THOUGHTS ON THE YEAR AHEAD, 2015
By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus
In my last post, I gave my thoughts on the year past, 2014. Now I would like to turn to the year ahead, 2015. What can we expect this year for the people involved in the schism of the old Episcopal Church diocese of South Carolina?
This will certainly be another year in court. Judge Diane Goodstein soon will render her verdict in the trial conducted last July. Everyone expects her to come down on the side of the independent diocese (DSC) and against the Episcopal Church diocese (ECSC). She made it plain she would follow the principle of neutrality. That means favoring the side that remained in physical possession of the apparati of the old diocese. It is also a certainty that her decision will be appealed to the state supreme court. However, we are most likely to hear too from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in ECSC's appeal of U.S. Judge Houck's ruling. Houck had refused to take up the case and deferred to the pending litigation in the state circuit court. Here, my expectation is that ECSC has a good shot at a favorable verdict. If ECSC does win in the Fourth Circuit, the case will be sent back to the U.S. District Court for a new consideration. If so, Charles vonRosenberg will have a good chance of being legally recognized as the legitimate bishop of the Episcopal diocese of South Carolina. The tables will be turned on Mark Lawrence who claims that right.
This year will also bring the triennial session of the General Convention (GC) of the Episcopal Church. The overriding issue will be the election of a new presiding bishop to replace Katharine Jefferts Schori. Of course, ECSC will be sending a delegation to the GC. This will be the first time in decades that the SC delegation will actually be an engaging part of the GC. For many years, the SC delegates routinely seethed in hostility to the majority and kept apart to themselves.
The ECSC can expect a year much like the past one. It is a self-sustaining entity guided by leadership given to peace and reconciliation. Its next convention will be in November at Holy Cross/Faith Memorial in Pawleys Island. There are no controversial issues at hand.
DSC is a whole different matter. Its convention will meet in March in Charleston and will face numerous serious problems. Three big issues face the independent diocese in this convention: 1-property, 2-affiliation, and 3-money.
1-Property. As I mentioned in the last post, the ruling clique introduced a resolution in the last convention to give the parish rector control over the local property. However, this resolution was mysteriously "tabled." It was set aside without a vote. We do not know why. We will have to see if it is reintroduced in March.
2-Affiliation. The last convention gave Lawrence the right to hand-pick a committee to recommend an affiliation for DSC with some other Anglican entity. That committee is to render a recommendation for affiliation to the next convention. It is interesting to note that Lawrence and Kendall Harmon have scheduled a presentation on affiliation before the vote.
3-Money. Another mystery. DSC has had a declining budget. At the same time it has greatly rising expenses, namely for its 40+ lawyers. The legal expenses have been removed from the DSC budget to a separate fund. A separate committee is handling the raising of funds for legal expenses. Only a few weeks ago it sent out an appeal for $2m. This is quite a responsibility for the 22k or so communicants of DSC. Meanwhile Lawrence continues to enjoy his million dollar residence virtually rent-free and to draw a very generous salary. Not likely to be discussed openly, the money crisis remains the elephant in the room of the convention.
While the convention will face these three big problems, DSC really has a much more serious crisis at hand, that is maintaining its institutional integrity. The schism of 2012 was a revolution from the top. It was carried out by the old diocesan leadership. It did not arise from the base of common communicants of the diocese. In short, the masses innately trusted their leaders. It is important to note that DSC's rebellion against TEC has not been followed anywhere. Not one bishop supported Lawrence. Not one diocese followed along behind DSC. DSC is a unique case. If it had been a popular revolution, it would have spread to other dioceses. The average Churchperson in South Carolina is not different that that in Georgia, North Carolina, or any other southern state.
The majority of the communicants of the old diocese went along with their leadership I think for three main reasons: 1-they bought the idea it was God's Will, 2-to keep the local property, 3-to preserve the social status quo by going to war against the Episcopal Church on the issue of homosexuality. To accomplish these three things, the majority of the people were willing to go way out on a limb, even to jump off the tree to leave their ancestral church.
The basic problem for the DSC leadership now is how to keep themselves going, how to retain the unity of their body which rests on the bond between its authoritarian leadership and the people. To do that they have to sustain the three main causes of the schism. The deal, however, shows signs of coming apart already. Its long-term outlook is dismal to say the least. In fact, I believe it is doomed to fail on its present course. In the first place, the three reasons given for opposing TEC of theology, polity, and sexuality did not hold up under scrutiny. TEC did not change its theology, did not illegally modify its rules to persecute Lawrence, and did not change the definition of marriage. The truth is gradually emerging. Excuses for leaving TEC were motivational rationalizations, not reasons.
Moreover, the issue of homosexuality is dying away. It is passing quickly from the public discourse. Conservatives know they have lost this one and many of them have already thrown in the towel. One aftereffect for DSC may be the inability to draw monetary support from deep-pocket right-wing funds. It may well be that these reactionary benefactors have given up on the campaign against homosexuality and have redirected their money to issues with more possibility such as the fight against abortion and the campaign to direct state legislatures. Also, as the issue dies away, it is likely to fade in the concerns of the communicants of DSC thereby undercutting one of the main excuses to leave TEC.
The property issue is another potential deal-breaker. If indeed the rector gets control of the local assets, as given in the "tabled" resolution, this will immediately destroy one of the main motivational factors in making the schism: local control of the property.
On an internal institutional level, DSC faces the problem of sustaining itself. This will become particularly acute among the marginal parishes. As they lose members and income, they face the inability to continue as parishes. At first, DSC tried a program of larger parishes contributing to the smaller ones, but the future of that is highly doubtful as other financial problems settle in on all the parishes, all 34 that signed on to the lawsuit of January 2013 and now have lawyers to pay.
In addition, I imagine the ordinary communicants will begin to reconsider their trust in their leaders. As I pointed out in my last post, they gradually gave Lawrence authoritarian power to run the diocese. This trust, however, was built on a negative, opposition to TEC. The leaders had no positive point, no better place to take DSC. The oversight scheme they came up with is nonsense. In reality, DSC is adrift in nothingness. In time, I imagine the faithful majority will lose patience with this aimless chaos and take control of their own lives.
A major point that communicants bought from their leaders is that they were true "Anglicans" and members in good standing of the worldwide Anglican Communion. This is not true and the reality will gradually settle in on thinking people. The Archbishop of Canterbury has made it absolutely clear that in the United States only the Episcopal Church is in the Anglican Communion. The so-called Anglican Church in North America and other entities such as DSC are therefore not in the Anglican Communion no matter what they may claim unilaterally.
In my judgment, in the long run the truth will win out and the majority of the old diocese will see that they have been misinformed and misled. I see signs of that happening already. However, as I see it at this point, Lawrence and the old leadership have too much invested in their rebellion to back out now. I believe the chances are they will live it out in their lifetimes. Most of the leaders who made the schism are at least middle age (Lawrence will be 65 in March). I imagine that group will leave the scene before a reconciliation will take place. I do believe it will take place down the road. I deeply regret all the damage that has been done and will continue to be done, and I firmly believe that history will not be kind to them.
If I were Lawrence, that is something I would be thinking about--my legacy. A hundred years from now, how will history judge Mark Lawrence? He is indelibly linked to the history of the Episcopal Church diocese after 2007 and to the ongoing independent diocese. I think he will be seen in one of two ways, as a great bishop who saved the majority of the old Episcopal diocese from the ruinous heresy of the Episcopal Church or as a misguided bishop whose policies and procedures caused pain, loss, and great harm at great cost to the church in South Carolina. We can all make our guesses at which one it will be, and we do not have to wait long as a historical record has already emerged in the seven years since Lawrence was consecrated bishop of South Carolina (Jan. 2008).
Thus, the year 2015 promises to be another crucial one in the history of the schism of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. On the whole, I think the outlook is good for the Episcopal Church side, and dismal, or at least highly problematical, for the independent diocesan side. At any rate, it will be fascinating to see how the legal and institutional issues work themselves out during the new year.
To paraphrase Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve-- buckle your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy year.