Drawing lines in the sand

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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.”

Explanation:

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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EH Culver
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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.

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mscottsail
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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

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The Rev. Richard E. Helmer
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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.

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EH Culver
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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

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Bill Carroll
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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.

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