6 February 2015 A.D. Breakaway Anglicans in SC Can
Keep Churches Worth $500 Million, Rules SC Judge--Huge Loss for TEC
Anglicans Can Keep Churches Worth $500 Million, Rules South Carolina Judge
Diocese of South Carolina not required to give properties
and name back to national Episcopal Church.
Courtesy of Diocese of South Carolina
In the "land and building wars"
long fought within mainline denominations, the denomination usually wins. But
this week, a South Carolina judge ruled that bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 South
Carolina parishes had the right to leave The Episcopal Church in
2012 and take with them $500 million in property.
“In all of TEC’s governing documents, no rule exists
prohibiting the withdrawal of one of its member dioceses,” Circuit Court Judge
Diane Goodstein wrote in her opinion. As such, she wrote, TEC
defendants have no legal or other right to the plaintiffs’ “real, personal, and
The ruling mirrored an Illinois decision, in which the
Diocese of Quincy was allowed to keep its property and funds for
the same reason: The national denomination didn’t have a policy that kept
dioceses from withdrawing their membership. Last month, the Illinois Supreme
Court refused to hear the denomination's appeal.
The Diocese of South Carolina (DSC) had long distanced
itself from The Episcopal Church’s liberal stance on many theological issues,
including same-sex relationships. After Mark Lawrence, the diocese’s bishop, vocally opposed the Episcopal Church’s
2009 resolution to allow gay ordination, two priests and 12 lay Episcopalians
brought charges against him for “abandoning the Episcopal Church and renouncing
its rules.” In 2012, the diocese broke away from the national church after
it attempted to remove Lawrence.
Image: Heather Thompson
Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul, Charleston
However, the ensuing legal fight was not over liberal or
conservative theology, but over freedom, said Lawrence. “This has never been
about exclusion,” he said. “Our churches, our diocese, are open
to all. It’s about the freedom to practice and proclaim faith in Jesus Christ
as it has been handed down to us.”
The lawsuit filed by the diocese requested that the court declare that TEC
had no right to the diocese’s property or 36 parishes, many of which have been in the church tradition since the
Revolutionary War era. In fact, the South Carolina diocese existed before the Episcopal Church and
joined in its 1789 formation. The diocese left the national church briefly to
affiliate with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of
America during the Civil War, then rejoined in 1866.
“We are grateful that Judge Goodstein’s decision protects South Carolina churches from
being added to the long list of properties that TEC seized then either
abandoned or sold off,” said Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary, in a DSC press
release. “The decision protects our freedom to embrace the faith Anglicans have
practiced for hundreds of years—and not the new theology being imposed on TEC’s
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