That trial is now set for the end of April, and is expected to take about six weeks. One Falls Church congregant I spoke with worries not just about the eventual ownership of the properties, but about the eventual intentions of the Episcopal Church itself. When I asked what was the worst case scenario, he pointed me to the outcome of a similar case in Binghamton, New York. The Episcopal Church’s victory over a breakaway church there led to this:
The Church of the Good Shepherd, which has stood at #79 Conklin Avenue since 1879, has been willingly turned over to a Muslim entity by the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, rather than have it remain in the hands of traditional Anglicans who practice the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
The death knell for the structure as a Christian house of worship was delivered on February 9, 2010, when it was sold to Imam Muhammad Affify, doing business as the Islamic Awareness Center, for a mere $50,000, a fraction of the church’s assessed $386,400 value.
Now, two months later, the classic red Anglican doors have been repainted green, the simple cross on top of the steeply peaked bell tower has been lopped off, and a windowpane cross in the side door has been disfigured leaving only narrow vertical glass with the cross beam being painted over to hide it. The Muslims consider the cross a pagan symbol.
Meanwhile the Rev. Matt Kennedy, his wife and partner in ministry Anne, their young family and congregation were sent packing in the bitter cold and deep snow in January 2008 when the New York Supreme Court ordered them to relinquish the 130-year-old church building which stands overlooking the meandering Susquehanna River.
Good Shepherd had offered to purchase the property before any legal proceedings began, but TEC refused, just as it has refused to settle with the majority of the Virginia churches. After winning the Binghamton suit, TEC sold the historic church to the Islamic group for about a third of what the congregation had offered.
In a strange new twist on the church lawsuits, TEC just this week settled with a breakaway church in Leesburg, VA. The terms of that settlement, though, allow the church to lease back its property from TEC but forbid the church from affiliating with the Anglican Communion or any other affiliated group, and no bishops may visit the church without TEC’s permission. So the breakaway isn’t really a breakaway: TEC is still in effective control. Freedom of conscience and association are the casualties. Or as one commenter put it, freedom is granted except for the chains. And add to that, this:
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is on record saying she would sooner see fleeing parishes sold for saloons than see them affiliate with African and Southern Cone dioceses that uphold “the faith once delivered for all to the saints.”
Saloons rather than traditional churches? That is why the word “jihad” is in the title of this article. The Episcopal Church’s actions in Binghamton and elsewhere defy reason, unless they were intended to send a very strong and unmistakable message to traditional congregants who might be thinking of breaking away: Defy us, and we will not only hound and possibly crush your congregation through expensive lawsuits, we will see that your cherished houses of worship are desecrated. And we will go to any lengths to send this message, even if we must turn your houses of worship into saloons, or mosques. Even if George Washington himself once worshiped there.