jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

property ownership: part 3

Well, I really like talking about the issues involved in the last two posts. And I was content to not put a new post for a couple of days in order to leave room for some engaging conversation about those. But then I received an email from Tom this morning. He thought that in light of our recent discussions on property ownership we might find a recent article in Christianity Today to be interesting. He’s right! Here it is.

First California and now Virginia (I am sure that Don can enlighten us on this). I wonder if a trend is emerging. Perhaps the USA courts are beginning to shift towards recognizing the collective will of a local congregation over the stipulations of the original covenant between a church and its governing body! Should we?

11 comments on “property ownership: part 3

  1. Don
    April 7, 2008

    The best “one-stop” place to find out about the Virginia decisions is here at Kendall Harmon’s blog.

    To answer your question about a legal trend, I’m not an attorney (although I’ve hung around them enough to act like one from time to time) but, IMHO, the short answer to your question about a trend is no.

    The situations in California and Virginia are exceptional.

    Starting with Virginia, the seceding parishes are relying on a Virginia statute that allows churches that split to split the property, and the trial judge agreed with the seceders that there was a real split and the statute thus applied. If we ever had a formal split in the CoG, that statute might kick in, but not otherwise.

    California is different in that is applies legal neutral principles to the property issue rather than just assume that whatever the church’s procedures say governs. The first church of any kind to get out was actually a UMC, but several Episcopal parishes have done so and their cases (along with one entire diocese) are working their ways through the courts.

    The difference between TEC and CoG is that TEC has a much longer history and less uniformity in how the property of individual parishes were set up than the CoG. Recognising that, in 1979 TEC passed the Dennis Canon, which basically forced the system we have in the CoG uniformly on all of the TEC. California courts view this as ex post facto, although the issue isn’t fully resolved.

    There are two other interesting cases, one in SC and the other in GA (the latter is actually the church where John Wesley preached.) The SC parish got out; the GA case is just starting. Both of these parishes, however, date from colonial times, thus they predate both the TEC and the United States!

    Courts in the US are, in general, reluctant to intervene in internal church matters. That reluctance is probably eroding, but slowly. And that erosion will probably manifest itself in more unpleasant ways than redefining our property arrangements.

  2. Jonathan Stone
    April 7, 2008

    Don, thanks for the helpful insight, and for linking up Harmon’s titusonenine blog (which is an awesome resource on this topic!).

    Question that may interest only me: In the case of the SJVC diocese in CA, where are they at in ‘the process’ of the courts? And what organization are they looking to affiliate with? Is it the one that grew out of Nigeria?

    If, for better or worse, the relunctancy of the US courts to intervene with church disputes is eroding, I wonder if certain church government models would be better prepared for the future that will come than others?

  3. lovin' austin
    April 7, 2008

    i think something to wrestle with in this whole property ownership area is the individualism that is already rampant in the United States church. if you allow this to continue, then who knows??? believers in churches will begin thinking that it’s “their” church because they give x amount of dollars. oh wait a minute . . . that already happens.

    i am not innocent in this striving for independence and individualism, but i do see some additional fall-out occurring to the capital “C” Church should the CoG move in the direction of the TEC.

    just my two cents.

  4. lovin' austin
    April 7, 2008

    i think something to wrestle with in this whole property ownership area is the individualism that is already rampant in the United States church. if you allow this to continue, then who knows??? believers in churches will begin thinking that it’s “their” church because they give x amount of dollars. oh wait a minute . . . that already happens.

    i am not innocent in this striving for independence and individualism, but i do see some additional fall-out occurring to the capital “C” Church should the CoG move in the direction of the TEC.

    just my two cents.

  5. Don
    April 8, 2008

    First: the diocese of San Joaquin is not under Nigeria but the Southern Cone (Bolivia, etc.), as is reported here.

    The legal battle over this is just starting. The TEC is “reorganising” the diocese under their own purview with those who don’t want to leave TEC. Once they consolidate that they’ll probably start legal proceedings.

    As far as which church structure is best suited to withstand legal attack, it depends on the nature of that legal attack.

    Centralised churches tend to be best in resisting pressure from above because they are able to organise and lobby their pastors/members more effectively. That’s why the RCC is so effective, in addition to its sheer size.

    Locally owned property churches are strongest in resisting attacks by the plaintiff’s bar. Individually owned churches tend to create a corporate “shell game” for purposes of litigation: loss of a major lawsuit is a disaster for a local congregation, but doesn’t carry forward as effectively (if at all) to the rest of the denomination.

    It’s interesting to note that one way the RCC survived the pedophilia litigation as well as it did is because of diocesan ownership of the property. Bankruputcy of a diocese would have been bad but containing that to a diocese or two was better (from the RCC’s standpont) than the whole church taking a bigger hit.

    The more I think and bloviate about it, the more I’m coming to realise that the CoG, if it finally decides to consider alternatives to the current arrangement, should look at a “hybrid” arrangement, at least on a transitional basis, than abandoning central property ownership cold turkey.

  6. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    Jeremy, thanks for dropping in and giving your “two cents.” It’s a very legitimate concern. I also think that you are in a great position to recognize that with your current church plant set to launch. I know that when I have gotten involved in planning (or at least brainstorming) a church plant, I have recognized ‘desires for independence’ which, in the end, I was not fully comfortable having. In other words, I felt like I was wanting too much control. However, I think I would still support a shift on ownership, especially a ‘hybrid’ model. The way I reconcile that is that I suspect that submission that is relational and voluntary, in the end, is stronger than submission that is institutional and obligatory. Still, I can only gauge how I would anticipate my response. Perhaps in that model a bunch of other men and women church planters would bolt out the door.

  7. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    Don, how did I know you would be able to answer those questions that may only interest me? Thanks!!

    Interesting you mention the ‘hybrid’ model. Scott and I touched on that briefly here.

  8. travis johnson
    April 8, 2008

    Here’s a question:

    Why do we want to control properties purchased by strangers in cities far from where we reside in cities we’ve never visited?

  9. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    Travis, great question. It sort of raises the issue of the balance between authentic relationship and church government. I suspect that we have a deep fear of losing control. And I suspect that that fear will manifest itself quite clearly if we ever seriously discuss changing our ownership structure. I think the deeper issue is this issue of authentic relationship. Personally, I have not been able to separate in my mind the two issues of (1) the relationship problem and (2) the organization and structural problem. I am still not sure exactly how they are interrelated, other than knowing that they ARE interrelated in a complex way. I fear that we will talk about the deeper more serious problem of relationship, but that it will all be talk, and no real change will come. Talking about the less important but more challenging structural issue sort of demands change on the relationship issue, whether we make the structural change or not.

  10. Jonathan Stone
    April 8, 2008

    …and actually, I guess the way I just put that reflects that maybe I have taken another step in my mind of clarifying the issues here. And that perhaps the ‘secondary issue’ of structure is in fact the ‘starting place.’

  11. Don
    April 8, 2008

    The interaction of structure and relationship is the thing that got things tangled up in the last post on this subject with Kim Alexander (in addition to the two South Floridians in the mix, which is a tall order for anyone!)

    Her point (I think) was that, if you loosen the structure, you loosen the relationships. The more I think about this, the more this makes sense. But on the other hand, as I note in a fictional way here, once centralised organisations start to come unglued, they do so in a big way.

    That’s why I’m starting to think that the key to starting changes needs to take place on the state/regional level. The RCC entrusts them with property. The TEC entrusts them with electing bishops (actually, the TEC has been, up to now, the sum of its dioceses, rather than the other way around). Can we think about alternatives here?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on April 7, 2008 by in issues, sustainability.
%d bloggers like this: