First, I should say that no one should be surprised at the charges. Once the Diocese of South Carolina began qualifying its accession to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church—with the encouragement of Bishop Lawrence, I might add—an attempt to depose the bishop became inevitable; it was only a matter of when charges would be brought forward.
Will the charges lead eventually to deposition? Who knows? To begin with, since Title IV, the disciplinary canons, has been completely revised, it is hard to predict how events will play out. The Lawrence case will necessarily be setting precedents.
The charges, of course, are much like those leveled against then Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert Duncan. Duncan had long been bad-mouthing the church and had been gradually making constitutional and canonical changes to isolate the diocese from the general church. Lawrence has done the same. What he has not done that Duncan did is actually to set in motion a process intended to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church. Duncan was deposed only weeks before the final October 2008 vote to “realign.”
I believed that the case against Duncan was unassailable and his removal from office long overdue, but there were many—mostly those sympathetic to the realignment movement, I suspect—who asserted that a presentment was inappropriate until the realignment vote actually took place. Of course, had the church waited, Duncan would have claimed to be out of the church and beyond its disciplinary reach. Alas, his removal did not come early enough to prevent the tragedy that he brought upon the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.
This, of course, raises the question of at what point one can, with confidence, be said to have “abandonment of the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of The Episcopal Church.” Have you abandoned the church when you have subverted its polity, secured future employment outside the church, and packed your bags; or do you have to walk out the door and brush the Episcopal Church dust off your shoes first?
I think a civil law analogy is instructive here. If law enforcement discovers that someone is planning to blow up the Capitol, and that person has begun accumulating materials for a bomb, do we have to wait until the plot is carried out to make an arrest? Clearly not. Likewise, if a bishop is clearly not committed to submitting to the “Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship” of the church, even if that person has not yet done anything to cause irreparable harm to the church, that potential for harm exists and needs to be guarded against.
Another comparison between Bob Duncan and Mark Lawrence is less favorable to the Bishop of South Carolina. When Duncan was elected Bishop of Pittsburgh, there was no special reason to think him a threat to the diocese as a unit of The Episcopal Church. Did he harbor schismatic thoughts? I have no idea. If he did, he kept them to himself (or within a circle of co-conspirators into which I had no visibility).
Mark Lawrence’s bid to become a bishop, on the other hand, was problematic at the outset. It was not a quirk that he failed to receive sufficient consents following his September 16, 2006, election. Only after he was nominated a second time—he was the only candidate considered by the South Carolina convention—was he finally allowed to become a bishop. Episcopal Church leaders just didn’t have the stomach to reject an episcopal candidate twice.
I will return to the topic of Lawrence’s rocky road to the episcopate in a moment. First, I want to comment on the paranoia about South Carolina that is rampant among conservatives. The standard narrative is that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is somehow out to get Mark Lawrence. This notion persists despite Bishop Dorsey Henderson’s memo—Henderson is the president of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops—that asserts that
- Information [i.e., charges] was presented from communicants within the Diocese of South Carolina.
- The information was not brought forward by the Presiding Bishop’s office, or by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Therefore, the matter is not being handled by the Presiding Bishop’s office or anyone in the employ of the Episcopal Church Center.
In May and June, the American Anglican Council warned that with the implementation of the new American Episcopal Church (TEC) Title IV Canons, the Presiding Bishop would receive unprecedented power to directly intervene in a diocese or discipline a bishop. Our anticipation was that Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori would move quickly to punish South Carolina TEC Bishop Lawrence by inhibiting/suspending him and the Standing Committee of South Carolina and replace everyone at the top with her hand-picked “loyalists.” Although such a “Blitzkrieg” approach would have drawn international alarm and censure from many quarters, it was the approach that we considered most likely, based on previous actionsIn other words, Bishop Anderson is accusing Bishop Henderson of lying, probably at the behest of the presiding bishop.
Apparently, the Presiding Bishop has decided to be more careful about how she drives Bishop Lawrence to the guillotine, and so an elaborate story has been concocted about how loyalists in South Carolina compiled the list of particulars on a grievance letter and sent the complaint to the the President of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops. Former Bishop of Upper South Carolina Dorsey Henderson is the President of this board, and so he was the one to communicate with Bishop Lawrence on the “serious charges,” including “Abandonment of the communion of this Church.”
Even if one chooses to ignore Anderson’s penchant for wild exaggeration, there is no reason to believe that there was any need for anyone to concoct a story about South Carolina loyalists drawing up a list of grievances against their bishop.
As I noted more than a year ago (see “S.C. Via Media Group Calls for Investigation”), The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina (EFSC), which is composed of “loyalists in South Carolina” and which has been growing by leaps and bounds of late, appealed to Executive Council to investigate the goings on in the diocese. Executive Council is not really in the investigating business, but the appeal likely got the attention of church leaders. Anyway, it is a reasonable inference that EFSC members were at least involved in delivering the charges to the committee. EFSC was around long before Mark Lawrence, and it may have needed some advice from New York, but it didn’t need any encouragement.
I return now to the matter of collecting consents for Mark Lawrence to be consecrated a bishop following his first election. When I heard of his election, I was upset because I remembered an essay Lawrence had published in The Living Church only a few months earlier.
In “A Prognosis for this Body Episcopal,” Lawrence described The Episcopal Church as “a comatose patient on life support” in need of “a surgery that frees us from the ‘heresy’ of a national church or, more accurately stated, from an ecclesiastical nationalism and the provincialism that has led to the deepening fracture within our Church.” The medicine he recommended was turning over the governance of The Episcopal Church to the Anglican primates. “Our very survival, let alone our growth,” he boldly asserted, “necessitates the surrender of our autonomy to the governance of the larger church—that is, the Anglican Communion.”
I was alarmed that the author of “A Prognosis for this Body Episcopal” might become a member of the House of Bishops. I became even more alarmed after looking into Lawrence’s representations to the Diocese of South Carolina. On a questionnaire, for example, he answered strongly disagree to the statement “The church should not divide over this issue [homosexuality].” In Lawrence’s answers to walkabout questions from the diocese, the bishop-elect took the opportunity to criticize further The Episcopal Church and to defend alternative primatial oversight.
This led me to write “No Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church,” in which I urged bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees to withhold consent to Mark Lawrence’s consecration. Via Media USA sent copies of my essay with a cover letter to the bishops and standing committees that were being asked for consents. A couple of months later, assailed with questions about his loyalty, Lawrence released a set of questions—his own, apparently—and answers. I found these unconvincing and analyzed them on my Web site. (See “The Annotated Mark Lawrence.”)
Mark Lawrence did not receive the required number of consents from standing committees, and his election was declared null and void by the presiding bishop. There was a good deal of confusion about what really happened, but the reality is that Katharine Jefferts Schori bent over backwards—violating the canons, I believe—to give Lawrence his best chance to be approved for consecration. Had standing committees felt comfortable approving him, he would have received the necessary consents long before the allotted 120 days for response had expired. (I have written a number of blog posts about Lawrence. The two most important on his failure to receive the necessary consents are “Lawrence Bid Fails” and “Reflections on the Mark Lawrence Affair.”)
Mark Lawrence should never have been made a bishop. Given his public statements, I have every reason to believe that he was insincere when he took the oath to “engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church” (BCP, p. 513).
The recent charges against Bishop Mark Lawrence have only confirmed what I believed five years ago. All I can say to my church is “I told you so.”