Land and Building Wars
"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."
Archibald Wallace III, an attorney and ordained Presbyterian minister who has counseled both sides, is also grieved by the amount spent on lawsuits. "When you start paying for lawyers, paralegals, briefs, motions, and filings, that's a lot of money," Wallace says. "Think of all the good it could have done."
Legal expenses in some cases are accelerating. For the next three years, TEC has budgeted $1.3 million annually for legal purposes, while as recently as 2008, its annual legal budget was $450,000.
Most legal experts are confident the U.S. Supreme Court will not touch church property disputes, while attorneys representing local congregations don't see how justices can avoid them. But both denominations and litigating churches are convinced there will be dire consequences for Christianity if their side loses.
John W. Kennedy, former news editor for Christianity Today, is a freelance writer in Springfield, Missouri.
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Previous articles on church property cases include:
Case by Case | The rules in church property fights can change at the state border. (October 7, 2008)
Big Win for Va.'s Breakaway Anglican Parishes in Property Fight | Judge rules that 1867 law on church divisions applies in battle with Episcopal Church, diocese. (April 4, 2008)
Church v. Church | Korean American congregation alleges racial discrimination in church property sale. (Feb. 6, 2008)
So, Who Owns the Sanctuary? | Dissenting mainline churches struggle to retain their property. (September 1, 2004)