Monday, October 19, 2009

The Creed in the Deed

Ralph Waldo Emerson said as a part of his eternal wisdom: "go put your creed into the deed, nor speak with double talk."  Apparently, some people took Waldo (as he affectionately preferred to be called) seriously -- (Ok, so the groups that undertake this practice are very unlikely to draw wisdom from a transcendentalist, but hey, its a good hook).  Cane Ridge

During the late 19th century and continuing until even recently, at least one American church group included in its property deeds certain creedal statements of faith.  Here is one example: 

"To have and to hold the aforementioned real estate with all the appurtenances and hereditaments "hereunto belonging or any wise appertaining unto the said trustees for the (Name) Church of Christ, its heirs and assigns in fee simple forever.

"Included in the deed and expressly made a part of the conveyance are the purpose and limitations for which the lot hereinbefore described was purposed, to wit: to be used by the said (Name) Church of Christ for as long as the following practices of worship and work by the said (Name) Church of Christ are maintained.

    1. The Holy Scriptures shall be taught and accepted as the final, all-sufficient revelation from God to man, and regarded as an infallible rule of faith and practice.
    2. Mechanical instruments of music shall never be permitted to be brought on to the premises, for the purpose of being used in worship, or for any other purpose, use or design.
    3. No teacher or preacher shall be allowed use of the building, its premises, and grounds for the purpose of advocating any doctrine or practice which conflicts with the teaching and practice of the (Name) Church of Christ as taught in the Bible and as currently held by the elders, trustees, or members responsible for the execution of this deed. Expressly excluded from such use are any and all teachers, preachers and others who hold to any form of liberalism, modernism, or premillennialism, along with all hobby-riders, factionists and divisive persons, who advocate any doctrine or practice in conflict with the teaching and practice now current in said (Name) Church of Christ.

"After such a time the property shall be held in trust for such members only which remain faithful to the purposes for which this conveyance is made, and for no others; and, when there are no others, the property shall revert to the (Neighboring) Church of Christ, now meeting at (address)."

A couple of comments.  Isn't amazing the intersection of our deeply held values with the tangible things we hold.  This strikes me as very similar to the article Al Brophy wrote several years ago on covenants against Yankees: Whistling Dixie: The invalidity and unconstitutionality of covenants against yankees,10 Villanova Environmental Law Journal 57. One of the covenants uncovered by Brophy and Gnosh in that article was this one: 

The property shall never be leased, sold, bequeathed, devised or otherwise transferred, permanently or temporally, to any person or entity that may be described as being part of the Yankee race. "Yankee" . . . shall mean any person or entity born or formed north of the Mason-Dixon line, or any person or entity who has lived or been located for a continuous period of one (1) year above said line.

Brophy's account traces the unlikely tale of a recent southerner who had not forgotten the war (at least as late as 1998) who attempted to enforce a covenant against yankees in the sale of certain property in Georgia. Like this case, certain church members used the courts (or so I am told) to enforce these creeds against apostates of the faith. Church folk, like Southerners after the war, are greatly invested in their larger normative beliefs, and for some, the best way of expressing it is through the material intrusions of this world -- like property.(Ever wonder why the Catholics and Lutherans disagreed so adamantly in the sixteenth century -- whether the bread and the wine actually became the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation) or whether it only spiritually became the body and blood of Christ (consubstantiation)). The fact that the idea of the South became a spiritual idea, as Robert Penn Warren wrote, rather than a geographic one after the war, makes the analogy even more appropriate.  Some people just want their religion to touch real dirt. 

And perhaps the law is willing to give a little to allow these covenants to exist.  Brophy notes in his part that the covenant against Yankees may be preserved if the potential owner accedes to the seller's demands to take a loyalty oath to the south.  But, likely the restraint is unenforcible even with an oath.  Again, Brophy: 

Mr. Ingram's offer to allow Yankees to purchase the property if they take a Southern loyalty oath may offer some hope of saving the covenant from invalidation. Even with the dispensation for those Yankees willing to take the oath, a direct restraint on alienation remains, which may be invalid. That is, the oath may not sufficiently free the land from the covenant's restraint on alienation. The oath is difficult to police, which will counsel against enforcement through injunction.

So here's the lesson.  Go ahead and take the apostate down to the river to be baptized -- but don't expect that the deed will prevent him from defying the creeds of the church. 

As a matter of full disclosure, I grew up since I was twelve in Church's of Christ.  My wife and I now belong to a denomination that traces its roots to the same movement that spawned Church's of Christ, but is more socially progressive and theologically ecumenical (the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ).  The selection above is from a book written by a Church of Christ minister, Cecil Hook, titled Free as Sons, in which is describes the Creed in the Deed as being against faithful discipline.  I know of no instance as Cecil describes in which Churches actually litigated their creeds, though I also have no reason to dispute his claim. If you are aware of any examples, I would love to know about them, as well as any other instances of faith bodies utilizing their deeds to inject their creeds. 

Marc (MLR)

The Image is of the building at Cane Ridge, where the Cane Ridge Revival took place in 1801, spawning the American Restoration Movement.   

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