Sunday, July 6, 2014


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

Not surprisingly, the two dioceses handled the issue of the upcoming trial very differently on today, the Sunday before the trial.

The independent diocese declared it a major issue. Bishop Lawrence sent a long pastoral letter that was read in every local church today. (Lawrence has a history of letters to be read aloud in church.) Its message was predictable, a continuation of the longstanding points and appeals to God for favor. It reiterated the oft-repeated spin that the lawsuit was "to protect" the diocese and the local churches from unlawful seizure by the Episcopal Church. In fact, the independent diocese started the lawsuits and did so because they knew full well that the Church operated under the Dennis Canon. Under Church law that the diocese had recognized until 2011, all local properties were held in trust for the Episcopal diocese and the Episcopal Church. The purpose of the lawsuit was to convince the court to ignore the longstanding Church law and to grant ownership of property to the independent diocese and its local parishes. It was to maintain the properties that it knew were claimed by the Episcopal Church.

Lawrence also said that the lawsuit was to protect "the legacy of former generations." This charge is nonsense. From 1789 to October 15, 2012 every "generation" was in the Episcopal Church. The diocese was never independent. Everyone throughout those years considered themselves Episcopalians and active participants in the national Episcopal Church. In fact the "legacy" of over two hundred years was the Episcopal Church. It was Lawrence and the diocesan leadership who changed that legacy for the  majority of the communicants by willfully "disassociating" from the Episcopal Church on October 15, 2012. Sorry, Lawrence, but "legacy" in South Carolina history is squarely on the side of the Episcopal Church.

Once again, Lawrence repeated the prayer that John Barr had written calling on God to "protect this diocese and its parishes" in court. The prayer also says "bless and not curse those on the other side of the conflict." Lawrence would do well to take this prayer to heart. He is on record as repeatedly calling his courtroom opposition "the spiritual forces of evil." You can find it in various places on their website.

The purpose of Lawrence's pastoral letter of today was the same as so much of the old diocesan leadership's propaganda, to rally the masses to defend the supposedly righteous bishop and diocese against the supposedly evil attacks of the malevolent force from beyond called the Episcopal Church. Of course, the money helps. Thirty-seven lawyers are slated to appear in court for Lawrence on Tuesday. You know how much lawyers cost. Do the math.

In contrast, the Episcopal Church diocese had no pastoral letter from the bishop to be read aloud in every church today. Prayers were left to the discretion of the local churches and communicants. In the real Episcopal church I attended today in Florence, there were several remarks and prayers concerning the trial, all to the effect that God's will should be done. There was no self-righteous assertion, no calling on God for intervention through lawyers, and no demonization of the other side. In fact, the Episcopal Church diocese has never made derogatory comments about the others. Bishop vonRosenberg has never said a disparaging word about the rebel leaders who created the mess that everyone is in now. On the Episcopal Church side, I sense a calm serenity that God is in control and that the right will prevail in the end. I for one know just who is practicing the best of Christianity.