Tuesday, February 10, 2015


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

A week has now passed since Judge Goodstein issued her "Final Order." By now everyone should be over the initial reactions, euphoria on the Lawrence side, and shock on the Episcopal Church side. We all knew all along what the ruling would be, but it was still a great jolt when it actually came down.

The two sides reacted to the news in entirely opposite ways, understandably. The Episcopal Church side (ECSC) tried to put on a brave face. It defiantly announced immediately that it would appeal the decision, therefore assuring the faithful that the decision is not necessarily the last word on the matter. Too, Bishop vonRosenberg issued a pastoral letter to put the decision in a bigger picture of a long-term journey of faith. Patience.

On the independent diocesan side (DSC), the well-oiled public relations machine, that had been brilliant in the run-up to the schism, now went into overdrive again, as one might have expected. One must bear in mind that the Lawrence side still needs a great deal more money from its communicants to pay for the expensive litigation that looms ahead, probably for years to come. This comes on top of the reported two million dollars DSC has already spent on its host of lawyers.

In its new public relations barrage, DSC issued three major statements, all online. The first was a news release about the decision (www.diosc.com/sys/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=636:sc-circuit ). It came from Jan Pringle at 7:16 p.m. on February 3, suspiciously soon after the judge's Order was released by the Clerk of the Court (5:18 p.m.). Pringle gave an amazing amount of detail from the lengthy and detailed 46-page Order. My blog was instantly flooded by a tsunami of hits from people seeking more information and/or my opinion about it (I did not know the news until the next morning). It strains believability that DSC could have procured the Judge's Order from the Clerk's office, gotten it to the DSC office, digested it, written a long explanation, and posted it on their website, all in less than two hours. It must have been driven from St. George to downtown Charleston, a one-hour trip in rush hour, or scanned and e-mailed, a task that would also take a lot of time. Thus, it seems to me DSC either had an advance copy, or knew in advance what the Order would say, or were confidently anticipating a certain decision. The timing of this raises the legitimate question of whether DSC had the Order in advance. At best the timing reflects spectacular clairvoyance, at worst something sinister. At any rate, DSC was obviously already prepared to make an instant announcement. 

The second public relations initiative came in the form of a statement on Feb, 6 by Canon Jim Lewis, assistant to Bishop Lawrence (www.diosc.com/sys/index.php?view=article&catid=1%3Alatest-news&id=637%3A ). The third was a pastoral letter from Lawrence on Feb. 6 (www.diosc.com/sys/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=638:bishop-lawrence-writes ).

Put together, the three papers carried the same themes: 1-a decisive and total victory of DSC, 2-the decision resulted from God's Will, 3-a certain interpretation of the issues, 4-a subtle appeal for more money.

All three announced the obvious, a complete victory for DSC in the court. If they "spiked the ball in the end zone" and took a chest-thumping victory lap, I think they can be allowed such harmless if adolescent behavior. We should all be allowed to be graceless once in awhile. It does not change anything.

While total victory for DSC was indisputable, the rest of the statements were far from it. Lewis and Lawrence both declared the judge's decision to be God's Will. Lewis wrote:  "...it should be observed that it is God's grace that has brought us to this day. Legal counsel has affirmed repeatedly that they have experienced God's grace at work in this litigation from start to finish." Lawrence proclaimed God's Will three times in his letter: "...most grateful for the Mighty Hand of God throughout the whole ordeal"; "...move forward with our God-given dreams and missions"; and "So let us press on undeterred with our mission and ministries...grateful for God's grace..." Surely all of us can feel the presence of God in many ways. And surely God was with everyone in that courtroom last July. God is no more a partisan of Lawrence than he is of vonRosenberg. I do not believe Lewis and Lawrence really meant these words as they may sound, as if speaking for God and saying God was on their side against the other side. I think they could have chosen their phrases better. The working of God's Will is a mystery that will be known to us in the fullness of time. 

All three statements also promoted a certain interpretation of history. It is here that I, as a historian, take the greatest issue. We are told the fight was for freedom of association, and, by extension, disassociation. This is not correct. The issue of contention was not freedom of association. Anyone can leave the Episcopal Church, or any other, and associate with anyone they please. That is called freedom of religion. That was not the issue at stake. The real issue was whether one, or a group in this case, can leave the Episcopal Church and take the property with them. To take the property they would have to leave TEC and retroactively revoke the agreements of association they had followed before the separation. Can a diocese leave TEC and take the property with them even if doing so violates the mutually agreed-upon rules that had been recognized before the separation? In sum, the issue is not freedom of association as DSC claims, it is freedom to ignore the previously recognized laws of earlier association. DSC holds the previous laws can be ignored because they do not comply with state property laws. TEC holds they cannot be ignored because DSC had adhered to the Dennis Canon. The whole matter boils down to who owns the property.

Another old myth DSC still promotes is that TEC is declining while DSC is thriving. They cite a 17.4% drop in the recent membership of TEC as proof. No one can deny TEC is losing members, but that has nothing to do with anything else here. Moreover, DSC has lost a whopping third of its members since Lawrence was consecrated bishop in January of 2008. Over 2,000 (perhaps 2,900) left with St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant; and 6-7,000 remained with TEC. When DSC claims 80% of the old diocese, it is counting everyone in the local churches before the schism. There has been an exodus from virtually every parish and mission remaining in DSC. Indeed, some small parishes of DSC are on the verge of falling into mission status. Exact numbers for DSC are impossible to know and are fluid anyway. As time goes by, some communicants are leaving DSC churches to return to TEC. If I were running DSC, I would avoid the subject of declining membership.

Then there is the tiresome refrain given by Lewis that TEC treated Lawrence badly (another example of repeating): "When TEC attempted to wrongly remove Bishop Lawrence as our bishop, this Diocese elected to disassociate from TEC." I suggest that anyone who believes this should study up on the factual timetable of events, as for instance in the "Chronology" post on this blog. The undisputed facts show that DSC voted to disassociate from TEC on Oct. 2, 2012 in a secret resolution of the 12-member Standing Committee upon the advice of Bishop Lawrence. That was 13 days before TEC took any action against Lawrence. The secret resolution was put into effect on Oct. 15 when Lawrence learned he had been charged with abandonment of the communion. Moreover, TEC did not try to remove Lawrence. In fact, Lawrence removed himself from TEC. The DSC authorities, including Bishop Lawrence, announced (on Oct. 17) that they had voluntarily and willfully left TEC as of 12 noon on Oct. 15, 2012. Lawrence refused the PB's requests to meet again in person. Consequently, the Presiding Bishop accepted Lawrence's renunciation of his ordained ministry on Dec. 5, 2012. The idea that Lawrence was a mistreated victim of TEC is not based in fact. It is a fantasy promoted to rally the faithful around their supposedly victimized and innocent leader.

All of this is troubling enough, but where I really lose all patience with DSC's mythmaking is the most outrageous untruth yet, that this schism was not about sexuality. Lawrence said in his pastoral letter: "This has never been about exclusion. Our churches, our diocese are open to all. It's about the freedom to practice and proclaim faith in Jesus Christ as it has been handed down to us." A reasonable response to this would require a lot of space; and I have already run too long on this blog. Therefore, I will return another day with my thoughts on: