Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lent and Lawsuits, Part 3 - Homeless in Binghamton

In my previous installment of "Lent and Lawsuits" (Part 2, March 7, 2010), I made reference to:
The Diocese of Central New York, where the church building of St. Andrew's Church, in Vestal, was taken over by the Episcopal diocese shortly before Christmas of 2007 and is now vacant and for sale, while St. Andrew's congregation is worshiping elsewhere and thriving. The Church of the Good Shepherd, in Binghamton, also had its building taken in a lawsuit by the diocese. That building also sits vacant while the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd continues to worship and grow in a new location.

There has been a further development with regard to the former church building of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton: FrontPage Magazine today published the news that the building the Episcopal Diocese refused to sell to the departing Anglican congregation, and instead sued them for, has now been sold to a Dawah—an Islamic Awareness Center.

Faith J. H. McDonnell, of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, writes in the article:
It was not as if the people of Good Shepherd had been expecting to keep their church building at no cost. Before the legal proceedings began, Good Shepherd offered to purchase the church building and rectory from the diocese. The diocese refused to sell, and during litigation told the court that the parish was no longer using the property for the purposes for which it had been intended by the Episcopalians who built it in 1879 and who had spent money to maintain it over the years. The Episcopal Church has at various times declared that it will sue every congregation that departs from the denomination in order to preserve the “devotion and witness of Episcopalians of the past for Episcopalians of the future.” That has not quite turned out to be the case in Binghamton, though, unless the “Episcopalians of the future” are part of the Ummah, the Muslim world. Which, come to think of it, does not seem all that far-fetched.

Although the Diocese of Central New York refused to sell the Church of the Good Shepherd to the Anglicans for whom it had been home, they were happy to sell it to a Muslim group for $50,000, a third of the amount that Good Shepherd had offered. According to the Rev. Tony Seel, the Diocese even added a legal caveat to the sale stating that the new owners of the property could never re-sell the building to the original congregation (emphasis added).

The property had been standing vacant and padlocked for many months, when on March 17, 2010, Kennedy passed by his former church building. He saw a crane removing the cross from the bell tower. The former Good Shepherd Church had red doors, symbolizing the blood of Christ as well as the blood of the martyrs. Now the doors had been painted green, and the new owners had covered over the glass that had formed the horizontal arms of a cross-shaped window on the church door. Over the back door was a new sign that said “Islamic Awareness Center.”

That's right, folks. The Episcopal Church would rather have a church building become a night club, an antique store, or a mosque than to allow it to be used by a group of Christians with whom they disagree.

Am I the only one who is thoroughly, righteously indignant that the so-called leadership of the Episcopal Church is spending the tithes and offerings of God's people to wage a jihad of litigation against fellow Christians? I don't think so.

 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Can our sexual mores make us sick?

Can our sexual mores make us sick? Anyone who sat through the "VD" (venereal disease) films that we saw in my junior-high health classes might well answer, "DUH!" to a question like that. This was in the era before HIV-AIDS came on the scene, and Syphilis and Gonorrhea were the the two main diseases those films warned us against. Since then, we've become used to hearing about more common diseases, such as genital herpes, more deadly ones such as HIV-AIDS and various forms of viral Hepatitis, and less well-known diseases such as Chlamydia.

But these two recent news articles from England suggest that sexual promiscuity (for which I will use Wikipedia's definition: "sex with relatively many partners") may be the cause of another newly discovered and potentially deadly complication:
Sex virus blamed for rise in head and neck cancers

The number of head and neck cancers linked to a virus spread by oral sex is rising rapidly and suggests boys as well as girls should be offered protection through vaccination, doctors said Friday.

Despite an overall slight decline in head and neck cancers in recent years, cases of a particular form called oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) have increased sharply, particularly in the developed world.

This growth seems to be linked to cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), scientists said in a report in the British Medical Journal.

[...]

A recent study found the risk of developing oropharyngeal carcinoma was linked to a history of six or more lifetime sexual partners, four or more lifetime oral sex partners, and, for men, an earlier age at first sexual intercourse.

[Read it all.]

Swinging 60s had nothing on the Noughties: sex study

Young women today are nearly three times more sexually active than those of their grandmothers' generation in the liberal heyday of the "Swinging 60s," according to a survey on Tuesday.

The study found that women in the so-called Noughties between 2000 and 2009 had an average of 5.65 different sexual partners by the time they were 24.

Almost one in 10 of those asked claimed to have slept with more than 10 different partners.

By contrast, women who were in their early twenties in the 1960s had an average of 1.67 partners, and women of their mothers' generation, aged 24 in the 1970s, had 3.72 sexual partners by the same age.

[...]

[The study] also found that although women's sex life has increased [sic], sexual health is not improving.

Cancer Research UK statistics show that incidence rates of cervical cancer in women under the age of 25 have not fallen, despite better screening.

Its figures also reveal that although the number of cervical cancer cases in older women has fallen significantly in the last 10 years, diagnoses of the infection in women under the age of 25 have not followed the same trend.

The increase in the number of sexual partners could be one reason, says Lloyds Pharmacy.

"Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infections are very common, especially in younger people," said Clare Kerr, Lloyds Pharmacy's head of sexual health, who warned that HPV is one of the major causes of cervical cancer.

[Read it all.]

The case for "abstinence before marriage, fidelity afterward" continues to stand.
 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Healthcare hurts

From here.
AT&T Inc. announced today that it will take a $1 billion non-cash accounting charge in the first quarter because of the health care overhaul and may cut benefits it offers to current and retired workers.

The charge is the largest disclosed so far. Earlier this week, AK Steel Corp., Caterpillar Inc., Deere & Co. and Valero Energy announced similar accounting charges, saying the health care law that President Barack Obama signed Tuesday will raise their expenses.

[...]

AT&T also said Friday that it is looking into changing the health care benefits it offers because of the new law. Analysts say retirees could lose the prescription drug coverage provided by their former employers as a result of the overhaul.

Read it all.

And this is only the beginning. Are we loving that change yet?

 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shock: Stupak Shot Down Last-Ditch Attempt to Include Own Abortion Funding Ban

Of all the disappointments in Congress' debate and vote on the health care bill, none has been worse than the distressing flip-flop of Representative Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) who has sold the pro-life cause he once championed for thirty pieces of silver.

Shock: Stupak Shot Down Last-Ditch Attempt to Include Own Abortion Funding Ban

Pro-life leaders unanimous: abortion executive order meaningless

By Kathleen Gilbert
Updated 3:32 pm EST


WASHINGTON, D.C., March 22, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In a baffling about-face, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) on Sunday fought against a last-ditch effort to insert his own abortion-funding ban in the reconciliation "fix" package for the Senate health care bill, which passed Sunday night.

The House subsequently struck down Rep. Dave Camp's (R-Mich.) attempt to pass Stupak’s language 232-199.

While Camp referred to his proposal as the "Stupak-Pitts amendment," Stupak himself spoke against his Republican colleague's effort, saying it was an attempt to "politicize life" that merely "purports to be a right -to-life amendment." "This is nothing more than an opportunity to continue to deny 32 million Americans health insurance," he said.

"This motion does not promote life," declared Stupak. "It is the Democrats who have stood up for the principle of no public funding for abortions. ... The executive order ensures that the sanctity of life will be protected."

Angry shouts, including one of "baby killer," were heard on the House floor as Stupak argued against the amendment. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, has identified himself as the heckler who shouted "baby killer," though he claims his remark was not directed at Stupak personally.

Stupak had already reached an 11th-hour agreement with the White House earlier in the day to vote for the Senate health care bill - which pro-life leaders have called the largest abortion expansion since Roe v. Wade - in exchange for an executive order from President Obama upholding the Hyde amendment.

It had been widely acknowledged that, without at least two votes from Stupak's group of Democrats holding out for an abortion funding ban, the bill could not have passed. The House voted 219-212 to pass the measure.

Planned Parenthood called the passage of the bill a "huge victory" that would "significantly increase insurance coverage of reproductive health care, including family planning." "Thanks to supporters like you, we were able to keep the Stupak abortion ban out of the final legislation and President Obama did not include the Stupak language in his Executive Order," stated the organization.

Pro-life leaders expressed shock at Stupak's about-face hours before the final vote, after months of holding out for a true Hyde-amendment ban on abortion funding under extreme pressure from party leaders. The Susan B. Anthony list immediately rescinded a "Defender of Life" award slated to go to the Democrat lawmaker.

"The President's disregard for the unborn is no surprise. It is the betrayal from those who have fought for life within his party that is the biggest shock," stated Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on Sunday. "Especially Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) who had fought so valiantly in this debate, but folded when it really mattered."

"Some Democratic Members who have had good pro-life records in the past turned away from those principles today, instead putting their trust in the most pro-abortion President in history and his equally pro-abortion Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius," said Perkins.

Several top pro-life legal analysts immediately concluded that the executive order would do little to actually fix the glaring pro-life concerns in the Democrats' health care overhaul.

Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a March 21 memo to congressional aides that it was the "unanimous view of our legal advisers" that the executive order was meaningless, thanks to decades of federal court precedent that apply the principles of Roe v. Wade to federal health legislation.

"According to these rulings, such health legislation creates a statutory requirement for abortion funding, unless Congress clearly forbids such funding," wrote Doerflinger. "That is why the Hyde amendment was needed in 1976, to stop Medicaid from funding 300,000 abortions a year. The statutory mandate construed by the courts would override any executive order or regulation."

In addition, William Saunders, senior vice president of Americans United for Life Action, pointed out Supreme Court precedent demonstrating that "a statute cannot be undone by an executive order or regulation."

"For example, an Executive Order cannot prevent insurance plans that pay for abortions and participate in the newly-created exchanges from receiving federal subsidies, because this allowance is explicitly written in the bill," wrote Saunders in a Washington Examiner column Sunday.

The National Right to Life Committee confirmed that the executive order "does not truly correct any of the seven objectionable pro-abortion provisions" in the bill.

"The executive order promised by President Obama was issued for political effect. It changes nothing," stated NRLC. "The president cannot amend a bill by issuing an order, and the federal courts will enforce what the law says."

Read the article and other pro-life updates here.

 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?

Anglican Mainstream comments on the deafening silence from church leaders and the media following the massacre of 500 Christians in Nigeria:

The evil, despicable massacre in Nigeria of some 500 Christian men, women and children has excited remarkably little international comment. This despite the fact that three villages were attacked near Jos by Muslim gangs who trapped women, children and the elderly — those who couldn’t run fast enough to escape — then cut them to pieces.

Archbishop Ben Kwashi described the scenes: “I could see kids from age zero to teenagers, all butchered from the back, macheted in their necks, their heads. Deep cuts in the mouths of babies. The stench. People wailing and crying.” Times (‘500 butchered in Nigeria killing fields’, Tuesday March 9, 2010) entire families were killed to the chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’. Muslim inhabitants of the villages were evacuated before the attackers came in an area which is under a military curfew. Archbishop Kwashi believed a powerful, well-connected grouping must have been responsible. Where are the statements from the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope in condemning this violence that has been meted out to Christian communities in Nigeria time and time again? [Emphasis added.] Similarly mealy-mouthed has been the media describing such events as ‘inter- community' is equally responsible for the aggression. Yet there is no equivalence, the vast number of lives claimed over the years have been Christian. Churches have been attacked repeatedly and the triumphant killing slogan ‘God is Greatest’ (‘Allahu Akbar’) has brought shame upon Islam repeatedly.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lent and Lawsuits, Part 2

As I said in my last post, according to budget figures analyzed by Attorney A.S. Haley (a must read), the Episcopal Church has spent $2.2 million more than was budgeted in 2009 on "Legal Assistance to Dioceses" (i.e., lawsuits against departing parishes) resulting in a projected operating loss for the year of $ 1,708,283.

Keep in mind that this is not the only amount being spent on lawsuits. The Diocese of Virginia has been involved in a multi-year, multi-million dollar suit against departing parishes that has now gone to the Virginia Supreme Court. A similar suit in South Carolina was won by the local parish, but is being appealed to the US Supreme Court.

It is important to remember that the Diocese of Virginia had negotiated and drawn up settlements with departing parishes in northern Virginia prior to the election and enthronement of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. But the PB, upon taking office, made (who knows how?) the Diocese of Virginia renege on those negotiations.

A Tale of Two Churches

What does the Episcopal Church stand to gain from these suits? Let's at look at the statistics for two churches.

St. John's Church Huntingdon Valley, PA (Diocese of Pennsylvania) walked away from their property in 2003. The parish, which had an average Sunday attendance of around 250 and offerings of around $350,000 before the departure of the majority of the congregation, now has an average Sunday attendance of less than 50 and offering receipts of around $50,000! It doesn't take a genius to realize that you can't keep a congregation in that situation open without generous subsidies. The property alone needs more than $50,000 per year for utilities and maintenance, not to mention compensation for a priest. Meanwhile, the 85-90% majority of the congregation that departed is flourishing in another Philadelphia suburb.

The Falls Church, Falls Church, VA (Diocese of Virginia) is one of the congregations with which the Diocese of Virginia would have settled had not the Presiding Bishop ordered a U-turn on that deal. The overwhelming majority has become part of the Anglican District of Virginia, affiliated with CANA and the Anglican Church in Nigeria and currently retains possession of their building, based on a lower court ruling that is being appealed. A remnant who wanted to remain in TEC meets almost across the street from their former church. How are they doing?

In 2005, the Falls Church had a membership of 2800, with average Sunday attendance running around 1900, and annual offerings totaling $4.5 million. In the past two years, statistics for the remnant TEC congregation show a membership of under 100. The average Sunday attendance is around 50, and income is somewhere less than $100,000. (In fact, it is hard to tell the current "plate and pledge" amount, because the graph that is calibrated to deal with previous year's incomes in the millions doesn't afford the level of detail to peg the current amount very precisely.) The Anglican Falls Church has continued to grow and now has an average attendance of well over 2000.

The sizable attendance the Falls Church has experienced is a direct reflection of the nature and quality of the ministry that has gone on there in recent decades. Just as the example of St. John's, Huntingdon Valley, PA demonstrates (above), the Episcopal Church would have to be seriously deluded to think that any ministry they would conduct there would draw enough people to pay the utility bills.

So, in essence, the Presiding Bishop has forced (again, how?) the Diocese of Virginia to spend several million dollars to fight for property they can't use if they win it. The same is true for Truro Church, in Fairfax, VA, and several other northern Virginia congregations where there is no remaining Episcopal congregation that even wants the property.

The reality is that dioceses of the Episcopal Church where property is at issue could have reaped millions of dollars in settlements through negotiations over the property instead of spending millions of dollars in legal fees by suing departing congregations. If we accept that national church and diocesan leaders have a "fiduciary responsibility" to maintain the assets of the Episcopal Church, then could they not have met that responsibility more effectively by seeking settlements, wherever possible, with departing congregations instead of suing them? It could well be argued that national and diocesan leaders have violated their fiduciary responsibility by recklessly engaging in lawsuits where out-of court settlements might have been possible.

Two cases in point: 1. The Diocese of Colorado where "unrestricted reserves fell from nearly $5 million in 2006, to $750,000 today, due mainly to litigation over Grace Church in Colorado Springs. This represents not only a deep decline in money available to the diocese, but in investment income generated by those reserves."

2. The Diocese of Central New York, where the church building of St. Andrew's Church, in Vestal, was taken over by the Episcopal diocese shortly before Christmas of 2007 and is now vacant and for sale, while St. Andrew's congregation is worshiping elsewhere and thriving. The Church of the Good Shepherd, in Binghamton, also had its building taken in a lawsuit by the diocese. That building also sits vacant while the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd continues to worship and grow in a new location.

From a January 2010 article in Christianity Today, entitled "Land and Building Wars":
Valerie J. Munson, who runs a religion and law center at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, has counseled a dozen U.S. Anglican parishes and finds all the litigation unfortunate.

"A lot of money is being spent by the Episcopal Church to litigate cases that could very easily be settled," says Munson, a PC(USA) elder. "In a justice system where over 90 percent of cases are settled, it's a bit of a mystery as to why a Christian denomination would choose to spend its resources on every dispute that comes up."

"...a mystery as to why a Christian denomination would choose to spend its resources on every dispute that comes up." Indeed.

So why is the Episcopal Church engaging in costly lawsuits with such abandon? The following quotations from an article that originally appeared in The Washington Times (fortunately preserved by Stand Firm) give a clue:
In video taped testimony presented to the Fairfax County Circuit Court, Bishop Schori said she ordered Virginia Bishop Peter Lee to break a verbal agreement allowing the 11 parishes to withdraw from the diocese so as to prevent “incursions by foreign bishops.”

"I told Bishop Lee I could not support negotiations for sale if the congregations intended to set up as other parts of the Anglican Communion," Bishop Jefferts Schori said."

[...]

Under further questioning by attorneys for CANA, she said that had the property been sold to a Methodist or Baptist congregation, she would not have objected.

But, "the Episcopal Church, for matters of its own integrity, cannot encourage other parts of the Anglican Communion to set up shop within its jurisdiction," she said in her deposition."

So it appears that the Episcopal Church's pursuit of litigation has more to do with denying property to departing congregations that wish to remain Anglican than with exercising a fiduciary responsibility for church assets.

Indeed rather than preserving Episcopal Church assets, the chief motivation seems to be to deny (seemingly at any cost) resources to anyone who would dare call himself or herself an Anglican apart from the Episcopal Church. In the process Episcopalians are being encouraged to view departing brothers and sisters as enemies, with the litigation resulting in acrimony and spiritual damage of the sort that the Church is supposed to exist to heal.

There is only one word for such an endeavor that is conducted without regard for cost or consequences: obsession. But I would submit that, whether one is speaking of the material or spiritual cost, it is an obsession that the Episcopal Church cannot afford.

Loyal Episcopalians who are concerned about the spiritual and financial well-being of their Church need to hold the leadership responsible for these overexpenditures and demand a halt to the litigation now.


Postscript

(1) There will undoubtedly be those who object to what I have said here. But it needs to be noted that I am not taking sides in the matter of who owns church properties, I am simply arguing against the path the Episcopal Church is taking in resolving property disputes.

(2) It will be alleged by some on "the other side" that legal victories by the Episcopal Church justify these lawsuits. (a.) Any thinking person knows that there is always a danger in "the end justifies the means" kind of rationalization. (b.) One only has to look at Plessy v. Ferguson, the Dred Scott decision, or Roe v. Wade to see that a legal right and a moral right are not always the same thing.

(3) I remain a priest of the Episcopal Church. There are those (chiefly among those who claim to want an "inclusive" Church) who would say I am being disloyal and that there isn't any room in the Episcopal Church for anyone who opposes its litigious stance. These same individuals need to ask themselves if someone can still be a loyal American while opposing the war in Iraq (or the administration's policies on a whole range of subjects). Obviously, loyalty and dissent are not mutually exclusive.
 

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Lent and Lawsuits

I was struck and powerfully convicted regarding the current state of the Episcopal Church by this reading from today's Daily Office Lectionary:
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)

Coincidentally, The Living Church recently ran an editorial dealing with this same subject: http://www.livingchurch.org/news/news-updates/2010/2/25/editorial-lent-and-lawsuits. I do not agree with all of The Living Church's editorial, but they are right to question the recklessness with which supposed followers of Christ are engaging a type of conduct expressly condemned in the New Testament.

The editorial begins by mentioning the intervention of the Presiding Bishop in affairs of the Diocese of South Carolina by retaining legal counsel without consulting with (and possibly with the intention of legal action against) the Bishop of South Carolina because of concerns that a handful of parishes in South Carolina might be taking action to distance themselves from the Episcopal Church.
As the Presiding Bishop described Bishop Lawrence’s actions, her tone departed from the proposed discipline of Lent. “He’s telling the world that he is offended that I think it’s important that people who want to stay Episcopalians there have some representation on behalf of the larger church,” she said in remarks to the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council on Feb. 19.

No, Presiding Bishop, it could be that the Bishop of South Carolina is offended that your first response to the thought that a congregation might be distancing itself from the Episcopal Church is to hire lawyers. Or it could be that, as the Living Church editorial opines, "neither do we believe that filing lawsuits against fellow Christians is a matter of good stewardship."

As I read 1 Corinthians 6, it is more serious than a matter of good stewardship. But, if we look at the issue of stewardship as it pertains to the Episcopal Church's litigation, it might pay to ask how that is working out?

Attorney A.S. Haley, who blogs under the name "The Anglican Curmudgeon" has been following the Episcopal Church's budget problems and expenditures on litigation in a series of posts, entitled ECUSA's Finances, the latest installment of which was posted yesterday: http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2010/03/ecusas-finances-updated.html. Mr. Haley notes that the line item labelled Legal Assistance to Dioceses (paying for the cost of dozens of major lawsuits), the amount budgeted for 2009 is $100,000. The amount spent during 2009 was $2,346,347—an overexpenditure of $2,246,347. Consequently, even in the face of excess receipts from the Federal Government for Episcopal Migration Ministries of $1,118,023, the Episcopal Church still ran a deficit for 2009 in excess of $2.2 million. You must read A.S. Haley's article in it's entirely to get the complete picture.

So how is the Episcopal Church making up for these deficits? As Haley puts it, "by slashing to the bone its entire raison d'ĂȘtre at the national level," in other words, by underspending virtually every aspect of the Church's budget for programs and ministries. As a fiscal conservative, I am not normally opposed to economizing or underspending budgets. But when we are talking about the ministry of the Church, the ministry for which church members give their tithes and offerings as unto the Lord, the diversion of those funds into unbudgeted expenditures not approved by church members is inexcusable.

(To be continued.)