Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Yesterday, June 15, the independent diocese flatly rejected the overtures of negotiations for a peace settlement in the ongoing war between the two dioceses in South Carolina. One of the benefits of this has been to clarify for us the larger issues in this contest. Conventional wisdom has always held this fight was about property, who owned the lands and buildings, the local parishes or the national Church and its diocese? Yesterday's events have forced us to rethink this assumption.

On the Episcopal Church side, the objectives are clear: reconciliation with those who left the Church. The goals are healing, peace, and security under the broad and tolerant arms of the national Church. Bishop vonRosenberg has made this very clear. His offer to open negotiations with the schismatics and to make major concessions to them was done in this vein.

On the independent diocesan side, we were told when the schism occurred in 2012 it had to be done to protect the local properties of the parishes. It was all about the parish properties. However, when ECSC chancellor Tisdale offered, on June 1, to recognize that the parishes were independent and owned their local properties, the diocesan authorities said no. Thus, we can now see the schism was really not about property all along.

If the schism were not about property, then what was it about? It seems to me the ruling clique of the independent diocese ("Bishop" Mark Lawrence and a hundred or so allies) see something much bigger than just land deeds and old buildings. They see the transformation of the Anglican world in the twenty-first century and have said so repeatedly. Apparently, they believe their mission is to help save the Anglican world from the evils of the Episcopal Church and the other errant liberal provinces that they believe have corrupted the old Anglican Communion. By joining their socially reactionary allies in GAFCON, Global South and the like, they are creating a new parallel and "biblical" communion that will simply push aside and ignore the old structure in which the Episcopal Church had played such an important part. GAFCON and her subsidiary, Anglican Church in North America, have said explicitly they are out to replace the Episcopal Church as the legitimate Anglican province in the U.S.

Yesterday's events help us see this struggle is not really about property per se. It seems to me it is about replacing the Episcopal Church and the new social equality it represents.

It is important to note how the independent diocese handled the offer of negotiation. The response came yesterday in a long press release from Lawrence's assistant, Jim Lewis. It is available on the DSC website. It is the most belligerent, cynical, sullen, and accusatory diatribe to come out of Coming Street since the schism. That in itself tells us something about how threatening the ruling clique saw Tisdale's offer. Yesterday they came out all guns blazing. As far as anyone knows, Tisdale's offer was not taken to any parish for discussion among the parishioners or vestries. There is no evidence it was even mentioned to the parishes. It is not in the ruling clique's interest to allow parishioners to discuss possible peace deals in which they, the parishioners, would get everything they had supposedly wanted.

No doubt the independent diocese is feeling confident after their sweeping victory in the circuit court last July. However, they are facing two much more serious court proceedings in the federal court and the state supreme court. They know they have to keep their diocese united and contributing money.

In the bigger picture, matters are not going well for the socially reactionary anti-Episcopal Church parties. Of the 110 dioceses, 5 voted to break away from the Church after it stood up for equal rights for homosexual and transgendered people. Less than 5 percent of the Episcopal Church left the Church. Moreover, some of the conservative bishops remaining in the Church have changed their minds to allow the blessings of same-sex unions in their dioceses. In addition, studies show a sudden and rapid change in public opinion in America in favor of homosexual rights. Even some evangelical Christians are joining in the parade of history. Too, everyone expects within the next few weeks for the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the legality of same-sex marriage in the U.S.

Among the schismatic former Episcopalians themselves, there is disagreement and dissention. The ACNA declared itself the "province in formation" of the Anglican Communion, but the dozens of other Anglican breakaway groups have largely ignored it. 

What is the future of the independent diocese? Good question. They have made a fig leaf of legitimacy by getting the backing of the other socially reactionary Anglican groups such as Global South, but Lawrence has steadfastly refused to join any Anglican province. More than two and a half years have passed since the schism. In effect, "Bishop" Lawrence has created his own little independent church with friendly support of like-minded others but without having to account to a higher authority. Of course, there is the inconvenient fact, as far as we know, Lawrence does not hold valid Holy Orders in any denomination. He left the Episcopal Church and was released from his orders and offices in 2012. In what sense is he a bishop?

It seems of late a rising crescendo of desperate shrillness among the anti-Episcopal Church factions, a heightened level of animosity, if that is possible. For instance, on June 1, David Virtue, the most important "orthodox" Anglican blogger, posted a "satirical essay" describing the killing of Jefferts Schori, the TEC Presiding Bishop, in a missile attack, "Hamas Rocket Kills the Presiding Bishop..." Lewis's angry diatribe of yesterday does not compare, but it does speak for itself. You have only to read it to see its relentless shrillness.

The independent diocese has suffered two public relations disasters within a month. In the first, Bishop Zavala claimed he was in the diocese with the "consent" of the Archbishop of Canterbury who had approved of primatial oversight. This turned into a public embarrassment when the Archbishop's spokesman had to correct Zavala on it. Now, the diocesan leaders have made themselves look bad again by refusing to even talk about negotiations for a peaceful out-of-court settlement. This makes them appear to be the stubborn war mongers while TEC holds the higher ground of peace.  

So, what can we take away from yesterday's events? We have learned the schism is not about the property. It's about destroying the old Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion to replace them with socially reactionary, intolerant, and unanglican entities. The good news from the rest of the world is, "it ain't gonna happen."