WHAT CAUSED THE SCHISM IN SOUTH CAROLINA?
Part 2 (of 3)---The Direct Cause.
(Originally posted on Feb. 15)
In my last post, "What Caused the Schism in South Carolina? Part 1---The Underlying Causes," I offered my understanding of the fundamental causes of the schism. I saw it as an outgrowth of two widely varying philosophies of religion in the modern Episcopal Church (TEC) that I called for simplicity's sake "vertical" and "horizontal." The horizontal party prevailed in the national Episcopal Church after 1960 and set the agenda for the Church. They enacted sweeping social and cultural reforms, particularly for minorities. The vertical party, however, became dominant in the leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina (DSC) after 1982. In time the differences in viewpoints grew, all the while gradually pushing the two sides into ever more hostile camps. Thus, at root. the schism came from the clash of two opposing understandings of the purpose of religion, personal salvation and the Social Gospel. The former prevailed in DSC, the latter in TEC.
To repeat, great historical events always have underlying causes, direct causes and initiating events. In this post, I want to turn to the second of these, the direct cause. "Direct" can also be called "immediate" or "trigger," all meaning the same. In other words, what specific factor came out of the underlying causes to produce the historical event in question? Direct causes are always the outgrowth of the fundamental issues. They cannot exist separately or in a vacuum. Thus, the direct cause of the schism in South Carolina had to be a certain progression from the basic, or fundamental, causal factors.
My study of the history of the schism in the Episcopal Church diocese of South Carolina shows one clear direct cause, the issue of homosexuality. I found no other factor that was even debatable as the direct cause. This certainly does not mean, however, that it was the only cause of the schism. That would be simplistic. The issue of homosexuality must be kept in the context of its origins in the underlying causes of the schism. It derived from fundamental factors involving a much bigger picture, but in the end homosexuality was the specific part of that bigger picture that mattered the most in producing the schism of 2012. That is why it must be seen as the direct cause of the schism.
The issue of homosexuality worked between Church and diocese for thirty years, from 1982 to 2012. It has a long and detailed history. Unfortunately, there is not room on this post for a thorough examination of it. The best I can do here is to offer a summary. For more detail, see the "Chronology" post. To keep it simple, I will call the horizontal side, "liberal" and the vertical side "conservative."
Here is my understanding of how the issue of homosexuality directly caused the schism:
The question of whether open (as opposed to secret) homosexual persons should have the right of Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church arose in the 1970's on the heels of equality for African Americans and women. To the liberals, homosexuals were another mistreated minority that should be granted equality in the Church just as blacks and women had been. It was an issue of social justice. On the other hand, conservatives saw homosexuality as an issue of religion and morality. They saw homosexual behavior as sinful. In their view, people who willfully practiced sin should never be allowed positions of sacred authority. While conservatives had gone along with equality for blacks, however unenthusiastically, and most had grudgingly accepted the idea of the ordination of women, they would not do the same for homosexuals.
The conservative fight against homosexuality occurred in phases. In the first phase, 1970's-1996, conservatives worked within the Church to try to prevent the approval of ordination for homosexuals. The Church's triennial General Conventions of the 70's and 80's passed vague resolutions weakly supporting homosexuals but fell far short of approving ordination. After the start of Bishop Allison's tenure in DSC in 1982, DSC staked out its position. Under Allison and his successor Edward Salmon, DSC became a bastion of anti-homosexuality. This was bolstered by an influx of graduates of the new conservative seminary in Pennsylvania, Trinity. The diocesan convention of 1985 condemned in advance the idea of the ordination of homosexuals. At this point, the 1980's-early 90's, the anti-homosexual forces had the upper hand in both TEC and DSC. That was to change for TEC but not for DSC.
By 1989, the Episcopal Church was forced to come to grips with the issue. In that year, the well-known liberal bishop John Spong, of Newark, ordained to the priesthood an open and partnered homosexual man. In South Carolina, Kendall Harmon issued a fierce blast of condemnation in the newsletter Jubilate Deo that set the tone of response for the diocese. The diocesan convention followed along and even demanded that Spong be defrocked. He was not, but the battle had been enjoined. This battle, then war, was to last for the next twenty-two years. In the Episcopal Church, 12 dioceses (of 111) united to form a solid block on the right. DSC was one of the 12. For years to come, this block vigorously led the charge in the Church fighting against all moves favoring rights for homosexuals (the ultra-conservative 5 of the original 12 eventually voted to leave TEC; DSC was one of the 5). Between 1980 and 2012, DSC moved from the mainstream of the Episcopal Church to the extreme right edge, then beyond that into a separate realm.
The ordination of homosexuals issue was really just beginning. In 1991, Bishop Walter Righter, assistant to Spong, ordained another openly gay man to the priesthood. This second ordination could not be ignored. Like it or not, the Episcopal Church would have to decide whether it would accept ordination for openly homosexual persons. The issue rocked the General Conventions of the decade of the 90's. In 1996, conservatives reached the high point of their influence on the issue. They managed to get Righter put on trial for heresy. The court acquitted Righter and ruled that the Church could not prohibit the ordination of homosexuals. The conservative strategy had backfired. The court's decision broke the back of the conservative opposition and gave the green-light for the ordinations. DSC, however, would have none of it. The diocesan conventions, the Standing Committee, and the bishops all jumped on the issue in ever-louder condemnation. By the late 90's, they were calling for the withholding of money from TEC and forming bonds beyond. The adversarial relationship between diocese and Church was becoming more serious by the day.
Their failed gamble in the Righter trial forced conservatives to change their strategy. They had lost the internal fight to prevent the ordination of homosexuals. Where to turn next? They would have to go outside the Church. On this, they divided into two groups. The larger one decided to appeal to the conservative Anglican prelates overseas in order to put pressure on TEC to stop its new policy. The equatorial African provinces of the Anglican Communion, that actually had the majority of communicants of the world-wide Anglican Communion, and who were flexing their muscles, were natural allies for the beleaguered American conservative minority. Both were staunchly anti-homosexual. There followed several conservative-inspired international agreements such as the Lambeth Statement, the Windsor Report, and the Anglican Covenant. If the conservatives in TEC were trying to force their hand in the Church by outside influence, they were to be disappointed, again. While giving nods and lip service, TEC practically ignored all of the international initiatives. It became clear that the strategy of foreign pressure was bound to fail, much to the chagrin of the ever-more frustrated and angry conservatives.
There was another, at first much smaller, group of conservatives who chose another path after 1996. This bunch decided to leave TEC altogether. Arguably the most important early meeting of this second group was the First Promise gathering at All Saints in Pawleys Island, SC, in 1997, hosted by Chuck Murphy. Blasting TEC leadership and policies, it cast the Church as the adversary in the fight for the true [vertical] faith. The Episcopal Church was not just wrong, it was the enemy. It must be replaced by a new and pure church. In 2000, former DSC bishop Allison participated in the highly controversial ordination of Murphy as a bishop. Murphy and friends set up a new institution, the Anglican Mission in the Americas. At this point, however, at the turn of the century, most TEC conservatives were still not ready to jump ship.
The Robinson crisis of 2003 changed everything. Gene Robinson, an open and partnered homosexual man, was elected by the Diocese of New Hampshire as its next bishop. The TEC General Convention met shortly thereafter and the bishops affirmed Robinson's election by majority vote (Mark Lawrence, of San Joaquin, led the minority report in opposition). Robinson was then consecrated and installed as the bishop of New Hampshire. He was the first openly gay person to be a bishop in TEC. The conservative minority in TEC looked on in rage. It is fair to say the leadership of DSC exploded in unparalleled fury against TEC (see Chronology). They called an emergency special diocesan convention that appealed to the foreign Anglican primates to rescue the beseiged "orthodox," e.g. DSC, dioceses in America. Soon thereafter, DSC was a leader in the creation of the Anglican Communion Network, a decidedly conservative alliance looking for overseas ties. At the same time appeared the controversial Chapman Memo (Dec. 2003) that was circulated among the disgruntled right. It outlined a plan for a conservative replacement for TEC. A few months later, the Barfoot Memo called for primatial oversight from foreign primates as a step to replacing TEC. The Robinson crisis greatly bolstered the idea among the far right of TEC that they had no choice but to leave TEC. Most conservative Episcopalians, however, still held out hope that the foreign cavalry would arrive to save the day even as that appeared less and less likely. The path of "Alternate Primatial Oversight" went nowhere. Jefferts Schori offered a plan that was rejected by the conservative bishops. That idea died.
When DSC set up a search committee in 2006 for a new bishop, the anti-Episcopal Church movement in the diocese was stronger than ever and growing. The committee, that turned out to be solidly conservative, wound up with three names, all well-known and vocal critics of the Church and staunch opponents of ordination for homosexuals. The nod went to Mark Lawrence, of ultra-conservative San Joaquin, who had made a name for himself in the 2003 GC fight against Robinson and with several articles highly critical of TEC policies. It was clear the DSC leadership, now monopolized by conservatives highly critical of TEC, had found their soul mate.
For the majorities of the four far-right wing dioceses, the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of TEC in 2006 was the last straw: a woman, a liberal, and a strong advocate of rights for homosexuals. The majorities in San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and Ft. Worth all voted to leave TEC in 2007-08. Shortly thereafter, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) was created and the four groups joined. GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference), a coalition mostly of Third World Anglican provinces bound together by opposition to freedom and equality for homosexuals, recognized ACNA as the only legitimate Anglican province in America. Thus, the second strategy of the conservatives after 1996 had won the day. The far-right came to believe TEC could not be reformed and must be abandoned and replaced. In a sense, Chuck Murphy had won out. By 2009, all of the rest of the 12 dioceses' conservative block had to choose whether to follow their 4 sisters out of TEC or stay in and hunker down in their walled enclaves blocking out the despised reforms as much as possible. They decided to stay, all but one.
Internal institutional matters were different in DSC than in the earlier four cases of secession. In DSC, the years 2006 to 2009 were taken up by choosing a new bishop and allowing the outsider to get well-adjusted in his new home and role. Bishop Lawrence spent his first two years bonding with the diocesan leadership, the clergy, the communicants, and leading conservative bishops in TEC and overseas. All the while he had an increasingly adversarial relationship with TEC.
The TEC General Convention of 2009 passed resolutions favoring the rights or homosexuals to Holy Orders and calling for the creation of liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions. As in the aftermath of the Robinson case of 2003, the DSC leadership exploded in wrath. Lawrence harangued the diocese against "indiscriminate inclusivity," his code term for opposition to homosexual rights. An urgent special convention was called to start the actions to remove DSC from TEC. The convention voted to start withdrawing from the governing bodies of TEC and to make null and void the recent resolutions of GC. A few months later, another convention declared DSC to be "sovereign." A few months after that, yet another convention proclaimed the virtual independence of DSC removing accession to the canons of TEC, revoking the Dennis Canon, and altering the corporate charter to remove TEC. Along the way, one resolution was offered that actually dealt with the subject of homosexuality (The Rubric of Love). The convention exploded in disagreement on how they should actually deal with homosexuality itself. Anarchy at hand, DSC leaders quickly tabled the resolution, then killed it. DSC never again tried to come to terms with homosexuality, only to condemn it. By 2011, DSC remained in TEC in name only. Lawrence proceeded to grant quit claim deeds to all the parishes in defiant disregard of TEC.
The TEC General Convention met again in 2012, this time to adopt the new liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and to recognize transgendered clergy. The DSC leadership used this to create a crisis. Lawrence dramatically staged a pre-planned walk-out of GC and returned home to move to a new level. As a public charade of peace, he met with Bishop Waldo, of Upper South Carolina, and Jefferts Schori, but offered no settlement. Meanwhile he met in seclusion with the Standing Committee to chart a course of action. Under Lawrence's direct advice as the only arbiter of the diocesan constitution and canons, the Committee drew up a secret resolution to withdraw DSC from TEC if TEC "took any action of any kind" against Lawrence. Twelve days later, the Committee put into effect the secret plan and the break was final. DSC declared publicly its independence from TEC in October 2012. The last stage in the run-up to the schism began with the General Convention's resolutions on homosexuality.
It had been a long and rough road from 1985 to 2012. The TEC General Conventions of 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2012 enacted the ordination of homosexuals, the blessing of same-sex unions, and rights for transgendered clergy. After each GC, the Diocese of South Carolina reacted in ever stronger vehement opposition and militant hostility to TEC. This track reached its logical conclusion in 2012. The issue of homosexuality was the direct cause of the schism in the Episcopal diocese of South Carolina.
In Part 3 of this series on the causes of the schism, I will address the question of what were the initiating event, or events, of the schism.
In Part 3 of this series on the causes of the schism, I will address the question of what were the initiating event, or events, of the schism.