Sunday, January 21, 2018

Part IX

Our series of blog posts called "Toward a Resolution" continues in this the ninth part as we go on seeking the truth about what happened in the schism. It is time now to take up the eight question on our list:


In my long study of the history of the schism, I came to see that the people who made the schism sincerely and firmly believed they were doing what God wanted them to do. I have never doubted their sincerity. I do not doubt it today. They took drastic actions; and I do not think they would have done so if they had not had complete confidence it was the right thing to do. They were certain that they could take the diocese to a better place. And, they conveyed this embedded conviction to the majority of the communicants who also came to believe it was what God wanted them to do.

This confidence in God's will carried over most overtly in the litigation. DSC won many victories in the state and federal courts between the first lawsuit, on Jan 4, 2013, and the South Carolina Supreme Court decision on August 2, 2017. As the victories rolled along, DSC routinely attributed them to God's will. They were just sure God was favoring them. Their attitude at least implied that God would lead the DSC to final victory in the litigation. Surely God favored the good side against the "evil."

All of that changed on August 2, 2017 when the SCSC delivered a decision that stunned the world. The consensus of opinion beforehand was that the court would probably take its 2009 All Saints decision that came down on the side of local legal and property rights and apply it as a blanket to the whole diocese. That is, the court would recognize the independence and property rights of the DSC and its parishes. On Aug. 2, while the SCSC did not weigh in on the issue of independence and left that to the federal court to decide, the SCSC did declare that 29 of the 35 parishes remained under the trust control of the Episcopal Church and the Church diocese. The majority of justices also said the Episcopal Church was hierarchical. This was the first significant defeat in court for the DSC after the schism and a major victory for the Church side. Suddenly the DSC dropped the talk of God's will in the litigation. There has been no mention of divine favor since.

There are two major problems in trying to assign God's will to the schism.

1. Knowing the mind of God.

In the first place, human beings cannot know the mind of God. It is so far beyond human understanding that we cannot even approach it let alone describe what it is. Our words are helplessly inadequate. In the scriptures, God does not ever define Himself even when asked, but gives enigmatic descriptions as "I am that I am." We can describe attributes and manifestations of the divine presence but we cannot know God's mind. Job tried (and we have all been Job at some time). We all know the old saying, God works in mysterious ways, that is, mysterious to us but not to God. We can say we feel the presence of God and we believe He wants us to do this or that. That is about the best we can do, and, I think, should do. However, that is far from declaring this or that to be God's will. Human beings do not have the right to make that presumption.

2. Consistency. 

Moreover, we tend to fall into the trap of declaring God's will for the outcomes that we like. Too many people want to see the good things that happen to them as God's will and the bad things as something else. This is the pit into which the DSC leaders fell by boasting that the court outcomes before Aug. 2 were "the divine favor". If one is going to declare the court rulings as the divine will, then one has to see all of them that way, even those we do not like. DSC certainly has not declared anything since Aug. 2 to be God's will.

There are several dynamics in the universe that make things happen, God, natural forces, and human choice. Human beings have free will to choose whether to do good or evil. Every person makes countless choices every day.  (Two extreme examples:  Blessed Jonathan Daniels jumped in front of a shotgun to take the blast intended for a defenseless girl [Hayneville AL, 1965]; Dylann Roof shot to death nine defenseless people [Charleston, 2015]. Both of those were choices freely made.) Thus, a good deal of what happens is man's will. And, we have to live with the consequences of our choices. These impact on ourselves and people around us. We are not puppets controlled by a master pulling the strings. We make our own choices to do good or evil. That is what free will means. As Christians we should hope our choices are what we think God wants us to do. We should want to do what we instinctively believe to be God's will, just as Blessed Jonathan Daniels did.

Short answer:

Since none of us can know the mind of God, we cannot, and should not, say that the schism was God's will.

In my opinion, it is too presumptuous to depict man-made court decisions as God's will. 

God's will is revealed to man in the fullness of time and it may not be what we expect it to be.