What a Mess!

Mark Lawrence responds to yesterday’s developments. Money quote:

“Quite simply I have not renounced my orders as a deacon, priest or bishop any more than I have abandoned the Church of Jesus Christ — But as I am sure you are aware, the Diocese of South Carolina has canonically and legally disassociated from The Episcopal Church,” Lawrence said in a letter posted on the diocese’s website after the presiding bishop’s announcement. “We took this action long before today’s attempt at renunciation of orders, therein making it superfluous.”

Some circular reasoning here, I think, in that he claims his actions make the declaration of renunciation “superfluous.”

Other commentary on the spiraling crisis. From Mark Harris:

I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if one of the first dioceses to undergo the stress of division had come to the General Convention and petitioned to leave the General Convention, gave the grounds, showed that a large majority of the people and clergy were for it, and made suggestions as to how all could be responsible to the trust or common ownershop concerns. Could General Convention have said, go with our blessings, but know that we will continue in the area where you are to keep and Episcopal Church presence. I don’t know. But no diocese has to my knowledge ever petitioned General Convention on any level to a parting of the ways.  Instead leaders have gone with their followers, called themselves the Diocese and generally ended up in a spitting contest with The Episcopal Church leadership.

From Anthony Clavier:

When it comes to the essential morality of what has happened -I’m not using morality as in sex – few on either side have much to boast about. We’ve hurled insults as readily as we’ve sought to make theological justification for our positions. We look like our political parties. That’s no accident. We live in two worlds and as we spend more time in society and ‘culture’ as we do in the Kingdom: the world seems to triumph.


Is it too late?  It’s never too late. If those who manage the Episcopal Church don’t believe in conscience that they can make room for conscientious dissent, isn’t it their duty to make caring space for dissenters? If those of us who cannot square our consciences with the new canonical provisions, should we not do all we can to respond to any initiatives by the Episcopal Church to give us room.

Update on the Episcopal Church in South Carolina

I had some trouble figuring out what to title this post, since everything, including what to call the various parties involved in the dispute, is being contested.


At least I’m not being as tendentious as the the Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs, which entitled its press release today “Presiding Bishop accepts Lawrence’s renunciation.” It’s not at all clear to me that what Bishop Lawrence did or said in his convention address of November 17 constitutes renunciation of his ordination vows. The Episcopal Cafe story is here.

The article goes on to say that the PB’s actions were fully supported by members of her Council of Advice.

I grant that this is a difficult situation but I fail to see what is being accomplished in these actions or in earlier ones, such as the PB’s “pastoral letter” that read more like a legal document than attempt to listen, mend fences, or pray for reconciliation.

Tobias Haller wonders whether the PB is jumping the gun. He points out that the canons require a written declaration of renunciation:

While I believe that Mark Lawrence has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, I do not think he has renounced his ministry, at least in the manner laid out by Canon III.12.7, which requires a written declaration to the Presiding Bishop expressing a “desire to be removed.”

If there is a way forward, or a Christ-like presence in this controversy, it seems to me the statements of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina are bearing witness to Christ’s reconciling love. Here’s a resolution passed by that Diocese’s Standing Committee on the situation: SC Ltr Res

Bishop Waldo wrote a pastoral letter. In it he writes:

Looking to the future, we do not know how things will unfold across the state. We do not know what individuals and congregations within the Diocese of South Carolina will do. We do not know how the leadership of The Episcopal Church will proceed.

We do know that friendships and relationships across the state will persist. I do know that I will stay in contact with my brother, Mark Lawrence, and those within this diocese who have appreciated and agreed with his theological perspective. I will also stay in contact and dialogue with those who have felt that The Episcopal Church has moved courageously in its theological developments. And, I offer my support to those within the Diocese of South Carolina who wish remain within The Episcopal Church. Both Bishop Mark Lawrence and Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori are aware of my offer.

My deepest hope is that in the long-term we, in our brokenness, will steadfastly hold on to the possibility of reconciliation and restoration, even if it takes us a generation. This is precisely the kind of dialogue to which our diocesan strategic visioning process calls us. I will continue to foster such dialogue and to be the bishop of all in this diocese, regardless of where members are on the theological or political continuum.

Therefore we must continue to pray for those whom we love and for those whom we struggle to love, whether they live within or beyond this diocese.

The complete text is here: Advent 2012 – for posting


Further Developments concerning the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina

The Presiding Bishop has written a “pastoral letter” to the clergy and people of the Diocese.

Dan Martins, Bishop of Springfield, has written a moving plea to both sides to step away from the brink. He adds in an update that contrary to a number of sources earlier in the week, the Presiding Bishop has not declared that Bishop Lawrence and the Standing Committee have vacated their positions.

Bishop Martins wrote:

To my beloved brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina, as you meet in convention this Saturday: For the love of God, step back from the brink. Lay aside that which is your right, in honor of him who laid aside everything for us, not counting equality with God something to be grasped. The entire Episcopal Church needs you, but none more so than we who have stood with you in witness to the revealed word of God and the tradition of “mere Anglicanism.” I am begging you: Do not abandon us. Let us together be Jeremiah at the bottom of the well, bearing costly witness to God’s truth. Let us together be Hosea, faithfully loving those who do not love us back, for the sake of the wholeness of the people of God.

To the Presiding Bishop: Katharine, for the love of God, step back from the brink. Rescind the announcements you have made about the offices of Bishop and Standing Committee being vacant. Give peace a chance. Create space for the seeds of future trust and love to at least lie dormant for a season in anticipation of future germination. When the Confederate dioceses formed their own church in the 1860s, the General Convention, in great wisdom, simply refused to recognize their departure, thereby greatly facilitating eventual reconciliation and avoiding the schism that other American Christian bodies experienced in the wake of the Civil War. You are renowned for your calls for nimbleness and imagination in the face of the challenges our church faces. This is the moment for you to exercise precisely that sort of leadership. The legacy of your tenure as Presiding Bishop will be written in the next three days. Will it be a legacy of juridical gridlock, or bold generosity for the sake of God’s mission?

Bishop Martins writes eloquently and passionately about the importance of the Diocese of South Carolina remaining in the Episcopal Church. I share his commitment to unity but am still wondering what the point of forced unity would be (or the legal battle set off by the diocese’s departure).

I got no dog in this fight: The Episcopal Church, The Diocese of South Carolina, and the end of denominationalism

“I’ve got no dog in this fight.”

It’s something you hear occasionally in the South, usually when discussing childish antics of politicians or conversations over community conflicts. Sometimes, it seems especially appropriate when looking at conflicts within or between denominations. It’s true for me in the ongoing tussle between The Episcopal Church and the entity that now calls itself “The Protestant Episcopal Church of South Carolina (well, it still claims to be the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, but now there’s also a continuing diocese). This is the pattern that has been followed in other places where bishops and dioceses have attempted to leave The Episcopal Church.

What makes this case somewhat different is that Bishop Lawrence and the Lawrencian Episcopalians claim that TEC has “abandoned” them. You can read about it all elsewhere. There are a number of purported theological issues at stake. The Lawrencians assert it’s not just about LGBT issues but about central matters of the faith like the uniqueness of Christ.

I lack the time or the energy to go into the details of the conflict, but it’s pretty clear even to an outsider like me, that none of this is going to end well. The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina has published a resolution urging Presiding Bishop Jefforts Schori and Bishop Lawrence to seek resolution to this matter that would prevent the imminent legal battle. You can download it here.

In an earlier post on this matter, I wrote this:

So why not stop it all now? Why not imagine what a church would be like that could allow those who want out to go, leaving behind all of those who want to remain in the Episcopal Church? Let them have their property and go their separate way. And after they go, let’s imagine what an Episcopal mission might look like in the low country of South Carolina–an Episcopal mission freed from the oppressive traditions of slavery, racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.

Why not put our limited resources toward that vision of a future church rather than paying lawyers and fighting to hold on to a vision of an eighteenth or nineteenth century Church?

… I’m still waiting for an answer.

Look, everyone agrees that mainline denominations are in steep decline. Most observers think that the idea of “denominationalism” is on its way out, that in a few decades the way congregations are organized is going to look very different than it does today. That’s probably true even of hierarchically organized denominations like the Episcopal Church. Our intellectual energy, our institutional resources should be focused on thinking about the future, experimenting with new ways of being together as Anglican Christians, locally, regionally, and globally. We are in the midst of transformation. What the future will look like is unclear, but it’s safe to say that in fifty years The Episcopal Church will look very little like what it looks today. Why bother protecting its turf now?

When will we abandon our efforts to protect our “brand” and get around to doing the work of the gospel?

… I wonder whether anyone will attempt an answer to this question, either.

“dreaming a new church into being” –and the Diocese of South Carolina

The official word is that the Title IV Disciplinary Board has certified that Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina has “abandoned” the Episcopal Church. The news article is here. Crusty Old Dean provides background on the notion of abandonment. He also points out that we’ve all seen it coming but no one seemed able to prevent it.

And now the war of words escalates.  Mark Harris asks Bishop Lawrence to admit he lied during the process that led to his consecration as bishop. The Episcopal Lead assembles the evidence pro and contra. The Diocese of South Carolina cries foul and criticizes the “assault” on their bishop.

I find it interesting that these events are taking place this week against a backdrop of the first meeting of TEC’s Executive Council after General Convention 2012. There were also stories about the work that took place this week: conversations about budget, mission, and restructuring. All of that talk about “putting everything on the table,” the end of Christendom, imagining a new way way of being church for the twenty-first century.

Ah, that word–restructuring. It seems to me that here is a prime opportunity to think creatively about structure, the way we do business, and imagining what a twenty-first century Episcopal Church might look like.

Here’s my question. Why not let the Diocese of South Carolina go? It’s been clear for at least a decade that they don’t want to be part of the Episcopal Church. Their recent actions suggest the plan is to incorporate as a separate denomination (The Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of South Carolina).

What’s coming next is years of litigation, increased acrimony, conflict played out in the press. The lawyers will make money; bloggers will get lots of website hits; there will be anger, pain, and bad publicity all around.

So why not stop it all now? Why not imagine what a church would be like that could allow those who want out to go, leaving behind all of those who want to remain in the Episcopal Church? Let them have their property and go their separate way. And after they go, let’s imagine what an Episcopal mission might look like in the low country of South Carolina–an Episcopal mission freed from the oppressive traditions of slavery, racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.

Why not put our limited resources toward that vision of a future church rather than paying lawyers and fighting to hold on to a vision of an eighteenth or nineteenth century Church?

So why not allow some experimentation with restructuring?

There’s been considerable debate in the Episcopal Church over the past few months about restructuring the church. The problems are clear. We can’t financially sustain the current structure of national church offices, provinces, dioceses, and parishes as they are currently conceived, and it’s not clear that the current structure, even if it were well-grounded financially, serves the current mission needs of the church.

So what to do? Bishop Sauls has offered his proposal, about which I’ve already made comment. Others have also weighed in. Currently, my friend Crusty Old Dean is putting forth a very thoughtful and provocative set of proposals: part I, part II, part III, part IV (I knew him before he ascended the heights of academe). I urge everyone interested in the future direction of the church to read carefully what he is proposing.

At the same time, in the Diocese of South Carolina, a certain restructuring is already taking place. Bishop Mark Lawrence recently issued quit-claim deeds to the parishes in the diocese, essentially granting them property rights to parish property (which canonically is owned by or held in trust by, the diocese). This move has aroused considerable anxiety and outrage among “institutional” (most of whom are progressive) Episcopalians. Mark Harris comments on developments here and here.

I find this response quite interesting. Given that the diocese as an institution is a relic of an earlier age, that the ownership of property is one of the most contentious (and expensive) issues in the conflicts within the church, I wonder what the harm is with making this change? It may go against the constitution and canons, but perhaps they ought to be changed, and indeed, Bishop Lawrence may be right that the current understanding is something of an innovation. Why use the heavy cudgel of authority and constitution to force compliance or membership, when we might all be better served going our separate ways.

One of the chief arguments in favor of restructuring is to allow more horizontal relationships across diocesan and provincial boundaries. Might there be a way that people who share theological perspectives might found solace, strength, and comfort, by creating bonds with like-minded people across the church, at the same time remaining under the umbrella of the Episcopal Church? In a sense, that’s what earlier efforts at providing alternative episcopal oversight to parishes that struggled with their bishop’s perspective were meant to do. No, it’s not a perfect solution. But the question may finally come down to whether the only things that unite us as a denomination are property and the Church Pension Fund.