I write to join with many Christians in South Carolina to express deep concern, shock, and sorrow regarding the recent state Supreme Court decision which attempts to strip titles of 28 churches in the Diocese of South Carolina and award them to the National Episcopal Church. The situation is tragic in terms of its presentation of the church to the world and poses at least three important questions:
1) How can three judges overturn a previous court ruling and 300 years of sacrificial stewardship?
Consider that a number of these parishes existed a century before there was a National Episcopal Church. Consider, too, that Justice Jean Toal is quoted in reference to “the leading opinion in this case,” calling it “nothing less than judicial sanction of the confiscation of church property.”
Also, a careful review will show that a number of the congregations involved did not accede to the Dennis Canon of the national church which concerned ownership.
2) How can such a decision stand in a nation whose Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee freedom of religion?
Many of the first European settlers came to this country fleeing persecution and seeking a haven where they might have freedom of conscience and religion. They established churches.
For centuries, their descendants and other devoted parishioners have maintained these houses of worship despite fires, floods, earthquakes, wars, pestilence, poverty and hurricanes while also supporting home and world missions. The national church has not borne these expenses. Can a secular court give it ownership?
3) How can confiscation of places of Christian worship where the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and articles of religion are upheld be consistent with the teachings of Christ? This is the most important question.
Theological aspects have frequently been neglected by much of the media, but bishops, clergy, and lay people have long been troubled by the national church organization’s apparent departure from basic principles of the faith.
Christians and Jews have been taught that they should love the Lord with all their being and their neighbors as themselves. For Christians, respecting and loving all does not mean forsaking belief in the unique divinity of Jesus Christ and the validity of Scripture. In fact, only by God’s grace can we love and forgive others.
We are taught, too, that there is a higher court and a supreme judge. We come before Him in great humility, acknowledging that we are all in need of mercy. Many of us are praying that God’s will be done, whatever that may be, and that we may be faithful.
Catherine O. Jones….