The Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, has a new op-ed in the Washington Post on the court case concerning Episcopal properties:
It’s tempting for this dispute to be about property, or politics, or just plain money. But the essence of the dispute is about theology itself.
Many denominations have a governance (“polity”) that allows for congregational self-determination. For hierarchical bodies, such as the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, United Methodist and Presbyterian churches, it is quite a different matter. In these churches, local congregations represent and witness to the larger structure. Our polity has been established and codified for almost 2,000 years and is the result of a theological view of what the Church is and how it should be governed.
Bishop Johnston continues the article by explaining how property is connected in all of this, but then adds an interesting sense of hope:
To be absolutely clear, as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, I do not want merely an outcome from the court; I seek a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray blessings upon those congregations who have made the painful decision to leave the Episcopal Church. They have prayed for the diocese and for me. Despite our dispute, we are being as gracious as we possibly can by providing smooth transitions for those congregations. And we must find ways to minister where we have much in common, such as in South Sudan. We both work to help those who face the perils of daily life there, most notably from the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army. There is no reason — and no excuse — why we cannot do so together. Both sides must seek ministries in which we can, in unity, serve a society and a world in desperate need. In doing so, we will find one another again as brothers and sisters in the one God and thus be better disciples of the Lord we all follow.
What’s next? We begin anew, as we hope those who left the Episcopal Church will, too. Dayspring is the biblical term for a new dawn that speaks of God breaking through to do new things. Our Dayspring initiative is renewing and restarting Episcopal congregations and returning Episcopal congregations to their church homes. We will ensure that all recovered properties serve the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church and thus serve our Lord Jesus Christ.