Judge Rules in Favor of the Virginia Churches: A Division has Occurred; Statute Applies

Here is a brief summary of the conclusions from the Letter Order:

Findings and Conclusions:

A. As used in 57-9(A), the term “church” or “religious
society” does apply to the Diocese, the ECUSA, and the
Anglican Communion.

B. As used in 57-9(A), the term “attached” applies to the
CANA Congregations, in that they are “attached” to the
Diocese, the ECUSA, and the Anglican
Communion.

C. As used in 57-9(A), CANA, the American Arm of the
Church of Uganda, the Church of Nigeria, ADV, ECUSA,
and the Diocese are all “branches” of the Anglican
Communion, and CANA and ADV are “branches” of
ECUSA and the Diocese.

D. As used in 57-9(A), a “division” has occurred in a
church or religious society to which the CANA
Congregations were attached, at all three levels of the
Diocese, the ECUSA, and the Anglican
Communion.

VI.) Conclusion:
ECUSA/Diocese argue that the historical evidence demonstrates that it is only the “major” or “great” divisions within 19th-century churches that prompted the passage of 57-9, such as those within the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. ECUSA/Diocese argue that the current “dispute” before this Court is not such a “great” division, and, therefore, this is yet another reason why 57-9(A) should not apply. The Court agrees that it was major divisions such as those within the Methodist and Presbyterian churches that prompted the passage of 57-9. However, it blinks at reality to characterize the ongoing division within the Diocese, ECUSA, and the Anglican Communion as anything but a division of the first magnitude, especially given the involvement of numerous churches in states across the country, the participation of hundreds of church leaders, both lay and pastoral, who have found themselves “taking sides” against their brethren, the determination by thousands of church members in Virginia and elsewhere to “walk apart” in the language of the Church, the creation of new and substantial religious entities, such as CANA, with their own structures and disciplines, the rapidity with which the ECUSA’s problems became that of the Anglican Communion, and the consequent impact-in some cases the extraordinary impact-on its provinces around the world, and, perhaps most importantly, the creation of a level of distress among many church members so profound and wrenching as to lead them to cast votes in an attempt to disaffiliate from a church which has been their home and heritage throughout their lives, and often back for generations.
Whatever may be the precise threshold for a dispute to constitute a division under 57-9(A), what occurred here qualifies.

For the foregoing reasons, this Court finds that the CANA Congregations have properly invoked 57-9(A). Further proceedings will take place in accordance with the Order issued today.

Mark your calendars: On May 28th, Judge Bellows will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Virginia Division Statute. The Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia will be among those defending the Division Statute as constitutional.