On April 3, Judge Randy Bellows of the Fairfax County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the Virginia churches that have departed the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Bellows ruled that a religious division had occurred, and that the Virginia Statute on Religious Division, Va. Code 57-9(A), is applicable to this case. The Episcopal Church and the diocese are expected to challenge the court's decision. Bellows has scheduled arguments on the constitutionality of the Virginia statute for May 28.
A majority of members in the 11 Anglican churches voted to sever their ties to the Episcopal Church and the diocese following disputes over the redefinition and reinterpretation of Scripture.
IRD Director of Anglican Action Ralph Webb commented:
"Judge Bellows' decision commendably recognizes facts that the Episcopal Church refuses to accept. The majority of many congregations across the country and the majority of one entire diocese have voted to leave the Episcopal Church.
"And it's ironic and tragic when a secular judge takes the Episcopal Church's membership in the Anglican Communion more seriously than the denomination itself. Bellows rightly recognizes that 'the CANA [c] ongregations were bound by personal ties of 'affection or sympathy' with the Anglican Communion' both before and after they left the Episcopal Church.
"The ruling should cause the Episcopal Church to take a long look at its harsh, take-no-prisoners approach to dealing with church property. This result was by no means inevitable. The denomination should have allowed the diocese to sit down at the table with the CANA congregations.
"Sadly, the Episcopal Church appears more interested in property than people, and more interested in the recovery of property than in reconciliation. Christians certainly can legitimately differ in their conclusions about who lawfully should possess the property. But sometimes you can be overly zealous concerning some goal that you'll either never reach or will attain at too great a cost.
"Will the Episcopal Church gain the world but lose its soul in the process? It still is not too late to pursue healing and reconciliation."