Who wants to help make sense of the South Carolina situation

Who is up for an assignment?

In the past, I believed that the way in which the tensions within the Episcopal Church were perceived by the people in our pews, by the general public, by the Church of England and within the larger Anglican Communion would play a significant role in the survival of our church.

As a result I followed every twist and turn in the efforts of the Anglican right to put our church on the defensive. I examined where their money came from. I wrote about their maneuverings here on the Cafe. In fact, the Cafe's predecessor, Daily Episcopalian, came into existence, in some measure, to counter what I perceived as a significant schismatic advantage online. I also spoke about our internal politics to religion reporters from the mainstream media often enough that I came to be on a first name basis with many of them.

In the past few years, I have turned my attention elsewhere. I believe our church has weathered what you might call the inclusion crisis, and that our great challenge now lies in evangelism. We understand the Gospel in a way that many of our neighbors would find compelling if we were more successful in reaching out to them. So the story unfolding in South Carolina seems much less significant to me today than it might have in 2009. I'm glad for that. Still, I can't help noticing that when the church decides that it has had about all it can take from someone like Mark Lawrence, the breakaway bishops tend to get the upper hand in the media. They are quick off the mark, and we are slow--hindered, perhaps, by a need to respect the confidential nature or the process. The bishops who have broken from the Episcopal Church sow confusion, paint themselves as victims, cast Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the mastermind of their persecution, and are supported by a sympathetic network of bloggers and publications like the Church of England Newspaper.

Once upon a time, I felt it was important to fight our corner when this sort of thing happened. Nowadays, while the job still needs doing, I don't feel called to do it.

So who is up for taking a long, patient look at what is happening in South Carolina, steeping themselves in the facts of the case, getting comfortable with all of the canonical niceties and then explaining it to a reader who might be favorably disposed toward the Episcopal Church, but who still doesn't know what to make of the case against Bishop Lawrence?

You can apply for this job by sharing your initial thoughts in the comments. The required reading is reporter Adam Parker's attempt to make the whole situation comprehensible in the Charleston Post and Courier. One doesn't have to agree with it all. (I don't.) But it is a good, impartial attempt to make this complex issue sensible to a wide audience.

Comments (11)

Am very curious to what extent the standing committee, and those whose views and interests it represents, rather than Mark Lawrence, is the prime mover here. There have been a number of odd, seemingly disconnected events in the diocese in recent months. Early last month, for instance, South Carolina Episcopalians reported (September 9th) that "Communicants at the Cathedral of St. Luke & St. Paul voted 55-10 today to sever ties with the Episcopal Church, and realign themselves solely with Bishop Mark Lawrence and something called “the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina” (PECDSC)". There again, three days later they published a denial of this from the cathedral's dean, but the September 9th report does seems pretty specific. Through policy or confusion, what is actually going on is very unclear, plus SC Episcopalians' reports are not always reliable, but seems to me that there may well be no well-formulated, concerted plan.

SC Episcopalians site is so formatted that it appears that it must be read chronologically - http://www.scepiscopalians.com/

Laugh, scream. Wind watch?

Sometimes we make the answer too complicated but on the other hand, we can't make it too simplistic either. I would stick to the basic facts about the polity of TEC.

Also, I note that clicking the "remember me" button will put you in the signed in loop.

Along with Roger, I have wondered who is in charge in the Diocese of SC and if it's possible that +Lawrence may be swept along in a process which he does not control.

June Butler

For about five years, I've wanted to do a study of the nature, purpose, and futures of dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion (who even wants to think about what that would take to fund, and what 'no-go' areas might exist for women, whites, gay people on the research team?) It seems to me that a starting place might be what is happening with the 'withdrawing' dioceses such as this, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, etc.

I guess the first 'big' question is 'why is South Carolina the tipping point where we start asking the question of what happened?' It isn't the first diocese where this has happened, it may not be the last. So, what makes this *different* from Pittsburgh, Ft Worth, etc? Probably some examination of the other dividing dioceses needs to happen alongside the examination of SC. As well, some examination of a situation along the lines of Quincy/Chicago, where there seems to be some attempts at reconciliation and healing.

As an active Episcopalian and retired history professor who lived in Charleston for years, still has family in DSC and has tried to keep up with events, here is my take: The people in the pews in DSC are not different than those in all the other dioceses of the southeast, but the leadership is. Some two decades ago, a religiously/culturally/socially conservative group of church leaders in the Charleston area began gaining control of the apparati of the diocese, squeezing out other viewpoints. By the Robinson episode they were firmly in control. Hence they opposed TEC bitterly and deliberately chose Lawrence from the first breakaway diocese, San Joaquin. They have conducted a one-sided "war" with TEC for years. DSC declared "states rights" and nullification (and now of course secession) excatly as SC had done 150+ years ago. The irony here is too obvious.

The people in the pews are fed only one side and most believe that Lawrence and the diocesan leadership are absolutely right and are innocent victims of dark powers "from off.". The viewpoint of the national church, expressed by the Episcopal Forum and the website scepiscopalians.com could not begin to compete in terms of public message. So that today most people in SC have a skewed understanding of what has happened and they naturally want to follow the local leadership. As I see it, approximately ten parishes, perhaps a quarter of the diocesan population, will remain loyal to TEC and the rest will follow Lawrence out of TEC. We know already that four parishes in Charleston will stay with TEC. There are at least six other parishes in DSC which are likely to stay.

What will happen next is perfectly predictable since we have four clear-cut, recent cases of departing groups around the country. In all cases where courts have ruled, they have come down entirely on the side of TEC. SC may be a little different though because of the peculiar state laws on church property (SC supreme court ruled in favor of breakaway parish of Pawleys Island) and because Lawrence gave quitclaim deeds to all parishes of the diocese. Apparently most have been registered in the court houses. Lawrence believes this will protect the parishes from being treated under the Denis canon law of TEC where property is held by the diocese in trust for the Episcopal church. Lawrence and his allies have created an independent entity called "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina." They have "disassociated" themselves from TEC.

What will happen next? If there is no propmt settlement, the presiding bishop will depose Lawrence (she has only "inhibited" him now), reorganize the DSC with a diocesan convention, a new standing committee, and a provisional bishop. There will be two competing entities: the Episcopal diocese and "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina." (You can imagine the ordinary person's confusion)Then the real battle begins over property and we can expect years of very expensive litigation. In the long run, I would bet on TEC to prevail.

While Lawrence and his allies will declare a victory for "orthoxody" over heresy and celebrate the birth of a significant "Anglican" diocese of South Carolina, the average people in the pews will go through turmoil. They want only to be good Christians in the Episcopal tradition yet they are pulled in opposite directions as to what that tradition is. They are the losers here. In fact, they are the true church and they are where they are primarily because of their leadership.

There are cogent canonical arguments to the contrary. But any arguments in opposition to those in this enlightened forum are tautologically benighted. A.S. Haley, is making a career of replying to progressive thinkers like ourselves in his blog, the Anglican Curmudgeon. But how can anyone not thinking as we do be granted any credibility.

Just one fact-check to Mr. Caldwell's analysis:

The Presiding Bishop cannot depose any bishop. Only the House of Bishops can do that by majority vote of a quorum gathered in a duly convened meeting of the House. They will have the final say in this matter.

Mr. Helmer: Not to put too fine a point on it but actually the canons say that the presiding bishop does depose a bishop, but does so after the House of Bishops has passed a majority vote (Canon IV.16(A).2 "If the House by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote, shall give its consent, the Presiding Bishop shall depose the Bishop..."

Here are some significant events approaching: 1-"The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina" (a self-declared independent entity) will hold a convention on Nov. 17 to formalize its removal from TEC. This is certain to pass. All parishes will have to choose between TEC and the independent diocese. 2-Dec. 15, deadline for Lawrence to present to the Presiding Bishop a written response to the order of restriction. On failure to do so "the Bishop will be liable to Deposition." 3-March, 2013, House of Bishops will meet and presumably vote on the deposition of Lawrence. Upon majority vote, he will be immediately deposed.

Unfortunately, Lawrence has already at least verbally declared that he no longer adheres to the Episcopal Church. He is ignoring the order of restriction (next Sunday he is scheduled to administer Confirmation in St. John's of Florence SC). Still, as I see it, the PB has to follow the timeline above.

Thanks for the correcting me and the clarification. My main point was that the Presiding Bishop cannot and does not act unilaterally.

Do you want reporting and analysis, or do you want apologetic?

Chris, I would like an apologetic in the classic sense of the word. So, to your question, I guess the answer is all of the above.

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