The Falls Church (Anglican) Files Appeal with Virginia Supreme Court

The church’s Petition requests review on a number of legal and constitutional grounds. At the broadest level, the Petition shows that the trial judge failed to follow the Virginia Supreme Court’s 2010 directive to resolve this church property dispute by “application of neutral principles of law””” principles “developed for use in all property disputes” ”“ and instead justified transferring the church’s property based primarily on the denomination’s internal canons. The trial court’s ruling thus violates the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions by giving a denomination unilateral powers to override civil laws, powers not granted to any other entity, whether religious or secular, in Virginia.

As the Petition explains, the trial court’s ruling also violates the Constitution by allowing the denomination’s and diocese’s canons to apply retroactively and to govern historic property that The Falls Church acquired before it joined the denomination””indeed, before the denomination or diocese even existed. The history of The Falls Church and its deeds makes its claims especially strong compared with other cases that have come before the courts. The Petition also seeks review of the trial court’s failure to recognize the important distinctions between the church’s consecrated property (property used for actual worship services, primarily the Historic Church and Main Sanctuary) and its unconsecrated property (all other property). Even under the trial court’s legal analysis, such unconsecrated property is exempt from the scope of the denomination’s and diocese’s canons and should not be subject to transfer.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Virginia

14 comments on “The Falls Church (Anglican) Files Appeal with Virginia Supreme Court

  1. Ian+ says:

    When does legal expenditure by congregations e.g. the Falls Church begin to be considered as immoral as litigation by TEC and its dioceses?

  2. Brian from T19 says:

    Now seems about that time Ian+

  3. Mark Baddeley says:

    When it seeks to take property from other confessed Christians that the congregation can’t use but would have to sell to anyone other than a Christian group. Other than that I think it is more a wisdom issue than a straight moral issue.

    The criticism of TEC is that it is immoral to be going for the properties of departing congregations. The amount then indicates both the extent of the immorality, and the fecklessness of TEC, given its declining income. If congregations run up legal bills they can’t pay, that would match the latter complaint. Otherwise who are you to judge someone else’s servant on an area of Christian freedom?

  4. MichaelA says:

    Ian, why should it be considered immoral, when it isn’t? And why shouldn’t the legal expenditure by TEC be considered immoral, when it clearly is?

    There you go, question answered.

  5. MichaelA says:

    On another tack, I note that the VA attorney-general has filed an amicus brief in support of the congregation’s position.

    I have been wondering how long it would be before the rest of US society realises the implications of some of these bizarre first-instance decisions in favour of TEC.

  6. yohanelejos says:

    MichaelA, it should be noted that the attorney-general is only supporting the congregation in the area of to whom donations should belong.

  7. Ian+ says:

    Sorry, but the question has not been answered. When our blessed Lord commanded that, when our jacket is demanded of us we should respond by handing over our shirt too, he clearly implies the unrighteousness of the demand. When we fork out precious funds in order to hold on to both our jacket and shirt, funds which would have been spent instead on his mission in the world, unjust as it may be for someone to demand our clothing in the first place, then I fear we may be bringing condemnation upon ourselves on the great and terrible day of the Lord. My question is, how can anyone misinterpret that teaching as it’s laid out in the gospels? Thus to go to court in order to hold on to this world’s goods rather than to let them go and start over again is an indefensible position in light of our Lord’s own teaching. And if we had the courage to let go of those goods and start from scratch, we would be overwhelmed by the reality of how mightily the Lord would bless us for being faithful to his teaching and mission.

  8. Mark Baddeley says:


    And do you pluck out your right eye when it causes you to sin, or cut off your right hand? Do you refuse to swear oaths? Do you sell everything you have before following Jesus? That’s all dominical teaching as well, could we also ask ‘how can anyone misinterpret that teaching as it’s laid out in the gospels’?

    The Church of England, the basic root stock of Anglicanism, has never been Anabaptist, was part of the Magisterial Reformation, and was established, and so has always been comfortable with Christians resorting to law to settle some kinds of issues of justice. There has always been an important legal framework for the Church of England, which has been enforced during its history.

    I suppose Paul was also being disobedient when Acts portrays him as seeking justice in the lawcourts rather than simply turning the other cheek and submitting to whatever injustice was sent his way?

    Determining the Bible’s teaching as a whole on an issue like this involves more than simply picking one or two passages and quoting them as though they are self-evident in meaning, in implication, and are all that the Bible has to say on the subject.

  9. Ian+ says:

    1. The Church of England might not have had any problem with going to court, but the Gospel certainly does.
    2. St Paul did not take anyone to court or join a suit in order to hold on to worldly goods. Rather, he was imprisoned and put on trial, so when given opportunity to speak, he did. Quite a difference.
    3. My original point: A congregation to court in order to hang on to this world’s goods is indefensible. The waste of missionary funds is appalling. Let TEC carry on litigating if they want. If those it wants to turf out would simply let go of the contested properties, it will have been a pyhrric victory for TEC.

  10. Mark Baddeley says:

    1. You miss my point. Orthodoxy, Catholicism and the Reformation divines all disagree with your reading of the Bible at this point. You want to make your case, you are doing it against the mainstream theological tradition, and against the Anglican tradition. You need to do more than just reference a Bible verse to condemn Falls Church, you need to show some awareness of why most respected Bible teachers throughout history think you are wrong, and make a case with that in mind. Only a small minority of Church leaders of the last two thousand years would agree with your condemnation on the basis of Mat 5:40, just as they also allowed and required people to take oaths. Most would disagree with you, and would argue that the Bible supports Fall Church in this.

    2. Our Lord didn’t just say, if they take your shirt, then let them have your cloak as well. He also said, and it came before that statement, If they strike you on the right cheek turn to him the other also. If the later comment means “don’t use the courts to protect private property being unjustly taken” then the earlier must also mean “don’t use the courts to protect yourself from harm being done to you unjustly”. So you can’t handwave Paul’s actions away so easily.

    Don’t use one standard for one verse and a completely different one for the verse immediately prior.

    And Paul didn’t simply speak when he was given an opportunity. Acts 16:37, Acts 22:25 both indicate a far more assertive and initiating approach of using his legal rights as a Roman by the Apostle to the Gentiles.

    If your take on Mat 5:40 and this legal battle is right then the Apostle Paul fails on the basis of Mat 5:39.

    3. Yes you said that, but you haven’t made the case. So I think your criticism of Falls Church is indefensible.

    In the case of the waste of funds, that all depends on whether there is an eventual win or loss. If there is an eventual win, then there are apparently tens of millions of dollars of assets (including a supermarket) preserved for mission. Walk away and that money is automatically lost to mission. Even a loss doesn’t mean it was a waste – a waste would be if either there was no principle at stake that meant that they should contest it in law, or if the chance of a win was so low and the cost so high that they shouldn’t pursue it. Hopefully they are having a good sense of the cost this is having to the church life and mission, and getting good legal counsel as to the strength of their case and deciding accordingly.

    By all means make an argument that the courts is just wrong for a Christian – but go and read why other teachers disagree with you on that. But on the separate issue that this is a waste of mission money, I think there is more room for freedom and wisdom in deciding whether to try and preserve property rightfully yours by law then you are allowing. If they walk away, then an awful lot of mission money in the future will be sunk into buying new property to enable the church to meet etc. On the side of ‘a waste of money’ I think it is a wisdom call – which means that Paul’s teaching on not judging in areas where there is freedom applies.

  11. Sarah says:

    Three cheers for Falls Church — woo hoo!!!!

    Re: “When we fork out precious funds in order to hold on to both our jacket and shirt, funds which would have been spent instead on his mission in the world . . .”

    Gnostic. As if the material world has nothing to do with “mission in the world.”

    RE: “A congregation to court in order to hang on to this world’s goods is indefensible.”


    God uses the material world to communicate the Gospel, and certainly when the diocese of VA gets its hands on the material expression of the Church it will use it to communicate a faux gospel that lures in the seeking, hurting, and lost, desperate to hear Good News.

    I can hardly conceive of a better use of funds for mission then Falls Church’s appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, and indeed all the way up the ladder, if it can.

  12. MichaelA says:

    yohanalejos at #6,

    Good point, thanks.

  13. MichaelA says:

    Mark Badderley, very well set out argument at #10, thank you.

  14. wmresearchtrianglenc says:

    On another tack, also…The Episcopal Church may not be sitting so badly in Virginia because of Virginia’s apparently unique situation in re appeals (as discussed by Alan Haley). Unfortunately, there appear to be too many courts that are more than happy to take an overly simple way out of church-related property disputes by resorting to the “hierarchial” route available to them by way of the U.S.Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the 1979 church-property case of Jones v. Wolf. Unfortunately, there appears to be a logical flaw in Jones v. Wolf as to the discretion of a court to decide a church-property dispute other than by application of neutral principles of law–i.e., by taking an alternate “hierarchial church” freeway. Given the free exercise of religion clause of Amendment I, if a church-property dispute can clearly be decided by a court by application of neutral principles of law, such dispute should be decided by applying neutral principles of law and not otherwise. Although the Episcopal Church may not be sitting too badly in Virginia because of the quirkiness of Virginia’s appellate process, the opposite should be the case in the pending Texas decisions involving Bishop Jack Iker, as hypothetically would have been the case if the Episcopal Church had taken an appellate route with regard to a church-property dispute involving the Diocese of South Carolina–and I believe the national leadership of the Episcopal Church knows this well. Since the individual Episcopal Church diocese is arguably the basic structural element of that Church, and because various dioceses came into existence and have remained in existence with legal elements affecting the dioceses and its parishes that differ from other dioceses, an “Episcopal one-size-fits-all” approach in a church property dispute case by a court of law will result in an unsatisfactory fit in some property dispute cases involving a diocese of the Episcopal Church. In summary, the U.S. Supreme Court may one day actually confirm that in a property dispute case involving a particular diocese of the Episcopal Church, the law indeed requires that such case be decided by the application of neutral principles of law.