Thinking Anglicans

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.


what Archbishop Akinola said (or not)

For some weeks, I have been meaning to post about a story that The Living Church magazine in the USA is reported to have published about a complaint from Peter Akinola concerning misrepresentation of his remarks: Archbishop Akinola Responds to Accusations which said:

Concerned that a remark he said he never made continues to be circulated, the Primate of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, has denied accusations that his opposition to the episcopacy of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson is driven by revulsion of homosexual persons, saying his actions arise from the concern that false teachers are leading the Episcopal Church astray.

“It’s all about responsibility,” Archbishop Akinola told The Living Church. “Everyone has sinned. Everyone needs to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. If people come to the church and do not hear the message of new life, then we have not fulfilled our responsibility.”

During the debate Oct. 15 at the Diocese of Dallas’s convention [TLC, Nov. 7] over affiliating with the Anglican Communion Network, accusations impugning the archbishop’s beliefs were leveled. “The primate of all Nigeria refers to homosexuals as animals and refuses to repent of that,” said the Rev. Mark Anschutz, rector of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Dallas. “I cannot be a party to that kind of network.” That quote was repeated again in the Jan. 23, 2005, issue in a letter to the editor written by Stephen Bates, religious affairs correspondent for The Guardian and author of “A Church At War.”

A number of other British and American newspapers have also repeated the remarks.

The July 13, 2003, issue of The Economist, relying upon an account of synod in the Diocese of Abuja by the Nigerian press, quotes Archbishop Akinola: “I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don’t hear of such things.”

In response, Archbishop Akinola argues, “We are not being responsible or faithful if we say, ‘Let us bless your stealing. Let us bless your adultery.’ When the church in the West says, ‘We bless your homosexual union,’ they have failed people. We should love them better than that,” he said.

In an article he wrote for the Church Times around the same time as the Economist report of July 2003, entitled Why I object to homosexuality Peter Akinola set forth his views on homosexuality at length (it’s around 1000 words long and should be read in full by everyone concerned to understand him) concluding with this:

Homosexuality or lesbianism or bestiality is to us a form of slavery, and redemption from it is readily available through repentance and faith in the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.

This last week, the archbishop made a further statement, this time about poverty. In the story from the East African Standard (Nairobi) that I linked to earlier in a different connection, and also in a later report via Homosexuality: Church in Africa Not United we learn that:

Some African church leaders, including Archbishop Ndungane and Nobel Peace prize winner, retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have questioned why the Anglican church is spending so much time on the issue of homosexuality, when there are pressing issues such as war, Aids and poverty to be addressed on the continent.

But annoyed at the prolonged questioning on this one issue, Archbishop Akinola, who has led the fight against acceptance of gays in the church and the ordination of gay clergy, said: “I didn’t create poverty. This church didn’t create poverty. Poverty is not an issue, human suffering is not an issue at all, they were there before the creation of mankind.

Andrew Brown, writing in today’s Church Times comments:

“Human suffering is not an issue at all.” If I worked in the press department at the Episcopal Church in the United States, I would kit out every member of the delegation coming to England next week in a T-shirt with Akinola’s face and that slogan. Then I would offer one, in front of the cameras, to Dr Williams. How fortunate for everyone that I’m not.

In a spirit of perversity, it’s worth defending the idea that strict and homophobic Churches are effective at combating poverty. Archbishop Akinola is mistaken when he supposes that homosexuality is a choice, like adultery, against which one can guard by vigilance. But the idea of ceaseless moral vigilance is not a stupid one. In fact, it is essential for the kind of civil society in which poverty can be overcome because trustworthy institutions and professions exist, and corruption is squeezed out.

The trouble with this argument is simple. It seems to work quite well in Asia; but those African countries with the most bigoted Churches are also among the most corrupt. Maybe they just aren’t strict enough.