WHAT CAUSED THE SCHSIM IN SOUTH CAROLINA?
Part 1 (of 3)---The Underlying Causes.
(Originally posted on Feb. 12)
All significant historical movements have underlying causes, direct causes, and initial events. The underlying causes are always most controversial, direct causes less so, and initial events usually not at all. Let's take the Civil War for instance. Historians have argued long and hard over the underlying or basic causes with widely varying interpretations. As an example, some prominent historians have described the root causes as the fundamental difference between incompatible economic systems, northern commercial and industrial capitalism against southern paternalistic agrarianism. Other historians have dismissed this theory in favor of one of a dozen other plausible explanations. In short, there is vast disagreement among professional historians on the underlying causes of the Civil War. There is less disagreement on the direct causes. The most commonly held view here is that the direct, or trigger, cause of the War was the issue of slavery, or more precisely, the expansion of slavery into the territories. This problem propelled the cascade of chain-link crucial events of the 1850's as the run-up to the War: Compromise of 1850, Dred Scott decision, Kansas-Nebraska Act, birth of the Republican Party, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and the election of Lincoln as president in 1860 just to name a few. Finally, there is no disagreement on the initial event of the War: the Confederate firing on U.S. Ft. Sumter, in Charleston harbor on April 12, 1861. The Civil War is a good example of how historians have disagreed widely on the underlying causes, less on the direct causes, and not at all on the initial event.
The schism in South Carolina also has underlying causes, direct causes, and initial events. What I offer here is my interpretation of these. I have studied history for the past 61 years (since my Fourth Grade project on the history of my home state, Florida; I was hooked), Episcopal Church history for the past several decades, and the schism in South Carolina for the last few years. I am half through writing a rough draft of a narrative history of the schism.
Let's take up first the underlying causes of the schism of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. What were the basic or root causes of the split? The first half of the twentieth century witnessed tremendous changes in world conditions in the First World War, the Great Depression, fascist and communist totalitarianism, and the Second World War. This was arguably the greatest period of violent turmoil and disruption in human history. Life could never be the same again. By 1950, with the apocalyptic wars and nightmare depression over and fascist totalitarianism crushed, matters had calmed down a great deal; and what came out of that near-death experience was new life. It had all been a moral crusade and a brilliant victory for the democratic forces of western civilization (Soviet totalitarianism was to collapse and die in the 1980's). Democracy became the prevailing system spreading around the world. With democracy came a new push for the features of democracy, personal freedom and equal rights (first glorified in the American and French revolutions of the late eighteenth century). In America, attention turned first in the early 1950's to the most glaring lack of democratic rights, the plight of the African Americans. Slavery, Jim Crow, and "separate but equal" had deprived them of human then democratic rights for more than 300 years. The Civil Rights movement swept the nation, particularly the South, in the 1950's and 60's as we all know. It brought major gains in freedom and equality for the black minority. Meanwhile, there had been other groups that had been denied justice and equality; and once the drive for rights for one group got underway, the others could not be denied. The second half of the twentieth century in America was the social and cultural working out of the victory of shining democracy over the evil of totalitarianism.
The dramatic changes going on in American society in the mid and late twentieth century impacted on all social and cultural institutions, including the churches. Every religious institution in the country had to decide how to react to the powerful social transformations going on all around them. No matter what they may have wished, they could not avoid it (many a white church in the South resolved to deny membership to blacks). The Episcopal Church was no exception. By 1960, its leadership and majority moved to cast their lot with the Civil Rights movement. Once committed, the Church was from then on an tireless advocate and worker for human rights, first for blacks, then for women, and finally for homosexual persons. The Episcopal Church became well-known in the U.S. as a great advocate for freedom and equality in American life. Its detractors called it too "liberal." It was certainly to the left of most major denominations, with the possible exceptions of the United Church of Christ and the Unitarians.
For a long time there has been a tension in modern Christianity between two widely varying philosophies of religion. For simplicity sake, I will call them "vertical" and "horizontal." The vertical view holds that religion is all about the salvation of the human soul; and that comes about vertically, that is, between one person and one God. It tends to be individualistic. Salvation guarantees life with God in the afterlife. On the far evangelical side, this is "being saved" or making a public profession of personal faith. Fundamentalists, charismatics, and Pentecostals are parts of this side. On the Catholic side of the vertical, salvation comes through the sacraments. Vertical philosophy tends to see religion as static. Evangelicals rely heavily on the scriptures, Catholics on the authority of the church. The tendency is to see truth as handed down from God once and for all. It should be changed only with extreme cause and care. This attitude held over into social and cultural views. The vertical side preferred to resist social and cultural changes.
In the second philosophy of religion, the horizontal view, human beings should put into action their personal salvations to carry out God's work in the world around them. In short, it is the belief that it is the Christian's duty to make the world a better place for people here and now. While vertical tended to be individualistic, horizontal tended to be communalistic, or group oriented. The vertical side preferred to look to life after death, the horizontal to life in this world. A common term for this view was "the Social Gospel." While the vertical focused on one person-one God, the horizontal focused on spreading the work of God out among the people. This made the horizontal approach much more open to social and cultural change and all kinds of reform in order to improve the conditions of human beings. People of the horizontal school criticized the vertical side as selfish, self-centered, uncaring, and uncompassionate. Those of the vertical persuasion criticized the other side as corrupting the essence of Christianity which is the salvation of the soul. They saw social work more as a dangerous deviation and distraction from the real work of religion. It would be an exaggeration, however, to see the two sides as completely exclusive of the other. It was more a matter of degree, or emphasis.
The two philosophies of religion came to odds in the Episcopal Church in the early 1960's. The leadership and majority of the Church adopted the horizontal philosophy; the Church has kept it ever since. The vertical side was the minority, and an ever shrinking one as time went by. The strong commitment of the Episcopal Church to such a well-defined movement as the Social Gospel was really something new in the history of the Church, indeed in Anglicanism. The Church of England (Anglican Church) was declared independent of Rome on the provision it be a generic church, one for all people of the realm. Thus, it had to avoid controversial issues. And this it did. Before the Civil War, the Episcopal Church was the only major Protestant denomination that did not split north-south. This was because the Church simply avoided the elephant in the room. No talk of slavery; no problem. For better or for worse, the horizontal party changed the history of the Episcopal Church in America after 1960.
There are different names for the vertical and horizontal parties; indeed, nomenclature is part of the problem. As feelings hardened, both sides became fond of using judgmental terms against the other: liberal and conservative, revisionist and orthodox, reappraisers and reasserters, revolutionaries and reactionaries. Actually, he last two are useful. The Episcopal Church after 1960 can be accurately described as revolutionary. The critical minority came to react, or try to go back to an earlier non-controversial period of vertical religion.
As the Civil Rights movement matured in the late 1960's, the issue of equal rights for women moved to the forefront. Every Episcopalian of my age range remembers the loud and angry arguments over the ordination of women, first whether they should be priests, then whether to allow women to be bishops. To say the least it was a major controversy within the Episcopal Church in the 1970's and early 80's. Some people, especially southern whites, had fled from the "liberal" Church in the 1960's for more conservative denominations. Now, even more left in disgust as the Church slowly and surely moved to incorporate women into the full life of the Church. Indeed, three dioceses adamantly refused to ordain women; and those three (San Joaquin, Quincy, and Ft. Worth) later voted to leave the Church. Moreover, who of my age could forget "the green book," a.k.a. services for trial use in the early 70's? More fuel to the fire. For some Churchpeople changing the prayer book was a line too far. They saw the 1928 prayer book as sacrosanct, much as many people regard the King James Bible. It must not be touched. All across the country little groups of dissidents pulled out to form independent "1928 prayer book" churches. And, this is not to mention the new hymnal in 1982. Meanwhile, bewildered by the unwelcomed changes going on all around them, the vertical-oriented minority in the Episcopal Church turned ever more weary, wary, and defensive, in worsening fear of whatever next.
Yet, even while seeing their numbers falling and influence declining, the conservative minority in the Episcopal Church did not give up. In fact, there were signs of fighting back, of trying to stem the tide of this corrupt and corrupting modernism. In 1975, several evangelicals opened a new seminary in Pennsylvania devoted to the training of clergy in the conservative/evangelical mold. This was meant to be an antidote to the supposedly hopelessly liberal schools of theology maintained by the national Church. The new school came to be called Trinity School or Ministry, now a large and thriving school of theology, and still bedrock conservative. One of the founders and most active advocates was Christopher FitzSimmons Allison, soon to be bishop of South Carolina. The conservative minority in the Episcopal Church rushed to Trinity, for the evangelicals, and Nashotah House in Wisconsin, for the Catholics. Refusing to give up, the vertical party huddled in their bastions of learning and soon began sending out graduates into the dioceses that would have them. Mark Lawrence was an early graduate. While Allison was bishop of South Carolina (1982-1990) he brought in many alumni of Trinity and developed very close ties between the diocese and the school. The new deacons and priests from Trinity arriving in South Carolina brought with them their strongly evangelical religion and criticism, even hostility, to the Episcopal Church.
The Diocese of South Carolina was in the mainstream of the Episcopal Church up until Allison's time. The preceding bishop, Gray Temple (1961-1982) was a great advocate for human rights. Under him, African American communicants of the diocese finally received full and complete equality, almost a century after the Civil War. Temple was also a great Episcopal Church loyalist binding the diocese as much as possible to the national Church. In 1973, he signed the charter of incorporation for the diocese with the state government. The charter explicitly said the diocese would operate "under" the Episcopal Church. He also saw to it that the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons remained fixed before the diocesan Constitution and Canons and that the diocese explicitly adopted the Dennis Canon. Before 1982, there was no sign of any dissention between the Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Church. All that changed with Bishop Allison in 1982 and his successor, Bishop Edward L. Salmon, Jr. (1990-2008).
By around 1980, the mood in the United States had changed noticeably. "The Reagan Revolution" of the 1980's reflected a national movement to reactionary conservatism. It initiated a period in which the country needed to pause and digest the enormous social and cultural changes that had occurred in the last two decades. Politically the country turned more conservative. The Episcopal Church, however, did not share in this turn. It retained its by now well-established commitment to social justice and equality. It did not help the vertical side that their numbers had been seriously weakened as many conservatives left the Church during the various controversial movements after 1960.
Civil rights for blacks, equality for women, new prayer book, even new hymnal were unsettling enough for many people, but the last straw, at least for the most conservative Churchpeople was the issue of homosexuality. By 1990, it could not be avoided. An openly homosexual man was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. This meant the Church had to come to terms with the issue of whether openly homosexual persons could be granted holy orders in the Episcopal Church. The matter ground on through the decade of the 90's as the Diocese of South Carolina increasingly opposed the idea, and by extension the national Church for condoning it.
In conclusion, the underlying cause of the schism in South Carolina was the earlier divergence in the Episcopal Church between the majority in the Church who were resolved to make the Church an important part of the social and cultural changes going on in America, and the minority in the Church who pulled back for religious conservatism. This was a tug-of-war between the horizontal and vertical partisans, but it was not a even fight. The horizontal side had the majority from the start and saw that majority increase. Eventually, the most anti-Church extreme conservatives found themselves in what they saw as a desperate situation. It was give up their principles or get out.
As the national Church remained on its horizontal track, the Diocese of South Carolina moved in the opposite direction. Increasingly guided by defiantly conservative bishops and Trinity-trained clergy committed to their certain out-of-the-mainstream version of Anglicanism that was ever growing apart from the Episcopal Church, South Carolina became increasingly hostile to the national Church policies. The Diocese of South Carolina moved down this path primarily because of its leadership. The people-in-the-pews had not suddenly changed as Bishop Temple was replaced by Bishop Allison. None of the neighboring dioceses went along with South Carolina. The diocese in the other half of the state, Upper South Carolina, had a far different experience than did the Diocese of South Carolina. The difference was in the leadership. Gradually the diocesan leaders in South Carolina played on the innate conservatism of their communicants enough to bring them along on the final issue of crisis in the Church, homosexuality.
In sum, the schism in South Carolina is the product of a deep division that occurred in the Episcopal Church in the late twentieth century. A majority guided the Episcopal Church along a certain social and cultural road while diocesan leaders in South Carolina from the dissenting minority nudged the diocese ever away from loyalty to the national Church. DSC made a counter-revolution against TEC, but it was a revolution from the top down.