What would you say of a trustee who spent $6.8 million of his trust fund’s money to recover just $1 million? Is that a healthy example of how a fiduciary should carry out his duties?
You probably already guessed before I tell you: the trustee in question is the Episcopal Church (USA); the trust fund is ECUSA’s endowment (some $366 million as of the end of 2016); the $6.8 million was loaned by ECUSA’s Executive Council to the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin to keep it propped up during its ten-year lawsuit to “recover church properties”; and the $1 million is all that the Diocese of San Joaquin is now able to repay after having been handed more than 25 properties by the crazy California courts.
There are several ways of explaining why the Episcopal Church has spent around USD40,000,000 to recover its property in this millennium of struggle that is the Anglican Revolt.
One way is to note that much of TEC’s “pastiche” is rooted in its historic properties (like this one) and that it needed them to “keep up the day” or keep its “brand.” But that puts the lie to a whole generation of social justice warriors such as this who wanted to break the church out of the “phony” suburbs and make it both relevant and reaching out to people beyond TEC’s elevated demographic. (Face it, though: the course of the left since the 1960’s has been to backtrack from a real economic justice agenda, and we have the income inequality to show for it.)
Another is to say that TEC needed these properties to forward its “evangelistic” efforts. And it’s true that property on the ground is useful in this endeavour. But TEC hasn’t had a really good plan for growth since it appealed to the upwardly mobile in the 1950’s, and to say otherwise is to be in denial, which certainly has motivated many to do foolish things. The lack of practical growth plan is, from an economic standpoint, the key problem with its scorched earth litigation strategy: we got the property back, now what? And how do we pay for it?
Yet another is to note the blind hatred that TEC’s left has exhibited towards those who didn’t agree with the pansexual agenda actively promoted in the church. That was very much in evidence during the years Katherine Jefferts-Schori was Presiding Bishop, and say what you will, she was more up front about that than her male predecessors and successor. But that kind of hatred doesn’t become people who a) come from a supposedly “nice” religion and b) profess and call themselves Christians.
And this last point goes hand in hand with the American tendency to put way too much confidence in litigation and its successful outcome. Americans are drilled in the absolute rightness of their legal system and the “rule of law” that supposedly goes with it. Winning a lawsuit not only brings victory to the issue at hand; it also morally vindicates the successful plaintiff, and moral vindication is what life is all about in these United States. The best way to describe this mentality is childlike, but that doesn’t stop people from pursuing a lot of stupid litigation. (That masks much of the élite table tilting that has gone on with Episcopal property litigation, but that’s part of the game too, I suppose.)
It’s not a pretty picture. The main result will be the sell-off of properties to pay the lawyers and other expenses, and that can bite back, as Jon Bruno will tell you. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, we can argue about justification by faith vs. works (not a really good dichotomy) but we can be sure that litigation doesn’t justify anyone.