Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bishop Lawrence Addresses His Diocese Following General Convention

The website of the Diocese of South Carolina is carrying this morning the text of a pastoral letter sent by Bishop Mark Lawrence to all of its parishes, to be read aloud at Sunday services. (A .pdf version of the letter may be downloaded here, or in a printable version here, and an abbreviated version -- authorized to be read in lieu of the full letter if time constraints require it -- may be found here.)

You should take note of the entire document, which speaks largely for itself. I wish to call readers' attention, however, to the closing two paragraphs:
This Monday afternoon I will be meeting with my Council of Advice. On Tuesday I will be meeting with our Diocesan Standing Committee. Then during the remainder of July I will be meeting with the deans and with clergy in various deaneries. Given these changes in the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church the question that is before us is: “What does being faithful to Jesus Christ look like for this diocese at this time? How are we called to live and be and act? In this present context, how do we make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age?” 
On the penultimate day of General Convention, in a Private Session in the House of Bishops, I asked for a point of personal privilege and expressed my heartfelt concerns about these changes. I listened to the words of others and then departed with prayer and charity. I left at that time because at least for me to pretend that nothing had changed was no longer an option. Now that I have returned to South Carolina it is still not an option. I ask that you keep me and the councils of our diocese in your prayers as you shall be in mine. We have many God-size challenges and, I trust, many God-given opportunities ahead.
The letter has already generated publicity in the Sunday edition of the newspaper having the greatest circulation in South Carolina; more may be expected in the coming days and weeks, and also in the national press.

Where things will go from here is as much up to the leadership of ECUSA as it is to the Diocese of South Carolina. Resolution A049 enacted by General Convention on proposing a rite for individual bishops to use in their own diocese to bless same-sex civil unions contains the following paragraph (my bold emphasis):
Resolved, That this convention honor the theological diversity of this church in regard to matters of human sexuality, and that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support for the 77th General Convention’s action with regard to the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships;
Bishop Lawrence has made known to the House of Bishops, and is making known today in writing to his entire Diocese, his conscientious objection to the action of GC77 "with regard to the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships." If the powers that be at 815 Second Avenue honor the language just quoted above, there should not be any attempts to discipline or sanction Bishop Lawrence for that objection.

Nevertheless, A049 is just a Resolution of General Convention, and so expresses its mind only at the time of passage. As such, it has no canonical force, and instead serves to estop those Bishops (including the Presiding Bishop!) who voted in favor of its passage from now acting contrary to their vote.

In related matters, it should now be noted that all of the ten Bishops currently serving, or just elected to serve, on the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, together with the Presiding Bishop, will be disqualified from participating in connection with either the pending charges against nine other Bishops filed on the eve of General Convention, or any charges that someone not estopped by having voted for A049 might try to file now. The reason is that the entire House of Bishops, including the Presiding Bishop, took part in discussing those charges, as well as engaging in a separate private conversation with Bishop Lawrence on his point of personal privilege, as mentioned in the last paragraph of his pastoral letter.

Canon IV.19.14 requires that any person on any disciplinary panel convened under the new Title IV "shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which his or her impartiality may reasonably be questioned ... [or] when ... the member has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding ...". This language should be enough to disqualify any episcopal members of the Disciplinary Board who sat in on the private sessions of the House of Bishops on these matters.

Finally, there is potential for a constitutional crisis of major proportions should anyone in the Church even try to proceed under the new Title IV with respect to anything that the Diocese of South Carolina or any of its clergy may do. The reason for that statement is simple: the Diocese of South Carolina has not adopted, and will not adopt, the new Title IV because it regards those Canons as beyond the powers of General Convention to enact and remain consistent with ECUSA's Constitution. (It also will not recognize the validity of the Convention's amendments to the Canons dealing with access to ordination and to all lay positions for transgendered persons.) As noted many times before on this blog, the Canons of General Convention are without any binding force on any Diocese that refuses, on constitutional grounds, to recognize their validity.

And short of a Constitutional amendment to make General Convention the supreme legislative and judicial authority in the Episcopal Church (USA), there is nothing that anyone in ECUSA can do about the right of Dioceses to judge for themselves the validity of acts of General Convention. It is the same situation we had in the United States when it was under the Articles of Confederation; Congress had no power to impose any of its laws on an individual State against its will -- because there was no Supremacy Clause in the Articles.

Indeed, it was by reason of their experiences with the stalemates thus generated between Congress and the several States that the Founders included a Supremacy Clause in the new Constitution drafted in 1787, and finally ratified in 1789. And tellingly, some of those same Founders chose not to include a Supremacy Clause for General Convention when they participated in 1789 in drafting ECUSA's Constitution, also adopted by the several Dioceses in that same year.

Finally, to clinch this point, historians of Church polity should note that General Convention did propose adding a "Supremacy Clause" to the ECUSA Constitution in 1895, but that proposal was shot down in flames at the General Convention of 1898 -- after the individual Dioceses had had a chance to review what General Convention proposed to do. (Back then, deputies sent to General Convention still represented their own Dioceses, and voted as the diocesan conventions instructed them to do. A good part of the reason that General Convention and the staff of 815, as well as all of the Church's multifarious Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards, are so disconnected from the pewsters back home is precisely that they no longer feel any responsibility but to vote and to act as they perceive the "Holy Spirit" guides them.)

If a collision is coming, it will have to be one that the national leadership has actively sought by its actions to date, and that it will seek by its actions to come. Will that leadership be wise enough to pull back before it commits itself to still more? We shall have to bide our time, and see.

In the meantime, please pray for the Diocese of South Carolina, and please pray for the leadership of our Church to see and to do the right thing. In this regard, what could be more appropriate than today's appointed collect?

O LORD, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 


  1. Yes, we will have to wait and see. It won't be easy. Given that is summer, there will be many who are ignorant of what took place at General Convention. Alas, there are still many who think the Church is their local parish and have no clue what is going on at he national level.

  2. Dale Matson, do you mean the lines from Beckett's most famous play?

    “Let's go."

    "We can't."

    "Why not?"

    "We're waiting for Godot.”

  3. AC
    That's good too. I was thinking of "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"

  4. It just dawned on me the wisdom of the strategy being pursued by Bishop Lawrence.

    Using the analogy of the Articles of Confederation, the Diocese of SC will have no need to withdraw from the Episcopal Church. Without a supremacy clause, the GC & national church have no legal means to impose change on the Diocese that the Diocese does not agree to.

    So the Diocese will valiantly and stubbornly remain orthodox, within ECUSA.

    Is that a fair summary?

    The catch of course will come when it is time to select a successor to Bishop Lawrence. What if, as the price of assenting to the new bishop, the ECUSA demands assent to the canon changes hitherto resisted by SC?

  5. Rob, very good -- you have understood the strategy exactly.

    By the time Bishop Lawrence is of retirement age, I expect that ECUSA will look very different and much smaller. And they will either have learned their lesson by then, or not.

    ACNA, on the other hand, may have gotten through its bumpiest years and by then be growing steadily.

    If ECUSA will have learned their lesson by then, then no problem. And if not , well, why should the DSC at that point want to remain with them, anyway? It would bring them nothing but more trouble.

  6. Can't Jefferts-Schori just declare (the Holy Spirit told her too...and no, of course she isn't a loonier version of Pat Roberts whom she probably despises with every breath in her body, etc.) that Lawrence has 'left the church' which is sort of similar (thought a touch different) to what she did with Iker, Duncan, and company. The main thing Lawrence hasn't done in 2012, that they did do in 2008, is join the GC of another Anglican province.

  7. TRR, +Jefferts Schori could do that -- she could take any number of written communications by Bishop Lawrence to his Diocese and claim, à la +Iker, that they constituted a "declaration [to her!] in writing of voluntary renunciation of Bishop Lawrence's orders in they Church." Such a leap of illogic would be nothing to her, nor would she show any shame.

    The only practical effect that would have, however, is to preclude Bishop Lawrence from attending any more meetings of the House of Bishops. And if they were not minded to reverse the PB's outrageous call, then he would be well quit of them.

    After that, she would have to declare the see of South Carolina vacant, and hold a rump convention. But any attempt to do so would be overrun by those faithful to Bishop Lawrence. Ultimately, I guess, the world could see the unprecedented spectacle of the PB (a) invading the DSC to call an illegal convention; (b) summoning security guards to keep out thousands of Episcopalians while the few hundreds comprising the South Carolina Forum met to organize and elect a provisional bishop; and (c) trying to announce the reorganization of a new DSC while being drowned out by thousands and thousands of real Episcopalians.

    And in the end, ECUSA's membership would have dropped by some 30,000 in ASA, or nearly 5% of the estimated current total, while ACNA's membership would increase by nearly 10%. What a great strategic move for her to make!

    Oh, yes -- almost forgot: and then the lawsuit would be filed to recover all of the DSC's bank accounts and property ...

  8. ASH

    All the lawsuit would do is further diminish (if hers can shrink further) her credibility because, unlike in Georgia, there are some legal rulings already in SC's favor...and all churches in the Diocese also have 'quit claim deeds.' Seems like she would have way more to lose at this point by suing the Diocese of SC.

    Of course, I've long suspected that the people at 815 (For Sale...maybe) just believe their own skewed press releases anyway. True believers.