WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE SCHISM IN SOUTH CAROLINA?
Summer is upon us in the lower South. Seersucker season has begun (Memorial Day to Labor Day). Everyone who has the opportunity either stays inside or flees for higher ground. This is an appropriate moment to step back and take stock of where matters stand in the ongoing saga of the schism in South Carolina. What has happened recently; and what can we expect in the near future?
The high point for the fortunes of the independent diocese (DSC) came on February 3, 2015, when Judge Goodstein handed down an astonishing ruling in the circuit court case heard last July. We know now what we suspected at the time, that her Final Order was written largely by Alan Runyan and his associates. The Order gave the DSC side everything it wished and then some. As it turns out, it may have been too clever by half. The excessively partisan nature of it may be its own undoing when it reaches the state supreme court in September. From my layman's perspective, it was an egregious violation of the First Amendment that enshrined the bedrock American principle of the separation of church and state. At any rate, Goodstein's decision was a sweeping victory for the DSC side. Lawrence and friends understandable basked in the glow of success even hailing it as God's Will.
Since then, it has been steadily downhill for DSC, one misstep after another:
1-In February, DSC released its statistics for 2012 and 2013 showing a drastic decline in communicant numbers and falling income. The present DSC is approximately two-thirds of what the old diocese was when Lawrence was consecrated bishop in January of 2008.
2-Also in February, DSC set up "The 1785 Society" offering a lapel pin and a dinner with Lawrence in return for a contribution to the lawyers' coffers of $1,785. This signaled growing desperation to raise ever more money from the same fatigued donors.
3-On March 14, DSC held its annual convention. No report was made on affiliation except to present three vague "options" that amounted to 1-ACNA, 2-Golbal South, 3-going it alone. So far, number 3 is in place with a false patina of legitimacy from #2. Instead, three resolutions were passed condemning marriage equality. Ironically, this returned the issue of homosexuality to the front stage of DSC after it had been set aside for two years as DSC ludicrously claimed the schism had nothing to do with gay rights. DSC's passage of the three resolutions was self-contradictory.
4-On March 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, overturned Judge Houck's decision of Aug. 23, 2013 in which he deferred to the state circuit court. A three judge panel unanimously ordered the case back to the U.S. District Court in Charleston. On April 29, the entire bank of judges of the Fourth Circuit rejected Runyan's request for reconsideration and once again ordered the case back to Charleston.
5-The South Carolina state supreme court agreed to hear an appeal of the Goodstein decision (Feb. 3). Date for oral arguments was set at September 23, 2015. This will be the first time that a state supreme court will rule on the issue of TEC-diocesan relations. Most of the justices on the state high court were not participants in the All Saints decision of September 2009. Chief Justice Toal, who did participate, is reportedly slated for retirement on Dec. 31, 2015. On May 15, lawyers for TEC and Episcopal Church in South Carolina filed a brief with the court asking the justices to set aside Goodstein's decision and start over.
6-April 28-29, Lawrence and inner circle met with the ACNA archbishop and others to discuss possible DSC affiliation with ACNA. Afterwards, DSC only gave reasons against affiliation. Nothing came of this meeting.
7-The recent low point for DSC was the embarrassing episode of the visit of Bishop Zavala, primate of the Anglican Church of South America. Meant to bolster claims that DSC was "in" the Anglican Communion, Zavala instead may have reached too far as he claimed he was there by "consent" of the Archbishop of Canterbury who had approved of Global South's primatial oversight scheme for DSC. Steve Skardon was an eye-witness to Zavala's presentation. When I made enquiry of the Archbishop of Canterbury's office at Lambeth Palace, Ed Thornton, Senior Press Officer of the Archbishop, would not confirm Zavala's claims. Instead, Thornton said the Archbishop was only exploring ways of Global South possibly offering pastoral support to DSC. He said explicitly the Archbishop opposed primatial oversight.
When I posted Thornton's remark word-for-word on my blog on May 25, Episcopal Café repeated it and it went viral. My most vociferous critics went into angry denial. My name was taken in vain on various anti-Episcopal Church websites. Nevertheless, I was not offended. It is understandable that sometimes people let their baser emotions of anger and resentment overcome their higher powers of common sense and reason. We have all been there. Actually, I appreciate critics bringing attention to my blog. My readership is soaring; the more people read my postings, the more information they get to make their own decisions.
Just today, Mr. Thornton, of Lambeth Palace, informed me that the statement he sent me on May 25 was posted in Church Times, the official newspaper of the Church of England, on May 29 (www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2015/29-may/news/world/world-news-in-brief ). To those of you who went on the Internet to accuse me of "making it up," you need not apologize to me. I understand your feelings.
Having looked at the recent past, what can we expect for the course of the schism in the near future?
In the month of June there are two important items to anticipate, one in the big picture and one in the little. In the big picture, the U.S. Supreme Court will, in all probability, issue its much awaited decision on marriage equality, that is on the legal status of same-sex marriage. Every source I have seen expects the court to declare for marriage equality. If so, that will end the matter in the history of the U.S. This will bring closure to the aspect of homosexuality in the broad culture war, at least in the U.S. In reality, the war is all but over as of now. With breath-taking speed the country has reversed from homophobia to full equality and justice for homosexual and transgendered persons. It has been one of the most astonishing transformation in history. And, I for one could not be prouder of the Episcopal Church for being in the vanguard of that remarkable sea-change. (Of course, the culture war is not just in America. Ireland just voted in a landslide for marriage equality. In one generation the Roman Catholic bishops have gone from being the moral arbiters of the nation to being irrelevant.)
In the little picture, we can expect Alan Runyan and his fellow lawyers to present their counter-brief to the South Carolina Supreme Court by June 15. It will be interesting to see how they defend Goodstein's Order of Feb. 3.
There are also several other developments to await in the near future:
a-Soon the U.S. District Court in Charleston will announce how it will handle the rehearing of the case of vonRosenberg v. Lawrence which has been remanded by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. It may be that a judge other than Houck will be assigned the case. That court has been in the news recently with important progressive decisions (as in marriage equality in SC).
b-The South Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on September 23. At some point afterwards, normally several months, the Court will hand down its decision in regards to the Goodstein Order. They could uphold Goodstein's decision, or they could overturn it and issue a new one.
c-The issue of affiliation for DSC is ongoing. At the last diocesan convention, it was announced that a special convention could possibly be called in 2015 to vote on affiliation. So far, I see no sign of a possible affiliation. It seems to me Lawrence and his advisors are content to keep things the same as they have been for over two and a half years now.
We saw an eventful spring for the schism. We can expect even more important months ahead in terms of legal actions. Both the federal court and the state court will move in fateful ways for everyone involved.