In 2003, the Episcopal Church (USA) said to the majority of the Anglican Communion: "Goodbye -- it's been nice knowing you." The bishop whom ECUSA chose to confirm and consecrate, over the uniform objection of all the Anglican primates at the time, could not be admitted to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, or be licensed to preside at the eucharist in ECUSA's parent church, the Church of England. Likewise, he still cannot be welcomed as a bishop in twenty-two of the thirty-four provinces in the Anglican Communion (not counting the extra-provincial and united churches).
In 2006, the Episcopal Church (USA) said to the rest of the Anglican Communion: "We will urge our bishops and standing committees to 'exercise restraint' in confirming bishops who might upset you, but we cannot do any more than that. Nor can we be sorry if you were offended by our actions -- that is your problem." Some of the dioceses in ECUSA still were very piqued, and announced they would not elect or confirm any more bishops, straight or gay, until the voluntary "moratorium" requested of them by the Lambeth Commission was declared to be at an end.
By 2009, the Episcopal Church (USA) abandoned any vestiges of its so-called "moratorium." Despite a personal plea from the Archbishop of Canterbury, General Convention refused to extend even its resolve of "urging restraint. By the end of the year, the Diocese of Los Angeles had elected a woman in a same-sex partnership as a bishop, who then received the requisite consents from the other dioceses. Other clergy in same-sex relationships were nominated for the episcopacy, as well, and there is no longer any kind of limitation observed on episcopal candidates in a great majority of the dioceses. But Bishop Mary Glasspool, too, may not officiate in the Church of England, or in any of twenty-one other provinces of the Anglican Communion; neither will any others of her ilk, if ECUSA sees fit to consecrate them.
At the same time, ECUSA in 2009 decided (without advertising the fact in the least) to change the rules, and to make, starting in 2011, its diocesan bishops subject to the pastoral supervision and authority of the Presiding Bishop. When they learned what the new disciplinary canons purported to do, a number of dioceses, starting with the Diocese of South Carolina, refused to recognize General Convention's authority to change the rules without going through a formal amendment to the Church's Constitution.
In 2012, the Episcopal Church said to the Diocese of South Carolina: "Goodbye -- it's been nice knowing you." They adopted more changes to the rules, which they already knew that the Diocese of South Carolina could not, and would not, accept. Most of that Diocese's deputation to General Convention walked out of the gathering in Indianapolis, and its bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, informed the House of Bishops that he could not, in good conscience, remain in their company any longer.
The problem with ECUSA's actions over the past nine years is that it refuses to regard what it has done as in any way disruptive to the one, true, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ. It has asserted its power to annul and set aside the holy orders of bishops, priests and deacons who were each ordained, not into ECUSA particularly, but into that one catholic and apostolic church.
And as if in retaliation for the fact that its gay and lesbian partnered bishops cannot be recognized by most of the other churches in the Communion, or invited to the Lambeth Conference, ECUSA has refused to allow clergy from other provinces to serve in its dioceses (whether under letters dimissory or not) without their first renouncing their allegiance to the churches which licensed them, and then swearing a new oath of obedience solely to the "doctrine, discipline and worship" of the Episcopal Church (USA). Until recently, this was a one-way street, because in order to be released from that vow and be able to return to one's original jurisdiction, one was forced to "renounce" one's holy orders, and surrender "the gifts and spiritual authority . . . conferred in ordination." This anomaly was fixed only at the last General Convention, with the enactment of Resolution A030 amending the appropriate canons.
In sum, ECUSA has acted as though it was not in any shared relationships with the other provinces of the Anglican Communion. And recently, as pointed out above, it has begun to act as though it is no longer in any kind of shared relationship with its own member dioceses (except for those who agree with what it is doing internationally and domestically).
But to listen to those in ECUSA, it is the ones who reject its actions as unscriptural who have "departed from tradition," and certainly not ECUSA itself. Here is a dissident within Bishop Lawrence's Diocese of South Carolina who publicly puts the blame on him for the separation that has happened (my emphasis):
There are some who feel that the Episcopal Church has “left” the traditional church doctrines and polity. I am of the opinion that the leadership of this diocese over the past few decades has moved away from mainstream, traditional Episcopal doctrine and discipline.For an Episcopalian to maintain such utter nonsense is to show plainly how far removed from reality are those who are in charge of the Church, as well as all those who support the leadership's non-scriptural agenda. Oh, to be sure, they go through the motions of claiming that they are the only ones who are properly interpreting scripture, according to today's understanding of God's holy words, and they deck out their contentions with pseudo-scholarship and citations to pseudo-authority. But in the final analysis, all of what they are pleased to call "theology" comes down to this: "We know better than the rest of the church catholic. We understand the Holy Scriptures far better than those antiquated and hidebound church fathers ever did, or could have -- and the Holy Spirit is guiding us, not you."
Whatever could motivate a churchgoing and God-fearing Christian to jettison two thousand five hundred years of theology and orthodoxy in such an obstinate way baffles me. Their attitude leaves the rest of us with no choice: if we play along with them, we compromise our faith irretrievably; therefore, we must refuse to recognize what they do. They are fully engaged in writing their own judgment-book, and the rest of us can have nothing to do with it.
This is the dilemma currently facing Bishop Lawrence, and no doubt a good many (but alas, not all) of the clergy who serve under him, as well. As the chosen leader of his flock, Bishop Lawrence has the heaviest responsibility -- but the responsibilities of priests for their parishes are, though not as all-encompassing as the bishop's, nevertheless still every bit as solemn, and severe. As a lay person, I do not envy them the burdens imposed upon them by ECUSA's perverse and poisonous obtuseness.
Man is a fallen creature, and ECUSA -- just like any other branch of the church catholic -- is a fallen church. One cannot find perfection on this earth, no matter which church one joins, but perfection, as such, is not the standard. Rather, faithfulness to Scripture and tradition is. And by that measure, ECUSA falls far short of the mark. It is led by the false teachers of whom first Jesus Christ, and later his apostles, warned their first disciples, who then handed down those warnings to us.
Where can Bishop Lawrence go from here? Where can the Diocese of South Carolina go from here?
ECUSA has purposefully and heedlessly left them both with very limited choices. ECUSA simply does not care what it is doing to them. (It has far more important things to concern itself about -- things such as these.)
First, Bishop Lawrence could simply resign (but not without first obtaining, paradoxically, the consent of the apostate bishops who are driving him out of their fellowship). I do not believe he will do this.
Why not? Because it would leave his Diocese -- his flock, whom he has sworn to guide and protect -- at the mercy of ECUSA, who will seize any such opportunity to install someone much more to their liking. (Perhaps, just to rub it in, they would push forward one or more of their transgendered clergy from other dioceses, who so rejoiced at the remarkable contradiction which they maneuvered General Convention into making: "Every creature of God is good; hence partnered gays and lesbians make good bishops; but when it comes to transgendered persons, God somehow erred, and they know better than He does what they should have been.")
Well, what will Bishop Lawrence do, then? Although the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of his diocese lies heavily on his shoulders, the one thing Bishop Lawrence cannot do is to reach a decision on his own about the next steps for it to take.
He has to involve his clergy and his faithful parishioners in that process. (Those who are his adversaries, like Melinda Lucka quoted above, will refuse to view things from his perspective. Instead, they will continue, ad nauseam, to play the victim to the willing ears of the national Church.) Any decision for the Diocese as a whole can be taken only by the whole Diocese, and that will require time for reflection, deliberation, and careful listening.
The decision has to be the Diocese's as a body, but Bishop Lawrence has the responsibility to guide it into the right decision. They elected him as their bishop, and he must consequently advise and lead them. No doubt that is why he has first taken some time off to ponder the options in prayer and solitude. He must be firm and steadfast in his own resolve before he can inspire others.
There are of course many faithful leaders in his Diocese who will make themselves available when he is ready to hear and meet with them. And my hope is that some of his fellow bishops who voted against the unscriptural measures approved by General Convention will extend their hands to him, as well. Indeed, it would be far better if some other dioceses expressed their solidarity with South Carolina, and if they together faced down ECUSA's apostasy as a determined group, rather than just one of them by itself.
The days ahead will be momentous for the Diocese of South Carolina -- and for any other dioceses that undertake to find their way along the same path. All of us who can perceive the dilemma into which the activism of General Convention has put them must be ready and willing to help in any way we can, as well.
For my part, I pledge to use my legal abilities, and understanding of Church law and history, to assist anyone caught in this dilemma to gain a better understanding of its parameters, and of the options available for consideration. In the weeks and months to come, I will devote more and more of this blog to that endeavor (while not omitting, of course, to blog about and comment on the equally momentous choice facing the entire Nation this November).
There is much work to do. Let not your hearts be troubled -- for we know, if we work together in the abiding faith of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, that God's will shall be done.