Gavin Dunbar on the Mark Lawrence Investigation—Southern Discomfort

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In an ecclesiastical outlook that has recently offered little comfort, the very serious charge of abandonment made against Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina is chilling indeed. The charge is striking, because under his leadership the Diocese of South Carolina has not ‘abandoned’ the Episcopal Church (as did the dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, and Quincy). What it has done, openly and publicly, is to insulate itself as much as possible from what Lawrence has called the "false gospel" of "indiscriminate inclusivity" advocated by the national church, through a reform of its diocesan laws and constitution. It is precisely this achievement - to remain within the Episcopal Church but not of the Episcopal Church - that has enraged its enemies and spurred these charges.

It is no secret that the national church has been looking for grounds for a legal challenge against South Carolina; yet, we are assured, the information presented against Bishop Lawrence came not from the Presiding Bishop's office, but from communicants within the diocese - disaffected progressives presumably, following the familiar progressive strategy of using bureaucratic process to advance agendas which otherwise fail to gain support. The Presiding Bishop, however, is not off the hook. One must ask whether her aggressive policy of litigation to quell opposition to her theological agenda has not created the climate and established the precedent for a resort to litigation by other militant progressives. Whether or not they are acting formally in concert, the effect is the same.
The charges will be the first major test of the newly reformed Title IV canons on Discipline. Though these have been criticized for removing due process protections, we have been given assurances that these fears are overblown. Perhaps so: but many eyes will be watching closely to see what justice the Bishop of South Carolina receives under them. A heavy responsibility lies with the Disciplinary Board and its president, Bishop Dorsey Henderson, retired of Upper South Carolina (and recent visitor to St. John's on behalf of Bishop Benhase), as they investigate these charges, to ensure that these new canons do not become another instrument of coercion. Bishop Henderson and the Board will need your prayers.

To his credit, Bishop Benhase has expressed hope that the charges will be dismissed. Even if they are, the process will be costly in terms of money and morale: a further and needless embitterment of a church already divided and demoralized by unilateral theological change and aggressive litigation. To put it bluntly: the message being sent by these charges (as by the evident hostility of the Presiding Bishop) is that conservative dissent will not be tolerated within the Episcopal Church, and that significant theological differences will be resolved by coercion. One could hardly devise a stronger incentive for conservatives to leave. Militant progressives longing for ideological purity may rejoice at the prospect of getting rid of so much "dead wood" - but those who cherish the Episcopal Church will know that such losses leave it diminished, and not just in numbers or dollars.

This case raises a question for us: given the ascendancy of the agenda of “indiscriminate inclusivity” in the Episcopal Church - will there be a secure place in the Episcopal Church for the conscientious dissent of those who hold to historic Anglican doctrine and worship? That security cannot be taken for granted.

----The Rev. Gavin Dunbar is rector of Saint John's, Savannah, Georgia

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: CommentaryEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC BishopsTEC ConflictsTEC Conflicts: South CarolinaTEC Polity & Canons* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* TheologyEthics / Moral TheologyPastoral Theology

14 Comments
Posted October 27, 2011 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Karen B. wrote:

Excellent piece.

October 27, 7:36 am | [comment link]
2. evan miller wrote:

Fr. Dunbar deserves our prayers.  He does excellent work as President of the Prayer Book Society-USA, and his parish, St. John’s, Savannah, sets the gold standard for beauty and excellence in Anglican worship.

October 27, 10:11 am | [comment link]
3. David Keller wrote:

The answer to the good preist’s final question is emphatically “no”.  The Episcopal Church that we have loved is disintegrating before our very eyes into Unitarians with vestments.

October 27, 10:39 am | [comment link]
4. Pb wrote:

If you do not agree, you have abandoned the communion with TEC. If TEC disagrees with the Angilcan communion, they are obedient to “the spirit.” You can not win this one.

October 27, 10:56 am | [comment link]
5. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Yes, David (#3).

TEC is sending the message loud and clear that classical Christian orthodoxy is the one thing not permitted anymore.  Just like diehard loyalty to the 1928 BCP is forbidden.  Or just like firm opposition to women bishops is now being ruled out in the CoE.

Strange how the gospel of inclusivity works out that way, isn’t it?

At times, I look around and still can’t believe my eyes.  TEC today bears so little resemblance to the beloved church I was ordained in back in 1985. 

But that may actually be a bit of wistful nostalgia on my part.  For the reality is that the rot and decay had already set in long ago.  Just how deep the roots of the problem go may be debatable, but what we are seeing is a vast acceleration of that tragic process of death and decay.

Disclaimer: And I’m a strong supporter of the 1979 BCP and WO.

David Handy+

October 27, 11:03 am | [comment link]
6. Connecticutian wrote:

“It is precisely this achievement - to remain within the Episcopal Church but not of the Episcopal Church - that has enraged its enemies and spurred these charges. “

Excellent turn of a phrase.

October 27, 11:10 am | [comment link]
7. David Keller wrote:

David #5—I had lunch with a priest friend today and we both commented on the sudden acceleration of the process in the last few weeks.  Between the Lawrence debacle, and the affirmation of falling below 2M, it is like a chain reaction is suddenly occurring which will shortly result in a explosion.

October 27, 3:52 pm | [comment link]
8. Cennydd13 wrote:

4.  Pb, 22 provinces (the majority) of the Communion disagree with TEC.  Therefore, does this mean that they are somehow disobedient to the spirit?  I don’t think so.

October 27, 5:01 pm | [comment link]
9. sophy0075 wrote:

The Rev Dunbar, who is a holy and pious gentleman, must also be thinking that the kangaroo court attacking a bishop who is faithful to the Gospel can also be used to attack a priest. I would not put it past “progressive” elements in the Diocese of Georgia to use similar methods to unseat the Rev Dunbar from his lovely, historic church in Savannah, and then to install a priest more of their relativist mindset.

October 27, 5:13 pm | [comment link]
10. SC blu cat lady wrote:

This case raises a question for us: given the ascendancy of the agenda of “indiscriminate inclusivity” in the Episcopal Church - will there be a secure place in the Episcopal Church for the conscientious dissent of those who hold to historic Anglican doctrine and worship? That security cannot be taken for granted.

A couple of years ago, a conservative rector here in South Carolina asked a similar question to one of the panelists at a meeting held by The Episcopal Forum of SC . The answer was as oblique as could be but no doubt the real answer was ‘not for much longer’.  Yep.  Not much longer and TEc will go up in a frenzy of lawsuits with no money to pay for them.  It has always been my hope that the Diocese of SC would be there when TEc finally dies…...

October 27, 5:39 pm | [comment link]
11. FrKimel wrote:

Perhaps this would be a good time to recall Neuhaus’s Law:  “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

October 27, 7:39 pm | [comment link]
12. Cranmerian wrote:

#9
There would be a mutiny of massive proportions if there was an attempt to unseat Fr. Dunbar, and move St. John’s in a more progressive direction.  St. John’s has proven that a church can use the 1928 BCP, firmly oppose WO, maintain the orthodox catholic faith and be successful.  St. John’s is the largest parish in the diocese. 

St. John’s in Moultrie stands completely with Fr. Dunbar and the good folk at St. John’s.  It is a pleasure to serve with him as a fellow presbyter in a diocese that appears to be rapidly moving in a revisionist direction.  Those of us who are continuing to fight for the faith once delivered to the saints bid your prayers.

Fr. Will McQueen
Rector-St. John’s, Moultrie, GA

October 27, 9:11 pm | [comment link]
13. SC blu cat lady wrote:

#12, Since when has upsetting the orthodox ever come into the decision making process for the revisionists. As we have seen with Bishop Lawrence, it does not take much to make up allegations, get them shoved thru the process and presto, Fr. Dunbar will be gone.  If you think there will be a mutiny if one priest is removed (I don’t doubt you), just think how much larger the mutiny could/will be if a well loved bishop is removed. Not pretty.

October 28, 11:56 am | [comment link]
14. sejanus wrote:

The Rev’d Mr Dunbar’s comments are frank and avoid the shrillness which often tones our dismay. It is a shabby business which cannot but be by the leave, or promotion, of 815, Bishop Henderson, and T.E.C. PB KJS. Our TEC learship feeding on itself is beginning to sound like Macbeth so steeped and mid-stream in bloody business that going backward or forward is indistinguishable.

November 2, 5:02 pm | [comment link]
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