Saturday, March 14, 2015


Mar. 14 ,7 p.m.:

The third annual meeting of the post-schism Diocese of South Carolina (the Lawrence diocese) is over. It was in Charleston on Mar. 13 and 14. Steve Skardon and I attended the "Affiliation" workshop on Friday afternoon conducted by Mark Lawrence and Kendall Harmon. We also attended the business session today that started at 9 a.m. (I left at 4 p.m. when only a few routines items were left.). Here is the first edition of my report on the convention. I will fill in more later when I have more time.

The three big issues facing this convention beforehand were: 1-money to pay legal costs, 2-affiliation, 3-what to do about the resolution from last year giving the rector control of the local property; it had been tabled at last year's convention. There was no resolution of any of these.

On money, there was only a report of the Legal Defense Fund which was pushing its new "1785" campaign to raise $300,000. The chair said they actually expect another 3-4 years of litigation and that this 300K was only for this year. Of course, that begs the question of how they are going to raise the money for the other years. There are already signs of donor fatigue in DSC. Nothing else was mentioned about legal costs or the previously published budget.

The issue of affiliation was the strangest topic in the convention. Bottom line---nothing was decided. No resolution was offered on affiliation. One may recall that last year's convention arranged to set up a special committee (appointed by Lawrence) to study affiliation and present a report this year. The committee's report was no report. For the moment, DSC will continue as is, in limbo. However, talks have been scheduled with leaders from the Anglican Church in North America. Also, a bishop from Chile is coming for a visit representing the Global South. Neither means anything. In his talk on Friday, Lawrence said there was no future in affiliation with Global South, and he showed an attitude critical of ACNA. It seemed to me he talked in circles and gave no clear picture at all as to where DSC should go. Steve Skardon and I speculated he was ready to declare DSC its own province, or perhaps a separate church, but this did not occur in Saturday's business session. There, the committee on discernment spokesman said the study would go on and they would possibly call a special convention in the fall to vote on affiliation, or perhaps wait until next year's convention. It sounded as if the whole issue was still entirely up in the air with no consensus in sight. What is going to happen with affiliation is anyone's guess.

On the third question, the tabled resolution from last year, there was no mention at all. It was as if it had never existed. A tabled resolution should have been reintroduced or withdrawn, but in fact nothing happened concerning the highly controversial resolution to give the rector control over the parish property. Apparently, this idea is dead. The diocesan leaders obviously had strong second thoughts about it, as they should have.

No, the big issue in this convention was none of the three above. It was homosexuality (are you surprised?). The proposed resolutions were kept secret until the last minute in the session, to my knowledge the first time this had ever occurred. When they were distributed, five were given. Three of the five dealt with the issue of homosexuality. If anyone out there still thinks this schism was not about homosexuality, well here you are. Read the resolutions. The other two resolutions were only minor formalities (one of bonding for treasurers, the other to change the canons to drop Sewanee).

The three resolutions were, one to direct the Standing Committee to draw up a policy on (traditional) marriage [to oppose marriage equality]. A second directed the diocesan "Task Force on Marriage" to draw up resources for parishes [opposed to marriage equality]. The third was to adopt a standing policy of the diocese on marriage [opposed to marriage equality]. All three defined marriage as only between one man and one woman. The first two resolutions sailed through with barely a ripple. The third, however, and much to my surprise, actually developed into the start of a thoughtful discussion of gender and marriage. Mr. McFarland (sp?) of St. David's in Cheraw said the harsh language in the resolution would needlessly "alienate" some people, and besides no one can know God's purpose. I was on the edge of my seat, but more was to come. Discussion arose about one particular sentence: "Rejection of one's biological sex opposes God's purpose in creation." This statement was disconnected from the rest of the text which was about marriage as between a man and a woman. Anyone who has been following Lawrence's talk about sexuality knows he is highly concerned about the subject of transgender. No aspect of homosexuality agitates him the way that one does. The sentence was obviously a reflection of Lawrence's thought.

To the microphone came the Rev. Marshall Huey, of Old St. Andrew's. He boldly declared the sentence should be deleted from the text and made a motion to call a vote to do that. The whole room went dead silent. Everyone knew what this meant. Lawrence's face turned somber. He silently picked up his Bible, quietly slipped out of his seat on the dais, and strode around the edge of the room to get in line for the microphone. All eyes turn to him. Silence fell. He opened the Bible and started reading a text to defend the sentence. Then he quietly asked the assembly to keep the sentence in the resolution and returned to his seat on the platform. The most dramatic moment fell upon the assembly. A vote was called to remove the sentence from the resolution. 31 people (17%) voted to remove it. 155 (83%) voted not to remove it. Lawrence had won the day,  but not solidly. To my knowledge this was the first vote ever in which a sizeable  minority went against his explicit request. It was a breath-taking moment. Still, there was no question that this was Lawrence's convention, this was Lawrence's diocese. But, the fact that he had to reassert himself to make the point was significant in itself. Bishop Lawrence had been challenged to his face by his own followers, to my knowledge, the first time ever, or at least the first time in public. 

As I said before the convention, my fondest wish was for someone to actually question the wisdom of one of the proposed resolutions. It was an unexpected thrill that it actually happened. As small and limited as it was, it was nevertheless a little crack in the solid block of the Lawrence diocese. Of course, I could be making too much of this. In the future it may mean nothing at all, but for this little brief moment, there was a  whiff of questioning of Lawrence's thought. Marshall Huey is my hero of the day. I thank him for restoring a tiny spark of hope in me for the future of DSC.

Why the return of the issue of homosexuality? After all, Lawrence and his supporters have said repeatedly since the schism that the "disaffiliation" had nothing to do with homosexuality. My guess, and this is only my speculation, is that it has to do with raising money for legal costs. Homosexuality worked before to stir up people to donate for court costs. It can work again. Besides, what other issue do they have to rile up people? They have to have something to keep the same people giving money for lawyers. Regardless, what this proves is that the schism was very much about the issue of homosexuality. It still is.  

A couple of other observations: one, I sensed a slight wistfulness of the loss of the tie to the Episcopal Church. The business session opened with Morning Prayer from the Episcopal Church Prayer Book. The Church was mentioned over and over throughout the meeting. Breaking up is hard to do, even in a love-hate relationship. The other observation I had was this group is still very much the ship lost at sea. It is floating aimlessly in nowhere, going nowhere. And, I felt a little longing among the faithful for some direction, some aim, some goal in sight. Instead, the leaders provided none of this, only mumbo-jumbo that amounted to nothing. It struck me as a bit sad. It is so much easier to tear down than to build up. And, after all, none of this had to be. This schism was entirely avoidable.

(Be sure to read Steve Skardon's remarks on the convention at