A judge in South Carolina has ruled that a group of Episcopal churches in that state that broke away from the national denomination can keep their properties.
In 2012, 29 Episcopal parishes in the Palmetto State split with the national denomination over biblical sexuality and the authority of scripture. For more than a decade, Episcopal congregations across America have been leaving the fold, usually over the same issues, but they have had to leave their physical properties – some worth tens of millions of dollars or more – behind.
Jeff Walton of the Institute for Religion and Democracy says the Episcopal Church passed a rule in 1979 that all church property is held in a trust “regardless of who built and paid for it.”
Last Friday, Judge Edgar Dickson ruled breakaway churches in his state can keep their property.
“They said that none of them had acceded to that canon. It was what was called an implied trust,” Walton explains. “Just by membership in the Episcopal Church, it had been assumed that they acceded to that canon. But they argued that no, they never acceded to that.”
The decision is not controlling in other states but it may give conservative parishes across the country a roadmap, of sorts, if they want to split.
“The general pattern that we've seen is when individual congregations depart, they usually lose their properties,” Walton tells OneNewsNow. “However, when congregations depart as a collective group, as part of a diocese, we have three cases now [which state] they can maintain and keep their properties.”