Wednesday, March 10, 2010

South Carolina: a Case Study in How to Tear a Church Apart

This will be another of those long, curmudgeonly posts. Rather than apologize, however, I make a plea to bear with me to the end. Most of you will not be familiar with the story I am about to tell. But once you know it, you will be far better equipped to form an idea of what is currently at stake in the Diocese of South Carolina. And once you have that idea, you will be that much better equipped to deal with what will likely be happening in your own Diocese before long.

For much of the background and detail of this post, I am taking as my source a book published in 2008 by Eugene N. Zeigler, Jr.: When Conscience and Power Meet. I find the title quite apt, for reasons that will appear below. Mr. Zeigler is a former chancellor of the Diocese of South Carolina who served under both resigned (retired) Bishops FitzSimons Allison and Edward L. Salmon, Jr. -- the two bishops who preceded the incumbent diocesan, the Rt. Rev. Mark A. Lawrence. He thus succeeded Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., about whom I wrote in this post, and was in turn succeeded by the current diocesan Chancellor, Wade H. Logan, III. I am integrating what I read in Mr. Ziegler's book with my other sources and previous posts, as I will indicate in the links that follow.

In the post I just linked, I traced the chronicle of the letters sent by former chancellor Thomas Tisdale, Jr. to the Diocese's current chancellor, Wade Logan, asking for data with regard to certain parishes in the Diocese, as well as asking (impermissibly, in my opinion) for a disclosure of Bishop Mark Lawrence's current plans with regard to those parishes -- some of whom have expressed their strong disagreement with the current program of ECUSA, and of its leadership at 815 Second Avenue, in New York. I narrated the reaction of Bishop Lawrence to those letters, and how he and the Standing Committee of the Diocese had decided to postpone the convening of the diocesan convention as a result of their having been sent.

Now the diocesan office in South Carolina has made available the text of certain resolutions that will be proposed for adoption at the postponed annual convention. In light of the letters sent previously, and the history I relate below, they make for some fascinating reading. The first resolution, proposed by various diocesan clergy, including the Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon, reaffirms that South Carolina is "a gospel diocese, called to proclaim an evangelical faith, embodied in a catholic order, and empowered and transformed through the Holy Spirit . . .". The second resolution has been proposed by the Standing Committee of the Diocese:

Subject: Response to Ecclesiastical Intrusions by the Presiding Bishop

RESOLVED, That this 219th Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina affirms its legal and ecclesiastical authority as a sovereign diocese within the Episcopal Church, and be it further

RESOLVED, That this Convention declares the Presiding Bishop has no authority to retain attorneys in this Diocese that present themselves as the legal counsel for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and be it finally

RESOLVED, That the Diocese of South Carolina demands that the Presiding Bishop drop the retainer of all such legal counsel in South Carolina as has been obtained contrary to the express will of this Diocese, which is The Episcopal Church within its borders.
So it has come to this. The Presiding Bishop's Chancellor, David Booth Beers, decided to investigate whether or not there were any grounds on which to certify to the Title IV Review Committee that Bishop Mark Lawrence "has abandoned the Communion of this Church". To that end, he hired a local attorney, who had previously served as the diocesan chancellor under Bishop FitzSimons Allison, to ferret out data and information which could be used against Bishop Lawrence. When this act became public, the Presiding Bishop saw nothing wrong with admitting that she had been contacted by certain "concerned" Episcopalians in South Carolina, and that she was reaching out to address those concerns, because she was afraid that those Episcopalians could not get correct information from their own Diocese.

In response, the Diocese will vote to tell her in no uncertain terms that as Presiding Bishop, she is entirely without any authority to act in the Diocese of South Carolina, unless it be at the request of Bishop Lawrence. There is no separate "Episcopal Church" (USA) inside the borders of the Diocese that is apart from the Diocese itself, and for which an attorney's services could be retained, unless the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese does the hiring. One would think that these propositions are self-evident, but not with this Presiding Bishop, who in the language of the Wild West from whence she hails, was described by Bishop Lee of Virginia, according to testimony in the Virginia litigation, as "the new sheriff in town." Just the fact that a Presiding Bishop could mange to have her role as Chief Pastor of the Church viewed as closer to that of a "sheriff" says all that need be said about what is wrong with the current leadership of the Episcopal Church (USA).

To appreciate fully the potentially serious consequences of the current moves, however, we need some background -- and that has helpfully been supplied by Mr. Zeigler, in chapter 31 of his book. There he relates his experiences when he served as chancellor of the Diocese of South Carolina. In 1985 Bishop Allison asked him to serve in that position as a personal favor, based on their friendship, but he remarks (p. 308): "It became one of the most tumultuous and demanding nonpaying jobs I have ever undertaken."

It did not become that kind of a job right away, however. In 1989 Bishop Allison announced that he would retire in 1990, and the Diocese elected Edward L. Salmon, Jr. as his successor. Mr. Zeigler compares the two of them in this fashion (pp. 310-11):
It is hard to imagine two men of more contrasting personalities than Bishop Allison and Bishop Salmon. Whereas Fitz is mercurial, energetic, and combative, Salmon is deliberate, contemplative, and conciliatory. Fitz has the jocular manner of an extrovert; Salmon's bearing has an aspect of old-fashioned gravitas reinforced by the presence of sideburns that would have done a nineteenth-century prelate proud . . .
Especially telling is his description of Bishop Allison's feelings toward the Church's national leadership:
. . . I discovered that Fitz has an abiding distrust of ECUSA, which was headquartered at 815 Second Avenue, New York City. The numerals "815" became synonymous with everything Fitz found wrong and perverse in the actions of the national church. I came to think that "815" had become the "666", the modern equivalent of the mark of the beast in the Book of Revelation. He frequently said that if I wanted to know what was wrong with the Episcopal Church, "look at the House of Bishops."
When Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina in 1989, it was particularly devastating in the areas north of Charleston, including Georgetown and Waccamaw Neck. A clergyman who came to prominence after the hurricane through his relief efforts at Camp Baskervill, adjacent to All Saints Parish Waccamaw, was the Rev. Antoine L. ("Tony") Campbell. When Bishop Salmon became the diocesan, he made the Reverend Campbell his canon missioner, and brought him from Camp Baskervill into the diocesan headquarters. Meanwhile, the rector of All Saints Waccamaw at the time was the Rev. Charles "Chuck" Murphy. These two clergymen, who had exercised responsibility in such proximity to each other, would provide the severest tests of Mr. Zeigler's professional abilities. (He notes with regret: "[T]he first instance [Campbell] strained my relations with Bishop Salmon, and the second [Murphy] put a strain on my relationship with Bishop Allison.") Understanding why that is so will provide some perspective to what is currently going on in South Carolina.

The first visible clouds on the horizon came with the diocesan convention held in March 1992. The Rev. Murphy was the chairman of the Resolutions Committee for that convention. Bishop Salmon had requested that measures of a political nature not be put to a vote in convention, because of their divisive tendencies. In his address to the convention, he spoke about his hopes for the Diocese, and also about his views that the House of Bishops "was moving toward healing theological and philosophical rifts in the Episcopal Church."

The Rev. Murphy and the members of his committee disagreed. Just three years earlier, a review committee of the same House of Bishops had rejected charges brought against the Rt. Rev. John Spong, of the Diocese of Newark, for expressing unorthodox views. Bishop Spong and his assistant, the Rt. Rev. Walter Righter, had gone on to ordain the Rev. J. Robert Williams of Hoboken, an openly practicing homosexual who promptly advocated, at a symposium on blessing same-sex unions, that "monogamy is as unnatural as celibacy", and that Mother Teresa "would be a better person if she were sexually active." Bishop Spong asked for and received the Rev. Williams' resignation from the ministry, but that did not deter him from ordaining another openly practicing homosexual to the ministry in 1991.

Partly to address the failure of the House of Bishops to control what they regarded as rampant heterodoxy in the Church, the Rev. Murphy and his committee parted ways with the understanding which they had earlier reached with Bishop Salmon that no divisive resolutions would be introduced at diocesan convention. They submitted Resolution No. 9, which Mr. Zeigler describes as "stating that scripture is to be interpreted in terms of apostolic teaching that affirms the Trinity, that Jesus is the only way to salvation, and that 'genital expression' is God's exclusive gift to married people" (pp. 313-14).

The introduction of this one resolution inflamed those who had proposed the other eight which the committee had tabled, and the convention devolved into exactly the shouting match which Bishop Salmon had feared. He tried to calm the waters by addressing the delegates as follows (as quoted by Mr. Zeigler [p. 314]):
This . . . illustrates what happens when you put people in a win-lose political situation. It makes enemies of people and it has just done that in this room. The amount of feeling people have about this has totally transformed this convention . . .

Everything was going along until you put a political resolution on the floor. All egos hit it. People began thinking about their own turf. It is this approach to doing the work of the Gospel that has practically killed the Church.
The Resolutions Committee withdrew to reconsider its recommendations, but it would not change its mind about Resolution No. 9. Eventually it decided to introduce the other eight to the floor as well. In the tumultuous session that resulted, only Resolution No. 9 and one of the other eight received majority votes. The local paper reported:
Soon, the convention was adjourned. The delegates, apparently stunned by the lengthy process and tension, quickly left the church. Few seemed pleased by the turn of events.
Bishop Salmon afterwards gave an interview to the same paper (the Coastal Observer), in which he spoke to the problems which Resolution No. 9 sought to address:
I think the theological issue of the uniqueness of Christ is something that a lot of people don't understand. When you try to put that in a simplistic setting, it sounds like we're saying there's something wrong with other people.

For example, I have respect for Judaism and Mohammedanism because of Christianity, not in spite of it.

So, if Jesus is the unique revelation of God, then He is unique. I also think that Jesus is not coercive. There was nothing coercive about the crucifixion. It's an act of inspiration, not coercion. There have been plenty of Christians who were coercive, but Jesus wasn't so.

The sexuality controversy is simply related to the cultural struggle we're going through now. We're living in a promiscuous culture that says sexuality is a right. Our culture doesn't understand the profound nature of human sexuality. There are some people who would like to see other people as fair game and want us to approve it.
In 1993, the Diocese of South Carolina rejoiced with Canon Campbell at his election to be suffragan bishop under Peter James Lee in the Diocese of Virginia. The joy was short-lived, however, as charges were soon thereafter brought against Canon Campbell, 38 and married, of having had relations with another man's wife while he was serving in South Carolina. The charges were first brought to the office of the Presiding Bishop, in New York. The woman's attorney wrote to the presiding bishop demanding that the Church pay $100,000 to his client in compensation, and also make a donation of the same amount to the non-profit organization for which she worked. Mediation failed to resolve the complainant's demands. Canon Campbell's attorney in the matter? Thomas Tisdale, Jr. -- the same former chancellor who would later write the controversial letters which provoked the current crisis.

Chancellor Zeigler told Bishop Salmon that the charges would have to be laid before the Standing Committee of South Carolina, to determine whether a presentment should issue. Meanwhile, the Presiding Bishop announced that the proceedings to confirm the election of Canon Campbell would be suspended. This announcement evoked a strong reaction among the clergy of South Carolina, who regarded Canon Campbell highly, and believed he was innocent. Fifty of them signed a petition addressed to the Presiding Bishop attesting to their belief. Thus when the Standing Committee issued its presentment, nearly half of the licensed clergy in the Diocese had disqualified themselves from any involvement in the proceedings, and Chancellor Zeigler advised them of that fact. He writes (pp. 317-18):
I became somewhat paranoid in my dealings with the clergy, for I sensed a smoldering hostility toward me and my effort to have Campbell tried. At one point a clergyman member of the Standing Committee asked that I leave the room where the committee was meeting so I would not be privy to their discussion. Under the constitution of the diocese I was a member of the committee, and I had a right to be present during their deliberations. I did not leave the room.

Another circumstance that complicated my effort to create a court and have a fair trial for both Canon Campbell and his accuser was the fact that Campbell was on Bishop Salmon's staff and his office adjoined the bishop's office. . . . I was working in the [bishop's] outer office [when] Archdeacon Jack Beckwith . . . came into the room and said, "Nick, I don't see how you can take so much time working on this case." I replied, jestingly, that I was counting on my reward not in this world but in the next. He responded, "You can't be sure of that either, can you?" I began to feel that in the eyes of the clergy I was literally the devil's advocate.
No sooner did the ecclesiastical trial court clear Canon Campbell than additional charges in the same vein surfaced, from other accusers. These were eventually settled. Canon Campbell transferred to the Diocese of Texas, where eventually, in 2004, Bishop Don Wimberly accepted his voluntary renunciation of the ministry "because of further difficulties similar to those in South Carolina," according to Mr. Zeigler's understanding of the story.

Differences between Bishop Salmon and the Rev. Chuck Murphy surfaced again at the diocesan convention held in 1997 at All Saints Waccamaw, and this time Nick Zeigler was caught in the crossfire. As chairman of the Committee on Constitution and Canons, he advised that the committee had recommended against passage of a proposed canon providing that clergy "abstain from sexual relations outside of heterosexual Holy Matrimony", on the grounds that it was redundant, as Bishop Salmon already required each and every clergy to sign a pledge to that effect. When this recommendation was questioned on the floor of the convention, Bishop Salmon stood down from the chair and went to the microphone to explain why he supported it. Chancellor Zeigler describes what happened next:
Suddenly there was a commotion on the floor of the convention, and I saw the Reverend Murphy striding down the center aisle shouting at Bishop Salmon. A bitter exchange took place between them with regard to what had been said while they were [both] attending the [General C]onvention in Phoenix [in 1991, where they had apparently quarreled]. It was never clear to me what the Phoenix conversation was about, but I gathered it had to do with the diocese's position opposing the national church on same sex relationships. At one point the Reverend Murphy said in a loud voice that reverberated throughout the church, "That's a lie!" The acrimonious exchange went on for several minutes before three hundred startled delegates.
Bishop Salmon thereupon left the floor, and did not return to resume his chair for about twenty minutes. Zeigler writes: "He gave no explanation to the convention or to me why he had absented himself. I sensed, however, that he was deeply hurt by the incident."

Matters came to a head with the enactment at General Convention 2000 of Resolution D039. Language had been proposed during its consideration which expressed the sense of the Convention "to support relationships of mutuality and fidelity other than marriage which mediate the Grace of God," and directed the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to prepare "rites . . . by which the Church may express that support." [Curmudgeon's note: this language was removed from the Resolution as finally passed. You can follow the entire tortuous route of the measure at this link.] Although both Bishop Salmon and his suffragan, Bishop Skilton, voted against the measure, its passage (Zeigler writes)
. . . was too much for Bishop Allison, who accompanied the Reverends Murphy and John Rodgers to Singapore, where they were consecrated as bishops by the Anglican bishops of Southeast Asia and Rwanda. Their actions signaled their allegiance to a movement named Anglican Mission in America (AMiA). Salmon ruled that Murphy was no longer canonically resident in the Diocese of South Carolina when he was consecrated a bishop in the Rwandan church. He agreed to give him a license to continue as a priest, but only as a priest, in the diocese.
The stage was now set, and the pieces all in place. Chancellor Zeigler describes what happened next:
In fall 2000 the AMiA Church, now a mission in South Carolina led by Bishop Murphy and part of the [Anglican] Church in Rwanda, was aiding an Episcopal parish in Morehead City, North Carolina, to break away from the Diocese of North Carolina. Preparatory to making the break, the parish vestry conveyed the parish property to another group and then announced that the parish was leaving the diocese to join the Rwandan missionary effort. The parish argued that since the canons of the national church that prevented this [the Dennis Canon] were not recorded in the courthouse, there was no notice to a proposed buyer that it was binding. When I learned what was going on in North Carolina, I became concerned that All Saints Parish, Waccamaw, might be contemplating similar action.

I discovered accidentally that the McNair Law Firm [founded by a former Governor of South Carolina] had been engaged by All Saints Parish to make an exhaustive title search of the records in Georgetown County. This caused additional concern because it is diocesan policy to have all parishes own their own property, subject to the constitution and canons of the diocese and the national church. There would be no need for one of the largest law firms in the state to do an exhaustive title search, unless the same tactics the AMiA was encouraging in Morehead City were being contemplated by All Saints Parish.

I telephoned Bishop Salmon and gave him my opinion that the constitutions and canons should now be recorded in each county where the Diocese of South Carolina had parishes and missions, beginning with Georgetown County. He agreed, and with his approval I drafted an affidavit that quoted the canons of the diocese and the national church declaring that all property held by diocesan parishes were held in trust for the Diocese of South Carolina and the national church.
The rest of the tale Mr. Zeigler has to tell, about the litigation resulting between All Saints Parish and the Diocese of South Carolina, which took ten years before it was finally resolved (in the Parish's favor) by the South Carolina Supreme Court last fall, is familiar to the readers of this blog -- see the posts linked at this page. What I would like to do here is to quote a rueful observation made by Nick Zeigler at the end of the chapter I have been citing (p. 325 -- written in 2008):
At a chancellor's conference in 2004, I stated that most Episcopalians in South Carolina did not want to leave the Episcopal Church, but "the Star of the West is getting very close to Fort Sumter."
It is ironic indeed that Nick Zeigler would invoke the specter of Fort Sumter in a book published just before the current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church sent her attorneys and investigators into the Diocese of South Carolina. One would think that she would be highly grateful to Bishop Lawrence for managing to hold his Diocese together after the fractures caused by the rift with All Saints Waccamaw, and the loss of the use of the Dennis Canon as a tool for intimidating the faithful in South Carolina. The parishioners of the Diocese have no sooner put that matter behind them, however, than the Presiding Bishop lets herself be seen further stirring up old divisions and strongly-felt emotions, with no evident clue as to her utter folly in doing so.

Alas, when it comes to the leadership at 815, one can but lament: what else is new? They must want it this way, and they will reap what they sow.


  1. I can't help but wonder if the PB and her chancellor realize they've lost the use of the Dennis Canon. I guess then, as I think you've said, they'll attempt to go after the good Bishop (Lawrence) himself.

  2. Curmudgeon -

    I have known Nick Zeigler for quite some time. I wonder if he now laments advising Bishop Salmon to file notice of the Denis Canon in all counties of the diocese?

    I have always been appalled that Bishop Salmon did as advised. I think it was an ill-conceived action. I will say, in +Salmon's defense, that he bent over backwards trying to accommodate All Saints Waccamaw during the years that the legal case dragged on.

    By the same token, I was puzzled by Bishop Allison's actions in supporting Chuck Murphy. I am afraid I still have no respect for Bishop Murphy and consider his deportment during this mess less than stellar. But the All Saints community has always had a mind of its own.

    I am afraid that the Diocese of SC is in for rough sledding. I think the leaders of the diocese have underestimated the lawlessness of 815 and are being very naive about the entire situation with the national church structure.

    It is sadly the case that a lot of people in the Episcopal Church within the Diocese of South Carolina are, in my opinion, not really that serous about their faith. If I malign anyone unjustly, I apologize in advance, but that is my experience, having lived and associated with people from all over the diocese for most of my 60+ years.

    This is a very sad time for my former diocese. I wish them well and will be holding them in prayer during the days to come.

  3. Dear Sir,

    Over on T 19, someone is saying that indeed TEC did join the appeal at the US Supreme Court.

    He used your name, but also said he didn't remember the reference..
    Can you elucidate?

    Grandmother in SC

  4. Grandmother, no, as of yesterday, at any rate, ECUSA has not filed anything in support of the petition for review of the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision in the All Saints Waccamaw case.

    My current understanding is that they have until next Monday, the 15th, in which to do so.

    I wrote about these proceedings in this earlier post, to which your commenter may have been referring. Back then, because of the deadlines as originally extended, I thought the deadline for joining in the petition was March 8, instead of March 15, and that may be the source of the confusion. What happened is the Clerk's Office at the U.S. Supreme Court did not get the case docketed until the 22nd of February, and that changed the deadline by which ECUSA had to file papers if it wanted to join in the petition.

  5. Allen Lewis,

    We too have known Nick Ziegler for years and we remain good friends with him and his wife. However, it must be remembered that Nick does indeed have a unique perspective on the lawsuit with All Saints. Does he regret doing what he did? I don't know. Does it matter?? FOR NOW, the question of the Denis Canon is a thing of the past and no longer relevant to diocesan affairs.

    I think you underestimate this diocese esp. if you have not been here for years. I believe the leaders are doing what they can to remain faithful to their mission ...which truthfully has very little to do with TECUSA and lot to with our Gospel mission. There are MANY who are indeed serious about their faith. Don't believe me.. just look at the overwhelming majority (80+ %) who passed various resolution at diocesan conventions. Hardly a bunch of episcopagans.

    SC Blu Cat lady

  6. As reluctant as I am to enter the fray here, I think that if the PB is concerned that Bp Lawrenceis not committed to enforcing the Canons, including the Denis Canon, it is prudent to retain legal counsel in SC. The resolution cited ny Mr. Haley seems to disregard the fact that the sovereignty of the diocese is not absolute - it is limited by the C & C of TEC.

  7. Fr. Weir, you are always welcome here -- have no fear. However, you appear to have missed the fact that the Dennis Canon cannot be enforced in South Carolina, because the South Carolina Supreme Court held that it was contrary to the (much older) Statute of Frauds. Thus "lack of enforcement of the Dennis Canon" would not be a charge that could properly be laid against Bishop Lawrence.

    A court in Indiana recently said the same thing about the Presbyterian equivalent of the Dennis Canon, and I will be writing about that soon.

    The resolution does not say anything contrary to ECUSA's Constitution and Canons -- it speaks of South Carolina as a "sovereign diocese within the Episcopal Church." And you should be the first to agree that there cannot be a second "Episcopal Church" within the Diocese of South Carolina. If that is the case, then how could the Presiding Bishop hire an attorney to represent it, and without asking the permission of the bishop of the diocese?

  8. I stand corrected. I did not have time to read your post - they are very long, but then you are a lawyer - and responded in ignorance.

  9. Although the US Supreme Court has declined to consider a California case, I hope that there will be an appeal to that court of the South Carolina decision.

  10. Whatever may be the outcome of civil litigation, the Canons mkae it clear that proceedings can be brought against a priest for “knowingly violating or attempting to violate, directly or through the acts of another person, the Constitution or Canons of the Church or of any Diocese...." I would suppose that this means that any priest in South Carolina who seeks to take advantage of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Denis Canon could still be guilty of violating the Canons. Would a Bishop who allowed such actions by one of his priests be in violation as well?