There are two narratives at work in the matter of the complaints lodged by unnamed communicants of the Diocese of South Carolina against Bishop Mark Lawrence. One narrative comes from Bishop Lawrence and his supporters. The other narrative comes from Bishop Dorsey Henderson, retired Bishop of Upper South Carolina. One is dramatic, the other is measured. One is ambiguous, the other is clear.
The State of South Carolina reports:
Retired Episcopal Bishop Dorsey F. Henderson Jr. sought Wednesday to quell tensions among S.C. Low country clergy, saying the national church is not attacking its bishop, the Right Rev. Mark Lawrence.
Henderson, who heads the national Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops, told Lawrence Sept. 29 that the board is investigating allegations, made by churchgoers within Lawrence’s diocese, that he abandoned the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.
But Wednesday Henderson made clear that the inquiry is in its earliest stages and in no way implies that Lawrence may have committed any wrong. Henderson said he notified Lawrence and shared all the information the board had received.
“I thought he needed to know,” said Henderson, who led the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina until his retirement in 2009. “I thought it was only fair for him to know that we had this information and that we were studying it.”
As we noted last week, here and here, a complaint has been made that Bishop Lawrence by both direct action and inaction, has abandoned the “doctrine, discipline and worship” of the Episcopal Church. These were described as “charges” (including by us, at first) and much has been written describing the persecution of the Diocese of South Carolina by the Episcopal Church.
But, as Bishop Henderson has noted, there are no charges. There is only a complaint.
We say it again: there are no charges. Only a complaint. The complaint is begin investigated.
In other words, the accident has been called in, and the responders are on the way. Except for the voice of the caller, we don’t know if there is a wreck, how bad the wreck is or what kind of response will be needed, let alone who caused the wreck.
Here is a handy summary of the process:
2. The committee is investigating. (This is where the process is right now.)
3. If the investigation warrants, charges will be filed. If the investigation does not find anything actionable, the process stops.
4. If charges are made, then probably another investigation will follow. Advocates for the various parties will be selected. Attempts will be made to reconcile the aggrieved parties. If resolution is found, the process ends.
5. If no resolution is found, and if there are actionable charges, there will be a hearing where both sides will be heard. If the panel finds that no canons were broken, then the process stops. If the panel finds that canons were broken then a pastoral directive is issued. An appeal may be made.
6. Rinse. Repeat.
Bishop Henderson said this:
Public media has recently reported that the “The Episcopal Church is alleging that Bishop Mark Lawrence has abandoned the church….” That is incorrect.
This action originated with communicants of the Bishop Lawrence’s own diocese, who submitted information to the Disciplinary Board for the House of Bishops. Those communicants requested that the information be studied in order to determine if abandonment had occurred.
The Disciplinary Board, made up of bishops, other clergy, and lay people from many dioceses across the country (none of whom are in the employ of, or under the direction of, the Episcopal Church Center), does not have the discretion to decline to study the matter.
The role of the Disciplinary Board in circumstances which may constitute abandonment is to:
1. Determine whether the actions and/or conduct included in the information submitted to it is factual; and, then,
2. Determine whether the information submitted, even if true, constitutes abandonment as defined by the Church’s canons (laws).
The Disciplinary Board is only in the earliest stages of its work and has not reached any decision regarding the credibility of the information received or whether the actions and conduct reported actually constitute abandonment. It has made no “charges” of any kind; neither has any other part or structure of The Episcopal Church.
The Disciplinary Board will, by the grace of God and with diligence, proceed methodically, carefully, prayerfully—and confidentially—to meet its canonical responsibility, including a request for, and consideration of, any and all input that Bishop Lawrence wishes to be considered. The President of the Disciplinary Board has provided Bishop Lawrence with all of the information it has received and is under consideration, and will continue to do so.
On the other hand, the communication from the Diocese of South Carolina is filled with alarm and doom.
In an atmosphere of prayerful solemnity, the Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese of South Carolina gathered at Saint James Church, James Island, S.C. for more than two hours on Tuesday, October 12. In focus were the “serious charges” that have been made against Bishop Mark Lawrence and the diocese under the new Title IV canons.
Bishop Lawrence began by restating the diocesan vision of “Making Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age” and then traced the history of the current controversy in The Episcopal Church and the many obstacles they presented to pursuing our diocesan vision. He ended with the two recent diocesan conventions in which the diocese refused to be coerced into the Episcopal Church’s embrace of the new title IV canons which violate both due process and the Episcopal Church’s own constitution. Of further concern with the current allegations is that evidently this process doesn’t allow the accused to know who his accusers are.
Lawyer Alan Runyan then made a presentation based on his best understanding of what canonical process seemed to be being used by those in national leadership. It would appear they are proceeding under the abandonment canon with its fast track. Based on what has happened in other dioceses, a deposition of the bishop would be followed by attacks on diocese and the parishes. The picture painted was an ugly one of expensive litigation, confrontation and acrimony in which all involved significantly lost.
The correspondence released by the Diocese of South Carolina reveals that what is coming will be a convoluted, confusing process and that Bishop Lawrence and the diocesan leadership plan to use this confusion to keep the troops energized.
Bishop Henderson has said that the process will protect confidentiality but the Diocese of South Carolina makes public statements and releases documents of their own choosing in order to reinforce their cause in the court of public opinion.
In the process they have revealed that they plan to litigate every jot and tittle starting with which canons are to be followed. In a letter from Attorney Wade H. Logan III, representing the Standing Committee, to Church Attorney Josephine Hicks, the following question is asked.
Are your requests being made under the provisions of the2006 or the 2009 Canons?
Of course, the Disciplinary Board operates under the terms of the current Title IV. How can they do otherwise? The whole Episcopal Church–that’s all the dioceses–operate under the same rules. Except in South Carolina…at least in the minds of their leaders…where the convention voted to only abide by Episcopal Church canon through 2006.
If this were 19th century baseball, one could argue whether Knickerbocker or Massachusetts Rules might apply on this field for this game, but not in this case. The question reveals both the direction of the upcoming dispute and how it will play out: Can the Diocese of South Carolina pick and choose which elements of the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church it will adhere to? Can they selectively opt out of what everyone else in Episcopal Church adheres to and still claim that they are upholding the “discipline” of the Church?
In this crazy scenario, if an appeal to the old canons won’t work, appeal to the ones you refuse to recognize. In a breathtaking case of having it both ways, Logan asks Hicks if she is still a member of the Disciplinary Board:
(Canon) 17.2(a) (2009) prohibit a member of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops from serving as Church Attorney and a Church Attorney from serving as a member of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops.
It is a fair question, but while noting that the 2006 Canons have similar provisions, but the way it is presented reveals that Logan and his client will use the 2009 Canons when it suits his case.
Remember: This is only in the investigation stage. There are no charges. Instead of answering the question, South Carolina’s legal team is in effect telling the Church Attorney and the Disciplinary Board of Bishops must act in this one diocese according to canons that are no longer in effect.
If the Board should agree to play those rules–and nothing in Bishop Henderson’s writing indicates that he will–then South Carolina wins. If the Board continues to follow the current Title IV and the Diocese of South Carolina balks, then they are making a prima face case that they will not adhere to the current discipline of the church.
By choosing to fight that battle first, they may well make the very case that they claim has no basis.
Ironically, they have the space to do this because they are playing an adversarial game in a process designed to be restorative. They can claim persecution, play their case out in the media and denounce the changed rules because the people in charge of the investigation are acting with both discretion and integrity.