Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Dueling Pastors

As the Special Convention called for the Diocese of South Carolina nears, both the leader of the Diocese and the leader of the national Church have issued pastoral letters. They attempt, on the surface, to calm the waters, but underneath each are stiff messages which show the resolve with which each side of this dispute is facing the coming confrontation.

Bishop Lawrence writes:
As I have stated at various deanery and parish forums in the diocese this present crisis was brought about through the convergence of three dimensions of our diocesan life and the national church’s leadership—theology, morality and polity. All three have undergone and continue to undergo revision within The Episcopal Church (TEC). This Diocese of South Carolina for well over a quarter of a century has steadfastly resisted these revisions as it has sought to remain faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them. While the “national” Episcopal Church has married yesterday’s fads and is quickly becoming today’s widow, declining in membership and resources, we have grown our parishes and diocese in faithful and relevant ways. When we have had large parishes separate from us, such as All Saints’ Pawleys Island and St. Andrew’s Mt Pleasant, it has been because of disagreement with TEC not the direction of the diocese. We have sought to conserve the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles while embracing both innovative and traditional ways to make him known and worshipped in today’s world of the 21st century. We shall continue to do this in keeping with our diocesan vision— To Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age.

... Nevertheless, you need to know that the national leadership of TEC is taking steps to undermine this diocese. What we are faced with is an intentional effort by the ill-advised TEC organization to assume our identity, one that we have had since 1785. Pastorally it is hard to imagine what would drive former parishioners to such lengths except an agenda put forward by TEC’s national litigation strategy team which has been used in other locations in similar ways when faithful dioceses and parishes have left TEC. While I am saddened that several are friends with whom I have worked side by side in various committees or projects, I cannot agree with their decision to undermine the life of this Diocese of South Carolina or my leadership as bishop. This misuse of the diocesan seal and the diocesan name is a denial of the good faith and fair dealing expected of all institutions engaging either in public communication or commerce. It is especially disconcerting for those who profess and call themselves Christians. Not only is it morally questionable; it is something for which they can be held accountable.
And Bishop Jefferts Schori writes (affecting the style of one of St. Paul's epistles):
Katharine, a servant of Christ, to the saints in South Carolina.

May the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus our Savior be with you all.

You and the challenges you are facing in South Carolina remain in my own prayers and in those of many, many Episcopalians. As the confusion increases, I would like to clarify a number of issues which I understand are being discussed.

1) While some leaders have expressed a desire to leave The Episcopal Church, the Diocese has not left. It cannot, by its own action. The alteration, dissolution, or departure of a diocese of The Episcopal Church requires the consent of General Convention, which has not been consulted. Examples of legitimate separation from The Episcopal Church include the dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, which separated from The Episcopal Church in 1990 to form an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. Another is the Diocese of Liberia, which moved from The Episcopal Church to the Province of West Africa, by mutual consent, in the 1980s. Both are now part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and continue in covenanted relationship with The Episcopal Church. Nothing of the sort has transpired within the Diocese of South Carolina.

The decisions “announced” by leaders in South Carolina appear to be unilateral responses to anxiety about decisions made by General Convention and/or the actions of the Disciplinary Board concerning Bishop Lawrence.

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed. If it becomes fully evident that those former leaders have, indeed, fully severed their ties with The Episcopal Church, new leaders will be elected and installed by action of a Diocesan Convention recognized by the wider Episcopal Church, in accordance with our Constitution and Canons.
This is boilerplate for 815, and comes straight from Chancellor David Booth Beers. The mantra about dioceses needing the "consent" of General Convention to disaffiliate is based on no language in the Church's Constitution or Canons whatsoever. During the Civil War, seven dioceses left the Church without asking or seeking any permission from the national Church to do so. Since then, a proposal to make General Convention the supreme authority in the Church failed to pass General Convention in 1895, and the subject has not been touched upon since.

Bishop Jefferts Schori's letter also takes the occasion to discuss the charges brought against the Fort Worth Seven and the Quincy Three, but again it adds nothing new (except to express the extraordinary opinion that "all involved see [the process] as a positive endeavor"!!). It reiterates that the matter is going through the new procedures under the amended Title IV of the Canons, but it fails to acknowledge her own improper role in that process -- improper, in that she is acting as a judge in her own cause. (The "offense" with which those bishops have been charged is, at bottom, their act of disagreeing with the Presiding Bishop -- and she gets to direct and control the disciplinary process.)

But she also makes a false appeal to parishioners' fear and misunderstanding about what is happening:
2) I want to urge every parishioner and cleric in South Carolina to recognize that, as long as you wish to remain in The Episcopal Church, no leader, current or former, can exile you, remove you, or separate you from it without your consent. That decision is yours alone. It is one reason why we have imposed checks and balances on the authority of members of the clergy, including bishops. In our tradition decisions about the Church are not made unilaterally.
Sure, Bishop -- sure: "decisions about the Church are not made unilaterally, but what about your decision to let the charges against Bishop Lawrence go forward on such flimsy grounds? And what about your decision to let the same flimsy charges proceed against the other bishops? Those decisions alone make a mockery of your so-called "checks and balances."

No one -- repeat, no one is threatening to "exile" (a strange choice of words for you, Bishop Jefferts Schori, who have seen to the exile of so many of your fellow bishops), remove or separate anyone from ECUSA without their consent. People may freely choose to stay, and it appears as though the Forum members and other Episcopalians will do so -- along with the rectors of some twelve parishes. She continues:
Bishop Lawrence was charged by several members of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina with having “abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church” by making or condoning actions which repudiate the polity (violate the canons or rules) of The Episcopal Church. These actions have to do with formally attempting to separate the Diocese of South Carolina, its congregations, and their property from the wider Episcopal Church without its consent. The Diocese of South Carolina is a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, and that status cannot be altered without the action of General Convention.

The disciplinary processes of this Church carefully considered the matters with which Bishop Lawrence was charged, and the Disciplinary Board found that he had indeed repudiated the polity of this Church. It then became my canonical responsibility and obligation to limit (“restrict”) his formal ability to function as bishop until the entire House of Bishops can consider these charges. Bishop Lawrence has an extended period (60 days) in which he can repudiate those charges, and I stand ready to respond positively to any sign that he has done so.
What's to repudiate? Bishop Lawrence did not pass his Convention's resolutions, or decide to amend its Constitution. As you pointed out yourself, Bishop Jefferts Schori, such decisions are not made by individual bishops, remember? And as for issuing quitclaim deeds to his individual parishes, Bishop Lawrence was following applicable South Carolina law -- a concept which appears to be foreign to you, and to those dissidents in the Diocese who think that your words are of higher authority than those of the State's highest court.

Her free legal advice to Bishop Lawrence's clergy continues in the same vein.
4) Clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina should be advised that they remain members of this Church until they renounce their orders or are otherwise removed by Title IV processes. They may also continue to contribute to the Church Pension plan until such formal separation. In any case, the contributions made while the member was active in The Episcopal Church remain vested in the plan and a pension may be drawn when the plan’s rules permit. The Episcopal Church will do everything in its power to support Episcopal clergy in South Carolina who wish to remain members of this Church.
Yes, we already know how this plays itself out. The Episcopal Church's benighted canons no longer allow clergy simply to transfer out -- if they belong to a diocese that disaffiliates, then the Church (once it gets a replacement bishop installed in the Potemkin remnant "diocese") goes through the motions of charging them with "abandonment", and then "deposes" them when they do not respond. It is exactly the same process that Bishop Lawrence is going through now -- only they have to "depose" him first, in order to make room for a replacement.

The dilemma here is brought about because the Episcopal Church, being organized under the laws of no individual State, has become too arrogant to imagine that it might have to subject itself to any State's actual laws. As a self-governing religious organization, it has every right to recognize as a "diocese" any group that it pleases -- even if that group does not go through the formalities required by Article V of the Constitution.

But any church group so organized and recognized still has to comply with South Carolina law before it can function within that State. If it wants to be incorporated, then it has to file its own articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State.

What such a group cannot do is appropriate the corporate identity of another legitimate South Carolina corporation, and hold itself out to others as that corporation. That is fraud under South Carolina law, and it may also expose the persons leading that attempt to criminal charges, if the local prosecuting attorney believes the conduct is egregious enough.

This is not rocket science, or even plane geometry. If a local businessman formed a restaurant corporation, bought a site, put up a building and equipped it, and affiliated his restaurant with McDonald's, and if twenty years later he decided he wanted to affiliate with Wendy's or Burger King instead, McDonald's corporate headquarters would not be able to swoop down into South Carolina, take over his corporation, its bank accounts and its property, and boot him out for having "abandoned" McDonald's. Again, that is elementary South Carolina law. "The law is not a respecter of persons" -- and it especially does not change just because some church is involved. Churches have to obey local law, just like anyone else.

So it sounds particularly hollow when the Presiding Bishop closes like this:
The Episcopal Church and its leaders are working hard to keep the doors and relationships open to all who wish to be part of this body. We are far from perfect, but we do believe we have greater opportunity for repentance and redemption in dialogue with those who differ or disagree, because we believe God is likely speaking through those around us. Together we pray in hope of discovering a fuller sense of God’s leading.
They are doing the exact opposite of what she says. The leaders of the Episcopal Church have already admitted that they are working openly to undermine and delegitimize the elected leadership of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. They will not be able to make their move until next March (which is when the House of Bishops meets), but they are busy laying their plans, and asking other bishops to come between Bishop Lawrence and his clergy. And some of the people they are busy talking to are, as already noted, skating awfully close to violating South Carolina law.

This confrontation is something the Episcopal Church leadership must be seeking, because they will not conform themselves to South Carolina law in order to avoid it. They will receive their comeuppance in due course, make no mistake -- but they will not acknowledge the hubris and bad legal advice that led to it.


  1. What are we to make of KJS's attempt to reach out to Bishop Martins about Mark Lawrence+, and to even sort of 'walk back' some of the actions that 815 has already taken against the Diocese of South Carolina? This seems new to me. Is she feeling some blowback, or is this just 'standard operating procedure' on the part of the 'Presiding Bishop' that I just haven heard yet?

  2. TRR, you might want to see this comment over at Bishop Martins' blog, and read through the rest of them there, as well. Then go to Bishop Martins' latest post.

  3. Hitler, Chamberlain, and the Sudetenland come to mind. Unlike Neville Chamberlain, we do have Neville Chamberlain as a cautionary example. (And yes, I know about Godwin's Law.)