Friday, October 10, 2014


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

This has been a week of bad news for the independent diocese of Mark Lawrence. Two items in particular struck at its creative cause and ongoing identity: the U.S. Supreme Court action concerning same-sex marriage and a pronouncement of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Supreme Court action has been all over the media outlets. In effect, the Supreme Court has validated lower federal courts that had overturned numerous state laws banning same-sex marriages. In other words, the Supreme Court has recognized nationally the right of same-sex marriage. The Court let stand the ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that overruled the Virginia state law against same-sex marriage. Since the Fourth Circuit includes the state of South Carolina, the logical conclusion is that state laws against same-sex marriage in South Carolina have been or will be overturned. Indeed numerous same-gender couples recently registered for marriage licenses in Charleston. See the Post and Courier article of Oct. 9, "S.C. Supreme Court Puts Gay Marriage Licenses on Hold." The conservative SC state supreme court has temporarily banned same-sex marriages, something that is certain not to last long. In the near future, every state of the Union will allow same-sex marriage.

As I have said repeatedly, my historical research has shown that homosexuality was the driving issue, or "wedge" issue that made the "disaffiliation" of the majority of the old diocese from the Episcopal Church. However much the leaders of the departed diocese may now deny it, the facts of history on this are very clear. The leadership of the pre-schism diocese emphasized homosexual and transgender issues among the innately conservative majority of communicants of the old diocese. It was the Episcopal Church's General Convention of 2012 resolutions on the blessing of same-sex unions and on transgendered rights that led to Lawrence's and the Standing Committee's final decision to leave the Episcopal Church at the first opportunity, which they did on October 15, 2012. 

Reactionaries (conservatives, orthodox, traditionalists) would like a church that condemns homosexuality and sex change. They believe gender is predetermined by God who assigns it to each person. They see it as immoral and sinful for people to behave in any but heterosexual ways. Meanwhile, the mainstream of the Episcopal Church is seeking avenues to minister to, rather than simply condemn, a changing society and culture. The Church has taken a bold stand for the equal treatment of homosexual and transgendered persons. To put it simply, the Episcopal Church is on the side of history while the independent diocese is trying the impossible task of fighting against history.

Western civilization is in the midst of a rapid sea change of attitudes toward individual freedom and sexual expressions. Even traditionally conservative European countries have recognized equal rights of homosexual persons, including marriage. As we know very well from the news, marriage equality is sweeping America, and doing so rapidly. Even the 5-4 conservative Supreme Court has played its part. Nate Silver, the great statistical guru, has clearly documented this monumental change in the nation. Even in highly conservative South Carolina, the majority of people will support it within a decade. In time, the independent diocese will have a harder and harder time attracting young people who overwhelmingly oppose discrimination (perhaps this is why the independent diocesan leaders are trying to cover up their roots now). In time the independent diocese will age and shrivel. This is all bad news for a local institution that was created in a campaign to oppose rights for homosexual persons and transgendered people in the church.

The second piece of bad news came in an interview of the Archbishop of Canterbury. See the Post and Courier article of Oct. 9, "Archbishop Says ACNA Not Part of the Anglican Communion." See also the remarks of Steve Skardon at . The Archbishop announced that the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is not an Anglican church, at least not one recognized as Anglican by the head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Episcopal Church is the only official province of the Anglican Communion in the U.S. This was particularly stinging as it came on the eve of the much-publicized installation of the new archbishop of ACNA to replace founder Bob Duncan. The right-wing blogosphere has exploded in wrath against the Archbishop as could be expected. ACNA is a self-created schismatic denomination of disgruntled former Episcopalians who left a Church that had accepted openly homosexual persons as bishops and elected a female primate. ACNA has been recognized as the only legitimate Anglican province in North America by GAFCON which itself is a self-made alliance of conservative Anglicans, based in equatorial Africa, rallying to oppose the equal rights that are flowing through the mainstream of Anglicanism. Too bad for ACNA and GAFCON that the Archbishop has now trumped them.

Of course, the independent diocese in SC has not joined ACNA, for reasons not apparent. Instead, Lawrence and his friends in the GAFCON-allied group called "Global South" have drawn up a strange new scheme for "oversight" by the primates' council of Global South. To this day that scheme remains a complete mystery. Not one detail of it has ever been released to the public. In the P & C article, Jim Lewis said the deal was "to establish a direct connection to the larger communion through a recognized body."  Huh? What "recognized body"? Global South is not "recognized" by the structure of the Anglican Communion. It is a self-created body without any legitimacy at all in the AC. In reality, the independent diocese is suspended in nothingness. It has no official connection to the Anglican Communion. In short, the Lawrence diocese, as ACNA, is not in the Anglican Communion. It is not the Episcopal Church in lower South Carolina and it is not in the Anglican Communion no matter how many times its spokespeople say it is. In time, its communicants will gradually realize this and come to terms with what has happened to their venerable old church. It is just a matter of time. 

So, the news this week has not been good or promising for the independent diocese led by Mark Lawrence. History is against it. The Archbishop of Canterbury is against it. Where it goes from here only time will tell.

The quarrel of whether to grant rights to homosexuals has really passed in western civilization. We have moved beyond it. Only parts of the Third World, particularly equatorial Africa, are still fighting it. As a contentious issue on the world stage, homosexuality is fading away, and quickly. In years to come, even South Carolinians will wonder, What was all the fuss about in the first place? That is the way we look at the issue of racism now. Not everything we do is right. Not everything our ancestors did was right. We have to accept that as part of our Christian religion. There was only one perfect person, and He lived on earth a very long time ago. We are not perfect.

In time, I think the prodigal communicants of the separate diocese will also move beyond the social and cultural issues that have bothered them so much. Once the homosexuality matter is out of the way, they will realize that they are still of the  same old religion, as South Carolinians did when they returned to the Episcopal Church after the Civil War. It should be noted that the independent diocesan leadership has adamantly insisted that only the Episcopal Church prayer book be kept in use in services. Beneath all their protests, they know they are still of the same religion. The issues that triggered the unfortunate and needless schism of 2012 were social and cultural, not religious. Down the road, no one can know how far, I believe there will be a quiet reunion of the now-broken church. The reactionaries will have had their starring roles in the stage, made their statements, gotten everything off their chests, and be ready to move on to the bigger issue of representing the expression of legitimate Anglican Christianity in the Low Country. I believe too that the Episcopal Church will make internal positive changes. This may be the good that the schisms produce. In the end, a stronger Church will emerge as the unpleasantness passes and South Carolinians return to being the gracious, mannerly people of cordial good will they have always been in their hearts. That day cannot come too soon.

I would like to know what you think.  e-mail me at .