Friday, 4 February 2005

church and state in Virginia

Update Monday 7 February
This bill is dead. See Religious property bill killed in Senate

A bill that would have given congregations that break away from their denomination leverage to retain control of church property died Monday in the state Senate.

Its sponsor, Sen. William Mims, recommended that the measure be referred back to the Senate General Laws Committee, effectively killing the bill.

“My hope is, Mr. President, that it can be solved in the legislative session next year,” said Mims, R-Loudoun.

An extraordinary story is unfolding in Virginia where the state legislature is currently in session.

The Washington Post reported it as Virginia Bill Would Alter Rules on Church Property saying in part:

RICHMOND, Feb. 1 — A bill before the Virginia Senate has alarmed the Episcopal Church and other mainline Protestant denominations that are deeply torn over the ordination of gay ministers and the blessing of same-sex marriages because, they say, the measure would give local congregations unprecedented powers to break away from their national denominations.
Several major church groups on Tuesday urged lawmakers to reject the bill, which they said would entangle state government in church politics.
The bill, now on the Senate floor, would allow congregants to vote to leave their denominations and keep their church buildings and land, unless a legally binding document such as a deed specified otherwise.

The Post also ran an editorial column yesterday opposing the legislation Taking Sides which starts out:

YOU MIGHT expect that in its short legislative session the Virginia General Assembly would have more important business than intervening in internal arguments within the Episcopal Church over gay rights. But a bill pending in the state Senate would make it far easier for Episcopal congregations upset at the church’s consecration of a gay bishop in New Hampshire to bolt from the national church yet keep their buildings and property. The bill, championed by Sen. William C. Mims (R-Loudoun), responds to a real problem: Mr. Mims argues persuasively that Virginia law on the subject is archaic. But his bill would make matters worse, not better. It should be voted down.

The Associated Press carried Virginia’s religious leaders blast church property bill

Other papers in Virginia have also reported and commented on this development:

Richmond Times-Dispatch Churches fight Senate bill - They warn measure is government meddling in affairs of churches

The Falls Church News-Press said in an editorial

Loudoun State Sen. William Mims’ Senate Bill 1305, which would empower local congregations within a church denomination to control their own property, is a blatant, self-serving attempt to cause the state legislature to weigh in on behalf of dissidents within the Episcopal Church opposed to the recent consecration of an openly-gay bishop. Northern Virginia is a hot bed of local Episcopal congregations, including the Falls Church Episcopal Church, that are threatening a schism within the larger Episcopal denomination, but are currently deterred by the fact that the larger church controls the destiny of their property. Mims is a member of one of those dissenting churches.

The Roanoke Times had Senate may skirt church property measure

The Hampton Roads Daily Press published an editorial Internal affairs which concludes with these words:

This is not territory on which the General Assembly should be treading. It is a direct, frontal attack on the right of a denomination to manage its affairs, both with the faithful and with those who leave its flock.

The bill comes from an unsavory source: a relentless, multi-front campaign to constrain the rights and protections of homosexuals. Does anyone believe that the General Assembly would be intervening if the decamping churches were in favor of gay rights?

The Episcopal dioceses of Virginia and across the nation - and other denominations - are trying, in their varied ways and with their varied challenges, to address the rift over homosexuality and larger issues, both doctrinal and social. For the General Assembly to intrude in internal church governance, especially in a way so clearly favoring one faction, is likely unconstitutional and is definitely dangerous and offensive.

The full text of the legislative proposal can be found here.

In case you thought this was nothing to do with the American Anglican Council, they have published this press release enthusiastically supporting the proposal. And copied it over here to make sure we all see it.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 4 February 2005 at 10:29pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: ECUSA
Comments

I would think *Rome* might have something to say about this (State-enforced congregationalism)?

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Saturday, 5 February 2005 at 5:51am GMT

If we are dependent upon state property laws to keep congregations with their property in the church, its not much of a church is it?

Posted by: Anne McC. on Sunday, 6 February 2005 at 3:44am GMT

A double edged sword? Once one the books, as wrong as it is, it could come back to haunt Virginians twenty years from now as controversy is nearly a constant within denominations.

Posted by: Annie on Sunday, 6 February 2005 at 4:26pm GMT