Wednesday, April 2, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History Emeritus

April 2, 2014

It is useful at this point to remind ourselves of St. Paul's well-known admonition against Christians bringing lawsuits against fellow Christians. I Corinthians 6: 1-7 (NIV):  If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment...I say this to shame you...The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. These are sobering words indeed. In the light of what has happened in South Carolina, we would all do well to reread and contemplate St. Paul's words in this passage. Have two certain groups of Christians in South Carolina completely defeated themselves already? If so, shame.

Bishop Lawrence is a man who holds the Scriptures in very high esteem; the same for his lead lawyer, Alan Runyan, a former Baptist deacon and son of Baptist missionaries. Before the schism, Lawrence and his allies spent a great deal of time and energy criticizing the Episcopal Church for being non-Biblical (particularly on the parts about homosexuality). When the Presiding Bishop visited Charleston in 2008, Lawrence proceeded to read the Bible and to preach to her from it in front of the assembled clergy. And yet, on January 4, 2013, Lawrence decided he had to do what St. Paul had said in the Scriptures not to do, bring a lawsuit against fellow Christians. That was the first lawsuit filed in the contest between the two sides in South Carolina. For the next fifteen months the legal proceedings snowballed as the two sparring side pulled out all the stops to win in court. Shame.

In sum, the lawsuits are about legitimacy. Each diocese claims to be the only legal and legitimate continuation of the old Episcopal diocese in lower South Carolina and therefore entitled to all the rights and properties of the pre-schism diocese. They have gone to court to get judicial rulings to validate their claims alone and therefore to invalidate their rival's claim. This is a contest between two institutional units. Yet, all along it has been disturbingly personal and is ever becoming more so. Shame.

A simple review of the "Chronology" post on this blog shows the unfortunate personalization of the dispute. In August of 2012, a committee of fourteen persons filed a complaint against the actions of Bishop Lawrence with the Disciplinary Board for Bishops. The Board reviewed the case and agreed that Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church. Amid loud protests that Lawrence was being deprived of due process by not knowing his accusers, the names were revealed publicly in October. Lawrence's supporters sneered at the fourteen as a small band of  malcontents from the dissident minority called the Episcopal Forum. Shame.

In January, February and March of 2013, the independent diocese had court papers served to certain persons on four different occasions although none was necessary. On Jan. 23, DSC had the Temporary Restraining Order against ECSC officially served to twelve people: George Hawkins, Virginia Wilder, Callie Walpole, Lonnie Hamilton, James E. Taylor, Erin Hoyle, Barbara Mann, Melinda Lucka, Charles vonRosenberg, John Buchanan, Steve Skardon, and Michael Wright. On Jan. 31, DSC had the Temporary Injunction against ECSC served to: vonRosenberg, Lucka, and Wright. On Feb. 27, DSC had its amended lawsuit officially delivered to: Thomas Tisdale, vonRosenberg, and Wilder. On Mar. 19, DSC had its Motion for a Partial Summary Judgment served to: Tisdale, vonRosenberg, and Wilder. DSC has not given a reason why the papers had to be served at all, and has not explained why these particular people were singled out and not others. Some of the names above had no official capacity in any diocese. Shame.

DSC lawyers are moving forward with the personalization of their litigation. According to ECSC ( ) "Starting in January, the breakaway group has been taking the unusual step of hiring a process server to track down local Episcopalians at their homes and workplaces and serve them with subpoenas to appear and give depositions...So far, at least 10 people are known to have been subpoenaed by the breakaway group." The only one known publicly so far is Steve Skardon ( ) but I think we can take a wild guess at the others by looking at the lists in the preceeding paragraph. It is hard to imagine what Skardon, or almost anyone else here, might have to add to the actual litigation going on in court. Once again, DSC has not revealed why it deems it necessary to make this personal. Shame.

On March 31, 2014, ECSC lawyer Tisdale filed with the circuit court (state court) in Dorchester County, a request for Judge Goodstein "to quash subpoenas" issued by DSC and "to hold them in contempt of court." The circuit court is where the original lawsuit is proceeding. Tisdale formally asked that Goodstein stop DSC's subpoenas for personal depositions and hold DSC in contempt of court because they ignored her "stay" order that placed a freeze on all proceedings pending a ruling from the state appeals court. In January ECSC had filed an appeal with that court; the appeal was rejected in March, but ECSC filed a new appeal to the same court immediately thereafter. The new appeal is pending. Goodstein has not removed her original stay order of January. DSC proceeded to subpoena certain Episcopalians in South Carolina for official depositions anyway. Shame.

The struggle between the two dioceses is institutional and should remain that way. Only the office-holding leadership should be accountable. Others should be left out of this. Sadly, St. Paul's advice has already been ignored. The court actions are there. They cannot be undone. The record cannot be erased. Shame.

Therefore, what should the sides do from this point? How should they proceed in the future with the lawsuits that should not have been in the first place? For starters, they should remember that they are all Christians and should move forward by treating each other accordingly with all the respect, care, and compassion that Our Lord exhibited in the Gospels. The world rightly judges Christians by what they do and not what they say. There is another scriptural passage that all should take a moment to remember:  Mark 8: 36 (NIV) What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Someday all of this unpleasantness will be over. When that day comes, everyone should be able to look back and say they behaved as good Christians.  If not, everyone should look back in shame.