S.C. Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese Meet on “Serious Charges” Made Against Bishop Lawrence

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In an atmosphere of prayerful solemnity, the Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese of South Carolina gathered at Saint James Church, James Island, S.C. for more than two hours on Tuesday, October 12. In focus were the “serious charges” that have been made against Bishop Mark Lawrence and the diocese under the new Title IV canons.

Bishop Lawrence began by restating the diocesan vision of “Making Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age” and then traced the history of the current controversy in The Episcopal Church and the many obstacles they presented to pursuing our diocesan vision. He ended with the two recent diocesan conventions in which the diocese refused to be coerced into the Episcopal Church’s embrace of the new title IV canons which violate both due process and the Episcopal Church’s own constitution. Of further concern with the current allegations is that evidently this process doesn’t allow the accused to know who his accusers are.

Lawyer Alan Runyan then made a presentation based on his best understanding of what canonical process seemed to be being used by those in national leadership. It would appear they are proceeding under the abandonment canon with its fast track. Based on what has happened in other dioceses, a deposition of the bishop would be followed by attacks on diocese and the parishes. The picture painted was an ugly one of expensive litigation, confrontation and acrimony in which all involved significantly lost.

It was stressed that individual clergy, vestry, and parishes needed to be informed about the allegations, the purported process, and the implications at every conceivable level: financial, personal, legal and spiritual. All the clergy were encouraged to share their concerns with the bishop or the ordained members of the diocesan Standing Committee.

Two themes underlay the whole discussion. First, the Episcopal Church is in a constitutional crisis in which its own polity is being radically altered in violation of its history and founding documents, yet with no structural provision for a means of resolution when just such foundational disagreements occur. That such a deep dispute has arisen with one of the Episcopal Church’s founding dioceses only adds to the unfortunate environment into which all have been plunged. The Reverend Jeffrey Miller, past President of the Standing Committee stated during the gathering, “The question is not whether we can stay; it is whether they will let us stay and follow what we believe.”

Second, the deeper fracture is about a departure of the Episcopal Church’s leadership from Christian doctrine. Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison (XII Bishop of South Carolina) rose to express his concern with these theological innovations and to voice support for Lawrence. While these include a changed understanding of sexual ethics and Christian marriage, it goes much further to the matter of Scriptural interpretation and authority and the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ. These recent actions mark yet another hindrance to the Diocese of South Carolina’s duty to be faithful to the truth of exactly that gospel and its proclamation to the world.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC BishopsTEC ConflictsTEC Conflicts: South CarolinaTEC Polity & Canons* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* South Carolina

Posted October 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Shay + wrote:

Very succinct and accurate report of our meeting yesterday.  This only furthers our quest to hold everything in the matter up to the light. 

The author of the release is not mentioned.  Is that purposeful?  Thanks to whomever.

October 12, 4:05 pm | [comment link]
2. Grant LeMarquand wrote:

Thanks for this report. The diocese and the bishop are certainly in our prayers at Trinity School for Ministry!

October 12, 4:06 pm | [comment link]
3. Blue Cat Man wrote:

A great response!  We’re continuing prayers for the bishop and the diocese without fail.

October 12, 4:51 pm | [comment link]
4. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

I’ll add my thanks too, as a concerned outsider.  I heartily concur with Jeffrey Miller’s summary of it all in a nutshell:  “The question is not whether we can stay; it is whether they will LET us stay and follow what we believe.

Alas, all the trends of the last decade suggest that the almost inevitable answer to that all-important question is…

NO.  They won’t let you stay, if they can possibly help it.

Very inclusive of them.

But in the end the ultimate fact that must be squarely faced is the truth of the dominical principle: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

Or as I like to paraphrase it:  “Oil and water just don’t mix.”  Never have.  Never will.

Like so many other concerned outsiders, I’ll be praying for +Mark Lawrence and all the diocesan leadership, plus the clergy and people of the finest diocese in TEC.

David Handy+

October 12, 4:57 pm | [comment link]
5. Br. Michael wrote:

I add my prayers too.

October 12, 6:03 pm | [comment link]
6. Br. Michael wrote:

Also I agree with the statement that TEC is in a Constitutional crisis, but there is no internal way to resolve it short of the exercise of raw power.

What if, for example, the Executive Branch was also the Supreme Court?  Then those who enforce the law would also say what it is.

October 12, 6:07 pm | [comment link]
7. sophy0075 wrote:

I am still puzzled by the actions of TEC, for the following reason. Does 815 think that it can depose Bishop Lawrence, install a (revisionist) bishop of its own choosing, and that all or a majority of the members of the Dio SC will meekly stay with TEC, and therefore the physical edifices that are their churches) will also? Those of you who live in Dio SC, do you think that such a majority would be willing to abandon the faith, just to keep the identity of “Episcopal”?

October 12, 6:59 pm | [comment link]
8. Ralph wrote:

They would not only have to depose the Bishop, but also have to remove the Standing Committee.

I think that the sovereign diocese of South Carolina would assert that nobody in the TEC hierarchy has the authority or power to do that.

Furthermore, the PB doesn’t have the authority or power to issue an inhibition that the diocese would recognize as valid.

I can’t imagine that the HOB will go along with this. In doing so, each would be liable to have anonymous Title IV charges filed against them.

I think this is all part of the current constitutional crisis.

October 12, 7:08 pm | [comment link]
9. Lapinbizarre wrote:

Does Father Miller’s statement “The question is not whether we can stay; it is whether they will let us stay and follow what we believe” imply that TEC may have the upper hand should the situation turn to confrontation, or was it said in a broader context which qualifies the seeming meaning of the second portion of the quote?

October 12, 7:39 pm | [comment link]
10. Cennydd13 wrote:

For all too many, the identifier “Episcopal” is paramount, and they hate to give up whatever social status remains connected with it; the importance of it having diminished over the years, except perhaps in cities such as New York, where rich parishes such as Trinity hold sway and exert so much financial power.

October 12, 7:56 pm | [comment link]
11. Dan Brown wrote:

+Bishop Lawrence and all the faithful in the Dio of SC will be in our prayers at Church of the Holy Trinity (Anglican) this Sunday.      Fr Dan+

October 12, 9:09 pm | [comment link]
12. sandlapper wrote:

#9: The statement of Fr Miller does nothing to give the upper hand to TEC. It states that SC is forcing TEC to choose explicitly whether it can live with dissent from the agenda to which it has surrendered. If they answer “yes,” then they will have implicitly admitted that the sexual revolution is not necessarily authoritative over Scripture, a big concession ideologically. If they answer “no,” then they will have asserted that Scripture is definitively subordinate to their agendas, and this will galvanize opposition in the Anglican world. Let us clearly explain our reasons, so that everyone can see the choice, but let us not make their decision for them.

October 12, 9:27 pm | [comment link]
13. Lapinbizarre wrote:

Thanks for the clarification, Sam.

October 12, 9:57 pm | [comment link]
14. Formerly Marion R. wrote:

Where do I send my check?

October 13, 12:56 am | [comment link]
15. NoVA Scout wrote:

I know it runs counter to how many prefer to look at this, but I’ll offer a different viewpoint just for the sake of a pinch of balance.  I very much doubt that any of this has anything to do with differing theological viewpoints.  I come from what was an extremely conservative parish, and there was never the slightest pressure from the national church or the diocese that we change in the slightest our clergy’s views, preaching, activities, etc.  Many of our members chose to reaffiliate with other denominations, but it was not because they could not continue to believe and preach as they chose.  It was largely because they convinced each other that they no long could associate with a church in which views different from their perception of orthodoxy were at large.  In other words, the judgement about tolerating different views was made by those who left.  Had they stayed, their views (or expression of their views from the pulpit or the pews) would have continued unchanged and no one would have or could have forced them to change. 

One parish in one place does not a diocese make, and the issues are not identical, but the core point that there is room (and, I would say, a necessity) for conservative views in the Episcopal Church remains.  Those of us with traditional theological positions who have continued can confirm that.

In the situation in South Carolina, the triggering problems appear to be actions in the Diocese to disaffiliate with the Episcopal Church, not Bishop Lawrence’s theological views.  Most of the points in the charging documents I have seen refer to governance issues such as renunciation of canons, relationships with other denominations, and procedural actions or omissions that suggest that the diocese is extricating itself from the governing bonds of the national church.  I respectfully suggest that without these elements, there would be no action against Bishop Lawrence.  I do not know whether there is ultimate merit to any of these charges, or, to the extent they complained of acts do reflect preparations and efforts to leave, they can be justly laid at the Bishop’s doorstep, but I think their causes are clear, and they would not have occurred simply because of doctrinal differences. 

I hope this is resolved intelligently by all concerned.

October 13, 7:52 am | [comment link]
16. sandlapper wrote:

#15: Well said and thought-provoking. However, I wonder if a preacher who denied the homosexual agenda would be allowed, in the longer run, to refuse to perform same-sex “marriages” in TEC. In conflicts between world views, ideas and actions are intertwined, and peaceful coexistence is difficult. For example, when the ordination of women in TEC was adopted, dissenting bishops were allowed to refuse in their dioceses. Later, the cannon was changed to forbid any clergy or lay leader in TEC from even saying publicly that they disagreed with the TEC policy, much less doing anything against it. The diocese of SC made canonical changes which would allow them to remain in TEC without obeying TEC canons promoting gay marriage etc. Would TEC be willing to guarantee, in its canons, freedom of conscience to bishops and priests who disagree with the new agenda? If so, that might provide some space for peaceful resolution of this crisis, at least in the short to medium term.

October 13, 8:53 am | [comment link]
17. Sarah wrote:

RE: “Had they stayed, their views (or expression of their views from the pulpit or the pews) would have continued unchanged and no one would have or could have forced them to change.”

Except that we’re seeing precisely the opposite.  The charges are in large majority ridiculous and puerile—ie, mentioning that TEC revisionist ideas as like kudzu, being mentioned in an ACNA powerpoint presentation, etc.  The actually “serious” acts by SC—having to do with canons and constitution—amount to just three in the entire list, and as many other dioceses do not accede to canons and constitution in their documents, even those “charges” are demonstrated to be merely based on the fact that this is the Diocese of SC—and the revisionist activists hate that diocese.

So in fact, being forced to change from the diocese’s nice and stark *differentiation* from the current leaders’ theology and practice is precisely what the leadership is attempting—or kicking that same diocese out.

October 13, 9:09 am | [comment link]
18. Sarah wrote:

Just to remind everyone, here’s what it takes to be found as “abandoning the communion of TEC” . . .

(i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church;or
(ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same; or
(iii) by exercising Episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than the Church or another church in communion with the Church, ...

Rather obviously, NONE of the umpteen “charges” against Lawrence even come close to any of those three requirements.

No, this is all about how enraged the revisionist activists currently in charge of our denomination are at the Diocese of SC’s public and stark differentiation from their particular gospel.

October 13, 9:18 am | [comment link]
19. Sherri2 wrote:

Thank you, Sarah, for a timely reminder. Obviously the church’s own canons mean nothing to its current administration, judging by the “charges” being accepted as “abandonment of communion” and how the canons actually define such abandonment.

October 13, 9:47 am | [comment link]
20. Paula Loughlin wrote:

I agree totally with Sarah.  I believe if those charges are allowed to stand as evidence against Bp Lawrence than no one is safe from the zeal of the progressives within TEC.

October 13, 11:36 am | [comment link]
21. Undergroundpewster wrote:

Sarah wrote:

(i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church;or

1. It has been shown that there is no core doctrine of TEc.
2. Do the actions of DSC under +Lawrence openly renounce the Discipline of TEc?
3. You can worship pretty much anything in TEc and get away with it.

#2 is the problem. If +Lawrence does not respond to the charges, then that might be interpreted as renouncing the discipline of TEc. If he does respond, then is he recognizing the constitutionality of the changes to title IV that DSC did not accede to?

October 13, 12:41 pm | [comment link]
22. Milton Finch wrote:

My guess is that he does recognize the discipline, but it is under the old canon, and he will follow that…or at least, that’s what it looks like to me.

October 13, 12:48 pm | [comment link]
23. Cennydd13 wrote:

I too agree with Sarah.  There is nothing here that indicates +Lawrence has any intention of leaving TEC, and for them to claim otherwise is sheer gall.  If they intend to depose him, however, they may very well set in motion that which they seek to prevent:  the exodus of a diocese (most of it, anyway), and that will be disastrously conterproductive for them, to say the least.  It may set in motion a process in other dioceses which cannot be stopped, and who knows where it might end?

October 13, 12:58 pm | [comment link]
24. episcoanglican wrote:

NoVa Scout—you leave out one not so little wrinkle in your analysis, that is in the calling of clergy. The liberal bishops systematically prevent orthodox clcergy from coming to empty pulpits. This may not be so in 100% of the cases, but it is the certainly in the 80-90% range. My personal experience in being prevented from receiving a call by a liberal bishop is a case in point. The liberals drive out othodoxy by sealing off the diocese from orthodox clergy.

October 13, 1:02 pm | [comment link]
25. wmresearchtrianglenc wrote:

As a retired attorney and theological conservative, I’d like to offer what I believe is a constructive viewpoint regarding ECUSA’s recent actions involving the Diocese of South Carolina (“DSC”); I attend services usually several times a year in a DSC church while visiting Charleston. First, ECUSA seems in recent years to act as its own best “enemy” by its modus operandi, regardless of its particular views and policies. It’s obvious that it’s clearly in ECUSA’s interest to retain in its “house” those dioceses and parishes who are more conservative theologically—and in reality, particularly BECAUSE—those dioceses and parishes are in the minority within ECUSA, a church that historically has had a reputation for respecting “breadth”, a reputation that is quickly being called into question. In this regard, I disagree with NoVa Scout’s expression that being in the minority within ECUSA might show that it shouldn’t be that difficult for either clergy or laity. The real reason for a high comfort level for some in a minority position in ECUSA may very well be because of the fact that a particular cleric or lay member has simply not yet been confronted with a backlash from the diocese or what I will term “higher authority” and it might be a good time for such individuals to consider examining the depth of the ice on which they are treading. With respect to Bishop Lawence’s situation, it’s disappointing at the very least, to see a backlash from higher authority with immediate indications of bias, procedural errors and obtuse communications, and, most disappointing, what appears as higher authority’s clearly demonstrated lack of good faith to resolve whatever issues it asserts are involved, indicating strongly that ECUSA would be well advised to look inward at its modus operandi. What truly effective organization, religious or otherwise, refuses to clarify what is expected of its officers or employees with regard to involuntary severance, and what truly effective organization, religious or otherwise, refuses to meet its officers and employees at least half-way in a good faith attempt to avoid earning the organization “gaining” a well-deserved reputation as being very comfortable with severance as an action of first resort? In recent years, the MIRROR appears to be speaking volumes to this particular “higher authority”.

October 13, 2:25 pm | [comment link]
26. Hakkatan wrote:

NoVa Scout, the price to pay for being conservative in the Episcopal Church is to say that one has one’s opinions, but that other opinions are also allowed. You can disagree with those other opinions but you cannot say that they are wrong and non-Christian.  You are allowed to have conservative positions, but you are not allowed to have conservative principles (the authority and reliability of Scripture for one - very important - thing) outside your parish.  In dealing with other Episcopalians, one must accept the position that we really do not know what God has said and therefore all opinions are equally valid.

I left for the ACNA two years ago, as the total theological incoherence of ECUSA became ever more apparent.  There is simply no “there” there; it is all smoke and mirrors.  Bp Lawrence is seeking to have a diocese with theological clarity, and nearly all the rest of the Episcopal Church cannot bear such an exposure of their spiritual nakedness.

October 13, 2:44 pm | [comment link]
27. SC blu cat lady wrote:

Well said, Sam and Sarah!

#14, Formerly Marion R.  ;- ) 
Send your check to:
The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina
Post Office Box 20127
Charleston SC 29413

For those who may be interested, there is a “donate now” link at the top of the homepage of the Diocese of SC website.

October 13, 2:47 pm | [comment link]
28. SC blu cat lady wrote:

Hakkatan, Yes indeed, you write the truth. There is no allowable reasonable way to be conservative in TEC. Bishop Lawrence has a diocese whose leadership is already quite clear in its theological stance. I do agree the rest of TEC (and some in this diocese) can not stand theological clarity that exposes their spiritual nakedness to the strong light of the Gospel.

October 13, 2:54 pm | [comment link]
29. Already left wrote:

Just a few notes:
1. What is the motivation of TEC? They can’t have the property - SC Supreme Court already settled that. To get rid of any oposition? What does that get them?
2. Looks like +Lawrence and dio id goin to play “chicken” and win!
3. All SC convention did was change canons and constitutions to reflect their conservative views. And +Lawrence can’t be blamed for that.

October 13, 3:30 pm | [comment link]
30. Shay + wrote:

#15 Much has already been written about your analysis that “no one would have or could have forced them to change (their views in opposition to TEC).”  This is very misleading for one further reason not mentioned above.  We are an Episcopal Church - we connect not as individuals or as congregations but as a Diocese organized around the Apostolic ministry of a Bishop.  TEC will not allow the DSC to have another Bishop who believes as we believe (witness the election of Mark Lawrence and the consents process).  When the Bishop changes, so will the beliefs of the clergy called and approved to be Rectors.  Ask around in Dioceses where “inclusive” Bishops have been called.  Rare is the instance of true tolerance for rigorous orthodoxy.

October 13, 7:03 pm | [comment link]
31. c.r.seitz wrote:

The recent report from The Lead shows the level of ‘we’re in charge and all is OK and everything else is misplaced drama.’
I doubt that ‘The State’ letter to the editor from the former Executive Council President (during +Henderson’s tenure) was an endorsement of ‘all is OK.’ It was a warning. This better be done with utter probity. The message may be getting through.
I am agnostic about getting the proper percentages of incompetence, strategy, cunning, malfeasance right. All are components.

October 13, 7:42 pm | [comment link]
32. Kendall Harmon wrote:

The Diocese didn’t have any choice than to do what it did in terms of “disaffiliation” as #15 puts it.  The General Convention 2009 caused that through its approval of the Title IV canons which are not only desperately inadequate, but whose procedural approval was and is expressly unconstitutional.

October 14, 1:37 pm | [comment link]
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