Breaking: Bishop Lawrence cleared by disciplinary board

Hat tip to Thinking Anglicans

A Statement by the President of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops Regarding the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina

On November 22, the Disciplinary Board for Bishops met via conference call to consider whether, based on information previously submitted to the Board by lay communicants and a priest of the Diocese of South Carolina, the Bishop of that Diocese, the Right Rev’d Mark Lawrence, has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church.

Based on the information before it, the Board was unable to make the conclusions essential to a certification that Bishop Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the Church. I have today communicated the Board’s action to Bishop Lawrence by telephone, to be followed by an e-mail copy of this statement.

The abandonment canon (Title IV, Canon16) is quite specific, designating only three courses of action by which a Bishop is to be found to have abandoned the church: first, “by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church”; second, “by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with” the Church; and, third, “by exercising Episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than the Church or another church in communion with the Church, so as to extend to such body Holy Orders as the Church holds them, or to administer on behalf of such religious body Confirmation without the express consent and commission of the proper authority in the Church….” Applied strictly to the information under study, none of these three provisions was deemed applicable by a majority of the Board.

A basic question the Board faced was whether actions by conventions of the Diocese of South Carolina, though they seem—I repeat, seem—to be pointing toward abandonment of the Church and its discipline by the diocese, and even though supported by the Bishop, constitute abandonment by the Bishop. A majority of the members of the Board was unable to conclude that they do.

It is also significant that Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to lead the diocese out of The Episcopal Church—that he only seeks a safe place within the Church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it. I speak for myself only at this point, that I presently take the Bishop at his word, and hope that the safety he seeks for the apparent majority in his diocese within the larger Church will become the model for safety—a “safe place”—for those under his episcopal care who do not agree with the actions of South Carolina’s convention and/or his position on some of the issues of the Church.

The Right Rev’d Dorsey F. Henderson, Jr.
President, Disciplinary Board for Bishops

Update: ENS has filed a story.

Comments (14)

This leaves us with a lot more questions than answers. I wonder right off whether the vote was taken before the news hit (Nov. 21) that the bishop had granted quitclaim deeds to all parishes in direct violation of the C and C of the Episcopal Church which states clearly that all property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church and the local diocese. Under church law a parish cannot own its property outright. I wonder too just how much investigation the lawyer for the committee did.

In the bigger picture this is a sorely needed victory of sorts for the conservative side of TEC which has complained for years that they are being driven out of the church. Let's let them have their victory lap. We need them to stay in TEC. It will be interesting to see all the right-wing websites' spin on this. There will be a lot of crowing. Perhaps they need it.

Time will tell if the bishop actually is abandoning the Episcopal Church. If he is, that will become clear, and presumably accusations can be brought up again on a much stronger basis. For now, let's all breathe a sigh of relief that South Carolina is still in TEC.

It is a curious thing to me that the processes of the same Title IV leadership in the Diocese of SC has so vociferously panned...those same processes have now permitted SC wide latitude in interpreting discipline and structures for their local governance.

Some might call that grace. For me, it's evidence that we remain a "big tent" Church, despite much protest to the contrary.

It is odd Richard -the very canon Bp Lawrence and So.Carolina have rejected is the one that has exonerated the bishop. Does that mean he will not accept the ruling?

Glad this appears to be over. No more sideshows, please. We have work to do.

Ann - I had to chuckle at your thought. Bishop Lawrence wrote about "canonical conundrums" during the consent phase of his election...

More broadly speaking, it makes for an interesting study in the dynamics around the vow of obedience, does it not?

Jim -- Agreed!

No more sideshows, please.

I doubt the faithful Episcopalians in SC consider this a sideshow...

I'd love to see Bishop Lawrence work as hard to be fair to the liberals in his diocese as the liberals in the wider church have done to be fair to him.

I am not holding my breath.

I have some small tolerance for referring to loyal Episcopalians, but I really think that "faithful Episcopalians" is beyond the pale.

Be that as it may, I'm glad to see this sort of preemptive strike failing.

To Be Continued...


JC Fisher

"For now, let's all breathe a sigh of relief that South Carolina is still in TEC."

That was not/is not/could never be in doubt, Ronald.

Will this decision help even one more South Carolinian say "Thank God I am an Episcopalian"?

I have serious doubts it will.

JC Fisher

It is high time the church disciplinarians give up on attempt to apply the Abandonment Canon in cases where it doesn't really apply, or circumstances other than those for which it was designed. There is a difference between disobedience and renunciation.

What needs to be looked at are Canon IV.4.1.c and g.

As a faithful Episcopalian in SC I can assure you that this is no sideshow to us! Many of us have no access to a parish that is fully committed to being Episcopal. We have children who are not learning about our church and what makes it special. The saddest part of all this to me is that it could go one for a very long time. As you gather and worship in your churches, try to be mindful of what it is like to be us. I ask for your prayers and support.

As you gather and worship in your churches, try to be mindful of what it is like to be us. I ask for your prayers and support.

Cynthia--you have all of those things you ask...from me and many others.

I wish we could offer you more. I wish we had done the right thing by you when we had the chance....

I know people (heterosexual; married) who drive a 90 mile round trip every Sunday to worship at a church in the Upper SC diocese rather than listen to the routine homophobic rants-from-the-pulpit of their parish priest.

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