December 15, 2008

Why the Courts?

Over at the House of Bishops / Deputies list there's some discussion going on about why we can't have more mediation or reconciliation instead of litigation, in addressing some of the painful controversies with dissident members or parishes and even large chunks of dioceses. Much of the litigation, of course, focuses on the property issues -- mostly real property issues.

I sympathize with those who wish we didn't have to resort to the courts. One often hears Paul's advice not to go before a civil court cited; but then when he got into a spot with his Jewish countrymen, he appealed to Caesar.

However, I think it is fair to note that in many cases the petitioners who, following Paul in his "appeal to Caesar" modality, are those who wish to remove church property from the control of the larger diocese or church. There have also been a few failed efforts at reconciliation which cast a larger shadow over the successful efforts; this is exacerbated, no doubt, by the press both "sacred" and secular.

There seems to me to be another reality at work: some people just can't be negotiated with; they don't want to negotiate even when negotiation is offered. That -- coupled with the fact that, if I'm not mistaken, about 80 - 90 percent of all such property cases end up favoring the "hierarchical church" -- presents the dissidents with three possibilities:

1) Negotiate and likely and up having to pay a fair price for the property, or

2) Litigate, spending perhaps less than the property would cost, but on the chance you might win and get it for nothing beyond the money spent to press the suit; or

3) Abdicate, walking away and starting anew, but then having to spend a pretty penny to do so.

Given that there is bound to be a cost involved, even the "logical" choice would appear to be (2), unless the legal costs become prohibitive.

This choice is, at least in some cases, also fueled by a high level of a "God is on our side and will deliver us" mentality. A perusal of some of the dissident side's reflection on their court cases, and indeed the whole course of the crisis in the Anglican Communion and environs, reveals that the Deuteronomic Historian's philosophy is alive and well ("If we do what God wants God will reward and protect us..." ) So that emotional pressure adds to the "logical" choice to risk litigation on the 10-20% chance of winning. Beats the lottery, hands down; and inclines the heart away from reconciliation or negotiation.

Tobias Haller BSG


Update 12/20/08

This post has engendered a number of comments, some of which seem to derive from portions of it having been quoted out of context -- and with an added gloss -- at SFiF. Fr Matt commented below as well, and I responded to his very courteous note. I want to summarize what I said and add it here as an update, to help clarify what I intended in this brief reflection. I invite you to read the string of comments for further insight.

This reflection was written in answer to the question, "Why can't we all get along" and was an effort to understand why a parish would choose litigation -- from the get-go -- rather than negotiation or abdication. I think my original statement is true in many (not "most" -- as the gloss to my comments asserted at SFiF) cases. It appears to be true in relation to Don Armstrong's parish, and in the California parishes; the story in Virginia seems to be mixed, but as "the witnesses do not agree" I'm content to set that aside. What I'm left with is evidence from past reading in the Clergy Law and Tax Report, not just from TEC cases, but other churches. Good-faith negotiation seems to be rare, and litigation common. I've also spelled out [in the comments] the pressure to litigation from the "hierarchical church" side -- I don't mean to put all of the "blame" on dissident parishes, by any means.

In part I was trying to lay out the reasons for choosing litigation over negotiation (which takes both sides' agreement, and which often fails early on) or abdication (the third option I describe) from the dissident side; which Phil dismisses as "trivial" or so obvious it doesn't require saying. To my mind, the effort to alienate property rather than walking away and starting fresh, especially in places where the track record on court decisions is against the congregation and in favor of the hierarchy, requires some explanation as to what drives the movement in that direction. And I think it is the small but real hope of winning the case, and a very firm belief in the rightness of the cause. That does not seem to me to be unreasonable.

T

31 comments:

Fr Craig said...

TH - as a 'former lawyer' priest, I have greatly mixed feelings about the 'negotiate with us' ploy - for that's what it is: it is effectively blackmail by using the huge legal fees to force the settlement that they want. I watched in my former diocese (Kansas) as the bishop negotiated a fair price for the property of a large parish in KC which defected to Uganda. It all sounds fine - except for the 300 parishioners who were stranded - they had no interest in Uganda, wanted to be Episcopalians, had sacramental and family history there, folks buried in the courtyard... The only thing the bishop could tell them was that they were free to go one of the other faithful parishes. I am afraid that this is simply tyranny of the majority, and I don't think Christ's church should deal in this way. Fact is that in the long run TEC will win most of these cases, and I think our fiduciary duty to the ancestral donors it to protect the gifts they made from schismatic thieves... sorry to sound harsh!

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Fr. Craig. I don't disagree at all; I do not think it wise of TEC to negotiate away property, except perhaps in rare cases (such as a relatively recent and monolithic foundation.

I am trying to understand why the dissident groups do not negotiate more often -- I think they see the chance of winning and so go for broke. I'm not sure this is a conscious process, btw; it may operate at an emotive level. Surely there is a lot of emotional energy involved.

Phil said...

As a piece of short fiction, this is pretty good. In the real world, though, most of the parishes I've read or heard about that want nothing to do with the new thing have been quite willing to negotiate, and usually have. Of course, those discussions, which, by all accounts, have often proceeded in the spirit of Christian charity, also eventually, and mysteriously, come to a screeching halt, and at the initiative of the diocese, not the parish. The most infamous example is Virginia, though you can read about a smaller one from one of your blogging opposites at Stand Firm.

No question about it, though, "some people just can't be negotiated with; they don't want to negotiate even when negotiation is offered." It's just that those people are named Katharine Jefferts Schori, David Booth Beers, and, apparently, Tobias Haller. But, then again, you may be operating on an emotive level. I can't say for sure, but I'll go ahead and attribute irrationality to you, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Astonishing, Tobias. Really. Almost in every case, every case, departing congregations have been willing to negotiate and reach a settlement. And almost in every case it has been EUCSA and specifically KJS and Beers who have not let that happen. Every church in VA was willing to reach a settlement--as was Peter Lee! In Pgh Duncan made it clear that he was willing to avoid litigation and negotiate. JOHN 2007. Astonishing spin.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks Phil. I'll leave it to others to decide where the "emotional level" lies. As to the parishes you've heard about, I really can't comment. Though in the Virginia case I think the record shows the petition was brought to court by the parishes, not the diocese; though they say they did so because the negotiation came to a halt. It's hard to tell who is presenting the more accurate account in a case like that. Apart from what the court records show.

Kevin M said...

For those few times when a fair negotiated settlement has been reached, what then happens to the money that the diocese receives for the property?

I've sometimes that if I were a bishop (God forbid!), I might offer the departing members (if a large enough majority were leaving) the chance to rent the property for a time from the continuing members. Then if it becomes clear that a viable congregation can be maintained in that property, the departing members would have a chance to buy the property at market value with the money then going into a fund for seed money for a new start-up ministry based on the remaining members. If the departing members refused the initial (quite generous) offer, I'd have the locksmiths already at the church.

Tobias Haller said...

John 2007, I think you are definitely mistaken about the "every case" -- but again, you seem to be arguing from your own anecdotal database. And again Virginia comes up. Does it occur to you that Bp Lee might have ended negotiations because the demands of the dissenters were unreasonable? Do you deny that it was the dissenters who actually filed the first court case? It really does take two to tango.

What is astonishing to me is the whole dissenter notion that they are somehow owed negotiation, and I'm trying to fathom both that and any other rationale for going to court when the record shows they only have a slim chance of winning. I can only speak for myself, but if I were moved to depart from the church, I would do so knowing I had to leave behind the contributions I made to it.

I know the dissenters have strong feelings, but the law, and the courts usually find against them. So they are not negotiating from a strong position, by any objective judgment (such as that of a court) that is, they generally do not have a "right" to alienate the property from the larger church. What is astonishing is that they continue to try to do so, instead of just walking away.

Anonymous said...

Tobias. You ask "Do you deny that it was the dissenters who actually filed the first court case?" The fact is that the Diocese, by the protocol that it had established for dissenting and departing parishes asked or stipulated by that protocol, that the parishes file with the courts as they did and this was to establish primarily a way to guard the validity of the upcoming vote. That is beyond question despite the spin. So on that count, there is no question. By Peter Lee's procedure that filing was called for. The document used to be available on the diocesan website. I don't know if it is now.

As for dissenters being unreasonable or their actions being unfathomable to you, I can only say that I think it is very reasonable to test the Dennis Canon (and would have been fairer if each parish had been required to sign on to that explicitly in its particularity), to hold our leaders accountable for their actions--esp when the rend the fabric of the church despite warnings from the wider communion--and, more generally, I think a better polity for a church would be to have some sort of ratification of GC actions by Dioceses and parishes more akin to the Presbyterian model and the process of amending our own US Constitution.

JOHN 2007

Phil said...

Does it occur to you that Bp Lee might have ended negotiations because the demands of the dissenters were unreasonable?

No, mostly because Katharine Jefferts Schori admitted in testimony that it was she that ordered negotiations to end and strike suits to be filed (as reported by George Conger):

“Presiding Bishop: ‘I ordered U-turn on deal’: CEN 11.23.07 p 6. November 23, 2007
“In testimony before a Virginia court last week, US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated she had directed the Diocese of Virginia to sue the clergy and lay leaders of 11 congregations after they had quit the Episcopal Church for the Churches of Nigerian and Uganda.
“In video taped testimony presented to the Fairfax County Circuit Court, Bishop Schori said she ordered Virginia Bishop Peter Lee to break a verbal agreement allowing the 11 parishes to withdraw from the diocese so as to prevent ‘incursions by foreign bishops.’ …
“Testimony in the week long trial, revealed that shortly after her installation as Presiding Bishop in November, Bishop Schori met with Bishop Lee, telling him she ‘could not support negotiations for sale if the congregations intended to set up as other parts of the Anglican Communion.’”

Do you deny that it was the dissenters who actually filed the first court case?

Yes; what they did was register their congregational votes, as directed to and provided for by Virginia law, which is not at all the same thing as “filing a court case.” It was ECUSA that initiated the lawsuit, because, I suppose, it felt it should get an exemption from that law that the rest of us don’t get. Or something.

Tobias Haller said...

[Reposting to correct an unintelligible sentence]

John 2007 and Phil. Thanks for the additional details on the situation in Virginia. This is not quite how I've heard it described in the past.

However, it appears to me, based on your comments thus far, that we have a more fundamental disagreement than that concerning how many dissenting churches try to negotiate a transfer of property versus those who go to court, or end up in court as a result of diocesan action.

I'm not even sure how we got off onto that question, though. I hope you will note that that is really not the point of my essay -- and this discussion seems to have taken a detour onto a tack about these relative numbers. What I said is that "in many cases the petitioners... are those who wish to remove church property from the control of the larger diocese or church." And I said that "some people don't want to negotiate." I think both are true. There are also many cases in which the diocese takes a dissenting parish to court -- or, as in Pittsburgh perhaps the only case of a parish taking a dissenting diocese to court! There are relatively few cases settled by negotiation -- or so it appears; it may be as I suggested that the amicable partings of the way don't get the press that the lawsuits do.

My concern here was with trying to describe the pressure toward litigation on the part of the dissenters. I don't think it is "unfathomable" -- what I meant by "trying to fathom" is that this is the topic under discussion. And I think it fair to say that they take that course because they think they have a chance of winning. I do not think that is an absurd observation, or unfounded one. That is what I'm saying here; do you disagree? What other reason do they have for going to court instead of just walking away -- regardless of who brings the case?

The diocese and national church, of course, have a built-in pressure towards litigation -- it is their fiduciary duty. I know it is fashionable to mock that notion, perhaps in part because +KJS is pushing it; but I would add that it is only partially related to the so-called Dennis Canon; that merely put into canonical form a practice that had long been understood and acted upon. In NY especially, court cases were always decided in keeping with that principle of trusteeship, prior to 1979.

To address your point concerning the Dennis Canon: the trustee relationship that the current incumbents of a parish have towards parish property is explicit in canons (II.6.2) far older than the Dennis Canon. Parishes are prohibited by canon law from alienating church property (by sale or a long-term lease -- five years in New York State; which also requires permission of the Supreme Court for such sales and leases) without the consent of the Bishop and standing committee. The real property of the church is not "owned" free and clear in the sense that the incumbent congregation has the freedom to do with it whatever it pleases -- and that would obviously include removing it from use for the worship of the Episcopal Church. This is what the Dennis canon codified, when it rendered the implicit trust relationship in the other canon explicit, on the recommendation of the Supreme Court.

John, if you prefer a congregational polity, there are many such bodies to choose from. As it is, TEC has the polity it has had since its foundation -- no one suddenly changed the rules. Perhaps its just that you don't like the decisions.

Phil, the Virginia statute is an oddity. I expect it to be overturned as unconstitutional, since it forces an essentially congregational polity on all churches, and puts the court in the position of having to make decisions about such polity. This seems to me to be an inappropriate entanglement. Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

JOHN 2007 writes

I think this crisis shows that we would be better served if there were some ratification process. Church polity is not incapable of being improved upon.

Christopher (P.) said...

From Bishop Peter Lee's pastoral address to the 212th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia, January 2007:

"My experience with the leadership of the departing members is that compromise and accommodation with difference among fellow Christians are especially difficult for them. When members of the churches informed me of their decision to leave in December, I wrote the rectors of each, asking them to assure me that provision would be made for faithful Episcopalians to have access to worship according to Episcopal discipline. The response was that such an accommodation might be possible as part of an eventual, overall settlement but clearly was rejected for now. That was, for me, the last straw in repeated experiences of hard line practice by people who do not welcome the breadth of The Episcopal Church."

Whatever KJS may have said, the decision was Bishop Lee's.

The point that Bp. Lee makes over and over again is the seriousness of the "spiritual abandonment" (his words) on the part of the clerical leadership of the breakaway parishes of those who did not wish to leave the Episcopal Church, and for which this leadership had a pastoral responsibility.

(FYI: The Diocese's website contains a full listing of the public statements, as well as issues of The Virginia Episcopalian, from which this quote was taken.

Especially noteworthy is the letter to the Diocese of January 18, 2007, which lays out in great detail the background for the decisions that he and the rest of the Diocesan Leadership made some two years ago.)

Christopher (P.)

Kevin M said...

Re: Virginia and the PB

I don't deny that the PB put pressure on Bp. Lee to end negotiations, but that doesn't mean she was able to require him to do so. Bp. Lee could have refused; so why did he go along and end negotiations? Has he ever said that he was doing it under duress or something like that? Why hasn't that side of it been discussed?

Tobias Haller said...

John 2007, you are aware, I trust, that amendments to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church requires the consent of two separate sessions of the General Convention, and delivery to the Diocesan Conventions for review in the interim. While this may not be "ratification" it does provide a mechanism for review and rethinking. It also provides an opportunity for a diocese to make a formal objection at the next session. I know of at least one constitutional change that failed on its second reading -- removing the vote from retired bishops. This has since been rethought once again and was adopted at the last session and is up for review at the next session.

Thank you, Christopher P. for the more complete and less anecdotal account. This supports my contention that dissident congregations are not often of a mind to negotiate from the outset -- at least open-mindedly -- whether it is they or the diocese and/or national church who first move to litigation or not. It jibes with my memory of the situation in Virginia, which is not unlike that in Colorado: the dissident parish(es) tend to come on very strong, as if negotiation was something owed to them.

I made one of my rare trips to Stand Firm, and noted that some one with the handle "laud" posted a portion of my original essay. Unfortunately he added a closing line as his own comment which represents something I did not say; that is, that most dissident congregations refuse to negotiate. That is not what I said, nor what I intended. I wonder if this is where John and Phll came away with that impression?

This is, after all a complicated situation that involves game theory and cost/benefit ratios. And there are several facts on the ground that I had assumed went without saying:

1) no one can force the other side to negotiate;

2) it is not in the interest of the diocese and national church (with few exceptions) to abdicate and merely allow dissident congregations to take control of church property without compensation.

Although I was writing primarily in an effort to lay out my understanding concerning the dissident side (as to why they often play "hardball"); I think it is fair to say that on both sides the pressure or impetus is towards litigation. This brief essay was written in large response to the question "why can't we all just get along and have negotiated settlements instead of these lawsuits?" -- and I think game theory and the cost/benefit ratio shows why, on both sides. The diocese and national church feel that they have both a fiduciary responsibility and a responsibility to the remaining members of the Episcopal parish, and in most cases the law is on their side; the dissident members feel that they are entitled to control of the property -- even though in the majority of cases the court will find otherwise. This is where I believe the lottery effect takes hold on the dissident side; and I do not think I am mistaken.

Phil said...

Tobias,

One more time (with feeling), those that choose to corporately leave ECUSA aren’t the ones deciding to go to court or “take that course.” They are forced there, as respondents, thanks to the tender $1000/hour mercies of David Booth Beers. As to your observation that they might join that battle rather than conceding because they think they might win, it seems a little trivial. I mean, therefore, what? I know you’d like them to just surrender, but why should they, when they think they’re in the moral right?

Other, quite rational, reasons for resisting ECUSA’s legal assault aren’t hard to fathom at all. Number one is the practical reality that starting over in a school gymnasium somewhere, with all the extant advertising wrong and with none of the usual Episcopalian churchly trappings necessarily lowers the chances of success. (We don’t have to, I think, believe that cosmetics should make a difference to the believer in order to acknowledge that they do.) ECUSA is well aware of this, which is a major reason it is insistent on destroying these congregations in their cradles. Were there to be an easy corporate path out of the Episcopal Church, 815 knows its losses might increase by a factor of 10.

Number two is the knowledge that, should they be displaced, the building will most likely be used in the furtherance of leading people down the path of (in their view) grievous error. Again, I think it’s easy to see why there would be revulsion at that prospect, just as, I bet, you would be pretty distressed were your parish to be turned over to Peter Akinola, or Martyn Minns.

As to Virginia, sure it’s an oddity, but that’s neither here nor there. Its law is also crystal clear, such that one wonders what kind of fiduciary duty it shows to force the Diocese of Virginia to incur millions of dollars in legal fees it can’t afford, for the pyrrhic victory of seizing buildings it can’t begin to support. Nor does that law “force … an essentially congregational polity on all churches,” as the Roman Catholic Church shows. Being truly hierarchical, it long ago ordered its affairs in a way that would bring laughter should 815 try the same with its parishes. You get a gold star if you know how.


And, Christopher, the quotes you’ve given prove nothing, as they are ex post facto (in addition to being false). For that matter, no cheerleader for the Episcopal Church and its direction should be charging others with “spiritual abandonment.”

Tobias Haller said...

Phil,
I have little interest in pursing a Yes you did / No I didn't argument concerning Virginia. Nor do I have a great interest in arguing the validity of the Virginia statute -- as I said, I think that will be settled by a higher court. I do not doubt that the statute is crystal clear -- but I believe also clearly unconstitutional. That is not for me to decide, but for the courts -- that's what they're there for.

In the meantime I think you have accurately described the reasons a dissident parish wants to hold onto what it regards as its property; and that, in spite of the fact that the majority of court cases will decide against them. That is actually a point of my essay -- they will join the litigation (whether they started or not in the sense of being petitioners) rather than acknowledging that the diocese and national church will likely prevail. Whether you agree or not, the Episcopal Church is hierarchical, and courts have long recognized that point, and will continue for the most part to do so -- even, as in California, reversing a lower court's erroneous decision. That the Roman Catholic Church found a different solution to this matter -- is it corporations sole? -- is irrelevant; and would likely create similar problems I dare say if a Roman Catholic bishop tried to remove his diocese. (It also backfired a bit when Roman Catholic dioceses found themselves stuck with large bills to pay off the abuse cases; there was some nifty dancing around who owned the property then!)

What continues to bemuse me, however, in the face of the majority of court decisions to the contrary, is this persistent belief that parishes are entitled to alienate their property -- which, as I noted above, goes back long before the Dennis Canon. This sense of entitlement, the sense that they are, as you say, "in the moral right," is what drives them to litigate (on the off chance of winning) rather than to abdicate. If you find this observation to be trivially true, I wonder why you feel it warrants debate?

You suggest that I would "like" dissident parishes to abdicate rather than to litigate. What I like or dislike has nothing to do with it -- I'm trying to be objective in observing that in the majority of cases the dissident group will not only fail to assert control over the property, but incur a great deal of expense in their failure to do so. I think it is actually in the best interest of everyone for people who want to depart from the Episcopal Church simply to do so. I think that is an objective statement based on the evidence. In fact, I don't "like" it -- but it is better than the cost of failed law-suits.

If it comes to what I would "like" it would be for people to be reconciled and continue to worship God as a unified body. I do not, like some, believe that the doctrinal matters that have stirred up at the present conflict will, in the course of time and in retrospect, be seen to have been worth the cost. Others will feel differently, and of course they must act on their beliefs. What I would "like" will have little impact in the present situation. What I am trying to do is describe the situation as I see it, as objectively as possible. You may find that effort trivial, but objective reality sometimes needs to be stated. I think you have actually done the same in this most recent comment, and have laid out some of the very real rationales for why people on both sides press for litigation rather than negotiation or abdication. Am I mistaken?

Phil said...

Tobias,

I don’t think you’re mistaken on the odds facing departing congregations which would like to keep their property (in most states). The reason I’m arguing that some of what you write is trivial is because you seem to be trying to subtly shift your original argument, which was false, to more ho-hum observations that are uncontroversial. So, yes, the faithful parishes, having found themselves in an organization that has gone far from the path of mainstream Christianity (in their view; I share it, but the correctness of it isn’t important here); having sunk untold sums of money into their properties, usually with little assistance from the diocese or, certainly, 815; long having had “slip and fall” and such liability for which the diocese would have simply smirked and said, “Good luck;” and staring at a deed with the parish’s name on it, certainly might feel the property is theirs, and be willing to resist the unjust efforts of a third party to seize it. All of this ought to be obvious even to ECUSA partisans.

What you originally wrote, though, was something else: you supposed that

There seems to me to be another reality at work: some people just can't be negotiated with; they don't want to negotiate even when negotiation is offered. That -- coupled with the fact that, if I'm not mistaken, about 80 - 90 percent of all such property cases end up favoring the "hierarchical church" -- presents the dissidents with three possibilities:

1) Negotiate and likely and up having to pay a fair price for the property, or

2) Litigate, spending perhaps less than the property would cost, but on the chance you might win and get it for nothing beyond the money spent to press the suit; or

3) Abdicate, walking away and starting anew, but then having to spend a pretty penny to do so.

Given that there is bound to be a cost involved, even the "logical" choice would appear to be (2), unless the legal costs become prohibitive.


But what every parish with which I’m familiar has done isn’t (2), it’s (1). They’ve sought to negotiate, and been willing to pay some price, only to be shut down by 815 – because, as Schori said plainly, there will be no arrangements with Anglicans. Hindus, Wiccans, animists – they’re all fine, but, under no circumstances, nobody that has a pretense to be a part of the Anglican Communion. And so, your successive shots at these people as “God is on our side” religious nuts, or irrational people raging along on “an emotive level,” don’t hold water. You’re aiming, in fact, in the wrong direction: it is “in the interest of the diocese and national church … to abdicate and merely allow dissident congregations to take control of church property,” with compensation. It is unquestionably better for both sides – better, that is, unless one side is driven to smash the other no matter the cost. Those dioceses goaded into spending millions on lawsuits for the privilege of gaining buildings which will sit mostly empty and cost yet more, all as programs are cut and other properties are hocked to pay the butcher’s bill, will know which side that is, even if they know they best keep silent in public.

Tobias Haller said...

Phil, once again I accept your anecdotal is evidence for your own experience. I remain unconvinced that a majority of dissident parishes approach "negotiation" with anything approaching a reasonable attitude. Rather, they approach with the attitude you describe: arguments about all the money they've spent, the lack of help from the diocese, and in some cases a deed with title.

First of all, let me say I am coming to this with a historical perspective. I'm not just talking about the recent round of court cases, but about a long-standing tradition of people trying to "negotiate" by claiming the property is theirs, rather than simply stepping forward with an offer to buy or lease.

And while I agree there are circumstances in which such alienation of property is not a bad thing -- just as it is sometimes reasonable to lease a parish in a part of town that has gone industrial (note I say lease, not sell -- I'm opposed in principle to the sale of church property in all but the rarest cases).

I suppose this is something about which we will have to disagree, based on our different experience of these cases. Even in the Virginia matter there appear to be more sides to the story than either of us is fully willing to take under consideration...

JCF said...

Number one is the practical reality that starting over in a school gymnasium somewhere, with all the extant advertising wrong and with none of the usual Episcopalian churchly trappings necessarily lowers the chances of success.

Here's the thing: from my (FWIW, doctoral) research into congregational schisms, I'm not sure this is even true. In Central Pennsylvania at any rate, you see a repeated pattern in the 20th century: congregation 'x' divides. The denominational party keeps the property (usually via winning a lawsuit). The dissenters set up their own congregational edifice (conveniently, usually where there is growing residential construction!).

30-50 years later, the denominational party remains small: in an old building "Downtown".

The dissenting congregation (most often called "X Bible Church"!) is 5-10 times larger, in the suburbs.

[This pattern holds true, even if the "Downtown" is only of a smalltown to begin with: newer is always further out]

If TEC's schismatics were smart ("as serpents"---and as Akinola urged) they would GLADLY leave their former property behind, build NEW buildings (w/ all the amenities that "seekers" love) and experience (predictably!) EXPLOSIVE growth.

I mean, you believe TEC is dying anyway? Why not leave us the old buildings to die in? (You can always sweep 'em up later, after the last gray-haired TEC aged-hippie has died off)

*****

OK, now that we've dealt w/ the serpents part, onto the doves:

I bet, you would be pretty distressed were your parish to be turned over to Peter Akinola, or Martyn Minns.

WOULD be? Phil, that's what HAS happened!

I belong to The Church, Phil: the Body of Christ. I am a member of The Body. As such EVERY parish is "my parish" (not just the one I eat Jesus in currently, or the ones in which I have done so---which are many).

And yes: seeing my parish turned over to Akinola and Minns "distresses" me greatly. Hearing the beloved Church of which I've been a member all my life, from which I am fed on Christ, disparaged as "leading people down the path of ... grievous error" is TERRIBLY PAINFUL. Would you, like, stop hurting me already? Please?

Phil said...

Interesting research, JCF. What it sounds like is an excuse for why new denominations would perform better than old ones. However, I believe the LCMS is still smaller than the ELCA. Where did the former go wrong? And, does your research address the fact that the parent denomination is equally capable of planting parishes in higher-growth areas?


"No" to your last question (with respect): if Akinola and Minns are so clearly wrong in your mind, and you feel free to say so (and you do, on many sites), then I believe the same courtesy should be extended to mainstream Anglicans.

Peter S said...

LCMS didn't split from ELCA--the two bodies currently known were formed from different organizations. The ELCA was formed in the 1970s as a merger of LCA, ALC, AELC, and perhaps other smaller groups. LCMS did experience some schism in around 1975 (I believe the leadership was taken over by the more conservative faction of that, overall more-conservative synod). But that's not the source of LCMS per se.

I think JCF's story makes sense, but note that it also fits the time period--during the late 80s and most of the 90s seeker-sensitive churches were on the cutting edge and their style attracted a lot of popular attention. Now I suspect we will see them as less of a novelty, even if they remain successful.

David |Dah • veed| said...

The Association of The Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) organized in 1976 after about 250 congregations split from the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS had taken a sharp conservative turn and the schism became official with the seminal event of the major portion of the faculty and student body processing out of Concordia Seminary in St Louis, MO and establishing Concordia Seminary in Exile (Seminex) which eventually became Christ Seminary - Seminex.

Because the AELC attracted less congregations than the leaders had expected, they approached two other Lutheran churches and invited them to discuss a merger. The AELC began discussing merger with the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church. The two churches held compatible beliefs to one another and to the AELC, but were ethnic Lutheran bodies with different organizational polity. The discussions led to the creation of the Commission for a New Lutheran Church, which resulted in the dissolution of the 3 churches at midnight Central Standard Time 31 DEC 1987 and the birth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at 12:01 CST, 1 JAN 1988.

The AELC represented about 100,000 communicants, while the ALC and the LCA were each individually larger than TEC. The resulting ELCA was 4.5M+.

I know all this because Christ Seminary was my first choice to attend. I ended up at Perkins, SMU, because my acceptance letter to Christ Seminary stated they would only exist another year and then library, faculty and students would all go to other Lutheran seminaries, but that they could not guarantee that another Lutheran seminary would accept an openly gay applicant.

As you can see Phil, the ELCA/LCMS have no connection to the research scenario presented by Dr. Fisher.

MarkBrunson said...

Tobias:Would you, like, stop hurting me already? Please?

Phil:"No" to your last question (with respect). . .

That pretty much sums up the Reasserters right there, doesn't it?

You can't deal rationally with those trapped in their own fantasy-world, Tobias! Just protect yourself from them.

Tobias Haller said...

Mark, thanks for the concern, but that virtual dialogue took place between JCF and Phil. I am merely the host to their interchange at this point, as this has wandered a good bit from my original reflection -- by which I stand; noting I did not say, "most" but "many." (I have since also heard from a priest in San Diego, who assures me that none of the dissident parishes sought negotiation, and rejected it when offered -- no doubt relying on what they believed at the time was their strong hand based on the lower court decisions in favor of the dissident congregations.)

As to hurt and harm, while I believe that the actions of the dissidents in the current turmoil are hurting the church and themselves, and as I am an empathetic person, I share in this pain, I do not in the long run think that the harm is terminal, at least for TEC. I know the delusional dissidents love to see a general withering away of TEC, and the prospering of their own efforts. I, on the other hand, see a hiccup of initial growth for them and decline for us, followed by their eventual slow dissolution into further schism; while TEC will generally track (as it has for the last century) the general fate of the "mainline" churches, gradually losing members to the point that those who remain will be the more seriously committed members, probably at about 2/3 the size of the present church. This loss rate is far lower than that experienced by Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics (whose statistics are offset by the large number of new members. That will not be true in the next generation, and we will see a huge decline in the RCC; again, down to the true believers, I would wager at about 1/3 the size of the present church.) That's my prediction: check back in 50 years!

Anonymous said...

Tobias+,

I can assure you that your "option 1" was our hope. There is and was Nothing pushing us toward litigation, we dreaded the thought, knowing the tough history and case law in NYS. Were approached the bishop BEFORE we officially departed to seek a way forward that would not cause any harm to the diocese (with which we had a very good relationship) and asking for a process of negotiations.

The bishop said negotiations would be possible but only AFTER we departed. We drew up an informal protocol in his office complete with a timetable for our departure and the beginning of negotiations.

We went halves on an appraisal.

Immediately after we departed the tone changed dramatically. Our first two offers were rejected with no reasons given and no counter offer. Then when we sought a meeting to figure out what was happening, we were met with attorneys. Then, a month later we were sued. You can read the whole thing here:
http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/18482/

I do not think our experience has been unique. We feel we were mislead and then ambushed. I am not sure the diocese ever had any intention whatsoever of negotiating...so, I am sorry, but at least in our case, little of what you write above bears comparison with the situation on the ground here.

Matt Kennedy

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Matt+ for the further info. As I said above, I had not followed the CNY/Gd Shepherd situation; I know there have been other cases where negotiations were begun and then broken off by the TEC side.

Again, though, let me emphasize that I never said that "most" dissident parishes have no interest in negotiating. That was -- over at SFiF -- an added comment by someone who quoted me out of context.

As I've also said, instances only arise to wider awareness (via the press, usually) when they end up in courts -- so we tend not to even hear much about the negotiated settlements.

This reflection was written in answer to the question, "Why can't we all get along" and was an effort to understand why a parish would choose litigation -- from the get-go -- rather than negotiation. I think my original statement is true in many cases. It appears to be true in relation to Don Armstrong's parish, and in the California parishes; the story in Virginia seems to be mixed, but as "the witnesses do not agree" I'm content to set that aside. What I'm left with is evidence from past reading in the Clergy Law and Tax Report, not just from TEC cases, but other churches. Good-faith negotiation seems to be rare, and litigation common. I've also spelled out the pressure to litigation from the "hierarchical church" side -- I don't mean to put all of the "blame" on dissident parishes, by any means. In part what I was trying to lay out is the reason for choosing litigation over abdication from the dissident side; which Phil dismisses as "trivial" or so obvious it doesn't require saying. To my mind, the continued effort to alienate property rather than walking away and starting fresh, especially in places where the track record on court decisions is against the congregation and in favor of the hierarchy, requires some explanation as to what drives the movement in that direction. And I think it is the small but real hope of winning the case, and a very firm belief in the rightness of the cause. That does not seem to me to be unreasonable.

God bless you, and I hope with all my heart that the situation in CNY / Gd Shepherd will be resolved with minimal harm on all sides. That may be an unrealistic hope, but it is my hope.

Anonymous said...

"This loss rate is far lower than that experienced by Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics (whose statistics are offset by the large number of new members. That will not be true in the next generation, and we will see a huge decline in the RCC; again, down to the true believers, I would wager at about 1/3 the size of the present church.) That's my prediction: check back in 50 years!"

The sociological facts are somewhat different than your prediction:

http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-chapter-2.pdf

If you scroll down to page 5 you will see that half of Episcopalian/Anglican youth leave the tradition by the time they are adults. While the RC 30% loss is devastating to us, it is in fact the least percentage leakage of all the Christian denominations surveyed.

That same page also points out that half of adult Episcopalian/Anglicans in this country are converts.

FrMichael

Tobias Haller said...

Fr. Michael, but the chart on page 24 of the Pew Rport, describing changes between childhood and adulthood shows a -.3 difference for Anglicans and a -7.5 for Roman Catholics. What this works out to percentage-wise (and I think the Pew reporting is hard to grasp) is that between childhood and current religion the net loss to TEC is about 16.6%; the figure for Roman Catholics is close to 23.8%. The figures on page 26 show a the same story in a different way, by factoring in the people entering the two churches.

It appears that the percentage of people who switch to the Episcopal tradition as adults is a bit less than the 50% you report; I figure it at 38.8%, based on the figures on page 26. The percentage of people who come to the Roman Catholic Church as adults is 8.2%. We've always known that the Episcopal Church is attractive to adult converts, significantly more so than Roman Catholicism, and that is supported by these statistics; not in gross numbers, of course, but in percentage of the population.

Both our traditions, as with most of the faith groups studied, lose a lot of our youth; TEC however, gains a higher proportion of adult converts; who generally are more committed to their actions than are children. I will stand by my prediction; as I say, check back in 50 years or so...

Anonymous said...

Tobias, I see your point about the statistics. I would quibble on one point: by page 26 the converts would be close to half (0.7 percent divided by the 1.5 percent) who are currently Anglican/Episcopalian, not using as the denominator the 1.8 percent who were childhood A/E which it appears you did. So by the study the proportion of converts among current A/E would be close to half instead of about 1/3 of the whole. Is that what you see in TEC?

In any case, I certainly expect the Catholic Church to decline in this country. By extrapolating these percentages out two full generations (not a bad assumption for 50 years passage of time) the percentage of Catholics would be about 11% of the total population: a stunning 56% drop from the current percentage. I don't think I'll be around in this life 50 years hence to observe but I'm working and praying hard right now to see that this unhappy trend doesn't occur in my portion of the Lord's vineyard.

I think the secularizing trend of this country will be a challenge to all religious traditions, as the Pew Study seems to indicate.

BTW Merry Christmas!

FrMichael

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks for the update Fr. Michael. Yes, I was working "forwards" from the 1.8 rather than back from the 1.5.

One half seems a bit high to me; but a lot depends on where you sample. For example, in my parish I would be willing to wager that over 90% are cradle Anglicans. Ironically, the same may well be true of some of the starchy WASP parishes to the north of where I live and move and have my being.

But if I go by my religious community -- which is to say a sample only of adults, I am sure the bulk of them came to the Episcopal Church from another tradition; perhaps as high as 75% or more.

Then there's my own personal situation --- I was baptized in the Episcopal Church but my parents joined the Roman Catholic Church when my younger sister was born (and I was rebaptized conditionally -- this was pre-Vatican II!) but then I left the Roman Catholic Church in early adolescence and wandered about in agnosticism for a few years before I returned to the Episcopal Church in college. I have a feeling that even though I am technically a Boomer, my story would be typical of the generations that are bringing up the tail end of the alphabet. In short, Pew's "binary" accounting may not be rich enough to reflect a complex emerging reality.

I agree with you that many if not most of the Christian faith traditions will decline in membership over the next decades. I think all of us would do better by heeding the advice of Pope Paul VI to the religious orders: recover your founding charism; be faithful to the Gospel; and be aware of the signs of the times. Not bad advice, it seems to me.

A blessed feast of the Incarnation to you and your parish.

Anonymous said...

The only God - the Robert Duncan worships is his ego. Wake up - this is a new paradigm and you ideals are no longer considered holy but hateful and prejudice. WE Are ONE

New Ager