January 5, 2012
Lawrence's Renegade "Diocese" Files Suit Against the Episcopal Church
Ex-Bishop claims $500 million in Episcopal Church assets and property belongs to him & his PECDSC Inc.
Only half of the parishes and missions & one-third of the clergy of the Diocese have formally signed on with Lawrence and his corporation
ST. GEORGE - After years of belittling Christians who attempt to resolve ecclesiastical matters in the courts, former Bishop Mark Lawrence filed a whopper of a lawsuit today against the Episcopal Church, claiming that he and his renegade "diocese" own all Episcopal Church property in the Diocese, including the seal and the names of the Diocese.
Lawrence's spokesman says the purpose of the suit is to protect parishes from a "blatant land grab," presumably by the Episcopal Church. No one in the Episcopal Church or the continuing Diocese of South Carolina has indicated that it wants to take anybody's property away from them.
However, Lawrence correctly states that the Episcopal Church has filed lawsuits in the past when rebellious leaders in other dioceses tried to make off with Church property that didn't belong to them. The courts eventually have sided with the Episcopal Church except in cases with exceptional circumstances.
However, Lawrence's pre-emptive strike has now put the property of every parish in the Diocese in play. Most of them had no idea he was going to do that. It's a high-risk play, for sure. If he loses, every one of the parishes affiliated with his PECDSC Inc. loses as well, and likely will not only have to pay everyone's lawyers' fees but pay back the continuing Diocese of South Carolina money Lawrence has been freely spending since he announced his departure from the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence likely knows his claim is shaky, but with a lawsuit of this magnitude, he may be hoping to force the Church to negotiate a settlement with him before the lawsuit would go to trial. It would be the same kind of financial and property deal he was hoping to convince the Presiding Bishop to support shortly before he renounced his ministry in October. However, she has apparently told him neither she nor any Church leader is empowered to give away Church property, even to avoid a trial.
The best thing about the lawsuit is that it has finally made one thing clear: It's all about money and property, and always has been.
Lawrence says that the assets and property he's protecting in the lawsuit are worth $500 million. However, the ex-bishop actually signed away any legal interest in about $486 million of that amount when he secretly issued quitclaim deeds to every parish in 2011.
Lawrence's stake in this lawsuit is probably about $14 million in assets and property owned by the Episcopal Church and the legitimate Diocese of South Carolina.
Over the years, Lawrence has repeatedly castigated those who would use the legal system in resolving matters of faith. You can read his ten-page spiritual and Biblical justification -- with a major serving of crow -- on why he now thinks the Courts should give him the $14 million, and his followers the $486 million in Church assets and property they want here.
Meanwhile, the ex-bishop continues to pay lavishly for legal help. He has spent nearly $500,000 on legal fees since he became bishop five years ago (not including this lawsuit), even though there were no active court cases involving the Diocese during that time.
In 2010, Lawrence went ballistic when the Episcopal Church retained a former Chancellor of the Diocese to monitor actions being taken by Lawrence that might affect Church property. He criticized the Presiding Bishop and denounced the Church for relying on a lawyer instead of more pastoral approaches to congregations blatantly trying to grab property they did not own.
According to the lawsuit filed today, nearly twenty high-priced lawyers appear to have been hired by Lawrence and the PECDSC Inc. to serve on their legal team.
Fact or Fiction?
The PECDSC Inc. makes a number of wild claims as part of the lawsuit. Here are a few of them mentioned in a bizarre news release it issued today:
On forcing us to like homosexuals. The ex-bishop says "Like our colonial forefathers, we are pursuing the freedom to practice our faith as we see fit, not as it is dictated to us by a self-proclaimed religious authority who threatens to take our property unless we relinquish our beliefs."
In Lawrence-speak, "our beliefs" is code for treating homosexuals differently than heterosexuals. Lawrence believes the Kingdom of God is available only to heterosexuals or homosexuals trying to turn themselves into heterosexuals. Lawrence describes this peculiar way of expressing himself as "my nuanced manner of speaking".
In the lawsuit, Lawrence offers no evidence that the Episcopal Church is trying to force its "beliefs" on anyone in South Carolina, much less take their property away because of them.
Actually, the Episcopal Church has no power to force anyone in South Carolina to care about anyone they fear because of their "beliefs". The Diocese learned that lesson in the 1950s and 60s, when racists parishes threatened to leave the Episcopal Church if its leaders tried to force them to accept African Americans. The Church was powerless to impose its liberal views on racial equality on any congregation anywhere, and those parishes were able to continue as whites-only congregations. Several of those same parishes signed on to the lawsuit Lawrence filed today.
One of the many ironies of this part of the press release is that Lawrence has always been critical of the Episcopal Church for not being more aggressive in requiring greater uniformity in its theology by its bishops and priests. Consistency in the world of the PECDSC Inc is not always particularly prized.
Presumably, the "religious authority" Lawrence is talking about in this part of the release is the Episcopal Church, the same authority that ordained him a priest and made him a bishop. Oddly then, the only authority by which Lawrence claims to be a bishop is that which he ridicules in his lawsuit and claims to be non-existent in South Carolina.
The authority of the Episcopal Church is hardly "self-proclaimed," as the PECDSC Inc. news release suggests. Lawrence's lawsuit goes to great lengths describing how its authority was originally created by representatives of Episcopal parishes in various states. In the consecration vows he made only five years ago, Lawrence seemed very comfortable acknowledging that authority, and publicly committing to uphold it as a bishop.
On the strength of the PECDSC Inc. The PECDSC Inc. contends that 22,244 of approximately 30,000 communicants of the Diocese have decided to leave the Episcopal Church and go with Lawrence, and that 1,900 are still "discerning" the path they plan to take. The remainder, it claims, has decided to stay with the Episcopal Church.
In filing the lawsuit, Lawrence and the PECDSC Inc. claim to represent the "vast majority" of baptized Episcopalians in the Diocese, when in reality the vast majority of these people has never been asked if they support Lawrence, much less want to be a part of a lawsuit. PECDSC Inc. head counters assume that if a rector of a parish supports Lawrence, all lay people in the congregation are on board.
No survey, vote, or head count on this issue has ever taken place in the Diocese.
Records show that only half of the parishes and missions in the Diocese have formally taken steps to join Lawrence. About one-third of the canonically resident clergy have publicly declared their intent to leave the Episcopal Church, but very few have actually felt strongly enough to resign as Episcopal priests.
On protected trademarks. Lawrence says in the lawsuit that the Episcopal Church and the officially-recognized Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is infringing on his legally-protected trademarks, including the seal and its historical names of the Diocese of South Carolina, which he says belong to the PECDSC Inc.
If the nose of the PECDSC Inc. was not already long enough, it really gets a real stretching when it suggests it owns the official names of the Diocese, like "The Diocese of South Carolina", "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" and the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina."
An independent inquiry of this claim by one of our readers discovered that only in November did lawyers for the PECDSC Inc. even file applications with the Federal Office of Patents and Trademarks for the rights to these titles, including trademark protection for the official seal of the Diocese of South Carolina. SC Episcopalians is still looking for a state-issued registration.
While the applications have been filed withteh Feds, there is no evidence that they were approved, at least according to the agency that has to approve them. You can see for yourself that they have not even been assigned to anyone to process them and are considered "pending." Click here to see them for yourself. (Oops! for some reason after publishing our story on the trademark applications Wednesday, their official status with the US Office of Patents & Trademarks changed from "pending" to "DEAD". Apparently they were withdrawn.)
In the Court of Common Sense, the seal, names, and anything else official that belongs to the Diocese of South Carolina belongs to the offically-recognized Diocese of South Carolina. That would not be the PECDSC Inc. However, Lawrence and the PECDSC Inc. need these titles to lay claim to the millions of dollars in Diocesan assets that are registered in the name of the Diocese of South Carolina, including those held by the Trustees of the Diocese.
On the "right" to secede. "The Diocese of South Carolina was established in 1785 as an independent, voluntary association that grew from the missionary work of the Church of England. It was one of nine dioceses that voluntarily joined together to form The Episcopal Church in October 1789, which eventually became an American province in the worldwide Anglican Communion, also a voluntary association."
Since October, the PECDSC Inc. has been engaged in amateurish effort to rewrite the history of the Diocese of South Carolina and its parishes as if the Episcopal Church had nothing to do with it.
The website Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul presents a tortured attempt at such revisionism as it tries to explain its history as a cathedral without reference to the Episcopal Church. One of the PECDSC Inc. followers has even gone on the Wikipedia website and revised the history of the Diocese that is painfully at odds with the truth, but quite consistent with the PECDSC Inc's alternate reality.
Lawrence's lawyers try to argue in their lawsuit that the "Diocese of South Carolina" existed prior to the formation of the Episcopal Church, joined it voluntarily, and has always had the right to secede. ("Disaffiliate" is the word preferred by the PECDSC Inc. since most South Carolinians remember that the secession bit didn't really work out well before.)
This is pure fantasy. The few individuals who promote this spin on history are not Church historians and are on the payroll of the PECDSC Inc.
The remarkable history of the early days of the Episcopal Church after the Revolutionary War was carefully documented by the Rev. Frederick Dalcho in his classic, “An Historical Account of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina”.
The Rev. Mr. Dalcho makes no mention of any "diocese" existing prior to the creation of the Episcopal Church, nor did the parishes in post-colonial South Carolina think of themselves as such. There was thinking that the parishes should also be quasi-governmental entities like they were under the British, and hence they met in official government buildings.
Collectively, these congregations were called the “Protestant Episcopal Churches in the State of South Carolina," not the "Diocese of South Carolina", and the principal reason they would gather was to work toward membership in a unified national Protestant Episcopal Church.
A diocese is an administrative unit created by a Church or, if you want to go back to the days of the Roman Empire, civil authorities. The purpose of a diocese in the Episcopal Church is to further its work through its parishes. By definition, dioceses do not exist independently, nor by does a diocese form without the involvement of the higher authority.
Dioceses are creatures of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. They did not exist prior to the founding of the Episcopal Church. The same is true of other “hierarchical churches” like the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Church of Christ.
In many ways the relationship between a diocese and the Episcopal Church is like a state to the Federal government. Once you are in, you are in. There is no exit clause or right of secession. The representatives of the Protestant Episcopal Churches in the State of South Carolina signed the Constitution of the Episcopal Church fully aware that there was no "out clause". The geographic area of a diocese was and is established by the Episcopal Church, not the Diocese, as the lawsuit suggests.
Unlike the Federal-state relationship, there are no special “rights” reserved for diocese as they are for states in the U.S. Constitution.
For example, governors of states are elected by the states in much the same way as dioceses elect their own bishops. However, people who are elected bishops cannot be consecrated or hold authority without the additional “consent” of a majority of dioceses and diocesan bishops.
In the Episcopal Church, geographic boundaries are established by the Church's General Convention, not by the individual dioceses. The Episcopal Church also has full authority to remove any bishop it feels has acted outside his or her consecration vow to conform to “the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church” without the agreement of his or her diocese.
On "disassociation". "Dioceses in four other states have disassociated over theological differences with the Episcopal Church in recent years.
This is completely bogus. In recent years, rebellious Church leaders like Mark Lawrence attempted to take four dioceses out of the Episcopal Church. Those leaders have long since been deposed, and are no longer in the Church. The Dioceses are still in the Church, and fully functioning, enthusiastically proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On being in the Anglican Communion.
Neither Mark Lawrence or the PECDSC corporation are in the Anglican Communion. His self-proclaimed membership in the Communion has no basis in reality. The only members of the Anglican Communion are 34 Churches descended from the Anglican tradition and recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
If one is an American, one can only be considered Anglican if one belongs to the American province of the Communion .. also called, The Episcopal Church. The only way one can belong to the Episcopal Church is to belong to one of its officially-recognized dioceses.
Lawrence is well aware that individual dioceses can not belong to the Communion separately from their province. Deposed bishops cannot belong to the Communion simply because they proclaim themselves to be in it, or generate letters from political allies claiming them to be in the Communion.
The press release announcing the suit can be found here.
If you need a full copy of the lawsuit, please email us at email@example.com