Savannah congregation that revolted over gay bishop must forfeit 18th century building

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that a Savannah congregation of a 278-year-old church that revolted over the affirmation of a gay bishop will have to give up the historic building to the national Episcopal church.

Read the decision here.

This undated file photo shows Christ Church of Savannah, founded in 1733, in Savannah, Ga. The Georgia Supreme Court voted six to one in a decision released Monday to uphold a lower court's October 2009 ruling confirming the national Episcopal Church's claim to the historic institution. AP/Savannah Morning News

This undated file photo shows Christ Church of Savannah, founded in 1733, in Savannah, Ga. The Georgia Supreme Court voted six to one in a decision released Monday to uphold a lower court's October 2009 ruling confirming the national Episcopal Church's claim to the historic institution. AP/Savannah Morning News

From a summary issued this morning:

Christ Church was founded in 1733, when English General James Oglethorpe designated the land on which the church stands as a place of worship. The church received title to the building by land grants from the royal government in 1758 and post-Revolution state legislature in 1789. In 1823, Christ Church co-founded the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia and formally joined the national Episcopal Church.

In 2007, after the national Episcopal Church affirmed its first openly gay bishop in New Hampsire, 87 percent of the Savannah congregation voted to cut off its affiliation with the Georgia Diocese and join an Anglican diocese in Uganda.

The Georgia Bishop recognized the minority faction, including its rector, wardens and vestry, as the rightful leaders of Christ Church who named themselves “Christ Church Episcopal.” However, the majority faction, which called themselves “Christ Church in Savannah,” refused to give up the property.

The Georgia Diocese and national Episcopal Church then sued the local congregation, seeking a court declaration that the church’s historic building and property on Bull Street, worth nearly $3 million, as well as three other parcels of property titled in the name of Christ Church, were held in trust for the benefit of the national church.

Lower courts had ruled in favor of the national organization, with the state Court of Appeals pointing out that Episcopalians have a hierarchical denomination ruled by bishops rather than one controlled by congregations.

The 45-page decision was written by Justice David Nahmias. Superior Court Judge Phillip Brown of Macon, filling in for Jusice George Carley, was the only dissenter:

“The majority ….reaches an unjust result that is contrary to law in many ways,” Brown writes in his 96-page dissent. The local congregation “has spent large amounts of time and money to prevent the National Church from wrongfully taking [its] property through judicial action without the National Church having any document that qualifies as a title document under Georgia law.

How else can we fairly describe the National Church’s conduct other than an attempt to take [the local church’s] property without paying for it.”

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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88 comments Add your comment

SAWB

November 21st, 2011
1:30 pm

This is really a shame it seems like there should have been some way to resolve this situation. It was my understanding that the National Church has refused to negotiate in good faith and wants to take the property as a way of penalizing the local group. I realize the issue of Homosexuality is dividing many organizations, but it seems that they should have handled it better.

rod

November 21st, 2011
1:33 pm

Now. Get off the property. You decided to secede and now you must leave the property. You knew the rules. As many like to say rules are rules HAHA

Phil Lunney

November 21st, 2011
1:37 pm

There is a way out, the local congregation can pay $3 Million and keep the building or rejoin the National Organization. As they say, elections have consequences. If the congregation truly voted their conscience, then come up with the money, if you wanted to make a statement, you have done that, now rejoin the National Organization or move out and find another Church building.

GaBlue

November 21st, 2011
1:43 pm

TAX THE CHURCHES!

SAWB

November 21st, 2011
1:46 pm

“There is a way out, the local congregation can pay $3 Million and keep the building”

It was my understanding that the National Organization would not accept that and had vowed to never allow the breakaway groups to have the property.

honested

November 21st, 2011
1:54 pm

Bad things can happen when you anoint yourself as ‘arbiter of the appropriate’.

Give the nice church it’s building and go away.

PS, stop wasting taxpayers court time on religious disputes.

Bad Guy

November 21st, 2011
2:12 pm

Certainly, this should be resolved. The church should offer the property for sale at market rates if the congregation could find financing. Surely an organization that was “all inclusive” would want others to continue to worship in the santuary they grew up in.

It would be the Christian thing to do….

Bad Guy

November 21st, 2011
2:12 pm

Taylor Beattis

November 21st, 2011
2:17 pm

Well, the local congregation clearly wanted to make a statement by joining a diocese in Uganda, a country that imprisons gay people and hounds them with physical violence. Clearly the local congregation thought that Uganda best represented their Christian values. So now, the local congregation can ask the Ugandans to pay for a new building. Better yet, perhaps the congregants can relocate to Uganda to worship with their fellow brothers in Christ. They can all go hunting for gays after Sunday service.

changed

November 21st, 2011
2:21 pm

I am a former life-long Episcopalian who nows attends a Baptist church. Had enough of bishops and their liberal agenda.

Matthew

November 21st, 2011
2:21 pm

This is a good decision. Coming from a conservative state like Georgia I didn’t expect it.

The local church decided to pick this fight in the first place — and for what? Because a bishop in New Hampshire was appointed who happens to have a male partner??

Most of these people have never even been to New Hampshire.

Simply put, they wanted to make a political statement to justify their homophobia..

And really, UGANDA??

My my — some people are really terrified of change, aren’t they?

SAWB

November 21st, 2011
2:26 pm

“Surely an organization that was “all inclusive” would want others to continue to worship in the santuary they grew up in.”

“We can’t sell to an organization that wants to put us out of business,” said Bishop Jefferts Schori, who added that her job is to ensure that “no competing branch of the Anglican Communion impose on the mission strategy” of the Episcopal Church. Indeed she has no complaint with Muslims, Baptists or barkeepers buying Episcopal properties—only fellow Anglicans.

No, I think the all inclusive Episcopal Church only recognizes your freedom if you walk lockstep with their policies. They have set aside twenty million to prosecute these cases as a way of punishing the traditional Anglicans who do not buy into their new Universalist agenda.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203476804576614932308302042.html

Sorry if the link does not work sometimes a password is required.

suibne

November 21st, 2011
2:33 pm

….and you want to know why the dialog is over between the right and the left. What part of “the congregation does not want a gay leader…” do you not get? BECAUSE HE IS GAY. So for you that indicates they are somehow archaic. You? You are merely another sample of what has happened to family values in America.
suibne

liberalefty

November 21st, 2011
2:35 pm

homophobic bigotry …gotta love georgia

Norman

November 21st, 2011
2:49 pm

this is just-God hates hate-now they have no home to worship-may they all rot and die-praise God

SAWB

November 21st, 2011
2:50 pm

“homophobic bigotry …gotta love georgia”

Funny how easy it is to just throw out some hyperbole and dismiss an otherwise complicated issues. Regardless of how hard liberals try to convince everyone most Christians do not hate homosexuals or really have an issue with them living their lives as they see fit. What many in the Episcopal Church are concerned about is a Church Hierarchy that no longer adheres to Christian beliefs, but has adopted a form of Universalism.

10Cent

November 21st, 2011
2:52 pm

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liberalefty

November 21st, 2011
2:53 pm

what christian beliefs. money talks bs walks. this is about money. if they dont wanna be a part of the national organization then they should vacate the property .

GaBlue

November 21st, 2011
2:54 pm

“What part of “the congregation does not want a gay leader…” do you not get?

Uh…. the congregation didn’t have a gay leader. The congregation was mad because they could not dictate the “values” of a congregation in New Hampshire. They CHOSE to cut themselves off, and now they’re whining that the gubmint should step in and “award” them what belongs to the organization they chose to leave. Wah wah wah…. Poor babies can’t get any bullies to bully on their behalf.

Becky

November 21st, 2011
3:09 pm

I heard the existing church is going to be converted to a gay nightclub!!!!

Rock me like a Herman Cain

November 21st, 2011
3:12 pm

Imprisoning gays? I’m all for that. When elected President I will chase them right back into the closet or prison. Their choice. Because God created America and we know God does not love gays like he does true, Red-State Christian Americans.

Oh, and I did not have settlements with that woman.

Actually studied canon law

November 21st, 2011
3:18 pm

The local congregation does not have a legal leg to stand on. The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church USA clearly and unequivocally state that all Church buildings and property are joint property of the local Diocese and the National Church.

The language is totally unambiguous, and the one judge who dissented is making stuff up, not actually reading the words.

Ol' Timer

November 21st, 2011
3:25 pm

Some of these good Christian folk just can’t come to grips with the fact that there are gay people in the world that have rights just like everybody else. The key to peace for these good folks is to just GET OVER IT!

If they had the IQ of a rock they’d understand that these gay folk are what they are — and the preponderance of evidence is the the Good Lord make them that way.

They need to go to the Almighty Complaint Department and talk to the Boss about their problem with the folks. And, take a look at the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my children, you have done it unto me.”

Katie Murphy

November 21st, 2011
3:41 pm

Once again bigotry gets a kick in the butthole. Its as simple as that. But re the battle , what else would you expect from a part of the country whose culture is that of slavery,, KKKK, and segregation.

And always needs to have someone to demonize, to make themselves feel better.

Rockerbabe

November 21st, 2011
3:53 pm

Private property is, well, private property and the owners (the National Episcopal Church)want their property back. Renting property for a long period of time (other than a rent to own contract) does not give the renter any ownership of said property. I suggest those parishoners who do not like the edits of the national church, find another place to worship that will cater to your bigotry.

That’s what use secular or recovering catholics have to do. . .so buck up and find another church. I’m sure there are plenty out there that will allow you to call yourself “christian” while maintaining your judgements and prejudices.

Hollis

November 21st, 2011
3:53 pm

GAYS rule!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In Atl

November 21st, 2011
3:53 pm

The usual suspects pop up to tell anyone who doesn’t approve of homosexual behavior that they’re a bigot – or some other pejorative term. I guess name calling is okay if you’re liberal. This is a very complicated case; but suffice it to say that in recent years the national Episcopal Church decided to adopt something called the Dennis Canon, which basically took ownership of every church. Really a power grab, especially since these churches financially support the national church – not the other way around. And what’s really sad is that our presiding bishop has made it clear in actual sworn testimony that she’d rather have the buildings become vacant than to sell them to the churches who want to break away. What a lovely leader and role model she is.

edna depue

November 21st, 2011
3:59 pm

Isn’t David Nahmias an Egyptian? Wonder if he is a Muslim, too.

duke

November 21st, 2011
4:01 pm

This is one of many reasons why all truly Protestant churches recognize the sovereignty of local congregations. The main issue is the conscience of the individual believer with regard to religious doctrine, the duty and right of each individual believer to obey the Word of God. The Word condemns homosexuality as a sin; if the national church leaders contradict the Word of God, believers are duty-bound to obey the Word. But this case shows that failure to follow this fundamental principle creates unjust situations even in regard to secular law. Following the religious principle would also produce what is clearly the correct legal result. The national church has no legitimate title under secular law, and no ecclesiastical authority under religious law.

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What if?

November 21st, 2011
4:04 pm

What if the gay bishop had not been allowed and the New Hampshire membership leaves the church? Would those in Savannah be out front in protest of the New Hampshire folks losing their church property in the same situation?

findog

November 21st, 2011
4:06 pm

So if my local Catholic church decides they want to revert to the original Jewish faith, as long as they pay lawyers a lot of money Judge Brown says we can keep the church? Can the local southern Baptist church spin off to Methodist and take the land and church with them to the new denomination; or does this only apply when GAYS are involved?

SAWB

November 21st, 2011
4:13 pm

“Can the local southern Baptist church spin off to Methodist and take the land and church with them to the new denomination”

Sure they own the building, so who could stop them? The SBC does not own local Church buildings, so the local Church can do as they please.

Ben

November 21st, 2011
4:16 pm

Kudos to the locals. So they took their building away, so what? Their real goal was to force feed them homosexuality, and that obviously failed. So either start a new church down the street, or join with another conservative Protestant denomination. It’s just a building. Let them have it. See how long they want to keep it open with little or no local money coming in to support it. Buy it later for less.

DannyX

November 21st, 2011
4:19 pm

“The Word condemns homosexuality as a sin;”

Of course churches have completely disregarded the the New Testament when it comes to divorce. Divorce is a CHOICE. Most divorces are not allowed according to Jesus himself. The ones that are allowed mean that one person was being unfaithful and committed adultery. The New Testament says that divorce is contrary to God’s will, and that remarriage following divorce constitutes adultery.

Why should gays be excluded and judged harshly when half of all Christian marriages end in divorce and Christian laws on remarriage are ignored? In fact Jesus said nothing about homosexuality but has plenty to say about divorce.

You can’t defend your family values while giving a big pass to pop sin, divorce.

Smoke

November 21st, 2011
4:21 pm

So far the courts have said the national church is legally and legitimately right under secular law, and the national connectional church determines the ecclesiastical authority. Southern Baptist are one of the few that have a go-it-alone, make rules with bias knee jerk thoughts using the Bible as a smoke screen. Stuff like women can’t be ministers, and the Bible said that white men are to rule over all other beings.

Former Episcopalian

November 21st, 2011
4:30 pm

I’m a dues paying member of the Libertarian Party and I support Gay rights in Secular law,but church law is different.The same people who called themselves open minded called me a bigot for my opposition to the ordination of gay clergy. I will always consider myself an Anglican,but I’m glad to have the Episcopal church in my rear view mirror.

In Atl

November 21st, 2011
4:31 pm

Danny, going to the divorce straw man. Typical. Next comes the shellfish argument, I suppose. Christ also never mentioned beastiality or incest by name. His admonitions were general and were consistent with those of the Old Testament. Proclivities to certain behaviors may truly not be a choice in some cases, but some have more of a burden to strive to overcome their brokenness and be acceptable in God’s sight.

Aquagirl

November 21st, 2011
4:31 pm

It’s just a building. Let them have it.

Mmmmmm…sour grapes are tasty, aren’t they?

DannyX

November 21st, 2011
4:37 pm

“Next comes the shellfish argument, I suppose.”

Nope, the words of Jesus himself, I specially referred to the New Testament. Why have Christians given themselves a huge waiver on divorce?

Why should gays fear God when the church doesn’t fear divorce? Hypocrites.

DannyX

November 21st, 2011
4:38 pm

“but some have more of a burden to strive to overcome their brokenness and be acceptable in God’s sight.”

What a crock. You either take the Bible literally in all areas or you don’t.

SAWB

November 21st, 2011
4:42 pm

“Why should gays fear God when the church doesn’t fear divorce?”

Who says the Church does not denounce divorce? I hear it mentioned as a negative matter quite frequently at the Churches I attend and the material I read. Just because a number of folks who identify as Christian are living in sin does not mean the Church accepts it.

findog

November 21st, 2011
4:47 pm

SAWB, but they allow divorced members to remain while kicking out gays who come out of the closet

DannyX

November 21st, 2011
4:47 pm

What church do you know that forbids divorced people from being members? Not many that I know of. How many allow remarriage? How many ban gays?

Look at Newt, the proud Catholic, 3 times divorced, now the defender of marriage.

findog

November 21st, 2011
4:48 pm

twice divorced, unless you’ve heard that blond #3 is on the way out

SAWB

November 21st, 2011
4:59 pm

“SAWB, but they allow divorced members to remain while kicking out gays who come out of the closet”

Yes, a lot of Churches have failed in handling of the issue of divorce, but you might be surprised that many Churches do address the issue. The first thing to remember about divorce is that many of the victims of divorce are guilty of no sin. If a husband cheats on his wife and she gets a divorce there is no reason she should not be in full fellowship with the Church. If the husband then realizes later on that his adultery and divorce were sins and repents the Church should accept him.

SAWB

November 21st, 2011
5:07 pm

“How many ban gays?”

I am afraid that way too many probably do or would if they really knew how many gay people are probably in their congregations. This is a very difficult issue for a lot of people and simply calling us bigots does everyone a disservice. Many people like me have agonized over this issue and I myself have adopted a sort of Christian Libertarianism related to this and many other issues. Personally what Ben & Jerry do in their own home is no concern of mine and I believe they have that freedom. I also believe that freedom does not come from government, but from God. However, I also believe the Church has the freedom and the duty to attempt to apply the teachings of the scripture as consistently and kindly as possible.

Aquagirl

November 21st, 2011
5:09 pm

Who says the Church does not denounce divorce?

Somehow they just can’t be arsed to do anything about it aside from saying naughty-naughty. But let some church in New Hampshire ordain a gay men and they run to Uganda, the land of the Lord’s Army and f**king babies to cure AIDS. Nice that they found people who share their values.

SAWB

November 21st, 2011
5:15 pm

Well, don’t worry too much I believe Omama is sending Special Forces in to kill them all.