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June 24, 2009
Column #1,452
A New American Church Is Born
By Mike McManus

A new American denomination came into being this week, the Anglican Church of North America.  It begins with 700 churches and 100,000 people -- roughly equal in size to the Quakers or Mennonites who have been around for three centuries.

Where did ACNA come from?

Across America are small signs, usually faded and rusting which ironically proclaim, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you."  Not if you are an orthodox Bible-believing Christian! The Episcopal Church has filed 58 lawsuits, and is winning most of them, to capture the property of parishes who have voted to leave the denomination to become Anglican.

What about America's historic "freedom of religion?"  Haven't we always thought that any individual or group of individuals has the freedom to decide whether to attend religious services, and, if so, which one? 

The Episcopal Church no longer believes in such freedom.

       In scores of lawsuits, it argues that each Episcopal church is not the property of the congregation which paid for its construction - but of a diocese of the national church.  Even if 90 percent of a congregation votes to leave, lawsuits for the property are filed.

This week one of those congregations, St. James Anglican Church of Newport Beach, CA, filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to overturn a decision of the California Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles taking its property.

It is asking whether the U.S. Constitution allows religious denominations to disregard normal rules of property ownership that apply to everyone else. And whether the California's Supreme Court "has violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution" which says plainly states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Courts have held that the Amendment applies to states.

"We will be arguing that denying the local church community their ability to organize and hold title to their own building and conduct their religious services in a manner they see fit, this California decision violates their right to the free exercise of religion," said Dr. John Eastman, a constitutional scholar assisting the church.

What if an entire Episcopal Diocese votes to leave the denomination?  Nope, that ain't allowed either. Indeed, Episcopal lawsuits have been filed against four dioceses in all parts of America, where a substantial majority of churches voted to leave the Episcopal Church to become Anglican - in Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, IL and San Joaquin, which is based in Fresno, CA.

       A similar dispute in Canada, prompted additional churches to leave the Anglican Church of Canada to join the Anglican Church of North America.

Church splintering is as American as apple pie.  In the last generation, for example, The Presbyterian Church in America and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church split away from The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  There are now 225 national denominations with 166 million members in 330,000 churches and tens of thousands of independent churches with millions more.

Yet never has there been such bitter hostility as in the Episcopal-Anglican split.  What has fueled the animosity? The triggering event was the election of an active homosexual as an Episcopal bishop, which orthodox Episcopalians felt was a violation of Scripture. In Romans St. Paul criticized men who "abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another."  V. Eugene Robinson divorced his wife to live with a male lover, yet became an Episcopal bishop.

More than a million people have left the Episcopal Church.  David Virtue reports that a third of local Episcopal churches have no full-time clergy and half have fewer than 75 people attending.

Pittsburgh Episcopal Bishop Robert Duncan, who was elected ACNA's Archbishop, led 800 joyous former Episcopalians to "begin a new chapter in our lives as Anglicans," and called for a return to "muscular Christianity" that once reigned. "No cross, no crown.  No pain, no gain."

He acknowledged, "Many of us have sacrificed a great deal to follow Jesus to this place. Many of us have lost properties and sacred treasures and incomes and pensions and standing and friends…But we are so much better off than we were before," he said sparking applause.

       "St. Paul's exhortation is intended for this moment precisely: `For freedom, Christ has set you free. Stand fast then, and do not return again to a yoke of slavery.'"

       Rick Warren, America's most influential pastor, thrilled the crowd with one-liners: "You may lose the steeple, but you won't lose the people. Christ did not die for property…A great commitment to the great commandment and the great commission will grow a great communion."

       This new denomination will grow and the litigious Episcopal Church will shrink.

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