Drawing lines in the sand

The Diocese of South Carolina will votes on resolutions designed to further distance themselves from the rest of the Episcopal Church. Previously, Bishop Mark Lawrence and the diocesan leadership set out on a path of separation from all Episcopal Church ministries and governance that, in their view, reinforce ideas contrary to their understanding of Holy Scripture, Episcopal polity and Lambeth resolutions. These four resolutions solidify that move.

Here they are. The full text may be found below the fold.

Mary Frances Schjonberg, writing for Episcopal News Service, provides the background:

South Carolina’s convention had been scheduled for March 4-5 but Lawrence wrote to the diocese in early February saying that the convention would be delayed until March 26 in order for him, the diocesan Standing Committee and the diocese “to adequately consider a response” to what he called an “unjust intrusion into the spiritual and jurisdictional affairs of this sovereign diocese of the Episcopal Church.”

Jefferts Schori told the church’s Executive Council Feb. 19 that Lawrence had attributed the delay “supposedly to my incursions in South Carolina.”

According to a series of letters the diocese has posted here, Thomas Tisdale Jr., a Charleston, South Carolina, attorney and former diocesan chancellor, wrote Jan. 25 to current chancellor Wade Logan III confirming that during a telephone conversation Lawrence said the diocese does not intend to take legal action to protect parish property with regards to what Tisdale called “recent and ongoing actions by some congregations in our diocese that threaten to ‘withdraw their parishes from the diocese and the Episcopal Church.'”

Tisdale followed up that letter with others asking for a variety of documents. In the first of those letters, Tisdale said he was “South Carolina counsel for the Episcopal Church.”

Logan responded saying in part that “the bishop, as the sovereign authority in this diocese, will work pastorally with diocesan parishes and their members in ways that will seek to keep them a part of this diocese.” The chancellor refused to supply the information requested and said that “it seems transparent that the Episcopal Church is trying very hard to find reason to involve either the bishop or the diocese, or perhaps both, in an adversarial situation.”

The diocese has been increasingly at odds with the wider Episcopal Church. Last fall, it authorized Lawrence and the Standing Committee to begin withdrawing themselves from church-wide bodies that assent to “actions deemed contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them, the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference which have expressed the mind of the communion, the Book of Common Prayer and our Constitution and Canons, until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions.”

The leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina believe that the best way to stay in the Episcopal Church is to distance itself from it as much as they possibly can. They also believe that the best way to remain in the Anglican Communion is to pretend that the Episcopal Church (through which it is connected it to the rest of the Communion) is a thoroughly heretical institution whose mission is contrary to the Gospel.

It appears from these resolutions that the Diocese of South Carolina wants to act as if they are an independent body free of accountability to the Episcopal Church, it’s governing bodies (that it has heretofore participated and assented to) or her sister dioceses and bishops. They are trying to do what the former leadership in Pittsburgh attempted. Unfortunately, right now there is no Grace Church to hold them accountable from within.

Having declared that they want to isolate themselves from General Convention resolutions and Episcopal Church ministries that they don’t like, now they will claim that they do not have to follow any canon of the Episcopal Church that they disagree with. Their resolutions stating that the PB has no ecclesiastical (R-3 and R-4) or legal (R-2) jurisdiction in their space is essentially saying that no one has a claim on their ministry and they are accountable to no one but themselves.

Resolution R-1 serves to underpin all this by perpetrating the lie that the rest of the Episcopal Church is essentially non-Christian. The resolution perpetuates the falsehood that the Episcopal Church does not recognize Jesus as the Son of God, disavows the Bible and carries out a mission contrary to the Gospel.

The framers of this resolution couches this inflammatory language with some very clever and high-minded theological language, which essentially says nothing but is designed to intimidate. The resolution puts moderates in that diocese (who would appear liberal in their context) in the position of voting for it (and the other resolutions that come after it) because to vote “no” is to appear that you don’t love Jesus nor preach the gospel nor choose to live faithfully.

It may be that the point of this tactic is to goad the PB into launching ecclesiastical discipline against the Bishop and leadership, because the it looks as if Bishop Lawrence and the clerical and lay leadership of South Carolina want to skate as close as they possibly can to the edge of renouncing the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church without actually doing so. They appear to draw a line in the sand while daring themselves to cross over it.

The resolutions attempt to take powers and authority already defined in the constitutions and canons and reserve them, after the fact, to the Bishop and Standing Committee alone. Of course, no one can alienate property and ministry from the diocese without the consent of the bishop and standing committee (R-3)…the Diocese of South Carolina itself has gone to court and won on that very point…but they also want to prevent any parish in the diocese from appealing to the Presiding Bishop or General Convention should the Diocese choose to leave the Episcopal Church. The Diocese wants to isolate Episcopalians who may want to be rescued from the isolationist (separatist) path their leadership is taking.

Of course there are limits to independence. We wonder if, as outward signs of their independence and self-sufficiency the clergy of South Carolina would like to live without a Church Pension Fund, which depends on all of us. Or if their parishes will make do with Church Insurance, which equally depends on all of us, or if a disaster should strike their diocese if they would refuse the work Episcopal Relief and Development. They should probably stop using the Book of Common Prayer or any hymnals printed by Church Publishing. They know better than the rest of us anyway and probably do a better job.

Proposed Resolution R-1 2010 Convention

Offered by: The Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, The Very Rev. Peet Dickinson, The Rev. Jeff Miller, The Rev. Arthur Jenkins, The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis, The Rev . James Taylor, The Rev. Rick Luoni , The Rev. Karl Burns, The Rev. Greg Snyder, The Rev. Marshall Huey, The Rev. Louise Weld, The Rev. Jennie C. Olbrych, The Very Rev. Craige Borrett

Subject: Recognition of the Heritage and a proclamation of the Identity of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina

RESOLVED, That this 219th Convention acknowledges that for more than three centuries this Diocese has represented the Anglican expression of the faith once for all delivered to the saints; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that we declare to all that we understand ourselves to be a gospel diocese, called to proclaim an evangelical faith, embodied in a catholic order, and empowered and transformed through the Holy Spirit; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we promise under God not to swerve in our belief that above all Jesus came into the world to save the lost, that those who do not know Christ need to be brought into a personal and saving relationship with him, and that those who do know Christ need to be taught by the Holy Scriptures faithfully to follow him all the days of their lives to the Glory of God the Father

Proposed Resolution R-2 2010 Convention

Offered by: The Standing Committee

Subject: Response to Ecclesiastical Intrusions by the Presiding Bishop

RESOLVED, That this 219th Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina affirms its legal and ecclesiastical authority as a sovereign diocese within the Episcopal Church, and be it further

RESOLVED, That this Convention declares the Presiding Bishop has no authority to retain attorneys in this Diocese that present themselves as the legal counsel for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and be it finally

RESOLVED, That the Diocese of South Carolina demands that the Presiding Bishop drop the retainer of all such legal counsel in South Carolina as has been obtained contrary to the express will of this Diocese, which is The Episcopal Church within its borders.

Proposed Resolution R-3 2010 Convention

Offered by: The Standing Committee

Subject: Addition of Canon XXXVII Of The Ecclesiastical Authority

The Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese is the Bishop. If there is no Bishop, the Standing Committee is the Ecclesiastical Authority. The Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese, with the advice and counsel of the Chancellor, is the sole and final authority with respect to any dispute concerning the interpretation of the Constitution and Canons of this Diocese and its interpretations shall be final and binding in all respects.

Proposed Resolution R-4 2010 Convention

Offered by: The Standing Committee

Subject: Amendment Canon XXX

Prohibiting the Desecration of Consecrated Buildings and the Alienation of Church Property Without Consent of The Ecclesiastical Authority and the Standing Committee

Resolved, that the following Section be added to Canon XXX.

Section 6. “It is within the power of the Ecclesiastical Authority of this Diocese to provide a generous pastoral response to parishes in conflict with the Diocese or Province, as the Ecclesiastical Authority judges necessary, to preserve the unity and integrity of the Diocese.”


1. The actions of the Presiding Bishop’s office, now publicly acknowledged, have demonstrated a clear willingness and intent both to legally pursue congregations we consider parishes in good standing, and attempt to utilize diocesan resources to do so.

2. We’ve experienced now as a diocese, in the All Saints, Pawleys Island litigation, the destructive force of such litigation; how it has created animosities and divisions that are not easily healed. It has failed as a positive cohesive force for maintaining the unity of the church and has in fact had precisely the opposite effect. Christians are suing Christians (I Cor. 6:1-8); the reputation of the church is marred, and vital resources are diverted from essential Kingdom work. None of this is honoring to our Savior.

3. It has been the implicit understanding of this Diocese that the Bishop inherently has the authority to deal with such situations. The current practice of the Bishop to deal pastorally with parishes struggling with their relationship with the Diocese or Province must be given explicit canonical force. The discretion exercised by the bishop is the only way to successfully navigate the current challenges before us.

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  1. Bill Carroll

    Gotta love that appeal to old secessionist arguments. Way to rally the base.

    If Bishop Lawrence were keeping his solemn vows before God and exercising his fiduciary responsibilities faithfully, none of this would be necessary.

    Too bad more standing committees and bishops didn’t have the guts to block his election when they had the chance.

  2. EH Culver

    For a diocese distance itself from TEC and still retain the benefits of the pension fund, insurance, and the ERD shows a complete lack of integrity. The PB is right to hold the Diocese of South Carolina accountable, and to continue its legal actions to protect the property and the people of TEC

  3. The Rev. Richard E. Helmer

    Bishop as “sovereign authority.”

    His prerogative to “deal pastorally” needing “explicit canonical force.”

    Wow. Sounds eerily like the sixteenth century all over again.

  4. Part of what I find interesting in all of this is that the Constitution of the Diocese (which they have graciously made accessible on line) begins with its complete accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church (that is the sum total of Article I). That would seem to me to, among other things, totally undermine this specious “sovreign diocese” assertion in R-2, and the “sole and final authority” assertion in R-3. Of course, they’d make a court case of it, whether civil or ecclesiastical; but it would seem the resolutions are unconstitutional under the current diocesan constitution on their face.

    Marshall Scott

  5. EH Culver

    corrections: For a diocese to distance itself; and a final period after TEC.

    I don’t type well even when I’m not angry, and this kind of thing makes me angry as well as sad.

    The Diocese of Dallas, in which I live, is part of some sort of “group endeavor” that includes the Diocese of South Carolina. I’m sure that we will all be watching this effort very carefully.

  6. Michael Cudney

    It seems more like the mid-nineteenth century than the sixteenth. If I recall, it was South Carolina that attempted a previous secession over issues of ‘sovereignty’. That didn’t work out too well for them, did it?

  7. twitter.com/GCComposer

    Does anyone else find it as odd as I do that there is such division over concepts that are inherently vague and ambiguous?

    I mean seriously, what does it mean to say that someone “doesn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God?” One wonders if those who make such a claim actually think that this “sonship” indicates the egg that formed Jesus was somehow fertilized with God’s sperm and that he carries God’s DNA.

    Or what about “[carrying] out a mission that is contrary to the Gospel?” This is utterly meaningless without first having agreed on what that Gospel is. It blows me away that people are so influenced by claims that literally have no meaning (outside of what the individual claiming it may or may not intend).

    And “disavow[ing] the Bible?” Again, completely vague and ambiguous. Come on.

    Honestly, the equivocation of these people is astounding. I wonder how many of these issues could be solved if people would either say exactly what they mean or own and embrace the inherent ambiguity in our religious symbols.

    -Grant Charles Chaput

  8. What the heck does “a sovereign diocese within the Episcopal Church” mean? Really. Inquiring folks want to know. (I’ve been ordained for 44 years and have been reading TEC’s C & C for longer than that, and I have no idea what that means.)

    South Carolina isn’t holding their diocesan convention at Fort Sumter, are they?

    To the PB and the Chancellor: Please please please stay away from the “abandonment of the communion” stuff. That was a bad strategy in the past and it would be a bad strategy now. I know that ecclesiastical trials are expensive, prolonged, and messy, but violation of the Constitution or Canons and violation of ordination vows would be much less ambiguous charges.

  9. Sounds very familiar

    January 1861 — The South Secedes.

    When Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent of slavery, was elected president, the South Carolina legislature perceived a threat. Calling a state convention, the delegates voted to remove the state of South Carolina from the union known as the United States of America. The secession of South Carolina was followed by the secession of six more states — Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas — and the threat of secession by four more — Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These eleven states eventually formed the Confederate States of America.

    February 1861 — The South Creates a Government.

    At a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, the seven seceding states created the Confederate Constitution, a document similar to the United States Constitution, but with greater stress on the autonomy of each state. Jefferson Davis was named provisional president of the Confederacy until elections could be held.

    February 1861 — The South Seizes Federal Forts.

    When President Buchanan — Lincoln’s predecessor — refused to surrender southern federal forts to the seceding states, southern state troops seized them. At Fort Sumter, South Carolina troops repulsed a supply ship trying to reach federal forces based in the fort. The ship was forced to return to New York, its supplies undelivered.

    March 1861 — Lincoln’s Inauguration.

    At Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, the new president said he had no plans to end slavery in those states where it already existed, but he also said he would not accept secession. He hoped to resolve the national crisis without warfare.

    April 1861 — Attack on Fort Sumter.

    When President Lincoln planned to send supplies to Fort Sumter, he alerted the state in advance, in an attempt to avoid hostilities. South Carolina, however, feared a trick; the commander of the fort, Robert Anderson, was asked to surrender immediately. Anderson offered to surrender, but only after he had exhausted his supplies. His offer was rejected, and on April 12, the Civil War began with shots fired on the fort. Fort Sumter eventually was surrendered to South Carolina.

  10. Derek Olsen

    Talk about cognitive dissonance… I’m trying to see how someone can affirm R-1 and R-2 through 4. It only seems to work if you have a creative understanding of what the phrase “embodied in a catholic order” means.

  11. Shelley Huston

    I’m amazed that people in Dallas, Central Florida, South Carolina, Albany and others haven’t noted and followed Pittsburgh’s example. Of course, few if anybody in our parish seem to know or care what is happening in the diocese, let alone TEC or the AC. I suspect we are not unique. By the time the bishop has stacked the Standing Committee with his (always his) cronies, it is probably too late to change the direction. But it isn’t too late to begin legal procedures.

  12. There but for the grace of God went the Diocese of Louisiana. What’s happening right now in the Diocese of South Carolina is precisely why I worked hard to prevent Bp. Michael Smith of the Diocese of North Dakota, Bp. Lawrence’s like-minded friend, from being elected bishop in our diocese. I don’t know that my efforts bore fruit, but Bp. Smith came in second in the vote, which I found a little scary.

    Thanks be to God and all who voted for Bishop-elect Morris Thompson.

    June Butler

  13. Several thoughts:

    1) Perhaps I am naive, but I could certainly see myself voting for R-1 and still remaining within the Episcopal Church. Being a “gospel diocese, called to proclaim an evangelical faith, embodied in a catholic order, and empowered and transformed through the Holy Spirit” seems pretty much a description of most dioceses. Of course, South Carolina might not see it that way.

    2) They repeatedly refer to themselves as “within the Episcopal Church” and “the Episcopal Church within its borders.” The only mention of Anglicanism is in the first resolution, and that does not mention the Anglican Communion. Doesn’t seem like a very forceful Declaration of Independence.

    3) I think that there is some small validity to their argument that the bishop has the authority “to provide a generous pastoral response to parishes in conflict with the Diocese or Province.” (Nice use of “generous pastoral response”, by the way) After all, it isn’t Episcopal Church Center and TEC as a whole that will be left holding the bag if various congregations attempt to bolt, it is the diocese.

    I’m wondering, not for the first time, if Jesus’ famous rhetorical question applies here: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Lk 9:25) Exactly how far are we willing to go to protect our “brand” or our “franchise” and do we do so ultimately to the detriment of the Gospel? I’m not saying yes or no, but it is worth considering.

  14. My question: “Why is R-1 necessary at all?” I have the sense that the wording of the resolution may be code talk and could possibly carry within an implication that the Diocese of South Carolina is exceptional within the Episcopal Church in espousing those beliefs. And the expression “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” may include the message to those in the know that partnered gays are excluded from ministry.

    June Butler

  15. Tom, I thought of another verse, this from Proverbs:

    “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he think himself wise.

    Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest he think you a fool like him.”

    These resolutions are rhetorical, in part because of their own constitution, but in larger part because they literally want to make a statement. They certainly indicate distrust among some of their leadership, but don’t in themselves mean much. Instead, it depends on how they live out these resolutions; and that’s what we need to be alert about.

    Marshall Scott

  16. tgflux

    After all, it isn’t Episcopal Church Center and TEC as a whole that will be left holding the bag if various congregations attempt to bolt, it is the diocese.

    Oh come now, Tom, that’s sophistry. It’s the same thing as those Anglo-Papists who cheer every time another of their number popes! (Usually RIGHT AFTER being vested w/ his pension—as that retired bishop in Newcastle just did).

    If ?Lawrence and Co see every departing parish as essentially “liberating” itself from TEC, then they’re not “holding the bag”, they’re PUNCTURING it! >:-/

    I’m no canon lawyer . . . but one way or another, ?Lawrence has to ANSWER for his misdeeds (or else become xLawrence!)

    JC Fisher

  17. John B. Chilton

    The South Carolina deputation put forward versions of R-1 in General Convention over the years. It has no purpose other than to roil the waters.

    Since a vote against an R-1 will always be framed by them as a demonstration that there are nonbelievers amongst us, it is difficult to vote no. And a vote for will be used to claim that their point of view has great support.

    In short, it’s purely manipulative legislative gaming. It has nothing to do with Christianity.

  18. The Rev. Richard E. Helmer

    Ann and Michael:

    Thank you for the historical correction. Points well taken! What had my head back further was the claim to sovereign power – very much at the beginning of the English Reformation!

    I am struck by just how much the Civil War history and the nineteenth century disputes over the Oxford movement’s influence form an unarticulated backdrop to this drama in SC. The dispute over whose lawyers, fidelity (or lack of same) to the Gospel, etc., are just manifesting places to air very old grievances.

    Self-awareness on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line might be helpful!

  19. David C. Wacaster+

    “Too bad more standing committees and bishops didn’t have the guts to block his election when they had the chance.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I think Mark Lawrence’s election was rejected once. Then he made statements about never leading the Diocese of SC out of TEC, he was elected again and consents were received the second time around. Anyone else remember this?

  20. Paul Woodrum

    Get real folks. SC’s problem is ordaining women and gay people, sexism and homophobia. All the rest is excuses and justification that probably couldn’t be overcome by 40 years in the wilderness or 40 years in the desert among wild beasts much less the Gospel of Jesus.

  21. Richard Helmer

    Sexism and homophobia rarely work or travel alone. They love company, especially encultured grievances.

  22. Jim Pratt

    The dangerous resolution is R4. On its face, it seems fairly innocuous, and can even be read as supporting the Dennis Canon, especially in light of the Pawley’s Island litigation.

    But is is a back door for secession? Has the leadership of the diocese taken note of how poorly Schofield, Duncan and Iker have fared in the courts in their secession attempts? Could they be devising a way that allows individual parishes, with the consent of the Standing Committee, exercising a “generous pastoral response,” to secede from the diocese? Then, when they have allowed the majority of parishes to secede, they simple form a new diocese under ACNA. They’d walk away from diocesan assets, but keep the church buildings, parish trust funds, and the silver.

    It sounds like Atty. Tisdale is already alert to this ploy, hence the anger at his “meddling”.

    Jim Pratt

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