Tuesday, December 30, 2014


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

The year 2014 has been an eventful one for the people involved in the schism of the old Episcopal diocese of South Carolina. October 15 marked two years since the division occurred. December 5 marked two years since the presiding bishop removed Mark Lawrence as a bishop. The second anniversary of the independent diocese's lawsuit against the Episcopal Church will pass in a few days.

I enjoyed keeping this blog and adding numerous posts and am gratified to know that many people have found it of interest. I had over 32,000 visitors to this blog in the year 2014. I hope I added to the reliable information and reasonable opinion on the history of the unfortunate schism in the old diocese. I know I benefited greatly from organizing and expressing my thoughts. It helped me clarify my understandings as I continue to write a narrative history of the schism in South Carolina. In the year, I completed a rough draft of the period of Lawrence's episcopate (Jan. 2008-Dec. 2012). It comes to 200 single-spaced pages and 856 footnotes, mostly from original documents. I appreciate greatly the many kind and generous people who have helped along the way, particularly the ones who gave of their time for interviews. At present I am working on the early part of the manuscript, the time up to Lawrence's consecration. After that, I will turn to the other end for the post-schism period of litigation. I hope to have some legal closure before beginning on that part.

The year 2014 produced a small gold mine of new information (or at least new to me) on the history of the schism. The circuit court trial in July gave us over 1,300 pieces of evidence entered into the public record called "Exhibits." The most important of these was Lawrence's official deposition (Exhibit D-24) of 194 pages. It is most enlightening. Others included crucial documents of the standing committee and the trustees. Unfortunately however, thousands of key documents remain secret and hidden, if indeed they still exist, in spite of legal efforts to uncover them, namely the thousand e-mails between Lawrence and his chief legal strategist Alan Runyan.

The many newly revealed documents have struck me in several ways and have caused me to reconsider some of my earlier understandings of the flow of historical events. The biggest revelation to me was the apparent existence of a sort of deal between Lawrence and the leading clergy and laity of the old diocese. It appears the two sides operated under an unwritten, and perhaps unspoken, working relationship. The bishop would give them a war against the hated Episcopal Church on homosexuality and give them the local properties. In return the leaders would give Lawrence authoritarian power to govern the diocese. It seems to me it was an invisible but real arrangement that worked out effectively for both sides. It produced the schism of 2012 whether or not schism was the original agreed-upon goal. Both parties gained measurably from the deal even if the going has been anything but free and easy.

The compact actually started before Lawrence arrived in the diocese in January of 2008. A month before, the standing committee, which was to be the primary vehicle to build Lawrence's authoritarianism, pushed aside the nine-year Bishop Suffragan by demanding, and getting, his resignation. Lawrence was to have no rival or obstacle in reorganizing the diocese. He then brought in a new staff to the diocesan headquarters, and hired an assistant to do his bidding, a Canon to the Ordinary. Later he hired a "Visiting Bishop," a former bishop in England who does not visit often.

Lawrence immediately became the dominant power in the diocese rarely missing a meeting of the trustees or the standing committee. After 2009 Runyan routinely accompanied Lawrence to the standing committee sessions. It was through these two bodies that the bishop's power gradually increased, rubber-stamped by frequently called and compliant, even robotic, diocesan conventions. In his first two years, the former champion wrestler used every bit of his amazing energy and stamina to build crucial bonds with the clergy, leading laity, and socially reactionary Anglicans abroad. Lawrence's obviously successful record in this was truly impressive.

A glaring failure in Lawrence's progress was the case of St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant. There the anti-Episcopal Church movement was far too advanced. Nevertheless, he tried. On May 29-30, 2009, he offered a prayer of "discernment" in the standing committee after which the twelve approved St. Andrew's transfer of $3.5m in property into an irrevocable trust. It should be recalled that the Dennis Canon of the Episcopal Church required all property to be held for the diocese and the national Church. Within a few months, St. Andrew's congregation voted to leave the diocese and the Church, a decision affirmed by the vestry. They took the property with them. As Lawrence looked on, the parish joined the Anglican Church in North America, the anti-Episcopal Church. Lawrence lost a parish. That was not to happen again.

While the documents revealed the growing authority of the bishop, they also showed remarkable personal gain for Lawrence. On March 17, 2010, only two years into his episcopacy and well before he was investigated, Lawrence made a lease agreement for the bishop's residence at 50 Smith Street in Charleston for one dollar a year for five years with right to renew for another five years (Exhibit D-28). This would remain in effect regardless of his status as bishop. The house is valued at one million dollars and is surrounded by other million dollar properties. It is 4 levels, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths with 4,251 sq. ft. I imagine the monthly rent on that place would be around $4k (10 yrs=$480k). 

On February 1, 2011, three years into his term and still well before he was investigated by the Episcopal Church, Lawrence got a highly lucrative employment contract from the standing committee (Exhibit D-29). Counting the value of the housing, the aggregate value of the various parts of the package amounted to around $240,000/yr. (Base salary $121,170 + family medical ins. + $10,000 annuity + retirement of 18% of housing, housing and annuity + $35,000 travel + housing). The contract had no ending date or retirement date apparently making it virtually in perpetuity. It also stated that if he were removed as bishop he would continue as chief operating officer of the corporation, a position lacking any description but keeping the salary and benefits. The contract could be terminated only by Lawrence's choice, his death, his total disability, or the terms of the bylaws which were unanimous vote of the standing committee along with a two-thirds vote of both orders in a diocesan convention. To my knowledge, all of the the details of this employment contract were not known outside the secretive ruling clique until this year. In this stunning move, Lawrence was all but guaranteed a handsome income from the diocese as long as he wished even if he were not bishop. The son of a postal worker and a store clerk who had worked his way through college, in seven years, Lawrence had arrived at a standard of living in Charleston he could only have dreamed about growing up in modest circumstances in far-off Bakersfield.

Not only the standing committee but also the trustees and the diocesan convention played parts in increasing Lawrence's authority. The convention gave to him the sole right to make absolute interpretations of the constitution and canons of the diocese. The trustees amended their bylaws several times in his favor. He was made the President of the corporation, the legal entity of the diocese (Exhibit D-16). As the President, on October 19, 2010, he amended the official charter to remove all references to the Episcopal Church (Exhibit D-9). On January 4, 2013, the trustees amended the bylaws again to make Lawrence personally (not as bishop) the president of the corporation (Exhibit D-17).

Under his absolute power to interpret the constitution and canons, Lawrence ruled on October 2, 2012, that he had the right to remove, or "disassociate," the diocese from the Episcopal Church (he also gave the right to the standing committee and the diocesan convention). On that, the committee voted a conditional withdrawal of the diocese from the Episcopal Church, a decision that was put into effect on October 17, retroactive to he 15th.

After the schism, power continued to concentrate in Lawrence's hands. He refused to join the ACNA even though all the earlier secessionist dioceses had joined it. Through his close friends in the conservative Anglican group called the Global South he agreed to a strange scheme to link the diocese with that group on the claim of oversight but also on the provision he could pull out of the arrangement at will. That scheme is a sham. Since he left the Episcopal Church (Oct. 2012), Lawrence has not publicly sworn allegiance to any higher institutional authority. In 2014 he hand-picked a committee to recommend a "realignment" or new provincial affiliation for the diocese. It is unimaginable his appointees would do anything but Lawrence's wish.

Thus, by early 2014, six years after his arrival in South Carolina, it seems to me that Lawrence and the old diocesan leaders had constructed a remarkably effective, albeit invisible, compact. As a result, Lawrence was in a very powerful position as the great authority in his independent diocese that is now an entity really disconnected from anything else. The deal proved strong enough to carry the majority of the old diocese along without a hint of dissent. Whether the relationship between Lawrence and the leaders was a conspiracy, for now I will leave up to the lawyers (conspiracy being defined as a group making a premeditated plan for illegal act or acts). I will have more to say on that in my manuscript.

However, a strange and potentially crucial event occurred in early 2014 that may well spell trouble for the seemingly solid bond between Lawrence and the diocese. In the diocesan convention in March of 2014, eleven pre-prepared resolutions were presented to the convention for approval. As usual they were issued, most by unanimous vote of the standing committee and the council, for quick rubber-stamping in the routinely obedient convention. One of the resolutions was C-3 that would give the parish rector control over the local property. Since another resolution gave the bishop direct control over the clergy, this would mean the bishop through the rector could control the local property.

Something happened in the convention to cause resolution C-3 to be tabled, that is, withdrawn without a vote. All of the other resolutions sailed through instantly, some unanimously. In all of Lawrence's years in South Carolina only one other resolution of the dozens offered had been tabled. That was the Rubric of Love, the controversial statement about homosexuality in October of 2009. When it was introduced, the convention started falling apart in disagreement. Seeing an impending disaster, the managers quickly set it aside, only to kill it at the next convention. In all of Lawrence's years, only one resolution was defeated. That one was Kendall Harmon's proposal to suspend (boycott) the General Convention in 2009. It is extremely rare for a proposed resolution to be opposed in the diocesan convention. Thus, the tabling of C-3 may indicate a significant shift in the diocese.

News of what happened to C-3 in March of 2014 has been completely concealed. Indeed Lawrence's diocese had long proved itself masterful in manipulating and controlling information and keeping its secrets. It still is. There was not a word in the diocesan newsletters about what happened to C-3. As the convention was closed to visitors and the media, not a word has leaked out about what happened. We are only left guessing. All we know for sure is that the resolution was presented by the standing committee and the diocesan council (certainly on Lawrence's wish) and that it was tabled. Why was it tabled? Is it dead? Will it be presented at the next convention in March of 2015?

Regardless of the questions, it is clear that the smooth running of Laurence's authoritarian diocese hit an unexpected roadblock. The fact is the resolution was set aside without a vote. I wonder if Lawrence had not finally reached too far. After all, a deal is a deal if indeed he had traded war against the Church and property for autocratic power. Trying to take the property after the fact would be reneging on the deal. Perhaps rumblings of opposition in the diocese had finally sounded. If so, it is the first major break in a heretofore solid structure governing the diocese. This is a possibility although at this point only a speculation. We should have a clearer picture at the convention in March. 

To recap, it seems to me the documents revealed in 2014 give us a new level of understanding of the working dynamics in the old diocese and in the new independent one. In my view, an unwritten deal was made between Mark Lawrence and the clerical and lay leaders of the old diocese. They gave him authoritarian power while he gave them war against the Church and property. Where did homosexuality fit in? It was the most visible element in the war against the Episcopal Church. It was the wedge issue Lawrence and the leaders used to pry the majority of communicants away from their ancestral  church. The issue of homosexuality was the direct, or trigger, cause of the schism. However, it was part of a much bigger arrangement at work.

The year 2014 has been a lively one for the people of the old diocese. What will 2015 bring? It certainly will bring more and more awful litigation. For starters, Judge Goodstein's impending decision will be appealed to the state supreme court. We are still awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. We can expect another long year in the courts.

All this heaviness needs some levity at year's end. I would like to end my reflection on a lighter note from another source. The great comic actor and Episcopalian Robin Williams gave us ten good reasons to be an Episcopalian. I can think of no better way to end 2014:

Why be an Episcopalian?
10. No snake handling.
9. You can believe in dinosaurs.
8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.
7. You don't have to check you brains at the door.
6. Pew aerobics.
5. Church year is color-coded.
4. Free wine on Sunday.
3. All the pageantry--none of the guilt.
2. You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized.
1. No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

My favorite is #7.

Thanks to you reader for choosing to spend time with me on my blog; and thanks to all my correspondents for their e-mails. Most of all I thank God for the Episcopal Church. With all of this, let us look bravely and confidently into the new year, 2015.
Ron Caldwell

e-mail me at ronaldcaldwell1210@gmail.com