Justices deny bid from dissident South Carolina churches to keep buildings

The steeple of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The historic property will return to the control of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Photo by Spencer Means/Creative Commons

(RNS) — The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is preparing to reclaim control of more than two dozen properties worth an estimated $500 million after the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal brought by a breakaway group of conservative Anglican congregations.

“We are grateful for the clarity that this decision offers, and hopeful that it brings all of us closer to having real conversations on how we can bring healing and reconciliation to the Church, the Body of Christ, in this part of South Carolina,” said the Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. “Skip” Adams III, bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, known as TECSC, in a statement.

In the same statement, TECSC Chancellor Thomas S. Tisdale Jr. said there would be no “immediate change in the physical control of the properties” because of the Supreme Court denial. However, the South Carolina Episcopalians and the parent Episcopal Church body have asked the state court to place the properties and assets under TECSC control and transfer ownership to both groups.

A spokesperson for the breakaway group, which calls itself the Diocese of South Carolina, acknowledged that the congregations and their 22,000 members might need to leave the properties if the Episcopal Church in South Carolina won’t work with them.

“We are preparing for all eventualities, including moving our worship and ministries from buildings we have been in, in some cases for over 300 years,” said the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis, a spokesperson for the breakaway group, in an interview with Religion News Service. “If we must restart, replant congregations, we have plans in place for going about how we’ll do that.”

The Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston, S.C., will return to the control of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

This latest development marks an important victory for the Episcopal Church. The denomination had initially lost in a lower court ruling that sided with the breakaway group, but a state high court decision overturned that ruling last year. Occupants of the 29 properties appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court decided not to get involved.

The multiyear battle traces to theological differences between the groups, which have divergent views on human sexuality and biblical interpretation. Differences intensified after the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003. Since then, the Episcopal Church has gone on to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.

The litigation has been closely watched around the country for indications of how the courts would adjudicate competing claims to contested church properties. Some observers now wonder whether the Episcopal Church in South Carolina will try to use and maintain the properties or consider selling them to their current occupants and former legal foes.

 “What does the Episcopal Church plan to do if and when it assumes control of these properties?” asked Jeff Walton, spokesperson for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. “If they expel the (breakaway) congregations, it’ll be costly and a hollow victory.”

But working together after a long, bitter court fight could prove challenging. Calls to reconcile have not been accepted.

 “What they really mean, when they use the word ‘reconciliation,’ translates to: ‘You completely surrender, give us back everything, and all returns to the way it was before, with us in charge,’” Lewis said. “That’s not something anyone in our diocese is interested in. We’re not interested in their definition of reconciliation.”

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Mark A. Kellner


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  • Why not make a clean break from the immorality that calls itself the Episcopal “church”? Perhaps your family did attend there for 300 years, but the cesspool it has turned into is something to be ashamed of, and attending their buildings still leaves vulnerable Christians too close to their filth. Make a clean break and serve Jesus away from the filth.

  • This decision hardly comes as a surprise. In court case after court case, breakaway Episcopal parishes have learned the hard way that it’s etched into Episcopal Canon Law that church property, including buildings, belongs to the diocese, not the individual parish. It’s been that way since the beginning, and they knew it. But like recalcitrant children they were simply trying to test the boundaries of canon law to see what they could get. Sadly for them, they keep losing, which must be expensive considering all those lawyer bills. They’re learning that they can’t have their homophobia and their pretty old English-inspired buildings too. It’s one or the other but not both. Take your pick.

  • Christians calling other Christians cess pools and filth. You’ll know we’re Christians by our love tralalalala.

    Oh wait! Its you! do carry on.

  • When — not if, but when — Gay Goliath wins the war at the 2019 Methodist General Conference this February, the Bible-believing Methodist churches will run into the same Cerberus that just ate up the brave Diocese of South Carolina.

    The so-called “Trust Clause” effectively means that whoever loses in February, (and the Council of Bishops has already recommended which side shall lose), will be allowed to leave the denomination, BUT all their church building(s) will have to be forfeited. VERY few Methodist churches have the $$$$ to buy their way out of this trap. The Council of Bishops have already recommended eliminating the gay marriage & openly gay clergy prohibitions when 2019 gets here. When this happens, every evangelical Methodist church will have to sit down, shut up, and let Goliath drive the church bus. (Or else risk winding up in the streets with insufficient money and people to start over.) Cerberus cometh.

    (P.S…… For those Methodists who don’t do Greek mythology, I have enclosed a recent photograph of Cerberus, so you can see what’s gonna chomp on your church.)

  • Yes, she is on that train that is leaving the station never to return. And I doubt it’s likely headed to Gloryland. But she should keep on singing anyway, it makes her happy.

    This train is bound for Glory, this train. This train is bound for Glory, this train. This train is bound for Glory, doesn’t take nothing but the good and holy. This train is bound for Glory, this train.

  • I’m sure that Matron is going to be unhappy that floydlee escaped his nurse again and is back on the office computer spouting his religious nonsense.

  • It really was not etched into Episcopal Canon Law until the Dennis Canon was adopted by the 66th General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States:

    This was in response to the schisms beginning in the 1970s over a variety of issues within that denomination. Four entire dioceses removed themselves from the Episcopal Church: Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and San Joaquin.

    The litigation in Texas remains active.

    Individual parishes have had success exiting depending on the history of the parish. For example All Saints Parish in Waccamaw, South Carolina, retained ownership of all property and assets after a lengthy court battle that concluded in the Supreme Court of South Carolina.

    Following “neutral principles of law,” the Supreme Court held that since the parish existed before the formation of either the diocese or the Episcopal Church, and possessed an earlier quitclaim deed, the Dennis Canon did not apply.

    “It is an axiomatic principle of law that a person or entity must hold title to property in order to declare that it is held in trust for the benefit of another or transfer legal title to one person for the benefit of another.”

    The successful parishes have been colonial-era with histories predating the Episcopal Church.

    Some dioceses had been peacefully negotiating the departure of parishes. The typical arrangement had been that the parish make arrangements to pay any debts or assessments due the Episcopal diocese, and often to make additional payments for a certain period to underwrite ongoing projects made prior to their departure.

    That ended in 2006 with the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop.

    At her direction, the Episcopal Church initiated lawsuits against
    departing dioceses and parishes, with the legal fees totaling $22 million as of 2011, when the denomination stopped reporting them separately.

    As Elagabalus notes, you can no longer cite conscience in the Episcopal Church.

    If you don’t like things, leave, and leave your buildings behind.

    General Convention makes the Council of Trent look like a parish picnic, and the Presiding Bishop now exercises power that the Bishop of Rome would be jealous of.

    Btw, the Episcopal Church now has about half the membership it had fourty-five years ago.

  • The interesting thing about all this is that these folks claiming “conscience” as they manipulatively take over denominations stomp conscience into the mud once they get in power.

    The Episcopal Church is a powerful lesson to conservatives who don’t want to get involved.

    All the promises to respect consciences – and the mouths of the proponents were full of them – mean absolutely nothing at all once they gain control of the organization.

  • For a more comprehensive report on this event:

    It differs from the RNS report in some key areas:

    – The Supreme Court did nothing but deny a Petition for Writ of Certiorari. This is by far the prevalent outcome for these petitions since the Court can hear only a tiny fraction of the cases submitted to it.

    – Roughly 28 parishes’ properties are *potentially* at risk. The case returns to state courts, specifically Dorchester Courthouse where it originated. The South Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter resulted in five separate opinions with no unified legal theory, which means there are still significant questions to resolve.

    This case is not concluded.

  • In the last day on earth there is a flood that sweeps all the church buildings clean. The sign of the times was when the old man of the mountain’s countenance fell. Justice Kennedy’s conscience is already causing him to lose sleep.

  • It was obvious what he meant, “Bob Arnzen”. Stop twisting Ben’s words to suit your foul, bigoted agenda.

  • America no longer cares about the squabbles of dying institutions.
    Her children no longer participate in this older-persons antithesis to Christianity.
    My, how the mighty have fallen … and nobody cares.
    Really. Nobody cares.

  • “But like recalcitrant children they were trying to test the boundaries of canon law to see what they could get away with.”

    Yeah, reminds me of the liberal idiots in the Catholic Church.

  • And Ben is wrong again. Christians do no press immorality onto children and other people as “normal”.

  • So, it’s all right to call other Christians filth and cesspools. I just wanted to make sure. There are lots of fake Sandimoniouses running around the Internet, and I wanted to make sure you were the Real One.

    You are.

  • I already told you. I’ll put it a little clearer for you as your usual quickness is lagging today….Christians do not press immorality and sin onto children as something that is good and normal. I typed it slower for you that time

  • He noted your “cesspools” and “filth” talk…. Yes, where is the love Jesus spoke about so often?
    Speak to the point. and spare us your self-righteousness.

  • no self righteousness necessary. They teach children that immorality is acceptable – how much more filthy do you want?

  • You would’ve preferred something less offensive, perhaps?
    How about ‘you whited sepulchers, you brood of vipers’?
    Does that better suit you?

  • The breakaway churches’ claim, both here and in Virginia, comes down to saying they are not bound by the Dennis Canon because they existed before the Episcopal Church was formed. But they joined the denomination in the 1870s and were part of it when the Dennis Canon was adopted.
    Their case then is like South Carolina claiming that it is not bound by the 13th Amendment because the state was here before the Union was formed.
    And by the way, it wasn’t the Episcopal Church that “redefined” marriage. It was the people of the United States.

  • I’m a bit confused; isn’t this just a matter of who owns the real estate? What name is on the title & who owns that entity name?

    The actual ownership is a legal matter, not a religious one.

  • Sorry Sandikins, I don’t see anything regarding Christianity in floydlee’s rant. Mostly just human caused church politics and his strongly uninformed opinion about those church politics.

  • I don’t find the members of the Episcopal Church pressing anything on anyone, especially your concept of immorality. Like most main stream Christians, Episcopalians offer folks lessons in the life & love of Jesus. They let folks make up their own minds as to what they believe and follow.

  • I wasn’t aware God made you the arbiter of who is Christian.

    I suppose that you have some verse in English that you twist around to show that God elected you.

  • You seem to be missing the legal point.

    There are a couple of ways to decide this.

    The first approach is to claim the Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church citing the St. Nicholas Cathedral case that arose after WWII over the ownership of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    That approach was tried and failed because – as you yourself point out – pre-existing dioceses joined the organization unlike the Orthodox and Catholic communions, because individual bishops were pretty much doing their own thing without objection from the national church in the 60s and 70s, and the fact that the Presiding Bishop is elected and serves for a specific time, unlike a Patriarch.

    Another way to resolve it is by following “neutral principles of law”. This means the same rules and principles of law that would apply in any property dispute.

    In South Carolina that Supreme Court held that a parish which existed before the formation of either the diocese or the Episcopal Church, and possessed a quitclaim deed, could not be subject to the Dennis Canon unless it specifically acquiesced to establishing a trust in favor of the national church:

    “It is an axiomatic principle of law that a person or entity must hold title to property in order to declare that it is held in trust for the benefit of another or transfer legal title to one person for the benefit of another.”

    Colonial era parishes with histories predating the Episcopal Church have successfully resisted application of the Dennis Canon in every state.

    Btw, the people of the United States can’t redefine marriage for the Episcopal Church.

  • I wasn’t aware God made you the arbiter of who is Christian.

    I suppose that you have some Bible verse that you twist around to show that God elected you.

  • At his age his problem is probably not sleeping, especially during oral arguments, ala Justice Ginsburg.

  • If you are not helping homosexuals to go to Heaven, you are not working for Christ. They have just as much right as anyone else to spend eternity with God, and if you are inhibiting that, you are not working for Christ.

  • It is my aim to be helpful in bringing everyone to Christ. I don’t try to alienate anyone from the love of God.

  • John 10:25 -“I already told you,” Jesus replied, “but you did not believe. The works I do in My Father’s name testify on My behalf. 26But because you are not My sheep, you refuse to believe. 27My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.…

  • You are if you are endorsing homosexuality. It is not love to lead someone away from Christ’s blessings and protection. That would emphasize that you do not promote equal rights.

  • As a woman, you are supposed to keep quiet. You need to get off the internet, stay home and be submissive to your husband.

    As a woman you don’t get to teach what you think is Christian or to speak against my outreach with the love of God.

  • If you knew your Bible, you would know that is while in the church. Perhaps you should focus on English translations until you know what you are talking about.

  • I listen to Jesus all the time, daily. He is one of my favorite teachers in the New Testament.

    However, as a woman, you are overstepping your bounds here in these forums. You aren’t to teach men nor call to question their witness to Christ.

  • If you did you wouldn’t do what you do. I’ve clarified your second statement once already. Perhaps that is why you aren’t clear on scripture?

  • If you knew the Bible, you would recall that it applies to the assembly and your home. You are only allowed to address matters/questions of Christianity in your home, with your husband.

  • no. No where does it say the home. It does say to ask one’s husband questions about what is said in the home. Perhaps with your perception difficulties David…..
    Wishful thinking again, on your part

  • How might you have any idea what I do? Are you a peeping Sandikins? Are you spying on me. You need to stay at home and attend to your husband.

    If you knew the Bible, you would recall that it applies to the assembly and your home. You are only allowed to address matters/questions of Christianity in your home, with your husband.

  • 1 Cor 14;34 & 35 –
    34) Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35) If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

  • As have I my dear;
    1 Cor 14:34 & 35
    34) Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35) If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

  • Oh please. Enough of this nonsense. This is not a church but a news site concerning religious issues, as our resident God-haters frequently tell us in order to explain away why they spend so many hours out of their lives arguing about something they don’t care about

  • No my dear, you are being dishonest now. You said earlier that the scripture said nothing about the home and I have shown you with your Bible in English that you were mistaken.

    As a Christian man whom you have continually attempted to usurp, I forgive you and exhort you to remain under the care of your husband. It is too dangerous for a weak female here on the internet. You are tempted to stray from your proper place in this world.

    No English is my 2nd language, Hebrew my 3rd and Koine Greek my 4th.

  • In your dishonesty, you have edited what you first wrote in your comment.
    From the email that I received from Discus with your comment;
    “no. No where does it say the home. Wishful thinking again, on your part”

    Moving on. Dealing with dishonesty on your part makes it game over.

  • It was there when you posted honey. If that is the excuse that you need to run away, all the betterl

  • ah, we’re back to that excuse again. It was rectified before you posted. If you want to cry because I corrected you before you could try to correct me, go ahead.
    As far as languages go, you should spend more time on the Bible.

  • “…the people of the United States can’t redefine marriage for the Episcopal Church”.

    Very true! And (pace Steve03) it wasn’t “the people of the United States” who redefined marriage in our legal system, it was the Supreme Court.

  • Because only you have read them and your interpretations are the only real one.
    All hail the living incarnation of Jesus and the Apostles, Shawnie5! 🙂

  • No, because you haven’t. Otherwise you would not repeatedly and consistently fail to recognize when they are alluded to.

  • The Episcopal Church redefined marriage within the church, not the “people of the United States.” They did this in order to appeal to anybody and everybody who likes buffet Christianity, in other words people who throw out Scripture they don’t care for and keep the snippets that make them feel warm and fuzzy. And that is not true Christianity, but I suppose they realize that when their day comes.

  • Then I suggest those Methodists who wish to remain faithful Christians pool their funds and go go buy old, disused churches, replant their congregation. Alternately they could leave the Methodist church altogether and join congregations that adhere to Scripture. In fact I would suggest they start these processes now instead of waiting for 2019.

  • Can’t be worse than Justice Thomas, who even in his younger days ignored oral completely.
    EDIT: He ignored oral *argument* completely.

  • Frankly that was probably wise.

    It is rare that oral argument accomplishes anything since the opinion invariably is written from the record.

  • Taking its cue from the events in the Episcopal Church, the deep state within the Methodist denomination have already been working on their own equivalent of the Dennis Canon.

    Be sure to buy lots of popcorn.

  • If you examined the population of the Episcopal Church circa 1965, and examined it circa 2015 a half century later, you would find the overwhelming majority of members in 1965 were born and raised in the Episcopal Church, while the majority in 2015 came from somewhere else.

    All these folks brought their agendas with them and acted out in their new environment.

  • So it really is all about the money after all? Who woulda thunk?

    I suppose I would upset a few people if I quoted “Wherever two or more of you is gathered in his name, there is love.”

  • Everybody and anybody who like buffet Christianity? Why thy sounds just like everybody and anybody in Christianity itself.

    Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t realize at first that you were engaging in the “no true Christian policy”. Only you get to define who is a Christian, and not surprisingly, it’s people just like you! Everyone else, everyone who is a Christian but not like you, is on the outside of your little inner circle.

    That’s the beauty of Christianity. Use it to divide, reject, segregate, denigrate. That’s with Jesus preached, and you should definitely go for it.

  • Wrong again. The Supreme Court didn’t redefine marriage. They redefined gay people, as no longer the moral, legal, marital familial, sexual, cultural, and religious inferiors to heterosexuals.

  • Nope. The Court rules on legal issues pertaining to American law and the US Constitution. It has no no authority over religions, over deciding what is, or is not, moral. etc. It decides what is, or is not, legal and permissible in American jurisprudence. That is all.

    But if you want to let the Supreme Court decide what is, or is not, moral for you, be my guest. I will not cede that power to any Court, “Supreme” or otherwise.

  • Nope. Not my point and not what I was saying at all.

    But good for you. I wouldn’t cede that power to the SCOTUS either. But That is exactly what the Christian right was trying to do with all the marriage campaigns which they fought all the way up to the Supreme Court. Moreover, they were trying to define what is true Christian doctrine for all of the denominations, ministers, rabbis, churches, synagogues, and individual religious people who thought that gay people getting married was actually a good idea, and an accord with their faith and morals.

    You should’ve been opposed to that as well, but I have a suspicion that you weren’t. My guess is that you were perfectly happy to have the Supreme Court define faith and morals for you and for everyone else, as long as they agreed with you. Fortunately, they didn’t.

  • Because it is about the worship, right, and not about magnificent old building built on magnificently valuable land and worth a lot of magnificent money.

  • The Court has no authority to define whether gay people are the “moral…cultural, and religious inferiors to heterosexuals”, as you put it. It thankfully has no such power. It can only define legal issues, not what people’s morals, culture, and religion must be.

    Your guess was wide of the mark. I have never been “perfectly happy to have the Supreme Court define faith and morals” for me, for the simple reason that they have NEVER defined faith and morals for me. They are not my moral compass. As the Apostle Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men”. (Acts 5:29)

  • You’re absolutely right. We should use the authentic Jesus-speak and say “whited sepulchres” instead — which does indeed rather match the picture above. Pretty much the same thing, but that shouldn’t bother anyone, right? ?

  • As an atheist Ben has a few problems deciding what is or is not moral.

    He can tell what he thinks, but he can’t tell you why.

    He has also been unable to explain the source of minority rights for a couple of months now, although he purports to have them.

  • So, the graveyard on the land containing father, grandfather, greatgrandfather, bought and paid for by them and their progeny and their sires, has no value other than what it could fetch at auction?

    “Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
    Who never to himself hath said,
    This is my own, my native land!
    Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
    As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
    From wandering on a foreign strand!
    If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
    For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
    High though his titles, proud his name,
    Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;—
    Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
    The wretch, concentred all in self,
    Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
    And, doubly dying, shall go down
    To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
    Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.”

  • Not that they have any legitimate authority to redefine anything, whether marriage or something else. Redefining is law-making, which is the business of legislatures.

  • We live in a society, not a collection of “do your own thing” individuals heading down various paths at cross-purposes.

    What you call “the Christian right”, otherwise known as clear-thinking traditional Americans, were about was keeping the society that we live in and the glue which holds it together intact.

    Now, if people who thought that gay people “getting married” was a good idea, there is actually a process for accomplishing that.

    But that didn’t obtain the desired result.

    And so the ACLU bypassed the democratic process with a ridiculous argument, bought by five ridiculous justices, to the detriment of both society and legal process.

    You happen to like that.

    The solution, of course, is to amend the Constitution to tie the Federal courts’ hands, including the Supreme Court’s, so that these sorts of things are decided at the level of the states where California is just one of 50.

    Since that case, the ACLU had dropped any pretension at being a neutral party and made clear its intent to promote a left-wing agenda in litigation, in public commentary and in elections.

    The battle lines are clearly drawn.

  • Bye, homophobes! No one will miss you at all! Don’t let the doors hit you in the butts on your way out!

  • Dude, you read a whole bunch in between lines I didn’t write. Just go read your Bible, get educated, and get back to me. I won’t be holding my breath.


    They did this in order to appeal to anybody and everybody who likes buffet Christianity, in other words people who throw out Scripture they don’t care for and keep the snippets that make them feel warm and fuzzy. And that is not true Christianity…

    It’s not my fault if you snowflakes melt at such a low temperature.

  • You seem to do just fine in terms of dividing, rejecting, segregating, and denigrating without Christianity.

    Did it come with your bar mitzvah preparation or are you self-taught?

  • Exactly what Scripture supports the Episcopal Church performing same sex marriages?

    If you are going to take shots, you need be able to reload.

  • “We’re not interested in their definition of reconciliation.”
    Of course not. You’re just interested in power and money. Not love. Not faith. Not peace. Not God. Just money and power. Let those who have ears….

  • Exactly. And you then accused me of being a buffet Christian and of having some sort of secret handshake for access to the inner sanctum among other things. You inserted absurd assumptions into my statement and sallied forth as though consumed by rationale (ha!). And that is on you, not me. So again, go study up and add philosophy and debate while you’re at it.