Editorial: Why F.C.’s Church Battle Mattered

So we see with the wildly contrasting remarks by contesting Falls Church religious leaders, reported in this edition, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling expanding the definition of marriage to include same sex couples: The fierce competition between the two flocks vying for control of the historic Falls Church for the past nine years has been anything but an internal church matter of marginal wider significance.

To the contrary, one could probably not find two more opposite points of view on one of the nation’s biggest civil rights challenges of this era.

On the one hand, there are the startling comments of the Rev. John Yates, who led his breakaway congregants, now “Anglicans,” out of the Episcopal church denomination and insisted on occupying the historic church property in the center of the City of Falls Church in a manner that was eventually ruled illegal. These people refused to accede the property to the Episcopal Church until every last court appeal had been exhausted, and it is ironic that it was the same U.S. Supreme Court that ruled in favor of same-sex marriage last week that refused to consider these defectors’ final appeal, sending them packing once and for all.

Lest anyone forget, Yates urged his congregants to defect largely in protest to the election in 2003 by the national Episcopal Church of an openly gay priest, the Rev. Gene Robinson, to standing as a bishop. Yates never deviated from an inordinate obsession with the issue of same-sex relations, as evidenced by his veritable screed this week in a letter to his flock claiming that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the matter potentially threatens the very existence of the nation. Prior to being forced to vacate the historic church, his church hosted a chapter of “Exodus International” that claimed it could achieve such “cures” until it was thoroughly discredited.

On the other hand, the “continuing Episcopalians,” those church congregants who did not follow Yates out of the Episcopal Church, but were effectively cast into exile because of Yates’ refusal to vacate the property until they were finally vindicated by the courts in 2012, now have a leader in the Rev. John Ohmer, a thoughtful and pastoral man whose comments about the virtues of the marriage commitment for all was also drafted after last week’s Supreme Court decision, and reported in this paper.

Over centuries, Virginia has suffered hateful bigotry disguised as religious dogma from her pulpits. The Bible was used repeatedly to oppose racial integration, including as recently as the 1960s to oppose interracial marriage. Yates’ flock resorted to a Civil War-era law in its claim to the church property that was swiftly struck down as unconstitutional. Always, the impulse to equality, racial or otherwise, was declared in violation of “God’s law.” But at the root of such insistence was a red-hot anger, the opposite of the love the authors of faith espoused.