Property battles that result from churches and dioceses splitting with denominations can become contentious, especially when there are millions of dollars on the line — and as the battle over homosexuality continues to cause theological rifts, additional separations are likely.
In the latest property war, a court ruled Tuesday that the Episcopal Church no longer has rights to the breakaway Diocese of South Carolina's property, nor can the Episcopal Church use or control the diocese's associated names or symbols.
"We are grateful that Judge Goodstein’s decision protects South Carolina churches from being added to the long list of properties that [the Episcopal Church] seized then either abandoned or sold-off," Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary, said in a statement praising the court's opinion.
Lewis added, "The decision protects our freedom to embrace the faith Anglicans have practiced for hundreds of years – and not the new theology being imposed on [the Episcopal Church's] dwindling membership."
According to Charisma News, theological differences were cited as the reason for the split, including disagreement over the traditional definition of marriage, as the Episcopal Church now supports same-sex relationships.
Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence said that the split was a long time coming.
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"It's all a question of church polity," he explained. "We've been on a collision course with the Episcopal Church for 20 years for issues such as trustworthiness of the holy Scriptures, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, issues of anthropology — including what is a human being — questions of marriage and who receives the sacraments. All of those things are of theological concern to us."
This in mind, the Diocese of South Carolina sued the Episcopal Church in January 2013 to obtain the rights to its property. And with the conclusion of the court battle this week, 36 churches that are a part of the Diocese of South Carolina were officially granted an exit from the church, granting the diocese the rights to $500 million in property.
A trial unfolded last summer which led to South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein's 46-page opinion in favor of the church body earlier this week. According to that ruling, dioceses have the freedom to associate with whichever denomination they so choose and the Episcopal Church has no rights to "names and markings" associated with the diocese and its churches.
"The judge’s decision found baseless [the Episcopal Church] claim that it owned the Diocese’s identity and properties. During the trial, the Diocese demonstrated that it existed long before [the Episcopal Church] was established – and that it was one of the dioceses that founded the denomination in 1789," a statement reads. "It also proved that every diocese is free to associate with a denomination of its choosing."
The battle may not be over, though, as it appears the Episcopal Church might push for an appeal.
The Episcopal Church isn't the only denomination to face a split over key theological issues, with Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — another group considered to have taken a more liberal approach to scripture — is also battling with churches looking to disassociate.
Read more about the latest Episcopal Church fight here.
(H/T: Charisma News)
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