Friday, June 26, 2015


On today, the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, martyr of the faith, will be held in Charleston. Much of the American leadership will be present. Much of the world will look on in sorrow. There is a time for everything; and this is the time for grief. I would also add it is a time to reflect on the sin of racism.

It is interesting to note the difference in the ways the two dioceses of the schism have reacted to the ghastly tragedy of June 17 at Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Calhoun Street in Charleston. Mark Lawrence, and indeed a host of other schismatic "Anglican" bishops in South Carolina, called for prayers and assemblies for prayer. This was a typical "vertical" response. Bishop vonRosenberg, of the Church diocese kept true to the Episcopal Church "horizontal" attitude. No only did he call for prayer and outward support, he took money from his diocesan budget for a donation to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund and made another contribution to the Lowcountry Ministries Reverend Pinckney Fund." Moreover, he called for the faithful to make donations on their own and provided a link on the diocesan website for that. As of yesterday, the Hope Fund listed $660,000 received and the Ministries $106,000.

There is hope too. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church opened its triennial session on June 25. Racism was on everyone's mind. For more than sixty-five years, the GC has dealt with racism in America grappling with ways to bring it to an end. The Episcopal Church became a leading participant in the Civil Rights movement. The Diocese of South Carolina finally came along too, admitting the first black parish in 1955, ninety years after it applied for admission, and finally ending all segregation in the diocese in 1965 thanks to Bishop Gray Temple.

It is fitting then that we look at the election of the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The election will occur tomorrow, June 27. The odds-on favorite is the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina. He is the first diocesan bishop in the south to be an African American. (He is not the first black Episcopal bishop in the South. Arkansas elected a black Suffragan Bishop in 1917, and North Carolina in 1918, but they were to minister only to the black church members and had no power in the House of Bishops). If elected, Curry will make history as the first African American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Such a thing would have been unimaginable sixty-years ago when the Episcopal Church first committed itself to racial justice, but it was only because of that commitment that we have reached this great moment. We should reassure ourselves that progress does happen.

It happens too for South Carolina in the General Convention. For the past thirty years, the diocese was increasingly at odds with the GC. It started in the mid-1980's as the diocesan leaders denounced the Convention's discussion of sexuality. In 2003, the diocesan leaders exploded in rage after the GC in which a partnered homosexual man was approved as a bishop in the Church. They declared a crisis and called an emergency meeting of the diocesan convention that blasted TEC for approving a gay bishop, called for foreign oversight, and differentiation from TEC. DSC then helped form the Network of Confession Dioceses and Parishes, a pact of a dozen ultra-conservative dioceses seeking to distance themselves as far as possible from TEC. In December 2003 appeared the Chapman Memo that became the guide to how to leave the Episcopal Church.

DSC also reacted against the next GC, in 2006, but not as dramatically. The diocese was preoccupied with the election of a new bishop. Nevertheless, the diocesan leaders railed against the election of the first woman to be Presiding Bishop and first woman primate in the Anglican Communion. They called for the Archbishop of Canterbury to arrange Alternate Primatial Oversight for the diocese. This did not occur.

The next General Convention, in 2009, was another story. It passed resolutions supporting homosexual persons in Holy Orders and setting up a process for making a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions. Bishop Lawrence returned to SC and declared a crisis. He called an emergency meeting of the diocesan convention, in October, that voted to nullify the hated resolutions of GC and to begin removing the diocese from the governing bodies of TEC. The nest year, the convention withdrew recognition of the canons of TEC leaving only a tentative tie to the Constitution of TEC. This was a virtual declaration of independence for DSC from TEC. In November of 2009, the DSC Standing Committee hired Alan Runyan to be its lawyer.

The next General Convention, 2012, was to be the final crisis. It was one that the diocesan leadership planned for months in advance. Lawrence spent six months preparing himself and the diocese. He and the delegation of deputies planned their courses of actions. When the GC met and as expected passed resolutions for a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and recognized rights for transgendered clergy, the South Carolinians were well-prepared. The delegates staged a dramatic walk-out of the House of Deputies, leaving only John Burwell and Lonnie Hamilton as the place holders. The next day, Lawrence staged his dramatic walk-out from the House of Bishops. He returned to South Carolina and declared a great crisis. Within three months this crisis would produce the schism of 2012. On August 21, Lawrence and the Standing Committee agreed on a secret plan (that still remains secret although we can take a wild guess at it). On October 2, under Lawrence's advice, the Standing Committee passed a resolution to remove the diocese from TEC if the Church "took any action" against Lawrence. It did and they did, thus schism on October 15, 2012.

The leaders of the old Diocese of South Carolina, growing ever hostile to the Episcopal Church, used the General Conventions of 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2012, to progressively move the diocese away from the Church, finally to separation. This appears to me to be a pattern, not an accident.

Yet, we should remember there is continuity. Lonnie Hamilton was a deputy to GC before the schism, in 2012, and is one again now. He is ECSC's outstanding tie to the past. The faithful of ECSC owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Hamilton.

So now, the delegation from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina will participate fully and enthusiastically in General Convention for the first time in three decades. Again, progress does happen.

One can only wonder what the leaders of the schismatic diocese are thinking now that they no longer have General Convention to use for their own purposes. I suspect they miss it. Apparently Kendall Harmon does. He has carried several stories about it on his well-known blog, the semi-official voice of the breakaway diocese. (And, what are they going to do after their favorite punching bag, Jefferts Schori, retires this year?)

This is a historic moment in the life of the Episcopal Church and the Church in South Carolina. In spite of all the wrongs in the world around us, in spite of all the division, hostility, intolerance, life goes on. As a historian and a Christian I believe time brings progress, but not in a even line. Along the way there are many temporary setbacks.

P.S. I just learned the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. See, progress does happen.

Note-after I posted the above, DSC put out a press release promoting donations to the two funds mentioned above.