S.C. and Virginia.

    SCOTUS not taking a case does not make it any more law than it was before. It is a ruling of the Supreme Court of California interpreting CA law. It is binding precedent on California courts and could be cited in other courts, but it is actually of limited value because it relies on CA law. It is of absolutely no use in VA or SC where other state laws and issues are in play.The VA case raises establishment clause issues and the SC case raises free exercise issues.

  12. Well, Allen, no.

    The Episcopal Church is certainly hierarchical, and the top of the hierarchy is the General Convention.

    So, no, bishops aren't redefining "marriage." Some states are certainly redefining civil marriage, as well as allowing legal recognitions of other sorts. Bishops do have latitude in providing pastoral support. Arguably, they've always had that, but they have it now more explicitly because it was approved by the General Convention. They will also be involved in exploring where this Church might feel called about this; but only because that exploration has been approved by General Convention.

    As for designing forms of the Great Thanksgiving: I suggest you read pp. 400ff of the Prayer Book, which provides for that latitude - as approved in General Convention. And then there are those rites approved for trial use as part of the Enriching Our Worship series - all approved by General Convention. Moreover, we've recently had evidence that the bishops take this seriously. An important aspect of decisions not to confirm the recent episcopal election in Northern Michigan was the latitude taken by the bishop-elect in writing eucharistic prayers, in which a significant number of bishop felt he had gone too far.

    So, yes, we're hierarchical. It's just that our "hierarch" is the General Convention, and not an individual.

  13. When US courts use the term "hierarchical", it is a word with a special meaning. The term has been defined by the Supreme Court and it contrasts with congregational. The essence of the term is whether the group has binding rules it can enforce against congregations. In this special, legal sense, there is no doubt that TEC is hierarchical. We have a constitution and canons and both dioceses and parishes assent to the constitution and canons. Every court which has considered the legal question has ruled the same way and I expect that there is binding precedent on this issue in every Circuit.

  14. ruidh, I see your point. However, as I recall the California appellate decision upheld by the California Supreme Court based its decision in no small part on Federal Court precedents, including SCOTUS. While "[t]he VA case raises establishment clause issues and the SC case raises free exercise issues," the Virginia case at least does involve a question of the implied trust of the (hierarchical) Episcopal Church, this is of note, if not precedent per se.

  15. Marshall,

    The still outlying questions about hierarchy remain and here's why.

    General Convention has NOT officially amended (by our own rules) the canons defining marriage, the proper candidates for communion, nor has the Prayer Book been changed (which we are told is the repository of what we teach). The liberals cannot change these by a full and obvious vote (up/down)so they are withered down by resolutions of 1 GC that mysteriously can now override canons. Now mere resolutions trump canons...which are too hard to change...so the truth is plain: just resolve in GC to ignore the ones you don't agree with.

    What GC has done is to codify the truth that were are independent dioceses. The canons really don't matter after all....except the ones about stuff.

    So, General Convention has given up it's own authority by failing to adhere to the very documents that all TEC leaders are required to sign allegiance to. Let's remember that. We don't sign oaths of allegiance to GC's resolutions, but to the Constitution and Canons. But those standards are now changed without applying the very methods required for them to be changed.

    For THAT reason we are not hierarchical.

  16. Well, Allen, at this point we'll simply have to agree to disagree. As one who voted, of course I am of the opinion that our actions did not overturn Constitution and Canons. They are permissible within Constitution and Canons, which certainly allow for exploration as we discover more about our mission in Christ over time. They are permissible within the real but limited independence of action of dioceses - real, but still accountable to General Convention as the primary interpreter of Constitution and Canons.

    No, I know you're not convinced. And God bless us both.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.