Thursday, July 10, 2014


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

Yesterday, Wednesday, July 9, was the second day of the trial. We have three eye-witness reports of the day's proceedings, one from Steve Skardon (, one by Holly Behre for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (, and one presumably by Jan Pringle for the independent diocese ( The first point that jumps out from these reports is that it must have been a better day for the defendants (Episcopal Church) than for the plaintiffs (independent diocese) because Pringle's report is a total of five terse sentences while Behre's is long and detailed and Skardon's is even longer and quite reflective. If it had been a good day for Lawrence, his side likely would have published a long, wordy account heavy on victorious spin.

Day two continued the plaintiff's presentation of witnesses, Lewis's continuation from day one, then Robert Kunes, for the board of trustees, then Craige Borrett and other spokespersons from local secessionist churches such as All Saints, Florence, Christ/St. Paul's, Yonges Island, Christ the King, Pawleys Island, and St. Andrew's, Mt. Pleasant. The witnesses talked mostly of the mechanics of church rules and procedures intending to show that the old diocese was an independent and sovereign entity not beholding to the Episcopal Church.

Skardon's thoughts on the day were most interesting. He pointed out that Runyan's obvious strategy was to make the case one of polity rather than theology. Polity would be matters of church government, primarily relating to property in this instance. This would allow the court to proceed under neutral principles. If the trial becomes one of theology, that is, religious beliefs, the court would have to defer to the Episcopal Church under the terms of the Serbian Orthodox ruling which said that civil courts must not seek to interpret internal institutional matters of religion. Runyan's side is doing everything to keep the trial away from matters of beliefs. Too, Skardon pointed out, the independent diocese's lawyers do not want to do anything to offend the sensibilities of the judge who is of a non-Christian religion. So far they must be doing well because Goodstein apparently sustains most of Runyan's objections. Since Lawrence's lawyers do not want to make this a trial about religion they must make it about institutional unfairness. Lawrence and the diocese must be made to be the innocent victims of wrongdoing by an outside institution.

Was the Episcopal Church unfair to Mark Lawrence? Let's look at the public historical record. These are points I offer:

1-The Presiding Bishop bent the rules to give extra time in 2007 for standing committees to get their consents in so that Lawrence could become a bishop in the Episcopal Church. He probably would not have become a bishop without her help.

2-Jefferts Schori visited Charleston in February of 2008 only to endure three hours of hostile harangues from Lawrence and other diocesan leaders in a closed (but video-recorded) meeting. She never returned their vitriol or even complained.

3-Lawrence usually attended the regularly scheduled meetings of the House of Bishops and of the Province IV bishops. In both groups he was invariably treated with the utmost of kindness and indulgence (even he said so). At the end, when he staged his "walk-out" at the 2012 General Convention, the bishops gave him their full attention and all the time he wanted. Several implored him to stay.

4-The Presiding Bishop met in person with Lawrence several times and talked with him on the phone on numerous occasions. She even called him several times after the schism. The records show that Lawrence voluntarily left the Episcopal Church and was deposed only after he very publicly abandoned the Church.

5-When Lawrence presided over the diocesan conventions in 2009 and 2010 that resolved to "distance" itself from the Church, the Presiding Bishop took no action against him. She tried to give him all the room he needed while still maintaining her constitutional responsibilities.

6-The Disciplinary Board for Bishops investigated Lawrence in 2011 on charges of abandonment and found insufficient evidence. The DBB tried to give Lawrence the benefit of the doubt in honor of his oft-repeated vow that he did not intend to leave TEC.

7-The Disciplinary Board investigated Lawrence a second time, but only after he had issued the quit claim deeds that the Board believed contradicted Episcopal Church law. This time, they voted abandonment.

8-The Presiding Bishop was required to place a "restriction" on Lawrence (Oct. 15, 2012). She tried to keep it confidential in order to work out a peaceful settlement in private. Lawrence refused the confidentiality, refused the restriction, and called her (Oct. 17) to announce he and the diocese had left the Episcopal Church as of Oct. 15. He cancelled the future meeting with her in spite of her repeated attempts to keep the talks going. She gave Lawrence seven weeks leeway. He made it very clear in word and deed during this time that he had left the Church. The Presiding Bishop accepted his renunciation of orders on Dec. 5, 2012. Reality is that Lawrence voluntarily left the Episcopal Church. He was not forced out.

The historical record, open to everyone, is very clear. The Episcopal Church was abundantly fair to Mark Lawrence.