September 22, 2010

S.C. Via Media Group Calls for Investigation

The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina (EFSC) has written a letter to the Executive Council and to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church asking for an investigation of the “situation in our Diocese.” (The letter is available on the group’s Web site here.) EFSC explains its concerns as follows:
We wish to call to your attention the recent actions and inactions on the part of the diocesan leadership and leaders in parishes and missions within the Diocese of South Carolina, which we believe are accelerating the process of alienation and disassociation of the Diocese of South Carolina from The Episcopal Church.
EFSC logoWhat follows is a litany of what the Via Media group sees as steps taken and not taken by the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina that are designed to distance the diocese from The Episcopal Church and facilitate the removal of congregations and property from The Episcopal Church. The five-page letter also lists specific matters EFSC wants to see investigated and reproduces the text of a letter sent by an attorney experienced in church property cases to a South Carolina parish explaining what parish leaders need to do if they wish to remove themselves and their church from The Episcopal Church.

The letter comes as the diocese is preparing to hold a special session of the diocesan convention October 15, 2010, to enact changes to the diocese’s constitution and canons. As a Pittsburgh Episcopalian, I see a familiar schismatic objective behind the resolutions to be considered by South Carolina next month. The resolutions are clearly improper and surely are motivated by objectives other than the stated ones.

Where the Church Needs to Go

It is surely the case that the matters that EFSC says the church should investigate should indeed be investigated, though I have a suspicion that EFSC has a pretty good idea of what the broad outlines of the findings will be. In particular, EFSC asks the church to look into
  • Parishes which, from their Web sites, seem to have taken measures to facilitate their withdrawing from The Episcopal Church.
  • Actions taken and not taken regarding the departure of St. Andrew’s, Mt. Pleasant.
  • Property titles and corporate documents, in order to evaluate legal risks to the church that they might represent.
Beyond what EFSC is asking, however, it is time to be thinking about what is required to depose Bishop of South Carolina Mark Lawrence. Although Lawrence does not appear to be a leader of any major schismatic movement outside his own diocese, within his diocese, his actions bring to mind those of deposed bishop Bob Duncan, the former Bishop of Pittsburgh. If Bob Duncan could be said to have abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church “by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church,” certainly, by supporting the aforementioned resolutions, Mark Lawrence is likewise guilty and should be subject to deposition.

Mark Lawrence did not create the ugly, secessionist attitude that is widespread in the state of South Carolina. (Given the state’s history, one suspects there is something in the water.) Certainly, the previous bishop, Edward L. Salmon, seemed at least as much a threat to the integrity of The Episcopal Church as the incumbent. It was clear, however, that, when the diocese elected a new bishop, it was seeking one who would be more loyal to an extremist conservative agenda than to The Episcopal Church.

This is perhaps an appropriate time to say something I’ve been waiting to say for a long time, namely, I told you so. In October 2006, when Mark Lawrence was seeking consents for the first time, I wrote “No Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church,” arguing that his written opinions made Lawrence an inappropriate choice for an Episcopal bishop. (Via Media USA agreed with me and sent the essay to all bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees.) I later wrote “The Annotated Mark Lawrence,” in which I analyzed questions and answers from Lawrence put forth in support of his attempt to be consecrated bishop. I was not impressed.

In fact, The Episcopal Church passed its “crucial test” and did not consent to Lawrence’s consecration. (He was not denied his victory by “technicalities” and was, in fact, given more time than canonically specified to collect the necessary consents.) Alas, South Carolina re-elected Lawrence in a one-man Episcopal election, and, the second time around, the church did not have the fortitude to reject Lawrence again. It failed that second test and is now paying the price for its collective cowardice.

The Episcopal Church must stop Mark Lawrence and his supporters in his diocese before it has another crisis on its hands like those visited upon San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, and Quincy. The church must act before it is too late.

As was the case in the four dioceses that are currently rebuilding after schism, there are many supporters of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. EFSC continues to grow and has, I have been told, more than 700 members. That number may expand even more after today’s letter from that group. These are the people who, one way or another, will be called upon to restore sanity to the diocese.

May God save The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Alas, God is going to need a little help.

1 comment:

  1. Lionel, just a side comment--don't paint the entire state of South Carolina with the same brush. Remember that the Diocese of South Carolina is not the entire state. My brother is in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, and my understanding is that the situation is entirely different there.

    Bill Ghrist


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