Monday, June 1, 2015


Part 3 (of 3)---Initial Events.

(Originally posted on Feb. 17)
In Part 1 of this series, I gave my view of the underlying causes of the schism, namely the competing attitudes of religion that I called vertical and horizontal. In Part 2, I summarized the direct cause of the schism, the issue of homosexuality. In this Part, I will address the initial events.

To reiterate, great historical events have underlying causes, direct causes, and initiating events. The last of these, initiating event(s), is/are the specific act(s) that actually begin the course of events in the larger historical problem in question. For instance, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was the indisputable initiating event of the United States' role in the Second World War. The U.S. declared war on Japan the next day. In most cases, the initial events are clear-cut while the direct cause(s) less so, and the underlying causes even less.

The schism in South Carolina was no exception to the rule. We can pin-point exactly when it occurred by the clear documents in the public record. On October 17, 2012, Bishop Lawrence spoke by telephone with the Presiding Bishop, Jefferts Schori, and told her that the Standing Committee's resolution of October 2 had gone into effect on the 15th. This meant that the Diocese of South Carolina had disaffiliated with the Episcopal Church as of 12:00 p.m. on October 15, 2012. This was the initiating event of the schism.

As we saw in Part 2, the resolutions passed in the TEC General Convention of 2012 set up the last stage in the diocesan move away from TEC, a trend that in fact had been going on for thirty years. GC had passed resolutions establishing a new liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and granting equality for transgendered clergy. Even though Lawrence had the right to ignore these resolutions in his diocese, he made it clear that he could not continue in an institution that promoted such. Lawrence returned home and declared a crisis. He met the Standing Committee that drew up a secret plan of action [it has never been revealed to the public]. Then, on October 2, 2012, the day before Lawrence was to meet the Presiding Bishop in New York City, the Standing Committee adopted a secret resolution, on Lawrence's advice, to remove the diocese from TEC upon "any action of any kind" against Lawrence. He met the Presiding Bishop on October 3 [he did not tell her about the resolution of the day before], then refused her invitations to meet again. On October 15, Jefferts Schori called Lawrence and told him that he had been charged with abandonment of communion by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops and that she had placed a restriction on his ministry (this was the first he knew of the DBB investigation). He was forbidden from exercising any ministerial duties. She also asked for confidentiality as she expected to meet him in a few days for further discussions in an effort to resolve the problem privately. Lawrence did not tell Jefferts Schori about the Standing Committee's resolution, just as he had not done so on October 3. As soon as Lawrence hung up the phone, he disregarded everything Jefferts Schori had said. Two days later he called her back to give her the news of the "disaffiliation." He made it retroactive to noon on October 15 because that was the time TEC "took any action of any kind" against Lawrence thus automatically kicking into effect the Standing Committee's self-generated secret resolution of October 2. Lawrence declared that this disaffiliation was official because he alone had told the Standing Committee they had the right to do it.

On the afternoon of October 17, immediately after Lawrence's call to Jefferts Schori, DSC posted numerous documents on its website announcing the news of the disaffiliation. Soon thereafter, Lawrence met with the clergy of the diocese to inform them that they were no longer in TEC. A month later DSC held a special convention, not to vote on disaffiliation, that had already been accomplished, they said, by the Standing Committee, but to change the canons of the diocese legally. A majority of parishes and missions sent delegates. All votes were by wide margins, showing the common support for the disaffiliation that was presented to them for affirmation. Even before this special convention met, the Standing Committee directed its lawyer, Alan Runyan, to prepare legal action against TEC in a pre-emptive strike to keep the properties of which they were in physical possession.

Under TEC canons, Lawrence could have had the restriction of October 15 removed from him in one of two ways. In one, he could have sent a letter to the Presiding Bishop who would then have the discretion of lifting the restriction (signs indicated she was anxious to do that). Or, he could have waited until the next House of Bishops meeting, in March 2013, and had a trial in the House. He may well have been acquitted. Lawrence, however, refused to choose either. He said he was no longer a member of the Episcopal Church and therefore not subject to any of its rules. Later, he somewhat disingenuously argued that he had not been restricted by the Presiding Bishop and therefore her restriction and subsequent removal were illegal. He based this on the apparent fact that he had not received a hand-signed document in the U.S. Mail. In fact, he himself said he had received the news of the restriction by phone and by e-mail on October 15. On December 5, 2012, seven weeks after Lawrence told her the diocese, including himself, had left the Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop informed Lawrence that she accepted his renunciation of orders and had issued a formal document called a Release and Removal in which he was released from his ordination vows and removed as a bishop. Lawrence maintained that he had not renounced his orders and that he was still the only legal and legitimate bishop of the diocese.

The question at hand was whether his resignation from the Episcopal Church, that he announced on October 17, also meant his resignation of his ordinations. The Episcopal Church alone had bestowed Holy Orders on him. The Episcopal Church alone had granted him the position of bishop. He had made a solemn vow to conform to the Episcopal Church. By leaving the Episcopal Church did he leave his ordinations and office of bishop? The Episcopal Church said yes; Lawrence said no. The idea that a person can resign from an institution and retain the rights and privileges that had been entrusted to him by that institution does not pass the common sense test. Nevertheless, the majority in DSC bought the claim and agreed with Lawrence. They kept him as their bishop regardless. This was confirmed in the special convention of November 17.

Thus, the initiating event of the schism in South Carolina occurred on October 17, 2012, retroactive to October 15. On the DSC side, the diocese saw itself as completely independent of the Episcopal Church. Lawrence and the other diocesan authorities proceeded on that course. They remained in active possession of all the diocesan assets and most of the parish properties. They prepared for a legal battle to guarantee that possession.

On the TEC side, events proceeded differently. On one hand, the Presiding Bishop continued to try to deal with the restricted bishop of South Carolina for seven weeks. On the other hand, she saw to it that a reorganization of the diocese would get underway while the bishop remained restricted. The lawyer she had retained long before gathered a local group of loyal Episcopalians to form a steering committee to manage a basic reorganization of the diocese. This was necessary because the entire governing structure of the old diocese had resigned from the Episcopal Church. The special convention of November 17 brought an end to the Presiding Bishop's efforts to work with Lawrence. It was clear to her by that point that she could make no settlement with Lawrence within the rules of the Episcopal Church. She promptly consulted the heads of the Church's provinces, found a majority agreement that Lawrence had renounced his ordinations, and proceeded to issue the Release and Removal of Bishop Lawrence on the basis of his having openly declared his disaffiliation with the Episcopal Church. A few weeks later, the local Episcopalians, the minority of the old diocese, met to reorganize the diocese and elect a new bishop. By that point, two separate dioceses existed, each claiming to be the only legal and legitimate Episcopal diocese of South Carolina.

Thus the historical documents show a clear picture of the initiating events of the schism in South Carolina. The twelve members of the Standing Committee unanimously conspired in secret on October 2, 2012, on the advice of Lawrence, perhaps backed up by his lawyers, to withdraw the diocese from the Episcopal Church at the first convenient moment. That moment came thirteen days later, on October 15. On the set-up that the conspirators had secretly arranged in advance, withdrawal on "any action of any kind," bishop-lawyers-Standing Committee agreed on the afternoon of the 15th that the secret resolution of October 2 had automatically gone into effect with the Presiding Bishop's application of the "restriction" on Lawrence. Lawrence called the Presiding Bishop back on the 17th to deliver the news. In fact, a group of no more than twenty people made a self-declared and voluntary "disaffiliation" of the diocese from TEC citing their own authority, which they believed the diocese had given to them. In short, a small group of leaders of DSC willfully and voluntarily broke away the diocese from TEC. They did so on the belief that the majority of clergy and laity would go along. 

In summary, the initiating cause of the schism was Bishop Lawrence's declaration of October 17 that the diocese had withdrawn from the Episcopal Church retroactive to October 15. The direct cause of this was DSC's rejection of TEC's reforms favoring homosexuals. This direct cause derived from the underlying generative factors that lay in the predominance of the horizontal movement over the vertical reaction within TEC.

The leaders of DSC, particularly Bishop Lawrence, have had different explanations of the causes of the schism. Before the break, Lawrence repeatedly claimed that the differentiation between diocese and TEC derived from three sources: theology, polity [church government], and sexuality. He continued to campaign on this for years before the schism. By theology, apparently he meant that the diocese had to pull away from TEC in order to preserve the true and traditional religion while TEC went off track into relativism. By polity, apparently he meant that the diocese had to keep the legal and legitimate structure of the Church because TEC went off into illegal alterations of its rules. By sexuality, apparently he meant that the diocese must defend traditional marriage and sexual morality while TEC veered off into a new definition of marriage and a new view of sexual morality. Conservatives generally believe that gender is assigned by God. It is not up to man to question that, let alone deny it and seek a different sexual expression, or even worse, alter one's God-given gender. (This old view may have been rolled back a bit as DSC promoted a self-identified homosexual man, a Trinity faculty member, who teaches that homosexuality is inborn.) If the Lawrence faction honestly believes they had to break away from TEC because of theology, polity, and sexuality, we must respect their right to their viewpoint. Besides, I do not think their pre-schism explanation of the causes is incompatible with what I have understood to be the underlying causes, direct cause, and initiating cause. I would take issue, however, with many of the assumptions they made in trying to substantiate their views.

Soon after the schism, DSC began to change its interpretation of the causes of the schism. Over the last two years, Lawrence and his assistant Jim Lewis have issued several statements denying that the schism was caused by the issue of homosexuality. They dropped the second and third legs of the pre-schism three-legged stool of theology, polity, and sexuality. DSC's current assertion is that it had to leave TEC because of theology and because TEC had mistreated its bishop. Lawrence insisted in his recent February 6 pastoral letter that DSC is "inclusive." This is in contrast to his long-fought campaign before the schism against what he called "indiscriminate inclusivity." The presently promoted mistreatment charge was not original to the differentiation movement. It developed late in the run-up to the schism and has been increasing ever since. The DSC witnesses in the trial last July showed the prevalence of this charge. Apparently the majority of DSC's communicants believe their bishop was an innocent victim of dark, malevolent forces from off. Thus, DSC has had two different, somewhat contradictory, explanations of the causes of the schism, one pre-schism, the other post-schism. The first conceptualization was actually closer to the documented historical record. The later victim theory is not supported by the historical evidence and should be discarded as self-serving myth.

This concludes my summary of the underlying causes, the direct cause, and the initiating events of the schism in the old Episcopal diocese of South Carolina. To recap, in my understanding of the documents and sources, the underlying causes were incompatible philosophies of religion, the direct cause was the issue of homosexuality, and the initiating cause was DSC's declaration of independence from TEC in October of 2012.

There are many other questions that should be addressed as we try to understand the history of the schism in South Carolina. For instance, was this inevitable, or could it have been avoided? Another would be, was the schism a long-term premeditated conspiracy among a certain group of people? If so, was Lawrence the leader or the follower in this conspiracy? These are all important questions that will have to be addressed in time.