Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Texas House Bill 729

There has been an Internet flurry over Texas HB 729 Relating to property rights of certain religious organizations which has been introduced by Rep. Byron Cook, R. Corsicana. As far as I can tell, Episcopal Cafe was the first Episcopal source to raise a red flag about this.

The text of the bill can be found here.

The Cafe pointed its readers to Capitol Annex, a "weblog dedicated to Texas News & Politics", which reported:

The legislation, House Bill 729 by State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), would direct Texas courts to divide church property “in a manner that the court considers just and right.”

The bill is narrowly crafted only to apply to schisms as a result of doctrinal differences and then only to divisions that result in a unit of an organized denomination’s church or diocese seceding from its ultimate ruling body.

Although evidently geared to address the property concerns of Episcopal Churches who have abandoned the Anglican Communion or the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., the bill is drafted to apply to any religious organization that qualifies as such under the Texas Tax Code so long as the religious organization is organized “into orders or ranks each subordinate to the one above it,” and specifically mentions churches, synagogues, and mosques.

People in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth assumed it was filed at the urging of our departed leadership, who have left the Episcopal Church and are attempting to take our property with them. This impression was bolstered by the use of the phrase "property concerns of Episcopal Churches who have abandoned the Anglican Communion or the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the U.S." "The General Convention Church" is the way the schismatics refer to the Episcopal Church.

However, Vince Leibowitz, who wrote the piece for Capital Annex, replied in the Comments at the Cafe that

"I'm very sorry about any confusion that caused. I searched for a very long time to figure out what the appropriate terms for both the umbrella body that the Fort Worth Diocese left and the new body they joined.
" I'm a United Methodist, so the nomenclature of the Episcopal Church is a bit foreign to me.
"Can you clarify for me what the proper names are?
"I am not a religion writer; I cover the Texas Legislature, but I found this bill very interesting in light of what happened in Fort Worth."

Jim Naughton of the Cafe replied:

"Sure, Mr. Leibowitz. We are simply called The Episcopal Church. Bishop Iker and his allies are attempting to sow confusion by continuing to call themselves The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, even though they have voted to separate from The Episcopal Church and join the Province of the Southern Cone, which is another member of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The bishop and his allies take what might be characterized as a states rights approach to church politics. Those of us who remain in the Church do not believe that dioceses have the right to enter and leave at will, and certainly don't believe that if they leave they get to take the name and property with them."

And Paige Baker commented:

"Mr. Leibowitz--Since you live in Texas, I suspect you are probably familiar with the crime of cattle rustling?
"This is like trying to take cows with someone else's brand and rebrand them so that they look like they are yours.
"Not cool. Not legal. Not Christian."

So it does not appear that the language of the report is indicative of anything other than confusion over proper nomenclature.

Here's what we do know - Rep. Cook was in the news most recently for filing to run against House Speaker Tom Craddick, so we know he's got guts. He was named one of the ten best legislators by Texas Monthly. He's also apparently friends with the Rev. Canon Ed Monk, SSC, of St. John's Episcopal Church, Corsicana in the Diocese of Dallas. I've been told that it was Canon Monk and the senior warden of St. John's who urged Rep. Cook, a Southern Baptist, to file the bill.

Here's something interesting about St. John's. They are listed on a website called Angelfire.
This is a web site for people who want to worship in "safe" parishes, safe meaning places uncontaminated by Episcopalians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and Episcopalians who favor the inclusion of such folk.

The site describes itself this way:

If you are looking for a place to worship that upholds tradition, the 39 Articles of Religion or the The Affirmation of St. Louis and the Creeds and believe the Bible is the word of God and that marriage is between one man and one woman then check the list below for a church that worships in the Anglican style. If you know of any other traditional/orthodox Churches to add to the list please send the following information to

Grannie Kay ain't babying anybody. She writes:

DO NOT send me only the URL to your web site and expect me to go hunt for your information. We have done the best we can to make sure the churches listed are "safe" but it is your responsibility to check them out and ask the hard questions. May God go with you on your quest.

The Angelfire site links to Apostasy, which says:

The Episcopal Church has chosen apostasy, abandoning both the principles of the Anglican Communion and the Christian Faith. She has ordained women for the past 30 years, has elected a woman as her primate and has consecrated a man in an active same gender relationship to the office of bishop. Thousands of laity are leaving weekly. Congregations have left to be under the authority of foreign bishops and entire dioceses are disaffiliating with the Episcopal Church and are coming under the jurisdiction of the Southern Cone. Churches are being sued for leaving and upholding Tradition and Scripture. The Episcopal Church has even attempted to sue laity as well as rewriting the canons to better control laity with threats of excommunication.

The Anglican Church of Canada approved rites for blessing same-gender relationships. TEC allows them but denies that doing so is "approved". The Archbishop of Canterbury has presided at Holy Eucharist to gay persons in liberal Churches in England without the permission or knowledge of the diocesan bishop. All this has brought the whole Anglican Communion to the brink of schism. What's next?

Our purpose is to discuss the effects this has on us, and the various possibilities for the future of TEC, the Anglican Communion and ourselves.It is time to leave the Episcopal Church. Where will we go? How do we start a new church if there is not already one nearby? We pray for God's blessings and guidance as we go forth."

St. John's is clearly hanging its hat with folks who have left or are planning to leave the Episcopal Church.

So it would appear that this bill arose out of a parish in the Diocese of Dallas that is looking to leave the Episcopal Church and take its property with it. It will be interesting to see what Bishop Jim Stanton -- who has his own history with schismatic organizations -- will have to say about this.

So far, the bill has no cosponsors nor is there a companion bill in the Texas Senate. That may be because the bill has serious Constitutional issues around the separation of church and state. Its passage would affect many other denominations in addition to the Episcopal Church, including
Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

I don't see many Texas legislators wanting to make that many constituents angry. So it will be good for Episcopalians to write their representatives about making sure this bill dies an early death. And urge your Presbyterian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Methodist friends to do the same.

And watch the Dallas Morning News for more on this story.


John B. Chilton said...

Just to add to your excellent roundup, as we note at Episcopal Cafe, sections 2 and 3 Cook's bill seems to go out of its way to make clear it would not apply retroactively -- e.g., to Fort Worth.

Unknown said...

It pains me to see that the cathedral from the Diocese of Alabama is listed as a "safe" church...Not my experience there, though. Thanks be to God And I know that in the past the cathedral community has been open to dialogue...that list doesn't mean much to me.