Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Embezzling and bigots and Ken Starr: Oh My!

Rev. Donald Armstrong was the pastor of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Armstrong helped lead the split in the Anglican Church because he argued it was violating Biblical morality by not being anti-gay enough to satisfy him. So he, and his congregations, affiliated with the Church of Nigeria Anglican Convocation instead.

The Nigerian church is led by a rabid antigay bigot, Archibishop Peter Akinola. Akinola once told a reporter: “Many people say I embarrass them with my humility.” Apparently Akinola saw no contradiction in bragging about his humility. Akinola makes antigay theology the center of his revolt against the church because in Nigeria he has to compete with radical Islamists for members. His view is that if the Anglicans don’t match the Islamists in their hatred for gays then the church will die.

How far Akinola is willing to go was seen in his support for legislation that would have made gay Nigerians criminals. Under the bill it would have been illegal for two gay people to go out for dinner or a movie together. Any organization that supported gay people would be considered a criminal organization. What I find amazing is that Akinola, the moralist, is part of a sect that was founded by a wife-murdering glutton who had a longstanding affair with a teenage girl who bore him an illegitimate son.

So let us get back to that outstanding defender of traditional morality, Rev. Armstrong. Recently the police raided both churches and the parish house under Armstrong’s control after an 18-month investigation. This was after a Episcopal (the name for American Anglicans) Church committee found Armstrong guilty of embezzlement.

Funds, known as the Bowton Trust, were left in the care of Grace Church. The purpose of the trust was quite specific: it was to fund unmarried seminarians. Rev. Armstrong, instead, took funds out to pay the college costs of his own children, neither of whom were seminarians.

Rev. Armstrong argued that the funds were diverted with the permission of church wardens Stuart Loosley and John Simons. One of these men has died and unable to confirm or deny Rev. Armstrong’s claim. But the other, John Simons, says the claim is false. Rev. Armstrong has been unable to produce any documentation to back us his story and an investigation into all church records show no such authorization. Apparently Rev. Armstrong added lying, on top of stealing, to his repertoire of moral virtues.

Armstrong also diverted Trust funds to an organization called the Anglican Institute, “a theological think-tank committed to the perpetuation of biblical orthodoxy and the Apostles’ teaching within the worldwide Anglican Communion.” By coincidence, no doubt, Rev. Armstrong also heads the Anglican Institute.

Rev. Armstrong’s dipping into the Bowton Trust funds, to the tune of $392,000, were reported by a bookkeeper to the local Episcopal bishop. That led to a investigation of Rev. Armstrong’s management of funds. Of course, during this investigation Armstrong was pushing his churches to leave disassociate from the US Episcopal Church and join the Nigerian branch to help defend traditional morality. I find it odd that traditional morality requires gay bashing but apparently is rather lax on theft and lying.

One has to wonder how much of Rev. Armstrong’s efforts to split his churches away from the US Episcopal Church was the result of his being under investigation for embezzlement by the US church.

This is not the only legal problem for Rev. Armstrong. When he convinced some of his church members to join the bigoted Nigerian church instead they kept possession of the “majestic stone church on North Tejon Street.” Congregation members, who remained loyal to the US Episcopal Church were forced to rent space elsewhere. The Episcopal Church leadership, however, insists that the property belongs to the national denomination and that Rev. Armstrong’s breakaway congregation are in possession of the property illegally. A trial on that possible matter of theft (the property is valued at $17 million) is scheduled to begin February 10.

If a court ruling in California is an indication they Rev. Armstrong may have no right to the other property that he has taken -- the church building itself. In Newport Beach, CA., St. James Anglican Church broke away from the national church because it wasn’t antigay. And they kept possession of the church building. But the Episcopal national denomination insisted the property belonged to the denomination not to the breakaway congregations.

The California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the property was the property of the Episcopal denomination and didn’t belong to the breakaway congregations. The Episcopal Church was supported in this matter by the United Methodist denomination, the Presbyterians and the Seventh-Day Adventists. Interestingly the pastor who led the breakaway of St. James Anglican Church, Rev. Praveen Bunyan, resigned because of "inappropriate conduct" with a female member of the congregation.

The Justices found that Episcopal churches at the local level signed documents where they “agreed and intended to be part of a larger entity and to be bound by the rules and governing documents of that greater entity.”

Rev. Armstrong also serves on the board of a Religious Right organization known as the John Jay Institute. This institute has the endorsement of Kenneth Star, who is currently leading the lawsuit in the California Supreme Court in support of Prop 8, which stripped gay couples of the right to marry. Starr also serves on the “Advisory Council” for the Institute. The headquarters for the Institute appears to be the property which Armstrong apparently took from the national Episcopal Church. If things go badly in Colorado, and there is a strong chance they will, then it appears that Institute will have to move elsewhere.

If this is any indication of things to come then Rev. Armstrong will be spending a lot of time in court and possible some time in prison.

Photos: Rev. Donald Armstrong, the "humble" Archbishop, Ken Starr of Prop 8 fame.

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