ON THE DSC CONVENTION
A few days have elapsed since I posted my reports on the Diocese of South Carolina's (the Lawrence diocese) convention of Mar. 13-14. Since then, DSC has posted on its website several articles about it including Lawrence's address, an explanation of it, the text of the resolutions, and a public relations blurb. Here are some additional thought I have about the convention:
1. The convention overall was meant to be a pep rally for the faithful. Every diocesan group imaginable gave glowing reports, and every one with a video. I got video burnout. All of the reports seemed to be "Ministry of..."It was all vertical religion without a hint of the Social Gospel. It was all about bringing souls to Christ and nothing about social justice.
2. As Steve Skardon has pointed out, Lawrence talked of taking the church outside of the diocese. In his presentation on "Affiliation," Lawrence said he had been talking with "frustrated laity" in the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina. We know that he has already been sending clergy into that area to serve dissident "Anglican" congregations. Lawrence also said one Episcopal Church in the "southeast" had contacted him asking to join his diocese. Evidently, Lawrence sees himself as one on a special mission. The Episcopal bishops in the southeast had better take notice.
3. In the convention and in the public relations initiative since, DSC has put on a cheery, optimistic face of dynamic growth that does not square with the figures. In his address, Lawrence stressed all sorts of development in the diocese. Statistics show that DSC has lost a third of its members and a third of its income since he became bishop in 2008. At the time of the schism, 10,000 communicants quit the diocese, about half staying with the TEC churches and half leaving the DSC churches. All but a few of the DSC local churches have taken a hit in membership and income since the schism. Some of the smaller congregations are on the ropes. DSC is down to 18,000 communicants from a high of 27,000 in 2008. No amount of forced perkiness, as "Breath of Fresh Air" can mask the grim reality of decline.
4. DSC remains a white male bastion. The handful of African American clergy and lay delegates were all but lost in the assembly that never addressed issues of minorities. There were also several women clergy. But, when the new clergy were announced, all were males. The fact is, Lawrence has not ordained a woman to the priesthood and has ordained only two women to the diaconate, and that was years ago. Moreover, no woman appeared at the podium to give a report from a major committee.
5. DSC has no accountability. The budget of 2015 was ratified by the convention without discussion. "Legal" expenses had only one line. The Legal Defense Fund gave no details. Its income and outflow remain mysteries. At one point, Lawrence asked everyone who had contributed to the Fund to stand. No one stood. What this meant is anyone's guess. DSC said it has spent $2,000,000 on legal expenses (without details). However, the published budgets of DSC show a total legal expenditure of $1,159,365 in the Lawrence years (2008-to 2015). That leaves a gap of over $800,000 unaccounted for in the budget. Where did the money come from? Where did it go? The members of DSC ought to start asking some questions before they keep pouring money into DSC fund. There is a glaring need for transparency in DSC's legal spending.
6. Lawrence has reversed his claim that the legal victories were God's will. After Judge Goodstein's decision in February, 2015, DSC issued a press release declaring the outcome to be the product of God's will. Lawrence issued a letter in which he invoked God's will three times. Indeed, before the trial as DSC tried to raise money, he called his courtroom opponents "the spiritual forces of evil." However, in his address to the convention, Lawrence declared "this current legal victory should not be seen as a divine vindication of our position in this struggle." Why the reversal? Perhaps it has to do with money. If one believes God will prevail anyway, then why give money?
7. The most curious change of tune, however, was on the issue of homosexuality. Since the schism, over two years now, Lawrence and the DSC have taken pains to deny the schism had anything to do with homosexuality. The last two conventions of DSC ignored the topic of homosexuality. Then, all of a sudden last Saturday, the delegates were handed five resolutions, three dealing with homosexuality.
The resolutions are available on the DSC website. Notice that in her public relations release, Joy Hunter never used the terms homosexuality, marriage equality, or same-sex marriage. We are supposed to believe these only deal with "marriage." If DSC is still trying to disguise its homophobia, it won't work. Everyone can see what is happening here.
DSC's return to homosexuality is a bit surprising given that Lawrence approved of Les Hill's appearance in the diocese last year. Hill was the openly homosexual Trinity School for Ministry teacher who maintained that homosexuality is inborn. This contradicted the conservative view that it is learned, not innate. Now we can see that Hill was only an aberration, not a change of direction for DSC.
Why the sudden return to homosexuality after so long an absence? It possibly goes back to the close tie between DSC and the Anglican Communion Institute. ACI is a highly conservative "think tank" that churns out reams of articles invariably critical of the Episcopal Church. It is based in highly conservative Dallas, whose bishop, James Stanton, is a longtime staunch conservative and sometimes leader of the rightwing coalition in the Episcopal Church. ACI started in the wake of the Gene Robinson affair of 2003 on the initiative of a controversial priest named Don Armstrong. He was charged with embezzling several hundreds of thousands of dollars from his church. He pled no contest, and ACI cut him off. ACI was then incorporated in Dallas in 2008 by Christopher Seitz, president, Philip W. Turner III, vice president, and Ephraim Radner, senior fellow. All three are prominent conservative Episcopal theologians who have written extensively and relentlessly critically of the Episcopal Church. Apparently they aim to steer the Church to the right from within. Most of their papers are pseudo-academic pieces without citations, really only glorified anti-Episcopal Church propaganda. ACI was a devoted defender of Lawrence in the run up to the schism. In fact, Alan Runyan contributed to it on the question of the Title IV reforms. The ACI think tank is supported by outside contributions which remain a mystery.
The tie between DSC and ACI is a strong and long one. Two members of the ACI board are from South Carolina, one being former bishop Salmon. Last Saturday, Lawrence made a point of giving thanks to ACI for all they had done for DSC. He did not elaborate. Since there is little accountability in DSC we may never know the money ties, if any, between the ACI donors and DSC. If there is an $800,000 gap in DSC spending, who filled this gap?
Lately, the ACI leaders have been on a public crusade against marriage equality. In November of 2014, Seitz and Radner created "The Marriage Pledge" in the online First Things (www.firstthings.com/marriage-pledge). Everyone was invited to take the pledge. It said clergy would not sign "government provided marriage certificates." Thus, if a couple wanted to marry in the church, they would have to have a separate civil ceremony. This is obviously meant to be a slap at the "government" for allowing same-sex marriage that is now legal in 37 states and in all probability will soon be stamped with approval by the U.S. Supreme Court. If the aim is to hurt the government, that is silly. The ones being hurt are the couple who must have two ceremonies. This is a foolish and immature stunt by supposedly intellectual leaders of ACI. Even though they opened the pledge to laypeople, only 430 people have signed up. Not one on the list is from South Carolina. Most are fundamentalists and Catholics. Obviously this misguided ploy has had very limited appeal.
The ACI's crusade against marriage equality is a bit late. The war is over. The country has moved on. Then why make such a bid deal of it at this time? There may well be a big deal coming up in the Episcopal Church, possible this summer. The main Presbyterian denomination has just ratified same-sex marriage, to start this summer. The General Convention of TEC meets this July. It is bound to take up the issue of same-sex marriage in some form. As of now, same-sex couples can only get a blessing in the Episcopal Church. Thus, it may be that the Marriage Pledge is really meant to put pressure on the Episcopal Church to back off. If so, it won't work.
Nevertheless, it is possible that ACI is the source of the three resolutions in DSC forbidding marriage equality. Actually, the resolutions were really pointless and unnecessary. Twenty-three years ago, in 1992, the DSC convention passed the same resolution: "Genital sexual expression is to be understood and taught as God's gift exclusively for men and women united in Holy Matrimony." Besides, the civic state cannot require a church to marry a couple. Marriage in the church is always up to the church. Anyway, it is unimaginable that any clergyperson in Lawrence's diocese would ever dare to preside over anything for homosexuals. Thus, the whole business of these three resolutions was frivolous. It may be that the resolutions were drawn up to please ACI which had been helpful to DSC, just how helpful we do not know. Too, they may well have been motivated by the need to keep people making contributions to the legal fund. What the resolutions really tell us is that the issue of homosexuality is still the glue that holds together this severed entity. It is rather sad that it has to keep beating a dying horse to keep itself together.
Two and a half years into the schism, we can see that DSC has achieved a certain level of success. It is still there. It fought a brilliant legal campaign and prevailed spectacularly in local court. It has a certain amount going for it. It has earned an appreciable amount of respect. Nevertheless, I see three large problems looming over it that must be addressed, and sooner rather than later:
A. IDENTITY. It calls itself "The Episcopal Diocese" and labels itself "Anglican." Neither is true. It is not part of the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. It just does not make common sense to have an Episcopal church outside of the Episcopal Church or an Anglican church outside of the Anglican Communion. This is only confusion. Hence, the need for identity. Just what is the Diocese of South Carolina? On this, the leadership has been missing in action.
B. AFFILIATION. Now, Lawrence calls his group an "extraterritorial" diocese of the Anglican Communion. Nonsense. It must affiliate with a province of the AC in order to be in the AC. If it joins the Anglican Church in North America, it will still not be in the AC. ACNA is not a province of the AC. If it adheres to a legitimate overseas Anglican province, it is likely to have the same problems that previous attempts experienced (think Chuck Murphy). Yet, Lawrence was somewhat critical of Global South and ACNA in his talk last week. Obviously, he and his committee on affiliation are having a great deal of trouble coming to a decision. They have been working on this for a year. How long should it take?
C. ACCOUNTABILITY. Millions of dollars are flowing through DSC for legal costs without public accountability. Members of the diocese have a right to know where the money is coming from and where it is going. It is time for transparency.
DSC is an authoritarian regime where power is concentrated at the top, mainly in the hands of the bishop. Historically, authoritarian regimes work as long as they are two-way streets. People are willing to put all their trust in a leader as long as they think they are getting enough in return. I detected signs of discontent in last Saturday's convention. Numerous people spoke out in the meeting questioning the resolutions they were being expected only to approve blindly. When one person asked for the removal of one sentence, Bishop Lawrence was forced to reassert control over the convention which he did. All is not well in this authoritarian state.
No one can know where all of this is going for DSC. Only time will tell that. But I do believe that DSC has some serious problems which will have to be reconciled if it is to remain a viable entity. Either those solutions come from the present authority or they will come from the people who actually make up this church.