Follow the Episcopal money

StacksOCashAll together now, let’s repeat the central refrain in the ongoing Anglican Communion wars: “The Africans pray, the Americans pay and the British write the resolutions.”

That old, old saying continues to be relevant, as you can see in the latest New York Times piece on the crisis by reporters Laurie Goodstein and Neela Banerjee. The headline sets the scene: “Money Looms in Episcopalian Rift With Anglicans.”

Please ignore the fact that the headline writer, once again, incorrectly used the word “Episcopalian” — which is the noun, not the adjective (as in “Episcopalians get miffed when journalists make Episcopal errors”). Here’s some key info near the top of the story:

The truth is, the Episcopal Church bankrolls much of the Communion’s operations. And a cutoff of that money, while unlikely at this time, could deal the Communion a devastating blow. The Episcopal Church’s 2.3 million members make up a small fraction of the 77 million members in the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest affiliation of Christian churches. Nevertheless, the Episcopal Church finances at least a third of the Communions annual operations.

Episcopalians give tens of millions more each year to support aid and development programs in the Communion’s poorer provinces in Africa, Asia and Latin America. At least $18 million annually flows from Episcopal Church headquarters in New York, and millions more are sent directly from American dioceses and parishes that support Anglican churches, schools, clinics and missionaries abroad.

Bishops in some foreign provinces that benefit from Episcopal money are now leading the charge to punish the Episcopal Church or even evict it from the Communion.

Later in the story we read this:

Work at the Episcopal Church’s headquarters is so intertwined with the rest of the Anglican Communion that shutting off the flow of money would put a stop to much of the church’s mission and evangelism.

Officials estimate that collectively, a quarter of the church’s budget goes to international programs. There are ministries for women, for young people and for peace and justice that collaborate with Anglicans overseas, acting as host to and paying for delegations visiting the United States and going abroad.

This is a very, very timely and much-needed story, but you would expect me to say that since GetReligion has been beating the drums for coverage of this issue for months. The journalists at this blog are also, as a rule, big fans of Goodstein’s work.

Still, I have a basic question, after following coverage of this issue for two decades. Here it is: Are all of the gifts mentioned in this report from the denomination’s annual operating budget?

The Times does a good job of stressing that there are regional diocesan gifts as well as the national gifts. That is helpful information. However, I would be interested in knowing if any of the money is coming from endowments, rather than budget money.

Here’s why. Earlier generations of the faithful often left money in trusts that were to be used for specific causes — such as “missions” or “evangelism.” Many also designated that their money be spent on specific causes in specific parts of the world, such as gifts for missionary work in Africa (to name one location). In many cases that money cannot legally be used for other work. What happens to those endowments if there is a schism?

This leads to another question: Does the word “mission,” or the word “evangelism,” mean the same thing today as it did when many of these endowments were created? Is it likely, for example, that the Episcopal Church of 2007 will donate money to a different set of “evangelism” projects than those that would have been favored by the Episcopal Church of 1957? Does, for example, “women’s ministry” mean the same thing today than it did, oh, two or three decades ago?

This is one case where following the church money might require some focus on what type of money we are talking about. Could the Episcopal Church cut off some of these gifts, even if it wanted to? At the same time, is it possible that these existing endowment gifts could be used as leverage in debates over, for example, the ordination of women and the modernization of church doctrines?

The bottom line: What do words like “mission” mean, and who gets to define them? The people who write the check, today, or the people who donated the money, long ago? Alas, I think the modern lawyers will win that one.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Ruth

    I guess I’m more concerned about the money trail from individual churches to the diocese. It is one thing for the African churches to say, despite all the money you give us, I’m not going to compromise my position. Sounds less mercenary and more principled. What about the Bishops suing or pressuring the individual churches who face a cut off of funds from the church or a loss of equity in the property. If the churches leave, they lose money. So are they principled or mercenary. It does cloud the issue.

  • Irenaeus

    I recall, I believe, Griswold saying something some years back about cutting off funds to African churches if they didn’t get on board. I remember listening the response from some African incredulous bishop on the BBC; it’s seared in my head: “Money? They think it is a matter of money???” Although I’m not Anglican/Episcopal(ian?), it frosts me to see how liberals think about this. In fact, I’m wondering if some liberal Episcopal(ian) didn’t in effect plant this story as a warning, of sorts.

    Churches can survive without money — and many often do a better job of being church without it. “No longer can we say, ‘Sliver and gold have I none’. ‘Neither can we say, ‘rise up and walk’.”

  • David Palmer

    This is an excellent point being made by Terry. It would be very interesting to know the split between the application of trust funds and direct giving.

    For a time I worked for the Trusts Corporation of my own denomination involved in ensuring that trust funds were correctly applied. I don’t know the situation in America but in Australia, varying a trust is not easy involving an approach to the courts on a cy pres application.

    I suppose there would be wriggle room for the TEC in the event of a split to continue to support ministries in Africa not under the direct control of Akinola et al.

  • Joel

    It’s quite clear that the dead donors were too trusting or the new lawyers are too shifty for the original intent to be honored, even if it’s 100% clear. The Robertson v. Princeton case demonstrates it’s almost impossible to win a donor intent case, even if someone is still around to represent the donor’s intentions. Besides, even if the TEC were restricted, it would just give the money to liberal national churches who either support them theologically or will put money over principle. They could send all the money to the Province of South Africa.

    Some of the original donors must be rolling in their graves as the modern bishops fight to keep properties and endowments bequested by donors who sympathies today would lie with the ACN and not the TEC.

    The timing of the story suggests that TEC and its allies now want to make explicit the checkbook threat to the Anglican Communion — and the African churches in particular. The standard rule for parsing a political story based on a leak is cui bono. I’m surprised the savvy GR staff didn’t pick up on this.

  • Peter

    There are acute humanitarian needs all over the world, not just in Africa. Why not just spend the money and devote the people resources elsewhere?

    I would not want to monetarily support local “Christian” churches that, in effect, promote division and excuse hatred.

    And I don’t think that when Christ died on the cross he thought, “Oh, but my sacrifice doesn’t apply to women and homosexuals.”

  • George Conger

    Unfortunately this article is untrue. It contains numerous errors of fact and is a false characterization of the Anglican Communion’s financial structures.

    The article states:

    “the Episcopal Church finances at least a third of the Communions annual operations.”

    No it does not. What the Episcopal Church does contribute is 27 percent, or $661,000 of the Inter-Anglican Budget Contributions that support the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) in London. The Anglican Consultative Council is a bureaucratic entity in London, that coordinates some of the Communion’s relations. But it is not the Communion.

    Nor is the US the largest donor … in 2006 it came in third behind the Church of England and the church in Hong Kong.

    Think about it. Does the Episcopal Church pay for the costs of running the Church of England—about £900 million a year. How about the costs of the churches in Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc? Of course not.

    Does it fund the operations of the 18 million member Church of Nigeria? Not at all. Does it fund anything done by the Church of Nigeria? No.

    The article gives the false impression that funds from Episcopalians to the overseas churches pass through the hands of the national church offices in New York city, and that it is New York that decides who and how much people get. This is untrue.

    Some funds do come from the national church offices budget … some from trusts and endowments laid down by past generations, as well as contributions from the church’s budget. But just as much … and here is the key … nobody knows how much …. does not.

    Dioceses on the left and right of the church’s political spectrum have companion relationships with overseas dioceses….as do various congregations and mission societies and agencies. None of this is factored into the national church’s budget.

    The answers to Terry’s questions about how much of the giving from the national church center’s budget comes from income versus trust funds can be found in the budget and trust fund statements on the Episcopal Church’s website.

    From time to time articles on this topic appear in the church’s independent and denominational papers — the one third number used by the Times appears to come from an article on this topic printed in the Living Church.

    The article also neglects to mention that churches in South America, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia have rejected US money — meaning their bishops or synods have issued formal statements to this effect. However, that does not mean all US money—only money from those dioceses and church entities that support the ‘gay’ agenda.

    Uganda receives support from some US Episcopalians, but the support of other US Episcopalians is rejected.

    To put things in perspective, in the coming three year period, 2007-2009, The Episcopal Church will donate $367,000 per year to the National Council of Churches, and $171,000 per year to the World Council of Churches—its gifts to the Anglican Consultative Council (or membership dues) will run at $661,000 for 2007, $687,440 for 2008 and $713,880 in 2009.

    Please excuse the length of this post.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The media should keep its eye on all the monetary aspects of the Episcopal controversy. Everyone should know if American money is being used to “bribe” Third World Anglican churches to convince them to trash traditional Christian morals and practices. It will also be important to see if such “bribery” succeeds.
    However, it was under the umbrella of the Roman Empire and Roman legions that the original Catholic Christianity spread. But when the Roman legions gradually collapsed back to Rome, the Church became stronger and more indigenous to each locale. At the time the Roman collapse seemed the end of the world. And it did usher in an era called the “Dark Ages.” But in the end Christianity and the Catholic Church gained from not being part of the Roman Imperium–just as Anglicans of the Third World will gain if they don’t let Episcopal loot loot them of their orthodox Christian ethics and morals.

  • Dale


    Alas, I think the modern lawyers will win that one.

    Yes, this will be an incredible mess if it all comes down to litigation in American courts. The courts will be extremely reluctant or will absolutely refuse to decide whether one side or the other is the “true” manifestation of Anglicanism in America. Documents that were never intended to be the grounds of litigation will be endlessly parsed and shown to be ambiguous, and millions will be spent on lawyer’s fees. Think Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House”.

    That is, unless one side or the other refuses to play ball, and lets the money go. Considering how flexible TEC’s interpretation of biblical mandates (like Paul’s condemnation of Christians settling their disputes in court) has become, I doubt they’ll be the ones to cry uncle.


    The Robertson v. Princeton case demonstrates it’s almost impossible to win a donor intent case, even if someone is still around to represent the donor’s intentions.

    You linked to a website that shows that this case is still in the midst of pre-trial proceedings. If the site has up-to-date information, there are pending motions for summary judgment. So this particular case is far from over, and doesn’t demonstrate anything.

    But it does show the time that a case like this can consume. The original complaint was filed in 2001, and the case hasn’t gotten to trial yet. After trial comes the appellate courts, and perhaps another trial. . . . Fortunately for them, the Robertson heirs have enough money to take on Princeton.


    I would not want to monetarily support local “Christian” churches that, in effect, promote division and excuse hatred.

    You might want to reread the parable of the Good Samaritan.

  • Scott Allen

    All that money sure hasn’t helped the ECUSA grow. How foolish (and unbiblical) to believe it will provide anything other than pensions to a gray, dying clergy in front of empty pews.

  • Str1977

    I don’t understand, tmatt.

    If Episcopalian is not an adjective then what is the adjective to describe episcopalians?

    Episcopal it cannot be, since this refers to one or more Bishops, most of which are not Episcopalian?

    Why is the ECUSA the Episcopalian Church of the USA – is Catholic no adjective either? Or American?

    So, as far as language is concerned, I don’t see a problem with the article.

  • Str1977

    I must correct myself:

    The ECUSA is of course the Episcopal Church of the USA.

    But, those adhering to it are nonetheless Episcopalians.

  • tmatt

    The members of the church are Episcopalians.

    The adjective form is Episcopal, as in the Episcopal hymnbook, an Episcopal altar, the Episcopal House of Bishops, the Episcopal budget, etc.

    The overlap with the other meaning of episcopal is a problem, but that’s the way it works….

  • Irenaeus


    Conservative Christians would argue that it’s not that Christ’s sacrifice isn’t for all (at least in principle), but that homosexual practice is incommensurate with sanctification.

  • Will

    “Episcopal errors” are errors committed by a bishop. And “Episcopal bishops” still makes sense only if they are being distinguished from presbyterial or diaconal bishops.

    The killer pandas will arrive to eat, shoot and leave.

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  • Will

    What gripes me here is the headline “…Episcopalian Rift with Anglicans”, and its effect on people who read only the headlines. Would it have killed someone to insert the word “Other” in that sentence?
    Yes, I realize that reporters do not write their own headlines in every case. But I recalled Goodstein’s earlier story about those Episcopalians who purportedly “Never heard of the Anglican Communion.”
    Among other things, it obscures the role of the Anglican Church of Canada, which pretty much lines up with the Colossus of the South on these matters. If it got more attention would we read about a rift “between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglicans”?
    Would any journalist, even in his nightmares, head a story on “Differences between New Yorkers and Americans”?