Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Brave Start

In a post last Sunday, I offered a "Modest Proposal" for orthodox dioceses to go forward within the Episcopal Church (USA). The gist of my proposal was that the orthodox plow ahead, keeping true to their own traditional path, and simply ignore the bureaucracy at 815 and elsewhere -- because the bottom line is that they can do nothing to a diocese that stays in the Church. Neither 815 nor General Convention nor the Presiding Bishop has any power to compel a Diocese within the Church to do anything. And if enough orthodox dioceses were to come together in a mutual protection plan, even threatened depositions could be effectively countered to the point where ECUSA would sink in a morass of litigation.

Now it appears that the Diocese of South Carolina might be embarking on the first steps toward such a brave strategy. Bishop Mark Lawrence addressed his assembled clergy today, and included the following statement of intention:

The Standing Committee and bishop will be proposing a resolution to come before the special convention that this diocese begin withdrawing from all bodies of governance of TEC that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture; the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them; the resolutions of Lambeth which have expressed the mind of the Communion; the Book of Common Prayer (p.422-423) and the Constitution & Canons of TEC (Canon 18:1.2.b) until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions. Let no one think this is a denial of the vows a priest or bishop makes to participate in the councils of governance. This is not a flight into isolation; nor is it an abandonment of duty, but the protest of conscience. . . .
Some have already questioned whether this means that the Diocese of South Carolina will be following the path of the Dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and Quincy. After all, one of the bodies that has given its assent to actions contrary to Holy Scripture is General Convention itself, and would not a withdrawal from General Convention be a withdrawal from the Episcopal Church (USA)?

Not necessarily. I do not claim to be privy to South Carolina's intentions and strategies, but like the next Episcopalian, I can read Bishop Lawrence's statement in context. Had he meant to propose a resolution to withdraw from ECUSA, he could have said so; but he did not. He spoke of beginning to withdraw from "all bodies of governance of TEC" which have assented to actions contrary to Scripture, to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as received by the Church, to the resolutions of Lambeth expressing the mind of the Communion, and to the Constitutions and Canons of ECUSA -- a comprehensive list. Then he stated "This is not a flight into isolation, nor . . . an abandonment of duty . . .".

There is no one at ECUSA, as I stated, who can compel the Diocese of South Carolina to send deputies to the next General Convention in 2012. By not sending a deputation, and by Bishop Lawrence staying away from the House of Bishops himself, the Diocese could in effect withdraw from General Convention without withdrawing formally from ECUSA. They could wait until 2012 before making any decision, and keep their options open until then.

South Carolina has no members on the current Executive Council, so it does not have to do anything there. And indeed, a quick check of national CCAB's (Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards) does not show South Carolina with members on any of the likely suspects for violation (such as the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice, or the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, or the Title IV Review Committee). As for the House of Bishops, none of its committees appear to include Bishop Lawrence, either. In fact, the overall paucity of South Carolina representatives on the Church's Standing Commissions, Committees, Boards and Agencies might even be deliberate, considering that their membership (other than the Executive Council) is mostly picked by the President of the House of Deputies or by the Presiding Bishop. It would appear that 815 has already largely distanced itself from the Diocese of South Carolina, making the task of Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese that much easier.

The Diocese of South Carolina might want to consider at least one amendment to its Constitution, however. For it has one of the more unusual accession clauses of any Episcopal Diocese:

The Church in the Diocese of South Carolina accedes to and adopts the Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and acknowledges this authority accordingly.

"Accedes to" -- that is standard. But "adopts"? Which version of the national Constitution and Canons can the Diocese be said to have adopted? After all, it was one of the original founding churches that joined to create General Convention by meeting together in 1785, and eventually signing on to the PECUSA Constitution in 1789. And just what is "the authority" of whichever version of the Constitution and Canons of PECUSA have been thus adopted? Unless they are the latest version, they cannot have much authority to recognize.

This will become an even more important question on July 1, 2011, when the changes approved to Title IV of the Canons at General Convention 2009 are scheduled to go into effect. For at that point the entire disciplinary structure of ECUSA will undergo a major transformation, and it will be important to see whether South Carolina will implement the required changes as well.

Until July 2011, any attempt to charge Bishop Lawrence with "abandonment" will have to be for "abandonment of the Communion of this Church", and not for "abandonment of The Episcopal Church", as I discussed in this post. And from the remarks he made to his clergy, it seems pretty clear that he has no avowed intention of "abandoning his duty" to the Church, but of fulfilling that duty as openly as possible.

Were the bishops to entertain such charges, they would be faced again with all of the issues that divided them on the "deposition" of Bishop Duncan. Would the Presiding Bishop still present a resolution of deposition if she could not get the consent of the three most senior bishops in the Church to inhibit Bishop Lawrence? And would she rule again that the "majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote" means just a majority of those Bishops actually present and voting?

If so, any such move should be taken as a signal by the last orthodox bishops remaining to stand together, or not stand at all. (For a starter, I would suggest that funds be collected to provide transportation to the House of Bishops meeting for as many retired bishops as necessary to defeat the resolution once and for all. Typically there are only around 100 bishops attending and voting on such measures. There are 200 more who could vote if they showed up. Not all will be on the orthodox side, but perhaps a sufficient number would join in a "Custer's Last Stand" against the tyranny of the Presiding Bishop.)

Bishop Lawrence's greatest danger between now and July 2011, however, will not be from facing charges of "abandonment", but of having the Presiding Bishop unilaterally declare one of his public statements to be a "renunciation" of his vows, as she most outrageously did with Bishops Iker and Scriven. Against such lawlessness there is scarcely any protection for as long as the members of the House of Bishops refuse to call her on it. The one difference in this case is that it looks as though there will not be any proposal before the Diocese to leave the Episcopal Church (USA).

So will the Presiding Bishop be so foolish as to try to make a move against Bishop Lawrence? She has certainly shown herself capable of being so rash. But if Bishop Lawrence immediately reaches out to the other orthodox bishops (both active and retired), and shows by his continued words and deeds that he is doing no more than calling his colleagues to faithfulness in the Church, then maybe -- just maybe -- he will be able to make such a move very difficult for her.

One thing is certain: Edmund Burke never said it, but it remains a true statement that "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."


  1. Thank you, Mr. Haley, for your thoughts on ammendments. You are a blessing.

  2. AC, I rather hope there is more to the "withdrawal" +Lawrence is proposing than you have outlined. Basically what you describe would amount to almost nothing more than a formal protest. Until +Lawrence declined to show up at next year's HoB meeting (and bishops miss those for a host of reasons all the time) it wouldn't even require an action or inaction. Will it really take GenCon 2012 before this withdrawal has even symbolic importance? People over on Stand Firm were talking about what a "bold move" this is and what outstanding courage it took to propose it. But if it just means not sending representatives to very occasional national church meetings that doesn't seem like an incredibly bold move to me. They may not actually even break any rules of TEC if you're right! (That is, if I understand you correctly.) If that is true how is this proposal more than just a hollow protest action? Apparently there are not even any committee meetings they are going to miss!

    Personally I hope he has something much more bold in mind than the limited action you outline. Will just not planning to send any reps to GenCon 2012 and not having +Lawrence to to HoB meetings really accomplish anything at all?

  3. I admire the bishop of the lower half of our state for taking this approach.

    I can almost hear the machinations as 815 as you know who conspires on how best to nail him.

    Let us pray for the people of the Diocese of SC that the Lord protect them from those powers that would do them harm.

  4. AC, I just want to really make sure I understand what you think DioSC may be up to. Re-reading your post, you propose that the first actual positive action DioSC will need to implement to make their new strategy more than just talk and +Lawrence not turning up for HoB meetings doesn't actually need to happen for twenty-three more months, when they decide how to respond to the Title IV changes? A two year delay before they actually take a real step to thwart TEC's designs beyond besides sitting apart in a metaphorical corner?

    I would think after all this build up such a two-year period of inactivity by the leadership of DioSC (other than more "strongly worded protests" for symbolic purposes, of course) would be completely demoralizing to the faithful. Can you imagine what would have happened if +Iker had backed away from decisive action and adopted such a policy after years of ever increasing "differentiation"? IMHO DioFW would have completely fallen apart if we had adopted the passive strategy you think DioSC may be implementing. I truly hope +Lawrence has something more up his sleeve than an announcement that they will sitting out a few meetings a couple of years from now. He and his diocese deserve better.

  5. texanglican, as I mentioned, I have no inside scoop on the DSC strategy. I was simply pointing out that 815 has already marginalized the Diocese on the official CCABs of the Church, and so there is not much that Bishop Lawrence can actually have the Diocese withdraw from for the time being -- except that he could start refusing to attend the next HoB meeting in September, and thereafter.

    That is not to detract from the boldness of this move in the slightest. By going forward as a Diocese as though 815 itself were irrelevant (which it now is, as far as orthodox dioceses are concerned), South Carolina will show the way for others to follow.

    Some have speculated that there may already be a Communion Partners strategy in place, and that South Carolina is simply in the vanguard. I have no information about that, either, but it would be marvelous if this is the opening move in a coordinated strategy. Some such coordination will have to occur if South Carolina is not to become even more isolated. There are other orthodox dioceses with more representation on the CCABs -- and so if they start to pull out in sympathy with DSC, then there will be something to celebrate.

    Keep your powder dry. This is just one of many fronts on which a backlash is building up against 815's tactics, which are going to end up costing the Church tens of millions of dollars with little to show for it.

  6. Anglican Curmudgeon: "Neither 815 nor General Convention nor the Presiding Bishop has any power to compel a Diocese within the Church to do anything.


    So will the Presiding Bishop be so foolish as to try to make a move against Bishop Lawrence? She has certainly shown herself capable of being so rash."

    I'd be quite surprised if she didn't make a move against Bishop Lawrence. Furthermore, as a matter of principle, I wouldn't be opposed to the PBess making a move against Bishop Lawrence either.

    As I have written elsewhere, if the situation was reversed, i.e., the PB and 815 were "conservative" and "orthodox" and there was a liberal revisionist bishop doing what +Lawrence is doing, discipline would likely be sanctioned and authorized by conservatives. If so, then turnabout is fair play, and it should not surprise anyone when the PBess and her cronies seek ways around the canons to discipline +Lawrence.

    FWIW, although +Pike, +Spong, and +Righter did not do what +Lawrence is doing, they all should have been disciplined, deposed, and defrocked (at least from a conservative perspective).

    In view of the possibility of 815 instituting disciplinary, and possibly litigious action against +Lawrence and DioSC, is this really such a good and desirable "inside" strategy?

  7. I really didn't mean any disrespect to the good bishop, Mr. Haley. It's just that there was so much enthusiasm over at Stand Firm, as if this were striking out on a bold new course (your own title calls it "a brave start"), I felt the need to point out that the only actions proposed are largely symbolic. In practice over the next three years the "brave start" appears to amount to little more than voting to endorse the Covenant, +Lawrence boycotting HoB meetings, and otherwise tending to local affairs as they see fit without regard to the wishes of 815. This strikes me as an amazingly limited and cautious response to GenCon 09, not a bold one.

    BTW, the policy of a diocese doing what it thinks is right without regard to the Presiding Bishop's wishes is nothing new. We in Dio Fort Worth did that in practice for twenty years before we left! I guess I had just hoped for something more following the debacle in Anaheim than "let's tend to the proper business of the Church locally and ignore the PB."

    And of course, none of this changes the fact that whenever Bishop Lawrence leaves office (hopefully many years from now, but once never knows for sure) the heretical leadership majority of TEC will still have an absolute veto over whomever their next bishop will be. I am completely convinced that there can be no long-term survivability for orthodoxy within TEC. The consent process for bishop-elects means DioSC's doom is sure as long as they remain under the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Sad.

  8. TU&D, and texanglican - I think we agree that if he does this all alone, Bishop Lawrence will make himself a sitting duck. What I was encouraged by were the comments by Prof. Seitz over at T19 which seemed to indicate that this was only the first move in a coordinated strategy designed to get the ball rolling -- hence my title, "A Brave Start". It is still only a start, but there always has to be a pioneer who takes the first arrows.

    There remain perhaps at most twenty dioceses in ECUSA who could be counted on to lend support to the DSC. (Some of those are dependent on 815 for subsidies, so I do not pretend that this will not be difficult -- but with proper coordination, it can get done.) If they do not begin to do so, then this "brave start" will indeed have been in vain. But if they collectively withdraw their representation from the CCABs, and offer support (as friends of the court or otherwise) resisting lawsuits where the PB is trying to assert a claim of hegemony over the whole Church, then it will have been a brave start indeed.

    I was not reading you as disparaging DSC or Bishop Lawrence, texanglican. It is perfectly true, as I found out after looking at all the CCAB membership rosters (and I have not looked yet at the new ones resulting from the elections at GC 2009), that the moves the Diocese can make on its own to distance itself from 815 while not formally withdrawing from ECUSA are limited. That is why it will have to be the collective actions of the other orthodox dioceses which will have to make a difference.

    As far as twenty years down the line is concerned, I think it is a safer prediction that the current PB will have bankrupted the national Church by then, and that DSC can replace Bishop Lawrence, if they have to, at that time by having the consecrations carried out by bishops not in ECUSA, if what is left of that organization by then is still ultra-liberal. There will come a time when it will be perfectly safe for an orthodox diocese to leave ECUSA without fear of litigation, because by then the precedent of leaving will have been established in the courts (another prediction, I know -- I had better stop).

  9. AC, I agree with you rather than DVirtue's broadside against Bp. Lawrence.

    Isn't it a legal rule that "possession is 9/10 of the law." So if SC and Central Florida and the other dioceses repudiate the national church actions, what can be done against them?

    As you said, TEC can't afford to sue another 10 dioceses. And it's much easier for a bishop to say "we'll choose the Anglican Communion over TEC's aberrant doctrine" than to exit TEC and thus invite a full legal war from Master Beers.

  10. A.S. Haley: "So will the Presiding Bishop be so foolish as to try to make a move against Bishop Lawrence? She has certainly shown herself capable of being so rash."

    Will she think that +Lawrence has upheld his promise back in 2007 (made after his initial election had been rejected) that “I will make the vows of conformity as written in the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution & Canons, (III.11.8). I will heartily make the vows conforming ‘…to the doctrine, discipline, and worship’ of the Episcopal Church, as well as the trustworthiness of the Holy Scriptures. So to put it as clearly as I can, my intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church.”

    And speaking of the Book of Common Prayer that +Lawrence references, there is a page 518 that states:

    "Bishop: “Will you share with your fellow bishops in the government of the whole Church; will you sustain your fellow presbyters and take counsel with them; will you guide and strengthen the deacons and all others who minister in the Church?”

    Answer: “I will, by the grace given me.”