THE DIOCESE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
AND WOMEN'S RIGHTS
As I related in my recent posts, "What Caused the Schism in South Carolina?", the issue of homosexuality was the direct cause of the schism. It derived from broader underlying causal factors emanating from fundamentally different philosophies of religion. I called the two sides "vertical" and "horizontal." The vertical side tends to be individualistic preferring to focus on the one-to-one relationship rising upwards from human being to God. Vertical Christians also tend to be socially conservative. They see the world around them as the product of the Divine Will, to be accepted by human beings. In the last half-century, vertical Episcopalians and Anglicans have resisted as much as they could the reform movements being aided by the Episcopal Church and indeed being incorporated into the life of the Church. In the U.S., the Episcopal Church championed the rights of African-Americans, women and homosexuals. While most social conservatives grudgingly went along with equal treatment for blacks, they resisted and delayed the incorporation of women into the full life of the Church until they had lost the cause (although the dioceses of San Joaquin, Quincy, and Ft. Worth adamantly refused to ordain women). It was on the last issue, homosexuality, that they decided to pull away from the Church. Yet, it was only after a woman was elected Presiding Bishop that the majorities in five strongly conservative dioceses voted to leave the Episcopal Church.
Before the October 2012 schism in South Carolina, and for a short time afterwards, the DSC leadership were very much up front about their opposition to rights for homosexuals. One has only to glance over the "Chronology" post here to see that. Once the schism was made, however, the leaders no longer had any need of the issue and promptly dropped it, disowned it, and even denied it. They began to make the ludicrous claim, repeating it ever since, that their "disaffiliation" had nothing to do with homosexuality. Lawrence now calls it only a "distraction." That claim is patently ridiculous and is easily refuted by the overwhelming body of historical evidence in the public record leading up to the schism.
At this point, we can only speculate on the causes of the DSC's about-face on homosexuality. In American society as a whole, the issue of homosexuality is all but dead. Thirty-seven states now have legal marriage equality. Odds are that the U.S. Supreme Court will validate this in a big way by mid-year. The fight for equal rights of homosexuals is over. The social conservatives lost. The leaders of DSC may have won the battle by removing the majority from the Episcopal Church, but they have lost the war. Indeed, the whole western world has experienced a sea-change in social norms in accepting and affirming full liberty and equality for homosexual persons. It has been one of the fastest and most astonishing social reversals in all of human history. It was only a few decades ago that homosexuality was a taboo subject and doctors regarded it as a psychiatric disorder. And, only a few years ago, far right-wing funders were pouring money into Church groups fighting against rights for homosexuals (see Jim Naughton, "Follow the Money."). It may well be that these deep-pockets counter-revolutionaries have realized the futility of throwing good money after bad. It may be they have thrown in the towel on homosexuality. There are other social battles out there still raging. One of them is the rising and promising campaign to ban abortion.
The topic of a woman's right to choose an abortion is a far more complicated one than that of homosexuality. It involves many more contentious aspects such as causes of pregnancy, length of the pregnancy, parental knowledge, counseling and so forth. It is not a simple issue where liberals are for it and conservatives are against. There are very many areas of gradation and differentiation in the views of abortion. Yet, it remains an issue of women.
Abortion itself has been around forever, but it was only after the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade in 1974 that abortion became part of the larger social war going on. The birth control pill and the women's liberation movement of the 1960's had already put the women's rights movement in place. To the movement, Roe v. Wade was the icing on the cake because it allowed a woman to choose whether or not to carry out a pregnancy. For the first time, a woman was given legal control over her reproductive rights. The opposition, however, latched onto the abortion issue and defined it as a moral question, one of taking a life. They began a campaign to repeal Roe v. Wade, or at least undo it on the local level. They changed the dynamic of the equal rights movement for women by defining abortion as a moral rather as an individual rights issue. The women's movement has had a hard time counteracting the right-wing momentum against free choice. Yet, at base, abortion in the context of contemporary America is really about the freedom and equality of women.
What social conservatives wanted down deep was to defend what they saw as a fixed and God-given society. They wanted women to remain only in their traditional roles as wife and mother. By latching on to the abortion issue they could remove at least some part of a woman's freedom to escape the bonds of the old roles. The strategies and tactics in their war against abortion have shown some success around the country as many local laws have been passed restricting abortion rights. Having failed on the homosexuality issue, they are sensing victory in the war against abortion.
As social conservatives looked back, they could see they had lost the campaigns against race and sexuality, but they had not quite lost on the issue of women's equality. That was the one area they could still hold out hope for resistance, at least on the issue of a woman's right to control her own body. As soon as the DSC leaders had made the schism, they dropped homosexuality and turned to women's rights. Of course, on this they had to be much more subtle and quiet considering that fifty-one percent of the population is female, and so is a much higher percentage of church membership. They could hardly afford to alienate women.
The DSC fight against abortion started immediately after they left the Episcopal Church. The mention of abortion had been all but non-existent before the schism when they needed to keep the focus on homosexuality. They did not want to spoil the stew by adding too many ingredients to the pot. Once they made the break, however, they were free to go after whatever subject they wished. At the first DSC annual convention after the schism, the first resolution offered was a formality to finalize the separation. Then, the next resolution was on abortion. R-2 was offered to the assembly by a long list of sponsors representing a who's who of the ruling clique. It strongly condemned abortion without qualifications and established an anti-abortion chapter in the diocese. Naturally the delegates enthusiastically rubber-stamped it. This established in DSC a prominent anti-abortion campaign. For instance, the last issue of Jubilate Deo carried two major articles denouncing abortion in no uncertain terms.
The present-day campaign against abortion is really part of a broader reaction against the movement for women's equality. DSC has been traditionally unfriendly to women in roles of clerical and lay leadership. This was true long before Lawrence's time. However, the whole conservative wave swelled under Lawrence's leadership. After all, he had come from a diocese that had never ordained a woman. When Lawrence arrived in South Carolina, he found already in place a small group of women priests and deacons. He could not do anything about that. He would have to accept them, but he did not have to encourage or widen the role of women in the diocese any more than he wished.
During Lawrence's tenure in South Carolina, which began on Jan. 26, 2008, he has ordained only two women, both as deacons. One was Martha Horn whose husband was a priest of the diocese. She had already been on course for ordination when Lawrence arrived. The other was Ann Boutcher, of St. Paul's in Conway. Neither has been elevated to the priesthood. To my knowledge, Bishop Lawrence has never ordained a woman to the priesthood, nor has he recommended a woman for seminary on track to be a priest. Even as late as 2012, in his address to the annual diocesan convention in March, Lawrence said: "The commitment to understand the ordination of women and now the blessing of same-sex unions, as fundamentally issues of justice---and not theology---has likewise been and will continue to be destructive of our common life as Episcopalians." Lawrence put women's ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions in the same breath. That speaks volumes.
The DSC clergy list shows 37 priests and deacons moving into the diocese in Lawrence's tenure, to December of 2013. Three of these were women, one priest and the two deacons, Horn and Boutcher. The present clergy list on the DSC website shows 142 priests and deacons. Of the resident clergy, 4 priests and 6 deacons are women (7% of the total). Nationwide, one-third of all TEC clergy are women. Of the 4 women priests in DSC, not one heads a medium or large parish. Moreover, no major governing council or committee of DSC has ever been headed by a woman, nor has any ever had a female majority. Also, very few major parishes have ever had a woman senior warden.
The ruling clique in DSC is all white male, always has been. No woman has ever been included in the inner circle of decision-makers. Women have served, and still do, on the Standing Committee and the Diocesan Council but they are always a minority (and of course always the secretary). In my research on the history of the schism, I found only one case in which a woman on the Standing Committee dared to even suggest a hint of questioning of male authority. On May 30, 2009, several months before the state supreme court handed down its All Saints/Waccamaw decision, St. Andrew's parish in Mt. Pleasant asked the Standing Committee for approval of a scheme to transfer millions of dollars worth of property into an iron-clad trust beyond the reach of the diocese and the Episcopal Church. This was in blatant violation of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, particularly the Dennis Canon. At the time DSC officially adhered to these. Committee member Lydia Evans made a motion to table the appeal awaiting legal explanations. The Committee voted down her motion. Suddenly, Bishop Lawrence offered a prayer of "discernment" after which the Committee promptly passed a motion to accept the appeal from St. Andrew's. So much for women's influence in DSC (and so much for the Dennis Canon).
It is abundantly clear that the leaders of DSC are against equal treatment for women in the diocese. In the parallel universe of social reactionaries, blacks would stay on the sidelines, women would stay at home, and gays would stay in the closet. In the real world, society has moved beyond all of this. America has incorporated into itself tremendous changes in the last half-century. Freedom, justice, and equality have been given, at least to a measure, to the long discriminated against social elements of blacks, women, and homosexuals. I say, thank God. It is long overdue.
Bishop Lawrence, and many other conservatives, apparently believe that an absolute order of truth has been handed down unchanged throughout the centuries and we have to maintain that order. In fact, Christianity is an evolving religion. It was three hundred years before the basic doctrine of the Trinity appeared. It was a thousand years before priests had to be celibate. It was twelve hundred years before the doctrine of Transubstantiation was established. It was fifteen hundred years before the idea of justification by faith alone took hold. It is just not true that Christianity is an inflexible religion handed down unchanged through history. In fact, adaptability is part of the genius of Christianity. It has been a major part in making the success of Christianity.
The Diocese of South Carolina treats women as second-class communicants. Women actually make up more than half of the membership of the diocese. How long these women will tolerate this discrimination remains to be seen.