Church Defectors Acted Immorally

March 12, 2014 3:27 PM5 comments

nfbentonpicIf Monday’s nationally-important U.S. Supreme Court decision stands for nothing else, it does when it comes to indiscriminate and erroneous major media references to so-called “people of faith.” The Supremes let the lower court ruling stand, finally settling the dispute over ownership of the property of the historic Falls Church in the City of Falls Church in Northern Virginia.

The media have uniformly characterized disputes over the application of same-sex marriage edicts, having parties claiming religious reasons for their opposition, as being between gay marriage proponents on one side and “people of faith” on the other.

To be blunt, there is no one – as in, “no one” – who can claim to stand for, in any way, this ethereal generic non-entity called “people of faith,” period. The term has no legitimate standing anywhere and should be excluded by all fair-minded journalists from future use. For every “faith” that stands against gay marriage, or abortion, or women in the clergy, there is another fully legitimate “faith” that stands for such things.

There is no case, including pertaining to gay issues, than illustrates this better than the one that the Supreme Court, after seven long years of litigation, finally resolved this week.

I will say at the outset here that I have been sufficiently opinionated on such matters all along, as I am encouraged to be in such an opinion column as this, from a standpoint of “faith,” myself. I am an active member of a mainstream Protestant denomination, and a graduate with honors of an accredited graduate theological seminary. As the owner and editor of the Falls Church News-Press since I founded it in 1991, I’ve taken a particular interest in the Falls Church case since long before the nationally-high profile schism within the congregation of the Falls Church occurred in December 2006.

The defectors, who voted to disassociate from the national Episcopalian denomination and align themselves with a radically anti-gay Anglican archbishop in Nigeria, grounded their actions in opposition to the national denomination’s election of a priest, the Rev. Gene Robinson, to standing as a bishop in 2003, and other more progressive causes of the national denomination.

Subsequently, rather than exiting the denomination by stepping away from denomination properties, they squatted on the historic Falls Church property, banning and legally threatening anyone not sanctioned by themselves from setting foot on it. They repeatedly denied access to loyal Episcopalians who voted not to defect.

That “occupation” along with its prohibitions extended from December 2006 to May 2012 after the Fairfax Circuit Court finally ruled in favor of the Diocese of Virginia’s claim on the land. Meanwhile, the “continuing Episcopalians,” those members of The Falls Church who voted against defecting, with as much encouragement as my newspaper could provide, were invited by a Presbyterian church across the street to worship in its fellowship hall. In this way, they maintained their identity and faith “in exile,” so to speak.

The result was that not only did some of the most esteemed leaders of the City of Falls Church align themselves with the “continuing Episcopalians” – people such as the 100-year old founder of the Falls Church School System, the recently retired long-time superintendent of the Falls Church Schools, and the then-mayor of the city – but a number of gay citizens who’d fallen away from the church made it a point to rejoin, as well.

These faithful have now located back onto the historic Falls Church property, including a graveyard with tombstones dating back to the early 1700s. The Falls Church was established in 1735 as a mission outpost of the Episcopal Church in nearby Alexandria, where George Washington was a vestryman.

This matter was not legally, nor civilly, nor morally neutral between the disputing parties. In all three aspects, the defectors were and are in the wrong. Under their leader, a rector defrocked by the Episcopal denomination in early 2007, they had acted in an unrepentantly arrogant manner toward their neighboring community since long before the schism.

Without repentance, there can be no healing, but it appears the defectors have no interest in either.

  • markey

    The church. …the same bunch who sopport Uganda’s witchhunt on homosexuals. Hypocries and heathens they all are. They may see Hell before anyone else!

  • Joe

    The Falls Church Anglican’s forced departure, now apparently permanent, is a blow to the city of Falls Church. Their outreach to the community was well-known: a vibrant youth group; ESOL classes; hosting of various conferences; collections for the needy, etc. I was a client of TFCA’s Jobs Ministry and its associated career resource center when I was laid off a few years ago; they helped me get back on my feet. Now the resource center is closed and the Jobs Ministry has to meet in borrowed space inaccessible by public transportation.

    Let’s also not forget the effect of TFCA’s departure on city sales and meals tax revenues now that the congregation meets in Arlington while the sizable staff works in Fairfax County. That’s something to consider in light of the significant tax increases recently proposed by the city manager.

    TFCA’s departure may satisfy the editor-in-chief’s narrow, rigid ideology, but his beloved “Little City” is much the poorer, in more ways than one, as a result..

    • Churchattendee

      Joe, some of the ministries that the Anglican church was offering may have been decreased or lost due to the circumstances, but the Episcopal church is also offering some wonderful ministries to the Falls Church City community. With continual growth comes continual increases in new ministries. Please consider taking a look at what Falls Church Episcopal is doing in the Falls Church City community – the outreach continues.

      • Joe

        With all due respect, I don’t see a bright future for the Falls Church
        Episcopal congregation. They may experience some short-term growth as a result of their notoriety, but their long-term prospects are dim in a
        denomination that is shrinking rather than growing.

        Another thing to consider: a Washington Post article on the court decision noted that both the national denomination and the local diocese have subsidized the Episcopal congregation during the legal proceedings. Now that the litigation is over the small Episcopal congregation will have to stand on its own. I’m not sure how they can do so while maintaining such a large property. I frankly wouldn’t be surprised to see the former Southgate center, once home to the Jobs Ministry and its resource center as well as a number of 12-step recovery groups, go on the market sometime in the near future.

        • Churchattendee

          Joe, I appreciate your position and understand your concern for the Episcopal church and its many congregants. I would ask, though, that you hold onto speculation as to what will happen with the church for a while. Southgate property aside, the church should be looked at for all of the good works it does, not necessarily if it uses the currently vacant strip mall across the street for its good deeds. As you know, the Anglican congregation had great plans for that property but those plans didn’t come to fruition due to the legal battles and land use challenges. Let’s see what the Episcopal congregation can do to serve the Lord, its congregants, and its community before speculating that it will probably be a failure. I bet that they will have many successes and some failures, but that their service will be righteous and fill a need in the Falls Church community.

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