October 15, 2010
"Reconvened" 2010 Convention Approves Changes
Allowing Possible Secession Attempt next Spring
Presiding Bishop "grieves" that Lawrence and his supporters
have misinterpreted her "concern... as aggression"
Traditional Episcopalians Challenge Bishop's Authority to Call a "Re-convention"
The re-convened 2010 Annual Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina, convinced that the leadership of the Episcopal Church is out to get its separatist Bishop, easily approved six controversial resolutions altering the Diocese's Constitution and Canons as a prelude to a potential departure from the national Church next spring.
Delegates left the convention unsure about exactly what they had done, but convinced that whatever they did was the right thing. Some thought they'd voted to leave the national Church. Others said they'd voted to leave the Church next February, while still others insisted they did nothing that would change the relationship of the Diocese to the Episcopal Church.
Most delegates accepted the claims of Diocesan leaders that the national Church is looking to depose Bishop Lawrence. Many suggested that proposed revisions to Article IV of the national Church's Constitution are aimed at him, even though they have been in the works since long before he became a bishop.
One delegate representing a traditional Episcopal parish described as "fantasy" Diocesan leaders' depiction of the attitude of national Church toward the Diocese. Since 2003 the Diocese has been engaged in an imagined culture "war' with Church leaders, when a majority of dioceses & bishops consented to the election of a gay man as a bishop.
Charleston attorney and delegate Rob Wendt said after the convention, "It's clear that these resolutions are an implicit intent to separate from the Episcopal Church, although the diocesan leadership all state that they have no such intention."
Wendt is senior warden of Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston. Traditional Episcopalians at the convention were in agreement with his characterization of the convention as taking all necessary steps to leave the national Church while saying that it wasn't.
Presiding Bishop responds. When she was informed of the convention's actions, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said "I grieve these actions, but I especially grieve Bishop Lawrence's perception of my heartfelt concern for him and for the people of South Carolina as aggression. I don't seek to change his faithfully held positions on human sexuality, nor do I seek to control the inner workings of the diocese. I do seek to repair damaged relationships and ensure that this church is broad enough to include many different sorts and conditions of people. South Carolina and its bishop continue in my prayers."
Lawrence reported to the delegates that the Presiding Bishop had encouraged other bishops to talk with him, that he had spoken directly with her months ago, and that those conversations "did not bode well" for his continued episcopate.
SC Episcopalians has spoken with bishops and others close to the House of Bishops who report that bishops have been trying to determinate what he wants. One source said that when Lawrence has spoken with fellow bishops about his intentions they say "he is evasive, vague, and resists giving direct answers."
Delegates were unclear about legal implications of their actions. The most troubling part of the convention was the lack of understandable legal guidance on the consequences of approving the six resolutions. Explanations of the resolutions provided the delegates were overly simplistic, often failing to convey the full import of legal problems down the road.
During the convention, Lawrence and other Diocesan leaders frequently referred to a recent ruling by the SC Supreme Court, explaining that these resolution were all about conforming to the ruling. They did not mention that the SC ruling runs counter to a string of current Federal Court rulings, and likely will not withstand a future legal challenge. In fact, the Supreme Court in Georgia only last spring rejected unanimously the reasoning of the SC Court.
One delegate asked if "they" would be able to take the diocesan camp and conference center on Seabrook Island when they left. Lawrence responded with an assurance that the national Church's legal claim to Diocesan property only extended to parishes and missions.
The Diocesan Chancellor Wade Logan was not in attendance, but in comments to SC Episcopalians after the convention Bishop Lawrence emphatically rejected rumors that he had lost confidence in him in favor of Alan Runyon, a Beaufort attorney who is legal counsel to the Standing Committee. The Bishop dismissed such speculation as "sheer nonsense," professing full confidence in Mr. Logan, a well-respected attorney from Charleston.
Visitors, including the news media, were not allowed in the convention hall and were relegated to viewing the proceedings via closed circuit television. Audio was so bad that no one could hear any of the roll call votes, or most speakers.
Read story on Episcopal Cafe.
September 25, 2010
Loyal S.C. Episcopalians Call for Investigation of the
Diocese of South Carolina; Bishop Lawrence Responds
Episcopal Forum charges renegade Bishop has violated his vows
Diocesan leadership presses on with plans for unauthorized convention to illegally consider secession
Loyal Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina this week pleaded with Church leaders to formally investigate current efforts of Bishop Mark Lawrence and his Standing Committee to effectively sever ties between the Diocese and the Episcopal Church.
In a dramatic letter to the Church's Executive Council and House of Bishops, the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina claimed that Lawrence has abdicated his obligations as bishop in the Church by failing to act against parishes in rebellion and defend the diocese from those trying to walk away with its property.
The organization claims Lawrence's goal is the “alienation and disassociation of the Diocese of South Carolina from the Episcopal Church."
Earlier this month Lawrence, who maintains the Diocese is “sovereign," asked delegates to last spring's Annual Convention to reconvene on October 15th and ratify six resolutions that effectively repeal a critical “accession” clause in the Diocesan Constitution required for membership in the Episcopal Church.
Without such a clause, a diocese forfeits it right to own Episcopal Church property and leaves the status of its clergy as Episcopal priests in limbo.
Read the letter from the Episcopal Forum to Episcopal Church leaders
On Friday Lawrence issued a response to the Forum’s accusations.
His comments were more evasive than specific, except that he made clear that he is putting all his marbles on a recent oddball ruling by the S.C. Supreme Court that seemed to deny the legal status of the Episcopal Church as “hierarchical.” Without such status, it is arguable that the national Church can not lay claim to the assets of a diocese of parishes that choose to leave the Church.
Read Bishop Lawrence's response to allegations raised in the Forum's letter
The ruling, which runs counter to recent Federal rulings and precedents in nearly every other state, essentially says that the Diocese is much like a non-profit association whose member parishes are free to join or withdraw as they’d like.
At some point the matter will be resolved by the Federal Courts, which are unlikely to sustain the reasoning of the state’s Supreme Court. Just last spring the Supreme Court in neighboring Georgia unanimously rejected the approach taken by the South Carolina Court.
The 2010 Diocesan Re-Convention is only the latest in a series of meaningless gestures by the Diocese. Leaders of the Diocese have spent years railing against the "unBiblical" leadership of the Episcopal Church, grandstanding for right-wing allies in the Anglican Communion and basking in media attention.
The proposed "re-convention" and the six resolutions proposed by the Standing Committee are the latest in a succession of reckless behaviors concocted by Lawrence to provoke a confrontation with the national Church. As with other Conventions, wavering clergy have been told their votes on the resolutions and those of their parishes are a test of loyalty to the Bishop. Failing the test will have consequences.
In those conventions delegates were seldom given anything anything but the Standing Committee's perspective on issues and often voted blindly following whatever instructions they were given.
Lawrence's pretext for this current outburst is a revision of an Article in the Episcopal Church's Constitution regarding the disciplining of bishops and clergy. Each diocese has been asked to approve it, and most have without much comment.
While the Diocese offered no objection when it was considered at last year's General Convention, it now claims the revised language is now an attack targeted at our leadership. The six resolutions, according to Lawrence and the Standing Committee, will offer us some kind of "protection" against some lurking evil.
The is a standard approach taken by Lawrence and the Standing Committee when they want Diocesan conventions to walk the plank with them It is usually accompanied with a not so subtle they're-out-to-get-us kicker.
Last year, for example, the national church retained a S.C. attorney to monitor the behavior of the Diocese, when Diocesan leaders refused to keep the Church informed of secret negotiations to give away Church property to a rebellious parish. When he found out, Bishop Lawrence went postal, claiming the action was some sort of an "incursion" into the "sovereign authority" of the Diocese, whatever that is.
Title IV: Learn more about the pretext that Lawrence is using
The proposed resolutions have set off a firestorm in local parishes who were not warned in advance that Lawrence would try to pull out of the Episcopal Church in a matter of a few weeks. Many have not had time to consider implications, including the effect on the title to their property and the status of their clergy as Episcopal priests.
There are also many unanswered questions about the legitimacy of the Diocese calling such a "re-convention", and whether it can even consider changes to the Diocesan Constitution. Similarly, it is not clear that people on the Standing Committee who produced the resolutions even have any authority to be voting since their terms expired last March.
What will the Episcopal Church do? So far, the national Church has let the leaders of the Diocese make a fools of themselves on their own with the hope that the lay people would eventually wake up and reclaim what is left of the Diocese. If they even think about the Diocese of South Carolina, most Church leaders dismiss its antics as misguided and largely inspired by homophobia.
However, that may soon come to an end. Approval of the resolutions would leave the national Church with no choice but to do something it really doesn't want to do.
By ending its relationship with the national Church, the Diocese forces the question of who owns the assets of the Episcopal Church in what would become the former diocese. That will most likely have to be resolved in a Court.
However, the decision by a bishop or priest to openly reject his or her sacred vows upholding the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church would be a matter for the wider Church. The current Presiding Bishop and House of Bishops take matters of sacred oaths seriously, and they do have the authority to depose any bishop or defrock any priest who violates such an oath.
Fortunately for the Diocese, national Church leaders see that as a last, and least desirable outcome. However, recent precedents in other rebellious dioceses like Quincy and San Joaquin suggest the national Church can move pretty fact once the bishop and his priests decide they want out.
Lawrence's credibility with fellow Bishops sinks as one-time supporters say he misled them to get get their consent to his election. In Lawrence's case, his support of the six resolutions is a clear violation of personal assurances he made at the time of his election to dozens of bishops to remain in the Episcopal Church. Without that pledge, he would not have gained the support of the required majority of bishops and standing committees he needed to be consecrated.
Doubtless, he will continue to argue with his famous pretzel-like logic that he is not advocating he Diocese leave the national Church. However, that is not likely to compensate for the personal sense of betrayal felt by many mainstream bishops who told their standing committees that Lawrence had given them a commitment of loyalty to the Church.
One liberal priest who was personally assured that Lawrence would not try to take the Diocese out of the Church told SC Episcopalians:
"Most of us remember the protestations of Bishop Lawrence when questioned about his continued loyalty to the Episcopal Church -- and the efforts of several of us in his behalf, having been assured in private conversations that he would remain loyal to the discipline, doctrine, and worship of the Episcopal Church. Apparently those protestations are not remembered by him.
"If Bishop Lawrence does not publicly denounce these resolutions at the convention, then he should offer a public apology to me and others who supported his consecration as well as to all the standing committees which voted in favor of his consecration ... Then he should resign as bishop
March 25, 2010
Convention Backs Bishop's Shadowbox "War"
with Imagined Enemies in the Church
Ignoring financial crisis and historic challenge to the Diocesan
Constitution & Canons, delegates feast on righteous indignation
Convention hands unprecedented power to Lawrence, relegating laity and future conventions to rubber stamps
Delegates to Friday's Diocesan Convention rallied behind Bishop Mark Lawrence in his ongoing “war” against the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and its long-time lawyer, Chancellor David Beers by giving overwhelming approval to a series of controversial resolutions that would appear to strengthen Lawrence's hand.
In an extraordinary move, delegates also voted to give the Bishop unprecedented authority as the final word on the interpretation of Diocesan Constitution and Canons, reducing the role of the laity and future conventions to little more than rubber stamps. In the absence of the bishop, such authority would fall to the Standing Committee.
During the entire six-hour convention, not a single question was raised about the Diocese's deepening financial crisis or how it will address the most serious legal assault on its Constitution in its 350-year history.
Bishop Lawrence left the national Church no choice. Instead, the convention feasted on righteous indignation over a decision by Beers to retain an attorney to monitor the Church's legal interests in the matter of four parishes that have taken steps to leave.
Earlier this year, he hired Charleston attorney and lifelong Episcopalian Thomas Tisdale after he became concerned that Lawrence and the Standing Committee were not committed to looking out for the interests of the wider Church in dealing with the discontented parishes.
Tisdale’s hiring and subsequent requests for information inflamed Lawrence and the Standing Committee, who on Friday repeatedly denounced the move as an unlawful “incursion” into the Diocese.
The Bishop's address to the convention made it clear that Beers had correctly read his intentions. He insisted that the Diocese was “sovereign” and that the wider Church has no say in how he decides to deal with rebel parishes and dispose of their property
Lawrence's closed and sometimes secretive leadership style has left many key players and lay leaders from knowing how he plans to handle what is surely the most serious challenge to the unity of the Diocese in its history. His insistence that he alone has the right to decide on a "generous pastoral response" to rebel parishes sounds like bishop-speak for "I can do what I want."
On Friday Lawrence seemed untroubled that the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, which he has taken a vow to uphold, suggests just the opposite. In the cases of breakaway parishes, it is assumed that a Diocesan bishop will act in the best interest of both entities.
A series of recent Federal Court rulings has found that the nature of the Episcopal Church is such that it has an undisputed and legitimate interest in the way its dioceses handle property matters. Lawrence disclosed Friday that he had met face-to-face with the Presiding Bishop last week for 90 minutes to discuss the matter, but gave no details.
Several delegates during a lunch break complained that Lawrence seemed to be using to the Tisdale affair as a "smokescreen" to divert attention away from his closed-door dealings with the rebel parishes.
In recent weeks Lawrence, Canon Kendall Harmon, and the Standing Committee have tried to spin the Tisdale matter as a first step by the national Church to go after the Diocese, its clergy, and parishes for its past criticism of the majority in the Church. There has been no action to national Church to justify this concern. In fact Lawrence described the Presiding Bishop as "gracious" and "generous" in her discussions with him.
In response to this shameful posturing, the convention passed a pathetic resolution at the end of the day stating that it was ready to engage in “battle”.
“This is our time to stand,” exclaimed the proponent of one of the final resolutions to blow through the convention.
Four resolutions approved, but leave many scratching their heads. The reaction of the convention was to pass four resolutions revising and reinterpreting the relationship of the Diocese to the other 110 dioceses. There was never any serious doubt about their passing.
Two of the resolutions seem to be a reversal of earlier positions taken by the Diocese.
For example, in declaring itself to be "sovereign" the convention was saying that dioceses have the authority to act on their own own in providing a "generous pastoral response" to dissident parishes in their jurisdictions. Since 2003, the Diocese has been critical of independent liberal dioceses who it claims, have acted on their own in providing what could be seen as a generous pastoral response in ministering to same gender couples.
Of the resolutions that actually matter was one in which the Convention gave the bishop absolute authority to interpret the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese. Lawrence has never been a fan of the democratic nature of Church governance, and Friday's delegates agreed by reducing the authority of all future diocesan conventions to that of rubber stamps.
A number of speakers, including those for the Standing Committee, complained that through her support of the actions of the Chancellor, the Presiding Bishop was acting as if she were the sole authority in interpreting the national canons.
During its lunch break, several dissenting delegates complained that Lawrence’s rhetoric was a “smokescreen” for his real agenda of eventually pulling the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church with all its property.
This is exactly why Beers felt he had to retain Tisdale. The withdrawal of four parishes from the diocese is likely to be the biggest crisis of Lawrence’s episcopate. Not only has he not been clear with the wider Church about how he will proceed, he hasn’t even told the Diocese.
Continuing financial crisis ignored. Astonishingly, during the day there hardly any references to the continuing financial crisis in the Diocese. Delegates breezed through approval of the 2010 Diocesan budget that reflects a dramatic and continuing decline of Diocesan revenues since Lawrence first became bishop.
In 2009 alone, income from parishes and missions was ten percent below that which had been anticipated, while anticipated income for 2010 reflects an even further drop based on lower contributions from parishes.
Overall, the 2010 budget assumes that Diocesan income this year will be $2.33 million, nearly $700,000 less than that which was anticipated in 2008 when Lawrence was consecrated.
The budget shows a significant decline in resources for various diocesan activities, including congregational development, youth, and social ministries.
Under Lawrence, expenditures by the Bishop’s office have leveled out after significant growth under his predecessor. Clearly the Diocese cannot afford to hire another bishop to assist him, so Lawrence will have his hands full in carrying out the pastoral and “episcopal” functions of his office for the next few years.
Among the least clearly defined and most controversial components of the budget is Lawrence’s new Office on Anglican Communion Development, formerly the Department of World Missions now headed by Canon Kendall Harmon.
The mission of this office appears be keeping alive the Bishop’s vision of a new age of "Biblical Anglicanism". To most of the world today the Anglican Communion is a deeply fractured, largely impotent, vestige of British colonialism. In the Diocese of South Carolina, we see it as the future, so this year we are giving it a raise.