A Trial Begins

Monday morning, May 25, a trial begins that will make history in Canada with reverberations for the worldwide Anglican Communion. Four Anglican congregations here in the Vancouver area have petitioned the Supreme Court of British Columbia to rule on who are and who aren’t the genuine trustees of their buildings and property.

Why have they done so? They have done so because their bishop, Michael Ingham, has told them as clergy and as congregations that he wants them to obey him and the local synod or get out. Obey on what? Well, depending on whom you ask, that’s a matter that is either simple or complicated. You can read what the main dissenting church says about the matter here, and read what the diocesan authorities say here (about same-sex blessings, the precipitating factor) and here (on the court case).

The trial will be short–three weeks of hearings are scheduled. The verdict might come quickly, but likely will come only after some weeks of deliberation. In my opinion, this is likely the key court case that will establish the determinative precedent in law across Canada in similar matters of dispute in the Anglican Church of Canada

Because I have been already been participating in the trial as an expert witness via affidavit and will likely testify in court, I won’t say more at this time. But this matter clearly requires God to bless the proceedings and particularly Judge Stephen Kelleher with clarity, perspective, creativity, courage, and prudence.

The trial is open to the public and attendance has been encouraged by the plaintiffs trying to hold on to their churches: Law Courts, 800 Smythe Street, May 25- June 12, Monday – Friday, 10am-12:30pm and 2pm-4pm.

0 Responses to “A Trial Begins”

  1. Rob

    Prof, et al.,
    I’m curious about the opinions of other believers on this. I know, Prof Stackhouse, that you probably can’t comment on my question due to your involvement in the proceedings.
    I think scripture is fairly clear on practicing homosexuality as sin, and therefore inconsistent with what should be condoned within a congregation, and certainly it’s leadership. You can’t be a follower of Christ and an unrepentant sinner. There’s another question, though, that I’m interested in. If your congregation submits to a higher earthly authority (read, denomination) then doesn’t that denominational leadership decide what makes a Methodist, or a Baptist or an Anglican/Episcopalian? You can (and rightly I think) argue that the leadership has made decisions that make a particular denomination no longer Christian, but isn’t it still Methodist, Baptist or whatever by definition? With that said, is it best for these congregations to fight for this land and buildings that are, perhaps inextricably, linked to this denomination that has strayed so far from Christ? Would it be better for these congregations to make a clean break, regardless of the hardship? Of course my opinion is probably obvious, but I’m open to counter perspectives…

  2. poserorprophet

    As far as I can tell, the Conservatives chose to act as the schismatics and actually split from the Anglican Church of Canada. Given this, they should be willing to give up any property belonging to that Church. I mean, go ahead and split (Lord knows, there is a lot more going on here than matters related to sexuality), but don’t be surprised if there is a cost for splitting. You can’t always have your cake and eat it too.

  3. Kasey

    …with our eyes on Jesus we will pray for the courts, for those testifying, for the humility of all involved! May God be glorified and His Name praised.

  4. smokey

    Rob,
    I think that your question is really interesting, and I find your (implied) logic to be strong. If a congregation claims to be Anglican and the Anglican Church goes in a new direction the only options available are to change or stop being Anglican. Personally, I’d vote for the second option there. I wonder if the Restoration Movement’s classic plea to abandon denominational titles and structures and let all Christians be only Christians might reach some new ears during this unfortunate set of events.
    If denominations are capable of being something other than Christian, should Christian congregations and individuals place themselves under their authority?

  5. John Stackhouse

    #6: Dan, I think that’s the sort of thing the Bishop’s lawyers are arguing. The other side is arguing that it is not at all as simple as that.

  6. poserorprophet

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    I figured as much and, from the little that I know about this, I’m actually in agreement with the Bishop’s lawyers on this point. Not only for the reason given above, but also because (IMO) an ethics based upon the New Testament should compel the Conservatives to relinquish those properties without engaging in a legal battle. While I can understand the split (although I am ashamed that it was matters of sexuality and not, say, Christology, that finally prompted the split), I cannot understand this clinging to property.

  7. Dan

    As someone who’s left churches after finding that I could not reconcile my own beliefs to those of the church/denomination I sympathize with conservative Anglicans (though that is not to imply that I agree with their position). Yet when I left as an individual, I had no claim on the time, money, or effort poured into these congregations. It was certainly beyond me to think of trying to sue them back.

  8. John Stackhouse

    I certainly understand people NOT understanding the actions of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) and particularly this court case. I encourage you therefore to read the websites of the ANiC and of the lead church in the lawsuit, if I may put it that way, St. John’s (Shaughnessy), Vancouver. You may still not be persuaded, but you will see at least a thoughtful presentation of why they’re doing what they’re doing.

  9. Sarah

    John…we talked a little about the trial and issues on a friend’s blog. I think for many here in the states who are not familiar with parish type churches, the issue of giving up property is not as clear. There is, usually, other places available where the congregants could simply set up shop elsewhere…I know that for at least St John’s that isn’t a possibility. If I understand correctly, the congregants who would be forced to leave would be giving up not only a building, but a ministry within a neighborhood centered in a location where they have not only worshiped, but also buried loved ones. I don’t have that with my local community church.

    The willingness of the congregation to take this stand is to be admired, even if not completely agreed with by all. We will continue to pray for wisdom, and for God to be glorified.

  10. Christopher

    Brothers and Sisters,

    Why would the congregation of Canada’s biggest and most vibrant Anglican church give up property that a) they paid and continue to pay for, and that b) the Diocese has no use for and will surely sell, just because a heretical bishop has implemented liturgical/theological innovations that are so contrary to scripture and tradition that he and his Diocese are in impaired communion with (practically) the rest of the world’s Anglicans?

    And to be clear, St. John’s is not suing to Diocese: in anticipation of an imminent suit from the Diocese (as has already happened to smaller churches, here and in other places in Canada and the US), the trustees and wardens have sought clarification from the courts over the issue of who owns the buildings.

    Would anyone really argue that ‘Sermon on the Mount’ ethics oblige Christians to hand over substantial assets that fund vital and vibrant ministries and outreach programs, simply because an officious wolf in sheep’s clother is willing to exploit canon law in order to commandeer churches that won’t submit to his unholy will?

  11. poserorprophet

    I would argue that the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ obliges us to do exactly that.

    • Christopher

      Sir,

      With respect, I believe that your exegesis of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is unnecessarily wooden. I recall a story (apocryphal perhaps) about Tolstoy, who as part of his effort to live out such an ethic sold his family estate. At some later date, those servants and serfs who worked the land in question accosted Tolstoy and criticized him for delivering them — the sale of the land included those peasants who worked it — into worse bondage, as the new landlord was merciless and abusive.

      In this case, was not Tolstoy’s ‘legalism’ self-serving, and his ethic a practical impediment to ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’?

      Certainly, we are impelled to reject violence as a response to violence; likewise we are impelled to avoid dragging other Christians in to court (N.B., the Bishop is not, by any historical standard, a Christian).

      But to suggest that St. John’s, under threat from an opportunistic tyrant, ought to hand over their buildings and assets to him uncontested, on the basis of a literalistic reading of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, is a little like me arguing that you ought to hand over your wallet, house, and bank account to the first person who makes an illegitimate claim on them.

  12. poserorprophet

    Ah, how quickly we go from ‘brothers and sisters’ to ‘sir’!

    It seems to me, that the proverbial rubber meets the road in Christian ethics (both in the New Testament and in our contemporary context) on the matter of loving enemies. So, please, show me how (legally or not) taking our enemies property accords with the NT call to exhibit love towards our enemies and I might be a little more sympathetic to your position (good luck with that!).

    Then again, wealthy people of all different ideological positions have always found ways of holding onto both ‘their’ property and privilege, so it is no surprise to find Christians who do the same.

  13. Christopher

    Brother,

    It seems that you misunderstand the situation quite profoundly.

    You write,

    “So, please, show me how (legally or not) taking our enemies property accords with the NT call to exhibit love towards our enemies and I might be a little more sympathetic to your position (good luck with that!).”

    Which is my point exactly. The congregation — of 1000 people, in full-communion with the overwhelming majority of Anglicans world-wide, unlike the ACoC or the DoNW — paid for and continues to pays for the land, the buildings, and their upkeep. They have asked the courts to acknowledge this, so that they can get on with their ministry and mission, free of the threats and attacks of a bishop who is aggressively exploiting the ambiguities and technicalities of Canon Law in an attempt to seize churches and land from those parishes that dissent from his heretical innovations.

    The congregation of St. John’s don’t believe they own the land: it belongs to God and His Church, which is why they are so heavily invested in preventing the cash-strapped and parishioner-challenged Diocese from seizing it, razing the buildings, and selling off the land.

  14. Christopher

    Sorry, there are some grammatical errors in my post. The last sentence should read, “the Congregation of St John’s *doesn’t* believe they own the land.” And earlier, please read “*pay* for” instead of “pays for”.

  15. poserorprophet

    Actually, Christopher, you’ll be relieved to know that I’m familiar with all the information you have provided here.

    That said, I’m really no so sure how to respond to what you have written thus far. From what I can tell, your position risks being inconsistent on a number of points… which makes it difficult to respond.

    For example, you accuse me of a ‘literalistic’ reading of the Sermon on the Mount, but I doubt that you fully object to literalistic readings of Scripture, given the way in which people at St. John’s read passages like Ro 1 (i.e. in a remarkably literalistic way). What we have, then, is a hermeneutic that is selectively (and self-servingly) literalistic. If you want to be literalistic with Ro 1, you’ve got to apply the same standard to Mt 5, or Ro 12, or other passages that relate to loving enemies.

    To take a second example, you first imply that the parishioners of St. John’s are the rightful owners of the church building and land (given that they’ve been paying the rent and the maintenance fees), but you then say that the building and land belong to God (perhaps because you recognize that the legal case St. John’s has here is terribly weak — i.e. I pay rent and maintenance fees for my apartment, but a disagreement with my landlord isn’t going to lead the courts to recognize me as the rightful owner of my apartment!).

    Still, this really comes back to the call to love our enemies and, if one thing is clear to me, it is that the parishioners of St. John’s view the Bishop as their enemy. But we are called to love the Bishop, to not seek vengeance, and to not object should he come to claim what is his or, dare I say, even if he comes to claim what is ours.

    Really all this talk about ‘assets’ and ‘funding vital and vibrant ministries’ is simply a way of getting around the difficult demands of NT ethics (based, I suspect, on a rather perverted notion of ‘stewardship’ [cf. Kelly S. Johnson’s The Fear of Beggars for a more sustained critique of that ideology]). So, no matter how much you want to debate the legal points of this matter, the fact remains that the people of St. John’s are clinging to property (that is not theirs) and are dramatically and publicly failing to love their enemies. By doing so, they are shaming Christians everywhere.

    To be fair, the Bishop is also shaming Christians — not because of his views on homosexuality (which is an unresolved matter in the catholic Church today), but because his Christology seems to be far from anything that can reasonably be called ‘Christian’.

    Humbug. On my not so good days, I’m inclined to go with Mercutio on this one. Montague or Capulet? St. John’s or the Bishop? “A plague o’ both your houses” (Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 1).

  16. Christopher

    In Charity,

    I doubt very much you’d put forward such a flawed analogy — Church as renter; Bishop as landlord — if you really were in possession of the material facts.

    The parish bought the land, paid to erect the buildings, purchase the manse(s), and has always paid for maintenance and upkeep of the properties. Further, they hold the deeds. So you’d do well to refrain from making careless and unwarranted assertions, in apparent ignorance of the fundamental issues at stake in disputes about property ownership under common law, such as you do when you write that the property in question ‘is not theirs’. At best, you are begging a question which is before the courts. At worst, you are “of the Devil’s party without knowing it”.

    On this point, it’s shocking that you think there’s something inconsistent about making two congruent but separate arguments with respect to ownership: the plain legal argument that the congregation and not the Diocese owns the land and assets (paid for by parishioners’ tithes, mostly), and the metaphysical idea that the church and its property belong ultimately to God.

    And I’m sorry that you’re confused about how I read Scripture, but perhaps it would help for me to point out that an excessive literalism in the wrong places would lead one to understand Jesus as a loaf of bread, a letter in the Greek alphabet, or a plant. The passage you allude in Romans really doesn’t have any tropological or anagogical meaning beyond the literal. One can’t, I don’t think, say the same thing about the ‘Sermon on the Mount’.

    What’s so challenging about doing ethics in the real world is that we have to balance, to borrow Herbert’s phrase, “doctrine and life, colours and light”: we have to maintain the integrity of the Scriptures (i.e., various explicit prescriptions and proscriptions, as well as general principles whose application will vary somewhat according to circumstance) without reducing them into the kind of simplistic and rigid formulas that encouraged Tolstoy’s error.

    As I wrote before, do you really feel compelled, on the basis of Jesus’ words, to hand over your wallet, car, and bank account to the first person who makes a claim on them? And do you really think that it’s ‘perverted’ for a church to take seriously its duty to steward the tithes its parishioners have contributed (with God as their ultimate source), by protecting them and the ministries and missions they fund from the assaults of a corrupt, greedy, and heretical institution like the Diocese of New Westminster, whose only plausible intention is to sell the land and raze the Church? Is the Bishop not the one who is wanting in charity here?

    I’m certainly sympathetic to the argument that this court case (any court case, perhaps) is an obstacle to the witness and mission of the church. But that’s not the argument you’ve presented here.

    P.S. With respect to your claim that the question of same-gender sex is unresolved in the Church catholic, I’d ask you to provide me with evidence that there is substantive dispute about the traditional teaching on the matter in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which together account for about 2 billion Christians.

  17. Maurice Harting

    Here is the real issue. When Michael Ingham accepted the position of Anglican Bishop he made a commitment before God and those in charge within the Anglican community to uphold the Christian faith and biblical doctrine. What Michael Ingham has done instead is push a secular liberal agenda that has no place in the Christian church. Furthermore, the weakness within the Anglican Church in general is that there is no proper accountability structure in place that would deal with removing someone from office when biblical commitments that were made are not kept. Michael Ingham will be judged by God for his disobedient behaviour towards God’s Word he was supposed to uphold, unless he repents and turns from his wicked ways.

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