THE PROBLEM OF THE "DISASSOCIATION" AND THE RENUNCIATION
By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus
In retrospect, day fourteen, Friday, July 25, was the most important and interesting of the trial, but one that ended abruptly on the most tantalizing points. I could only have wished for more time. The hanging, crucial questions revolved around when and how the diocese made its "disassociation" from the Episcopal Church and when and how Mark Lawrence made his renunciation of vows as an Episcopal bishop.
No doubt Runyan decided to put Lawrence on the stand as the last witness on the last day in order to make a final positive impression on the judge of the innocent local victim persecuted by an errant national organization. By afternoon, however, things were going a little off track as two big issues appeared before the judge: Lawrence's right to act "in good standing" as an agent for the corporation of the diocese, and whether collusion or fraud had occurred against Lawrence and the diocese. Either one of these was a mega-bomb that threatened to blow the case wide open at this very last minute and lead to many more days of trial proceedings delving into the detailed relationship of Lawrence and the Episcopal Church. Realizing that he had pulled himself and his client into the ocean, Runyan immediately scrambled the both of them back into the lifeboat and withdrew his questions. The judge, however, was not so quick to drop the matter. At long last, she seemed really concerned about Lawrence's role in the Church. In one of her last remarks, Judge Goodstein said to Runyan: "There was a renunciation on November 17, 2012, which would then mean that Bishop Lawrence may or may not have had authority to act as a managing agent of the corporation, so again I ask, were there any documents that were executed or actions were taken on Nov. 17, 2012 that have an effect on your argument that the diocese could and did end its accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Church?" This remark seems to reflect a certain desire for clarity in her mind about just what the disassociation and renunciation were, what they meant, and when they occurred. What they meant, of course, was the whole point of the trial. Runyan et al had just spent fourteen days arguing that the diocese was an independent corporation entitled to legal protection of itself and all its assets.
When and how the "disassociation" and renunciation occurred is not difficult to see. A simple review of the public documents reveals a clear picture. As I have pointed out in the post "How and When Did the Schism Occur?" the diocese's own documents held that the "disassociation" happened on October 17, 2012, retroactive to noon, October 15, 2012. Lawrence announced this many times, most notably in his address to the special convention on November 17, 2012. He told the delegates they were there to "affirm" this irrevocable act.
The matter of the renunciation is more problematical. When did Bishop Lawrence renounce his vows as a bishop in the Episcopal Church? Apparently, Lawrence never made a written renunciation of his rights as bishop or his membership in the Episcopal Church. Likewise, I have seen no evidence that he ever make a verbal statement directly renouncing his vows as a bishop. In short, there was no apparent de jure renunciation. However, in my opinion the evidence is very clear that he made a de facto renunciation and did so verbally to the Presiding Bishop by phone on October 17, 2012, retroactive to noon, October 15, 2012. At that time the diocese (and Lawrence certainly included himself in that as its bishop) unilaterally declared its complete and full separation from the Episcopal Church as an independent and sovereign corporation under state law. That meant, of course, that Lawrence was telling the Presiding Bishop, that he had abandoned the Episcopal Church as of October 15. That was the moment at which the diocese, including Lawrence left the Episcopal Church. Abandoning the Episcopal Church would obviously mean giving up his role as a bishop in the Church. Lawrence willfully and voluntarily left the Episcopal Church. He was not forced out. Afterwards, he saw no connection to the Episcopal Church and no reason to follow any rule of the Church; so he never issued a renunciation as called for in Church canons. He said it was all "irrelevant." By the time the special convention met on November 17 the disassociation and his renunciation were already a month old. Once the convention occurred, the Presiding Bishop moved. Seven weeks after his phone call to her announcing the diocese's, and his, removal from the Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop finally, formally accepted Lawrence's de facto renunciation of his vows as a bishop in the Episcopal Church (Dec. 5, 2012). Lawrence called this "superfluous." It appears clear to me that Lawrence renounced his vows when he removed himself from the Episcopal Church on October 15.
Did Mark Lawrence have authority to act as the managing agent of the corporation after its purported disassociation from the Episcopal Church? That is one of the last questions that Judge Goodstein asked; and it was the best one of the whole trial. Unfortunately, I think it would take a great deal more evidence to answer that one than she heard in the trial. But it did suggest that Runyan's relentless hammering of the diocese's rights may not have overly impressed the judge. Runyan maintained that the diocese was always a sovereign and independent entity; therefore, the "disassociation" would have absolutely no effect on Lawrence's authority as the "managing agent" of the corporation of the diocese.
As for when and how the diocese "disassociated" and Lawrence renounced his vows, I think that can be answered fairly easily by examining the well-known documents. In my opinion, the historical records show no doubt that the diocesan leaders, including Lawrence, believed these things happened on October 15, 2012.