November 10, 2012
On the Campaign Trail with the PECDSC, It's "All Out War" Against the Episcopal Church
Conflicting answers, inconsistencies plague Lawrence's effort to find recruits to leave the Episcopal Church
After telling clergy that he and they were no longer Episcopalians, Lawrence now says they are back
This week “restricted” Bishop Mark Lawrence and his surrogates stumbled through an embarrassing series of contradictory public statements, explanations, and media interviews as part of a Diocese-wide campaign to convince loyal Episcopalians to leave their Church.
However, only two weeks after confidently telling his clergy that he and they had left the Church, Lawrence and his field commanders were raising far more questions about their plans than they were answering. Since Lawrence's announcement that he was leaving the Church, a communications team at the corporate headquarters of the PECDSC in Charleston was kept busy trying to reconcile various contradictory statements, and get a consistent message out through electronic media and nearly daily revisions to the PECDSC website.
At the heart of the confusion this week has been whether Lawrence and his group are in or out of the Episcopal Church
Lawrence now claims that his PECDSC corporation is the Episcopal Church in teh eastern half of South Carolina and, as its bishop, he is not acocuntable to anyone, especially anyone in the Episcopal Church.
The PECDSC is actually the old corporate structure of the Diocese of South Carolina, but Lawrence and his supporters have rewritten without references to the Episcopal Church such that it is essentially a new corporation. Such an action is illegal, but Lawrence is betting it will take years of lawsuits to get courts in South Carolina to throw him out.
However, that confusion was compounded as the week wore on by tail-chasing responses to questions about the status of the PECDSC corporation in the Anglican Communion, the authorship of letters from ultraconservative Primates claiming to back Lawrence, Bishop Lawrence’s own intentions about leaving the Episcopal Church, and the likelihood that pro-PECDSC congregations will not be able to retain their parish property and buildings.
As if this wasn’t enough, the bishop and his spokesmen continued to push the bizarre notion that the Church’s General Convention last summer passed a non-discrimination resolution that Lawrence and his supporters say would force the Diocese to hire transgendered people.
Is Bishop Lawrence and the PECDSC corporation in or out of the Episcopal Church? The answer appears to be “yes”.
On October 18th at a meeting of Diocesan clergy, Lawrence announced that he, they, and their parishes were no longer in the Episcopal Church, because of a secret resolution passed by the former Standing Committee automatically “disassociating” them from the Church, if Lawrence accountable for his misconduct as a bishop.
There was no mistaking the message. He was gone, and they were too. Several times during the following week he told parish leaders and the news media: “I am no longer an Episcopalian.”
He and his agents have been working for years to create a new retirement system for departing clergy, property insurance for their congregations, and health care coverage for their families outside the Episcopal Church. Now it was all coming together, in Lawrence’s view, so they could leave the Church.
However, a few days after the clergy meeting, SC Episcopalians discovered that, while Lawrence was saying he was out of the Church and encouraging his clergy to make similar declarations, he had not actually left the Church, nor apparently intended to. He had not taken any steps to renounce his vows as a bishop in the Church.
In an about-face this week, Lawrence began telling people that he had not left the Church, but that he was a self-authorized, fully functioning bishop of the "sovereign" Diocese of South Carolina. Lawrence’s Canon to the Ordinary Jim Lewis echoed the claim in an interview with the Florence Morning News. “Nothing new has been created … we will simply continue as before,” he insisted.
At St. John’s Episcopal Church in Florence a week later, Lawrence took yet a new direction when he was questioned by a communicant of the parish, who asked about the authority by which he was confirming members of the congregation, since his ministry had been temporarily “restricted”.
Lawrence quickly replied that it came from the “One Holy Catholic Church”, and that those who would challenge that statement -- including those belonging to his nemesis, the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina -- were heretics. The Forum is a group of between 400 and 500 people in the Diocese who support the Episcopal Church.
By Thursday Lawrence seemed to be fully back in the saddle, attacking supporters of the continuing Diocese of South Carolina for using the Diocese's official seal and “pretending” to be the Diocese of South Carolina. In fact, the continuing Diocese of South Carolina is fully recognized by the Episcopal Church and, yes, Lawrence for the moment is its “restricted” bishop, albeit one without any authority.
However, Lawrence rejects the “restriction” imposed on his ministry, and became enraged when he found out that the Rt. Rev. Charles von Rosenberg, the retired bishop from East Tennessee, was to attend a meeting at Holy Communion, Charleston where he was to speak with clergy who planned to stay with the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence blasted out an email throughout the Diocese which said, “According to TEC, Bishop Lawrence is still the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina even though TEC contends his ministry has been restricted (which is not recognized by this Diocese). Therefore, Bishop Von Rosenberg would have no authority to convene or preside at any meeting in this diocese and to do so would put him in violation of TEC’s canons”.
Yes, you guessed it. These are the very same canons of the Episcopal Church that Bishop Lawrence contends do not apply in South Carolina. Readers of this website will remember that, upon Lawrence’s recommendation, delegates to two recent Diocesan conventions approved changes in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of South Carolina explicitly rejecting the applicability of these Church canons in South Carolina.
Oops! Did we mention we’re also leaving the Anglican Communion?
When Lawrence and the Standing Committee decided to bolt from the Episcopal Church last month, they didn’t give much thought to the reality that they were also leaving the Anglican Communion.
The Anglican Communion is a loose association of 39 “provinces” or Churches that have descended from the Church of England. The Communion itself is not a Church, but more of a tradition with non-binding “bonds of affection” between its members. It was created to support the expansion of colonialism in the British Empire, but seemed to lose its relevance when the Empire went away. Even today the Queen of England picks the nominal head of the Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Since Lawrence became bishop in 2008, he and courtiers have suggested to communicants of the Diocese that they are really Anglicans and belong to a gay- intolerant “Anglican Church” with no annoying female bishops to boss them around.
However, a person or congregation in the United States can only be associated with the Anglican Communion by belonging to the province of the Communion, known as "The Episcopal Church". The same rules apply to renegade “dioceses.” They’re out.
Questions about the Communion began popping up at events associated with the membership campaign of the PECDSC corporation, shortly after Lawrence declared that he had left the Episcopal Church.
In response to those concerns this week, Lawrence’s spin doctors made a bumbling attempt to assure worried communicants of the Diocese that his leaving the Episcopal Church had not invalidated their connection to the Anglican Communion and its tradition.
This week, writing from a completely alternate universe, the authors of a FAQs column on Lawrence’s PECDSC website wrote: “It is also worth noting that we have received letters of support and affirmation from across TEC and around the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is clear the larger Church recognizes we have not abandoned its communion.”
The term “abandoned communion” in the context of a bishop’s misconduct has nothing to do with the Anglican Communion. It means that a bishop or priest has behaved in such a way as to have separated himself from the communion we share with all Episcopalians. Bishop Lawrence knows very well that a letter signed by a handful of primates does not in any way mean that he or the PECDSC corporation is still in the Anglican Communion, nor did they say that.
As ham-handed as this was, the letters themselves are now under scrutiny. They bore the names of a handful of rightwing Primates in the Anglican Communion, but the language in the letters suggests that they were composed by the same person, most likely at the Diocesan House here in South Carolina.
SC Episcopalians has attempted to verify with the people whose names are on the letters that they in fact wrote them, and knew that their names were on them.
However, none of them has yet been willing to say so.
Parishes will likely lose their property if they go with the PECDSC, Lawrence concedes.
In exceptional moments of candor in the past two weeks, Bishop Lawrence has apparently admitted that congregations following him out of the Episcopal Church are likely to lose their property. The sources of this information are people who attended his forums.
Since 2009 Lawrence and his supporters have maintained that the state Supreme Court decision in the matter of All Saints’, Pawleys Island means that all congregations in hierarchical denominations like the Episcopal Church own their own property free and clear. The denomination has no property or trust interest in them.
That interpretation is a stretch. In fact, the only lawyers who agree with it are those who have been on retainer to the Diocese, which has spent nearly $500,000 on lawyers since Lawrence came on board.
However, even the PECDSC Inc. website hints -- and it is only a hint -- that maybe that is not entirely true: “These legal documents [quitclaim deeds] confirmed what we believe was already established in South Carolina law, that parishes own their property, free of any imposed trust interest by others.
The key words here are “what we believe.” Yes, it is subtle, but significant none the less, since the official line for three years has been that it could be counted on.
Facing the accusers.
Among the rhetorical attacks on the Presiding Bishop after his restriction, Lawrence slammed her and the Disciplinary Board for Bishops for failing to identify those who'd complained about him so he could "face my accusers." It was the DBB that had certified to the Presiding Bishop in October that Lawrence's misconduct rose to the level of abandonment of the Church.
The Disciplinary Canon of the Episcopal Church allows the DBB to keep those names confidential to protect loyal churchmen and women from personal attacks and harrassment.
However in late October, the twelve lay people and two clergy who'd filed the complaint voluntarily released their names. The next day the PECDSC Inc's Canon Lewis went after them and distributed their names and identities throughout the Diocese, which resulted in some harrassment and villificiation.
Lewis even claimed that there was nothing gracious about their revealing their names because it was required by the Church's Disciplinary Canon. Actually, it wasn't required at all. This is also the same canon that Bishop Lawrence says does not apply in South Carolina, so it is not clear why the PECDSC was so upset when they thought it wasn't being followed.
However, out of curiousity, SC Episcopalians spoke with the 14 complainants this week to find out if the PECDSC had called to set up a meeting with them so Bishop Lawrence could "face" them. The answer was no.
Applications from transgendered people for PECDSC jobs have declined significantly.
Finally this week, Bishop Lawrence has continued to stir up his audiences with denunciations of his favorite new whipping boys/girls: transgendered people.
Lawrence is reported to have met two people this summer, who'd had gender reassignment surgery, and it apparently gave him the willies.
At a clergy conference in late July, he even showed a film about them at a clergy conference, even though it had nothing to do with the meeting’s agenda.
Since the summer, SC Episcopalians has noticed that in Bishop Lawrence’s presentations in the Diocese transgendered people have replaced gays and lesbians as his favorite outcasts. He claims that the crazy liberals at General Convention even mandated that the Diocese has to hire transgendered people, if they want work.
In fact, the General Convention did pass a resolution saying that Dioceses should not discriminate in hiring people based on their sexuality or gender identification. Of course, like all GC resolutions, the Bishop forgets to say that this was non-binding on the dioceses, just like those allowing for the blessing of same-gender unions.