|From the Bishop|
An appeal for the Legal Defense Fund
Dear faithful parishioners,
It is time for every loyal parishioner in the Diocese to step forward and make a contribution to our Legal Defense Fund. Every gift matters – every donation is important! Our goal is to raise a minimum of $1 million to cover our legal fees as a result of the litigation brought against us by The Episcopal Church and its local supporters. At stake is everything we have as a Diocese – ownership of Camp Crucis and the Diocesan Center, our churches and property, our bank accounts and investments, our clergy and our Bishop. TEC wants it all!
As you know, by a margin of 80% our 2008 Diocesan Convention voted to remove all references to The Episcopal Church from our Constitution and Canons. TEC was formed as a voluntary association, and it remains so today. A diocese can withdraw from TEC by a Convention vote, just as it joined TEC by a Convention vote. However, the minority group who disagreed with this decision claimed that we did not have the legal right to do so and declared that all our church property actually belongs to TEC. They held a bogus meeting in 2009 where they attempted to replace all the legitimate officers of the Diocese and the Corporation of the Diocese, and they later declared all our clergy were deposed from the ordained ministry. It is this bogus group of representatives who have sued us, the real Diocese and the real Corporation, demanding that we turn over all our property and assets to them!
While this fairy tale may have initially confused the Tarrant County trial court, the Appellate Court was not confused and ruled on June 25th that these individuals could not sue us in the name of the Diocese and of the Corporation, but only as individuals. They have now refiled their suit in their own names. In the end, we are confident that the Texas courts will enforce our state laws governing corporations and property ownership.
In addition, we have been dragged into a second court case (this one in Hood County) where TEC supporters are trying to prevent St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Worth from receiving funds left to them in a bequest by a parishioner. TEC wants the money sent to them instead!
I am saddened by the necessity of having to defend ourselves in these lawsuits. We did not initiate this litigation, and in fact, we have done everything we could to avoid it. From the beginning, we asked the disenchanted minority to join us in developing a reasonable plan to divide the property and assets of the Diocese so that we all could continue to carry on God’s work without the distractions created by litigation. In fact, the Corporation deeded their church property to Trinity Church in Fort Worth, St. Luke’s in Stephenville, and St. Martin’s in Keller, because these parishes wished to remain in TEC. We were in the process of doing the same for others when TEC filed suit against us, demanding all of our property. The Presiding Bishop of TEC has insisted that TEC must have ALL of the assets and property of our Diocese. Given that position, we have had no alternative but to engage legal counsel to protect our interests and to bring this process to an end at the earliest possible time.
It is the strategy of TEC in all of its litigation to make it as expensive as possible for those it sues, so that they either give up or are unable to continue the process of litigation. The only way we have been able to defend our congregations in court so far is through the generous support of Dick and Marsland Moncrief. To date the Moncriefs and a few others have contributed about $900,000 to our defense, and the litigation costs continue! I feel the time has now come for our legal fees to be shared by all concerned members of this diocese, not just a few, and for that reason I am asking for your support.
Please consider making a special gift to this fund, which will qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation to the Diocese. Though one-time gifts are great, it would help if you could pledge a certain amount over a period of several weeks or months. With your help, we are optimistic about our goal of securing our legal position as a diocese, but it is a very expensive process. In the event that our funds are not exhausted before litigation ends, the balance will be directed toward the mission of the Church.
Thank you for considering this need. Do uphold this whole campaign in your prayers!
The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
How did this controversy end up in court? Aren’t Christians supposed to be able to solve their differences without resorting to lawsuits?
We are in court as defendants, in a suit brought against us by The Episcopal Church and their local supporters. Yes, we offered out-of-court settlements and even deeded church property to them, but this was not acceptable to the other side. They don’t want just what’s theirs - they want what’s ours as well!
What’s at stake if we lose in the courts?
All church property and assets would be placed under the control of TEC. Our clergy and Bishop would be removed from the churches and replaced by TEC loyalists. Only those who swore allegiance to the revisionist doctrines and practices of TEC could hold any office. Finally, they would need to sell some of the property they acquired in order to recover their own legal expenses.
How much has the is lawsuit cost us, and how much more is it likely to require?
Since the litigation was filed against us in April 2009, we have spent close to $1 million in attorney fees. Considering that the case will likely end up before the Texas Supreme Court, even with our attorneys reducing their hourly rates as low as possible, we can anticipate at least an additional $1 million to see it through to a conclusion. With roughly 8,000 households in the diocese, this amount could be raised through individual contributions of $125 per family, at a rate of $25 per month over five months.
The chart at right breaks down the $1 million goal, showing average pledges needed depending on the number of participating households. If each household contributes as it is able, the goal can be reached in a timely way.
Who has paid the bills for all this?
Dick and Marsland Moncrief have stepped forward and paid nearly all of this, but this one family should not be expected to bear the entire burden for the rest of us! Every parishioner should help bear some of this load, and that is why we have launched this Legal Defense Fund Appeal. It is our battle, not someone else’s!
Be assured that no funds have come from church assessments or the diocesan budget. The mission work of the diocese continues. While we have made cuts in spending as these challenging economic times have demanded, we have not done so to divert funds for litigation.
How many people support the TEC position, and how many stand with Bishop Iker?
It is roughly a 20/80 split. The convention delegates who voted to separate from TEC in 2008, the number of congregations aligning with Bishop Iker, and the average Sunday attendance of those remaining with the diocese since the split are a solid 80% of the total.
Why should we give money for lawyer fees, when we would rather support the ministry of the Church?
The lawyers we have hired are devout Christians who see the battle we are engaged in as spiritual warfare. Defending the truth of the historic faith and practice of the Church is part of our ministry as a diocese. Our legal team is attempting to protect our churches from a hostile takeover, and their fees are well below the normal attorney fees. No lawyer gets rich on court cases involving church controversies. Without this representation, we would be overwhelmed by the other side. Our attorneys believe in what we are standing up for as Christians, and they deserve fair compensation for their services. They see their professional work as part of their ministry.
How can we learn more?
Attend your deanery’s Pre-Convention meeting in October, or ask your priest for an update. Also, check here for regular updates.
Donations can be mailed to:
This article appears in the latest issue of the Forward in Mission newsletter. Download a PDF version of the full newsletter here.